Solitaire on the road to Soussusvlei

Swakopmund to Sossusvlei Desert Lodge

Once again we are going on the road and today’s a travelling day between Swakopmund and our next and final destination the Sossusvlei Desert Lodge at Sossusvlei. To get to the lodge we will be travelling a distance of about 350 kilometres, with all but 37 kilometres of it gravel. For us we manage a pretty early get away, we've packed the car, had breakfast, gassed up, checked the tire pressures and it’s only 9am! This is almost a record.

Alas my cold has developed into something more intense and it feels very much like a bronchial infection. I’m going to drive for the first hour and a half, take some cold tablets, and then let Kelly take over while the tablets knock me out. We head off south on the B2 toward Walvis Bay, and on the way out of Swakopmund we pass the municipal bungalows.

Municipal Bungalows

For those of you familiar with the recent remake of the Prisoner, this is where number 6’s, alleged brother lived. 

Walvis Bay is Namibia’s seaport and an industrial town with the only deep water harbour on the coastline. Unfortunately we really want to get down to Soussuvlei before it gets late anb we aren’t sure of the road conditions. We’ve been told it’s a 5 – 6 hour drive so when we reach Walvis Bay we don’t stop but continue on heading left on the C14 toward Windhoek, regretably having to put Walvis Bay on our “see next time” list. After the bitumen finishes, approx 10 miles out of town, it’s a 130km of gravel and flat plains until we finally see some mountains in the distance.

C14 stretches into the distance

I don’t know if I mentioned it before or not but I can be out in the middle of the Namibian desert, switch on the iPhone and get a full set of bars, I tell you I’m lucky to get one damn bar from Optus in Balmain. Well the secret of it is the new palm trees they have been selectively growing in Namibia that have inbuilt telecommunications capabilities.

Palm tree tower

The C14 takes us through the Namib Naukluft Park and even though it’s going to be a long drive we’ve read that the diversity of desert landscapes is incredible. The change from the plains to the mountains is quite abrupt and the scenery is spectacular with the gravel road winding off through the dips and rises of the hills. We work our way down into the valley and the road changes from gravel to bitumen for Kuiseb Pass.

Kuiseb Pass

Woah, we just passed the Tropic of Capricorn! The sign just flashed by so no pictures to prove it! After passing the turn off to Windhoek we are back in an area of low rolling hills, scrubby vegetation and the occasional Ostrich. Before you know it we are back in another mountain pass this time the Gaub Pass. This pass has very deep gorges.

Gaub Pass

Once we come out of the Gaub Pass the road leads between mountains and ahead of us stretches a wide open plain.

The Plains

Coming over a rise we get our first glimpse of the orange tinted dunes  mostly covered in grass.

Distant Dunes

They weren’t kidding when they talked about the diversity of the landscape out here, it really is one of the most inspiring road trips we have ever been on. About an hour after our first glimpse of the dunes we turn off into a funny little place in the middle of nowhere, called Solitare.

Solitare Sign

We pull into the gas station and fill up and then park around near the bakery and head in for some lunch. I think we are a bit late in the day but we buy a couple of pies and a nice piece of strudel to take on the road with us. Scattered around Solitare are lots of examples of those who’s cars died in or around Solitare and they are a good reminder to check the water, oil and tyres before you leave.

Abandoned car at the quirky Solitare stop

There’s also a couple of camels you can rent if you car does give up the ghost.

Rent-a-Camel

From Solitaire it’s approximately 120 kilometres to the lodge and on the way we will pass the entrance gate to Sesriem/Sossuvlei, this is where all the massive dunes are, before arriving at the Desert Lodge. We reach the gate and continue on but we find our driving instructions are not quite accurate and that combined with an inaccurate map in my Brandt guide have us wondering if we are on the right road, have missed the turn off or are just lost! The driving instructions say “at one point you have to turn right to keep on the C27 – be careful here as it’s easy to continue onto route D845 and miss the turning to the lodge. The lodge is signposted at the turning but the signpost is at an angle that is easyily overlooked”. Right oh, we reach a T junction, look around for a sign but there is none, we make the decision to turn right and keep going. After about 13 kilometres we are starting to worry that we have really gone the wrong way when in the distance I see what looks like a stone gate and, thank heavens, about 5 minutes later we are heading up a rocky road to what looks like the lodge. Yah! we pull into the lodge around 4pm happy that we are finally here.

Sossuvlei Desert Lodge

Once again we are met with cold towels and a cool drink, we are lead out onto the verandah and have our introduction talk with Ruth, one of the managers. The area around the lodge doesn’t have any predators so we are quite safe to walk back and forth from our lodge rooms here, but there is a waterhole and we are told that we will see Oryx, Springbok, Ostriches and other wildlife. The lodge is located in one of the most beautiful settings we have seen so far, with a wide plain of yellow bushman grass extending out from the lodge to granite hills and ochre dunes in the distance.

Looking back toward our lodge from the main lodge

Apparently the lodge has it’s own telescope and there is a resident astronomer from Australia so we hope to catch up with her later. We head down to our rooms to upack and settle in, knowing we have 3 nights here is great, it will really give us some time to relax. We sit on the deck in awe of the view from our room and watch as the setting sun paints the plains and mountains a golden ochre.

Sunset from our room

Sunset from our room

Around 7pm we head up to the main lodge for dinner, we are a bit early even though they said we could eat at 7pm! We are introduced to the astronomer, who calls herself “Starlady Di” and as the group she was going to take up to the telescope hadn’t returned from their drive yet she asked if we would like to go. The telescope was the same model as the one at Ulusaba, but the night was much clearer and we were looking forward to seeing some stars. Just before we left to walk up to where the telescope is sighted all of the lights in the lodge went out for a minute or so, when we got to the telescope poor old Di discovered that the power outage had zapped all her preset telescope positions and the first thing she had to do was recalibrate the scope. Once that was done we spent time looking at Venus, Jupiter and learning about the stars. In fact Di had this amazing big mother of a laser pointer that seemed to reach almost to the stars, I asked her if she was allowed to take it back into Australia and she told me that she had a firearms permit to carry one. Very impressed I was.

So it was off to dinner, Di was sitting at another table by herself so we asked her to join us and we had a great chat about her life as an astronomer in Africa. Just as we were having dessert one of the diners at a table next to us light up a cigar! I can’t remember the last time I saw someone smoke a cigar let alone in a room where everyone was still having dinner, the smell was overpowering and it gave Kelly an instant headache and thoroughly pissed her off! We moved out to the balcony to finish our desserts and get away from the smell. We asked the staff the next day why they let people smoke at the dinner tables and they sort of mumbled and then showed us they actually sold cigars at the bar. I guess there are still a lot of europeans that like to smoke them.

I think whatever I’ve got I may be passing on to Kelly. At the end of the day we are both exhausted and within minutes of getting back to the room we have passed out and are fast asleep.

Tony Redhead

93 Maud Street, Unley, SA, 5061, Australia