Dune with a View

Words and pictures by Pieter Oosthuizen. Words and pictures by Pieter Oosthuizen.

This tour, on the edge of the Namib dune veld, is the perfect addition to a longer Namibian safari. Simplicity is its biggest attribute, which is advantageous – unlike the bigger trips into the desert like Saddle Hill or the Luderitz- Walvis tour, the Khoichab Trail is a shorter and easier way to experience the dunes. Completion of the tour also puts you back on the big road leading north, with Sossusvlei less than three hours away.

We travelled east for 30 km on the B4 to Aus, following our guide, Heinz Manns, and accompanied by Adriaan Bothma. (He is the son of a friend, in a Land Cruiser called Black Mamba). We then left the tar. Near the first of nine waterpump stations that service Luderitz and suck water from the macro subterranean lake under the pans, Heinz showed us an interesting phenomenon: a large patch of dikvingerbos – a succulent that looks totally out of place.

Further north on this 70 km-straight gravel journey, the Rechen, Kirch and Sturmhaube Mountains (the latter named after the old German Wehrmacht helmet or “staaldak”) lie on both sides of the road; but, dead ahead in the distance, was the object of our greatest admiration: the massive red Namib dune belt. The road passes over a very large dry pan that forms part of the Khoichab River system, and creates a white-out effect. We visited the remains of some rocky homes of strandlopers in the Kirch Mountain, unsuccessfully looking for rock art. According to Heinz, pieces of pottery have been found here.

Shortly afterwards, we turned off the gravel onto a little track that leads into the dune belt. For the best views of the Koichab Plains, you need elevation, and for this, you climb up a massive dune ridge that runs right around the edge of this Namib sand finger jutting out southeast into the plains.

This elevated route not only overlooks the Khoichab River valley, it also allows you to see, for the first time, what lies beyond these mountains of sand. After a gentle climb – that reminded me to deflate the tyres of our heavily burdened bakkie – we stopped for lunch. From here, one can see more of the granite mountains to the south and east. To the north-east, you can see the top of the Tiras Mountains sticking out above a vast, uneven sea of sand, dotted with small bushes and grass polls.

Heinz took us around the back of the high dune ridge, but we still tackled some decent crests. With the wind blowing from the southwest, we camped behind a dune covered with some narra bush that gets its water from the river valley below. Soon a small fire was going, but Heinz waited for the wind to die down before preparing a real treat – snoek in a big pan on the coals. We were in bed early that night, listening to the hu-hu-hoooo of an owl.

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