Desert Dreams Part Two: Big Daddy Dune
After our Dune 45 climb yesterday, Big Daddy Dune, as named by locals, is our challenge for the day.The towering giant, standing at 325 meters tall, dwarfs the surrounding dunes. Big Daddy Dune is the tallest dune in the Sossusvlei area, but not the tallest dune in Namibia, that title belongs to Dune 7.
I wake up, it is still dark in our tent and I cannot see thing. A quick check on my phone and I see it is only 4am. I am so excited to see the sunrise this morning, I cannot go back to sleep. A few minutes later, head torches on, we get ready and pack our tent. Today is going to be extraordinary. We hop in our vehicle and head to the internal park gate. We are the fortunate ones, staying inside the park means that we have access to the park an hour earlier than the public.
It is 5h50am when we arrive at the internal gate. There are 2 cars ahead of us in the queue already. A gate attendant opens the gate promptly at 6am and our adventure begins. Already some safari vehicles and 4 x 4’s are speeding past us, trying to get to the dunes first. There is a 60km speed limit inside the park and Big Daddy dune is located 65kms away from the internal gate.
A bumpy start:
We arrive at the 2×4 public car park, which is as far as you can go with a normal vehicle. Only 4×4’s can proceed past this point, so we wait for the first 4×4 shuttle to arrive. The sand is so soft in this area and only 4×4 vehicles are allowed to drive in this part of the park.
The shuttle drivers were slightly late, but we hopped onto the 4×4 shuttle and off we went. The shuttle driver was trying to make up time, so we could get to the dunes to see the sun rising. He drove at such a fast pace, we made it to Big Daddy dune in a record 5-minute drive. We hardly sat in our seats as we were airborne most of the time, hitting the bumps in the sand at full speed! It did make for a fun but very hairy drive. On our way to Big Daddy dune, we passed a 4×4 vehicle stuck in the sand.
Sightings at Big Daddy Dune:
When the driver stops at the dune, we pay our fee and he points us in the direction of the dune. There are limited signage and sometimes they are so small, it can be easy to miss. Stepping out of the vehicle, we see a jackal hunting in the distance. We tried tracking it, but it soon disappeared and we head back towards Big Daddy dune. Just as we are admiring the dunes, the jackal appears about 3 meters in front of us, with some freshly scavenged breakfast. We watch this spectacle and for a moment we forget that the sun is starting to rise.
After some photographs, our focus is back to the towering dune in front of us. One side of the dune is in shadow, and the other side is bright orange red. This view is totally worth waking up early for! I can see why this is one of the most photographed areas in Namibia. Starring up at the golden peak glistening in the distance, we are hopeful that we can make it up in time before the sun starts to beat down on us. With hydration packs in hand, we are off.
I tried to walk as fast as my legs could carry me to try and make it to the top of the dune before the sun was too high in the sky. By the time we reach the first peak, the sand is feeling softer by the second and my legs are disappearing deeper into the sand after each step. As we ascend, the views are becoming better, so we move on. The sun is savage in the desert, and it is not even 9am yet.
As I take a break at the second peak, a sand lizard makes a brief appearance and darts off. I am so focused on getting to the top that I forget there is life to see on the dunes. Some other insects and sand geckos make their way deeper into the dunes as we are climbing. I fumble to get my camera out, but the heat and climb has sapped my energy and I cannot get it out fast enough. The sand gecko scurries off quickly. I am still optimistic we will catch a glimpse of a sand snake or a sand scorpion in the dunes. Sadly, we don’t see any.
The final peak is in sight:
The closer we get to the third and topmost peak of Big Daddy Dune, every step feels like the top of the dune is moving further away. This was the hardest part of the climb as it is quite steep, and the sun is hotter than ever. I apply another layer of sunscreen. Looking back, we notice that some people who were walking behind us have given up, taking a shortcut down the dune instead. I face forward and continue the climb. We did not make it this far to give up now.
At the top of Big Daddy Dune:
Parched with thirst and boots filled with sand, we make it to the top. We spent about an hour and forty minutes climbing this dune, including taking photos along the way. I am ecstatic. This was no easy climb. The views over the desert are picturesque and worth every drop of sweat and effort in the heat to get here! I have never seen anything like this in my life, 360 degree views of red star dunes as far as the eye can see. Deadvlei and the trees below, are tiny specs in the distance. I understand why the locals love this area so much and why tourists flock to this area. We are some of the few who climb this dune, make it to the top and enjoy this view. We sit down and take in the sights below with the wind blowing to remind me of where we are.
It’s all downhill from here:
After taking in the view of star dunes from the top, running down the side of the dune is fun. We run down a path that was already there, to lessen the movement of sand on the dune.
There is wind blowing over the sand and it makes a ‘singing’ noise every time we step into the sand as we are running down. It takes less than 3 minutes for us to reach the bottom, even though we are stopping to take photos on the way down. We shake all the sand out of our boots onto the bottom of the dune before moving on. Stepping onto the dead marsh when you get to the bottom of the dune starts another magical experience.
Read about Deadvlei in my next blogpost.
Until next time. Adventure awaits.
Tips for climbing Big Daddy Dune:
Go early or start later in the afternoon, when the sun is less harsh. Carrying water with you is essential when climbing this dune, don’t attempt it without at least a litre of water. This climb requires a fair level of fitness or tolerance, especially if you are climbing anytime from 10am onwards. The heat and sun in the desert is savage! The climb can be done with moderate fitness levels if you take lots of breaks in between and drink lots of water.
It helps to stay inside the park, as you can get to the dune and hour before the main gate opens and stay an hour after the main gate closes. You may not be able to see the sunset from Big Daddy dune if you are not staying inside the park, due to its location.I will be posting more information on Sesriem Park.
Where we stayed:
While there is luxury accommodation inside Sesriem Park, we decided to camp instead. Due to all the activities and time spent outdoors, it may be a waste of money to pay for luxury accommodation if you are overnighting only. We spent less than 6 hours in our tent, so it was the correct decision for our accommodation that night. For more information about this area, see the Sossusvlei website.
The shuttle fee costs R170 or Namibian dollars for a return trip, from the 2 x 4 car park to Big Daddy Dune/Deadvlei/Sossusvlei. The driver did not give us any tickets when we departed, so make sure you know the name of the driver to ensure you are let onto the shuttle on your way back. Or ensure you have proof of payment or ticket so they don’t try and charge you twice!