An adrenaline rush in the Namib desert

By Dorine Reinstein
Various outfitters offer quad biking in the Namib Desert.The rugged beauty of southern Namibia’s famous desert offers an unbelievable playground for adrenaline junkies. From the oldest desert on Earth to the highest sand dunes, adventure opportunities are countless.

Swakopmund, a town surrounded by the Namib Desert, is known as the adventure capital of Namibia. From there, travelers can arrange a vast array of spectacular adventure excursions. One of the options is to go quad biking in the sand dunes. This activity enables travelers to access parts of sand dunes that even 4x4's can't reach.

There is a bit of controversy over the use of bikes in the sand dunes as it poses a threat to some of the rare animal species and plant life that make the sand dunes their homes. However, the legitimate companies that make quad biking in the dunes an adventure experience also make conserving their environment a priority.

They have set out a route that goes for about 22 miles in an area that's great to practice your wheelies on but cause little damage. One of these operators is Desert Explorers.

For those who prefer a slightly more environmentally friendly activity, there’s the thrill of zooming down the dunes head-first on a traditional Swakopmund sand board? Over the years, the equipment used to whiz down the dunes has advanced from a simple piece of cardboard to snowboards especially adapted for speeding down the sandy surfaces.

Travelers can opt to either lie down on a polished board to slide headfirst down a dune. Speeds of up to 50 mph can be reached. Another option is to stand up and “surf” your way down the dunes, a la snowboarding.

If the risk of breaking your neck doesn’t sound appealing, the Namib Desert also offers some truly unique and breathtaking experiences that are slightly less adrenaline-charged. Several tour companies will take adventure-seekers on daylong expeditions to experience the kind of remoteness that can only be found in unpopulated natural places. The Sesriem Canyon is one of these places.

Within the Sesriem area lies the Sossusvlei, more commonly known as Big Daddy Dune or Crazy Dune. Rising in height to almost 1,200 feet, Big Daddy is one of the highest dunes in the world. A climb can be a quite an effort, especially in the extreme heat, but once at the top, dune climbers will be rewarded with a breathtaking view of the surrounding area.

At the foot of Big Daddy, you’ll find the Dead Vlei, which makes for a surreal landscape. Dead camel-thorn trees protrude out from the bizarre, dry landscape. Despite the deep roots, the trees cannot get to the life-giving water because of a thick layer of lime deposit that coats the ground. The slowly drying up and sun-bleached trees stand out starkly against the bright orange, cracked-clay soil of the valley and the brilliant blue of the sky.

After having explored the dunes and the desert from the ground either by quad, by sandboard or by foot, the best way to really take in the beauty of the surroundings and the unique blend of the spectacular colors of the desert is from the sky.

To experience the Namib Desert and Sossusvlei from above is a truly unique experience. Hop into a hot-air balloon at sunset and glide silently and quietly over the impressive landscape of the Namib.

There is no better way to end of a day in the Namib Desert than to lie down in the open air and look up at the starry sky. Sossusvlei Lodge is probably the most renowned lodge for stargazing. It was ranked among the world’s top 12 hotels for observing the Milky Way and its awe-inspiring galaxies. The lodge offers a special introduction to stargazing, aided by staff members who are more than willing to share their knowledge of astronomy.
 

Need to know

Getting there: Air Namibia, South African Airways and BA Comair offer several flights a day between Johannesburg and Windhoek, with a flight time of two hours.

Health: Namibia is a non-malarial area.

Seasons: April to October is Namibia’s dry season; the main rainy season spans from January to March. Although any season is great to visit Namibia, be aware that visiting the Sossusvlei can get hot, especially in the summer months (December and January). During that time, the best time to view Sossusvlei is close to sunrise and sunset; the colors are strong and constantly changing, allowing for wonderful photographic opportunities. The midday heat is intense and best spent in the shade.

Currency: Namibian dollar although South African rands are readily accepted.

Visa: American citizens are not required to obtain a visa to enter Namibia for tourism purposes provided their stay is less than 90 days.

Language: English, Afrikaans and German

Driving: Distances in Namibia are vast. With the road network being predominantly gravel, it is advisable to rent a four-wheel-drive vehicle with good insurance coverage, as the terrain can be quite difficult. Recommend self-drive travelers should carry plenty of water, spare gas and be prepared to drive hours without seeing any sign of civilization.

Ballooning: The duration of a ballooning excursion is approximately 3½ hours. The balloon flight itself takes about an hour and ends with an exclusive Champagne Breakfast at the landing spot in scenic nature.

Visit www.namibiatourism.com.na for further information.
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