Climbing The Dunes at Sossusvlei Namibia

Climbing The Worlds Highest Sand Dunes – Sossusvlei Namibia

Namib-Naukluft National Park in Namibia, is home to a vast field of sand dunes, said to be the highest in the world. Dune 45, is not the highest. That honor goes to Big Daddy at 325m, however Dune 45 is by far the most popular for the pre-dawn climb. As you drive through the park the dunes don't seem to be that impressive, until you edge closer and you realise that you are driving through a basin surrounded by rust colored sand for as far as your eye can see.

Sossus in the Nama language means “a gathering of water” & “Vlei” is Afrikaans means “a shallow lake”. Once you know this it is very clear that you are driving through what very much feels like a flood plain. From all the information I've researched, this are has not been underwater for millions of years, however coming from Australia and having seen the Diamantina river go from a 16km wide sandy flat to a raging torrent in a matter of 7-8 hours, I have to say it was a little unnerving for me. Of course it's Namibia and the endless blue skies with not a cloud in sight did reassure me, however I did wonder if at any time a massive cyclone was to head down this coast, could this in fact turn into a shallow salt lake? Obviously the millions of years as an arid or semi-arid environment means that just doesn't happen, but it is weird how your mind works. Mine in particular!


All About Dune 45

Dune 45, so named as it is 45km from the Sesruim Gate, is in the midst of this sea of sand and offers amazing views from the top. The only way to see these views of course is to climb the dune and starting out prior to dawn is the best way to do it. The dune climb is tough. Even though you are hiking up the spine, the sand is soft and loose and by the time you are half way up you are going two steps forward to one step back. I got to the top just prior to dawn but sitting with about 40 other people wasn't that appealing to me so I hiked back down about half way and sat on the edge of the dune to watch the sunrise.

There are varying reports as to how high Dune 45 is however Wikipedia tells me its 170 meters high.

The rust coloring of the sand is due to oxidization of the iron in the sand. The combination of the iron component and the garnet elements control the differing colors of the dunes. Basically the older the dune, the brighter red it is.


The Sossusvlei Namibian Sunrise From Dune 45

While the sunrise itself isn't super spectacular, the trick is to watch the environment around you. As the sun rises and the mauve of the sunrise morphs into a glowing golden hue, the dunes around you take on very different tones.

At this point, I realised that I was missing what were probably some amazing colors behind the dune I was perched on and quickly skated down to face back to the plain. In the shadow of the sunrise behind the dunes I managed to get some very surreal looking photos of the pink tinged dawn against the rust of the dunes.

!! – You do have to climb Dune 45 just prior to or at the dawn. Even in winter the sun scorches down onto the sand making it very hot and unbearable to be on by early-mid morning. The height of the dune also makes it susceptible to very strong winds and the super fine sand particles can just sand blast you, not to mention get into your eyes if you are not careful. While you do it early to escape the heat, its also to escape the wind.

How to Get to Dune 45, Namibia

Dune 45 is about 380km from Swakopmund however this is Namibia and driving time isn't 1hr per 100km as it is in Australia. The best idea is to get yourself to Sesriem which is a jump off point for the Namib-Naukluft National Park, Dune 45 and Deadvlei, both in Sossusvlei.


Driving to Sesriem, Namibia

Driving is usually the best way to get around Namibia and car hire is pretty easy to find in Namibia. Be aware however that you will find you do have to pickup a car from either Swakopmund or Windhoek AND the car rental places are often closed all weekend so you will have to plan around a Monday through Friday rental, or at the very least not plan to return your car over the weekend. If you search and can't find any in Swakopmond, try Windhoek as it is bigger and is more common to find rental cars there. Usually you can get a car for around $75-$330 AUD per day as per the table below.

Update: Sept 2022 Prices

Car Size Avg / Day AUD Check Prices
Small (VW Polo) $75.00 Check Prices
Mid Size AWD (Rav4) $210.00 Check Prices
Full Size 4WD (Hilux) $330.00 Check Prices

Flying to Sesriem

Alternatively you can fly from either Swakopmund or Windhoek to Sesriem airport, however it is worth knowing that you will still need to get the 75km from Sesrium airport to the town itself.

Westair flies once per day at 9am to Sesrium from Swakopmund (arriving at 9:40 am) and twice per day from Windhoek leaving at 10:30am and 3:50pm.

You hotel or lodge will usually be able to organise airport pickup and transfers for you, but check that they can before you book your flight. I have heard that some hotels will include transfers for stays or 3 nights or more.


Van Transfer to Sesriem from Windhoek or Swakopmund

I found this company that does transfers from either town on Trip Adviser, however once you get to the larger towns it is reasonably easy to find a company that does the transfers.


Where to Stay In Sesriem

Sesriem has camp sites and resorts so you should be able to find something to suit your budget. It is one place I would recommend you book though. It can get very busy in peak times. It is also not cheap compared with many other options around Namibia, mostly because of course you are a captive market in that area. Sesrium is a jump off point not only for Dune 45 but also for Dead Vlei.


Some Accomodation In Sesriem

Sossusvlei Lodge, Sesriem, Namibia

From $278 per night

Sossus Oasis Camp Site

From $41 per night (this is where I stayed and it was a good campsite with a pool!)

Desert Quiver Camp

From $170 AUD per night

Dune 45 is about an hours drive from Sessriem and can be done in a standard car. To get to Dead Vlei further along this same road, you must have a 4wd.

Items to be aware of if you intend to continue to Deadvlei (after your Dune 45 visit):

  • At the parking area there is a dry toilet. There is no water here, so make sure you bring enough for your day.
  • Sossusvlei is another 5km past the carpark and can only be covered in a 4WD vehicle. Alernatively, there is a 4WD transfer service, or you can walk. You accommodation in Sessriem should be able to organise these transfers for you, however I would enquire prior to booking.
  • The walk into Deadvlei isn't tough but it is very hot and at least 5km.
  • This is a very harsh climate. Winter can still be very warm and the sun saps the moisture right out of you. WATER WATER WATER!!
  • Long sleeves, a hat, sunscreen, sunglasses and heaps of water (am I getting through?) are a minimum requirement.

My post about Deadvlei has more info to help you.

If you wanted to do a tour instead and leave the driving to someone esle, Viator has this three day trip from Windhoek taking in Dune 45 and Big Mama, Deadvlei & a visit to the communities of Baster and Solitaire. At present it is $760 USD per person.

Overall you do need to remember that Dune 45 and Deadvlei are separate locations and you will need to drive between the two. There are carparks for both that cater to 2wd vehicles and transfers from the carpark into Deadvlei are available for a reasonable cost.

Remember to take your eyes off the sunrise and look out over the dunes behind you. The colors that are created in the shaddow of the big dune during the sunrise are beautiful. Check out the very top photo in this post which I took on the otherside of the dune during the sunrise. It was my favourite of the day.

Jenny Marsden - Charge The Globe
About the author

Meet Jenny, a passionate Australian travel blogger who has explored 101 countries to date. With over 30 years of travel experience, Jenny has a wealth of knowledge to share with her readers about the cultures, landscapes, and people she has encountered on her journeys. She's always battling unfashionably frizzy hair and you will never catch Jenny in anything but comfortable shoes.

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