On our second day in Sesriem, we woke up to bust down the gate at 6:45 am. Our mission was to get to Deadvlei as early as possible so we could get pictures before the masses arrived. We would have loved to get there in time for sunrise, but it is at the farthest point in the park.
The sky was still dark for most of the hour-long drive. It really felt like a race to get there, all visitors vying to lead the pack down the single, 65km road. Posted signs indicate a 60kph speed limit, but the early risers floored it through the park at nearly twice that, racing the sun.
The drive was enjoyable as our excitement was building for the day to come. We were warned that the last 5km was for 4×4 only, but we felt confident. When we got off the pavement and onto the sand we had good momentum, and I thought we could make it just fine. That was until the truck in front of us started to slow down. They got stuck… and then we did too. What do we do now?
Stuck in the Sand
We tried changing gears into 4X4 mode, and couldn’t get the truck to move. We got out, and looked around. Then a vehicle from the park service stopped by to tell us he could give us a ride to Deadvlei for $180 NAD per person. He also offered to move the truck off to the side and park it. So we let him move the vehicle. Being as tenacious as I am, I decided to try driving it again. I just needed to keep my speed up!
That didn’t work out so well; we quickly got stuck again. We waited around a few minutes and the same guy came back to help us again, berating our arrogance. Defeated, we accepted his offer and took his shuttle to Deadvlei. That was embarrassing.
Made it to Deadlvlei
To get to Deadvlei we had to climb Big Daddy Dune, which is a monster at 325 meters (1,064 ft). The climb was fun but exhausting at the same time. It was a steep incline up one of the world’s highest dunes. With shoes full of sand, we started to see Deadvlei in the distance.
When we arrived, it was completely fogged in, so it was completely unlike all of the pictures we have seen. Used to the scene of the dead trees with long shadows and bright orange dunes in the background, we were instead greeted with what looked like an eerie wasteland after the apocalypse. There weren’t any sounds, just the cool air and trees over 900 years old. It was a surreal and unique perspective.
Since we arranged the shuttle, the driver was going to pick us back up at a specific time so we had to be careful about how long we stayed. We bemoaned this limitation as we didn’t want to be rushed. “Time to go, time to go.” We took the low road back to get to the pickup spot in time. We also visited Sossusvlei, proper, and climbed Big Mama Dune; we got the most out of our shuttle fee.
Since we had four days in the park, we knew that we would be back for the sunlit shadows. We only worried how we’d get back there without forking over another shuttle fee.
We asked the driver of the shuttle how he didn’t get stuck. He said that we needed to engage four-wheel drive for high gear and deflate the tires to 1.6 bar (16 psi) to drive on sand.
So we ventured out in the late afternoon to try again. We stopped at the shuttle parking area just as the pavement ended, and we deflated our tires. I then put the truck into 4 high and drove like a madman to get to Deadvlei without getting stuck. It was an intense drive yet oddly thrilling. I strategically maneuvered the vehicle around trees, deeper sand, rocks, and all other obstacles to finally arrive at the Deadvlei parking area. It was an adrenaline rush for sure. We made it!
We enjoyed the evening light there, but we still had to get back before the gates closed or get fined. When leaving, we rushed back to the two-wheel drive parking lot, all the while hoping we didn’t get stuck. It was late enough that there was no one around to rescue us this time.
Fortunately, we made it back without incident and inflated the tires back to 2.2 bar (22 psi). Now we were ready for pavement so we could drive back to camp. Success!
- Deflate your tire pressures when you are going to drive on sand. This spreads the weight of the car over a larger surface area, which keeps the tires from going deeper and getting stuck (like snowshoes!).
- Drive the 4×4 vehicle in 4 high. Speed is important to keep moving forward, and you might damage your car if you attempt this in low gear.
- Keep your momentum up and watch out for obstacles. Rocks are sneaky and we got close to a few.
- Have fun! This experience can be quite exciting if done properly.
Sossusvlei is one of the most magnificent places to see in Namibia. While you can visit using a 2 wheel drive, you would need to take the shuttle or walk 5km to get to Deadvlei. Having a 4X4 gave us access to most places in this park comfortably. We now know what to do if we go back and hope that you have as good as an experience as we did on this incredible adventure.
Do you have aspirations of visiting Deadvlei in Namibia? Have you already been?
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