Wednesday, 10 September 2014

My Namibian Adventure! - The Journey to Sesriem

During July and August 2014 my wife Cheryl and I journeyed through the central part of Namibia via the Trans Kalahari Highway 'short cut' through Botswana. 

We visited the Namib Naukluft Park at Sesriem where one can find the famous Namib Dunes as well as Sossusvlei and Deadvlei etc. From there we went to Swakopmund, Hentiesbaai, Spitzkoppe and finally Windhoek before returning home. 

       Dune 45, Namib Naukluft near Sesriem.

We left our home in Centurion, South Africa on a Saturday morning and arrived at Sesriem in Namibia three days and 1700km later!

On day one we traveled via Rustenburg, Swartruggens, Groot Marico and Zeerust to reach the Botswana border post at Lobatse and from there to Kang via Jwaneng, a distance of about 700km.

I was in a holiday mood and stopped frequently for coffee and photographs. My first stop was to photograph these hay bales on the road to Rustenburg, nothing special but just a feeling that this is the first photograph of many on our exciting adventure!

A little bit further on I saw some markers were people had died in motor car accidents. Its a relatively new phenomenon here in South Africa to mark the scene of a fatal accident with some sort of shrine, usually a wooden crucifix, like the ones here marked with the names of the deceased and even a motorcycle helmet. 

It reminded us once again of the dangers of such a long road trip and that we have to be extra vigilant and drive defensively, all the time...

At Swartruggens, a typically rural town, we stopped for coffee in the grounds of a local church.



Our last stop before the border to Botswana was at Groot Marico. It's a very small town and I made a note to explore it and Swartruggens one day when I have more time...

          Groot Marico

             Groot Marico, waiting for a lift to Zeerust

           Groot Marico ruins...

Crossing the border from South Africa to Botswana is relatively painless. Botswana is known for its 'no tolerance' on corruption policies and the whole process was painless and relatively quick. In fact on our return back to South Africa it took about 12 minutes from the time we entered the border post on the botswana side until we left the passport control on the South African side!.. The border post on the South African side was being rebuild at the time so its a bit of a shambles though... Its also probably not a good idea to try and cross over a long weekend or Christmas/holiday time because it seems that its a popular crossing post and they have facilities that looks like it can handle thousand s of people...You wouldn't want to be caught up in that if you are in a hurry!

Once we were over the border and in Botswana we really felt as if our holiday had begun! After half an hours drive we found a nice shady tree and stopped for a late lunch, a pattern we were to repeat many times over the next two weeks.

         Lunch in Botswana...where everything is just a bit slower and more relaxed...

The landscape through Botswana is very flat. Fortunately there is a good tar road all the way through Botswana to Namibia with little traffic. There is not much to photograph as the landscape is pretty much the same from beginning to end! 

The following images were made of things we saw on this long and monotonous road, dry tree trunks, markings on the road,  and what looks like sculptures made, I presume,  by the road maintenance workers of rubbish  found by the road....

         ...on the road to Kang

         ...on the road to Kang

         ...on the road to Kang

At last we arrived at Kang and booked into our very nice room at the Kang lodge. Kang is a small remote village halfway through Botswana on the way to Namibia. The Lodge has a pub and a surprisingly nice restaurant that serves basic but tasty food. We decided on steaks because were in cattle country after all...

The next morning we took a slow drive through the village of Kang and I photographed a few of the houses and trees. The people of Botswanan are friendly and most can speak English. This journey turned out to be quite different from my 'Karoo' journey's because I didn't really photograph many people....I suppose it was because I was in 'landscape' mode and we were in National Parks most of the time and also because the population in Namibia and Botswana is so little, I just didn't see many people!

The photographs below are of the friendly staff and cleaners of our lodge in Kang.



         Kang, typical village scene...




         On the way to the Namibian border.

           Election time in Botswana...His Excellency Lieutenant General Seretse Khama Ian 
           Khama, PH.FOM  DCO. DSM. MCC. MP,  Party President....

         On the road to Namibian border...

We planned our next sleepover in Gobabis, about 100km from the Namibia/ Botswana border. This was a mistake and we should have just kept on going to Windhoek which is another 200km further. I wanted to stop over in Gobabis to buy some of the renowned beef from the area and I also wanted to explore the town with my camera. In the end we got there too late and the meat from the local supermarket didn't appeal to us. the accommodation was also a slight disappointment...

The next morning we stopped over in Windhoek for a few hours to do some shopping for our 4 nights of camping in Sesriem, the gateway to the Namib Naukluft, Sossusvlei, Dead vlei etc. We managed to find a fine butchery in Windhoek and bought our groceries at the well known dept store called Woerman's that you find all over Namibia. 

The ride to Sesriem via Rehoboth was quite beautiful and from Rehoboth to Sesriem it was all sand road which added to the sense of adventure.

       The beginning of about 600km's of sand road... and our car is still relatively clean!

From Rehoboth to Sesriem and on to Walvis Bay it is all sand first it was quite exciting to put our /new' 4x4 through its paces on the Namibian sand roads but after a few days it was just dust and sand and dust, and it wasn't quite as exciting anymore...

        The Naukluft mountain pass

        The road between Solitaire and Sesriem.         

We reached our camping site late the afternoon and we had to hurry to pitch the tent and sort our camp out before dark. That night the dreaded South Easter blew like hell and the next morning our tent was full of sand, not to mention my hair and face! Fortunately the next couple of days were perfect weather wise and the camping went smoothly.

We stayed at Sossus Oasis campsite and I have nothing but praise for how the camp site is run and the friendliness of the staff. There is a Engen garage and little shop that sells literally everything one could possibly need as well as delicious rolls with German cold meats etc and good coffee! They also have facilities to fix tyres and punctures as well as an internet cafe.

The Roads:

The road all the way from Centurion to Sesriem was in good condition. Even the sand road from Rehoboth to Sesriem could be driven by an ordinary car. In fact we saw many small cars overtaking us on the sand roads. In places they can be quite rutted and one should just take normal precautions and drive according to the road conditions. Fuel is readily available. In Botswana they normally take Credit cards but Fuel cards are not accepted. In Namibia credit cards are sometimes accepted although some garages only accept cash.


The only disappointment in Sesriem was that the Engen garage only sells 500ppm diesel. My 'newish' Volvo XC70 Diesel runs on 50ppm diesel. When we got to Sossus vlei we filled up the tank with 500ppm. We needed 20 odd liters to fill the tank and my reasoning was that mixing a small portion of 500ppm diesel with a large portion 50ppm diesel would result in a dilution of the 500ppm. As it turned out a tank full of diesel was enough to drive the 60km to sossusvlei and back everyday for three days and still have enough left over to reach Swakopmund were we could fill up with 50ppm diesel again. Having a diesel car in Africa is a mixed blessing, on the one hand one can travel longer distances but on the other hand 50ppm diesel is not always available. Fortunately Sesriem was the only town on our journey were we couldn't fill up with 50ppm diesel.

Btw we averaged 8.6 liter per 100km on our more than 4000km journey through Namibia and Botswana and back home. The car drove like a dream and we never had any problems with it. We only bought the Volvo about 6 weeks before our journey. It was a used 2013 model but with only 500km on the clock! It still smelled like a new car!

On our first day in sossusvlei we took it easy...we were tired after three days of driving and we got up late the first morning before heading into the Namib Naukluft park to see and photogrpah the dunes and the desert landscape


Photography wise I had thought long and hard about what equipment to take. I have been on this route twice before and had some difficulty  photographing this vast and empty Namibia landscape.  On my Karoo journeys I prefer to photograph the people and structures and most of the time I only use my 24, 40 and 80mm lenses, with 80% of my photographs made with the 40mm pancake. 

On this journey through Namibia I used the  Canon Ef 70-300mm f4-5.6 L almost all the time and I think I must have made more than 90% of the photographs with it. 

I used it to isolate sections of the vast landscape and also to compress the perspective. I also made quite a few stitch panoramic images with the lens.

The example below is a perfect illustration of perspective compression and isolation of a  part of the landscape.  

         Canon eos 6D, EF 70-300L lens at 300mm, f11 and 1/250sec and 400iso plus tripod.

Because we were travelling by car and therefore I had some extra space, I took a lot of equipment, just in case.

Here is the list:

CanonEos 6D
Canon EF 17-40mm f4 L
Canon Ef 40mm f2.8 stm
Canon 24mm F3.5 TSE
Canon Ef 80mm f1.8
Canon 100mm F2.8 macro
Canon Ef 70-300F4-5.6 L

Mamiya ZD
80mm f2.8
50mm f4 shift
150mm f2.8

Eos M
EF-M 18-55mm 3.5-5.6 stm and EF-m 22mm f2 

Manfrotto 055 MF3 mag fibre tripod 

I also took some Canon flashes but never used them. I also never used the 100mm macro. Until we reached Sesriem I used the 40mm lens quite a bit but once I got into 'landscape' mode I used the 70-300 zoom almost all the time. 

The Namibian landscape lends itself, imo, to a longer focal length because of the distance of the mountains and dunes. With wide angle lenses there is often a lot of flat and empty foreground, because that is what the landscape looks like, flat and empty. Stitched zoomed- in panoramas of the distant dunes and mountains worked well. The one thing extra I would get for my next trip is a lens bracket for the the 70-300 zoom to balance the camera and lens better on the tripod, and to make stitching easier.

The 17-40 was alsoused only raely but I was glad i brought it with for the night photos of the sky, where even the 17mm was not really wide enough to capture the magnificent starry sky.

I used the tripod almost all of the time and I would strongly recommend anyone going to Namibia to use a tripod! 

Below: How much better can it get than this? 

             The milky way with our campsite at Sossus Oasis  in the foreground! 
           30sec exposure at 1600 iso, f11 and 17-40L lens at 17mm. Camera of course the
           Eos6D, processed in LR &  DXO.

Regards, Ivan

( The next post is all about my 3days and 4 nights at Sesriem! )

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