Dune 45 is located on the way to the Sossusvlei salt and clay pans in Namib-Naukluft National Park. Deadvlei is another famous highlight of this park that brings in hordes of tourists year round. But views from Dune 45 of the expansive, billowing sand of the Namib desert holds its own—especially at sunrise.
Before I could climb up Dune 45, I had to gain access to the park via the gateway town of Sesriem. In this post, I share my experience getting through Sesriem's gates, climbing Dune 45, and checking out other highlights of this breathtaking natural landscape.
Where To Stay For Sunrise Access To Sossusvlei
Namib-Naukluft National Park opens at sunrise and closes at sunset. Meaning, you won't get to watch either from inside the park.
While there's plenty of accommodation in the area, there are only two places to stay that give you access outside the sunrise to sunset schedule. It's important to know which two accommodation options will put you inside the park to guarantee access to the dunes at the best hours of the day.
Between two sets of gates lie the town of Sesriem which contains Sesriem Camp and Sossus Dune Lodge. If you're not staying at either of these locations in Sesriem, then you have to wait outside an initial set of gates until after sunrise to enter the park. You also must leave enough time before sunset to return and leave through the gates. (I don't know what the penalty is for not making it back in time!)
The choice between Sesriem Camp and Sossus Dune Lodge is a matter of comfort and budget preferences.
I camped at Sesriem Camp for 220 NAD (~$16) per person, per night. Those who prefer a real bed and en suite bathroom may want to opt for Sossus Dune Lodge. Sossus Dune Lodge goes for $1650 NAD (~$133) per person per night in low season up to $3830 NAD in high season. High season is July through November and includes December 24th, 25th, and 31st.
There is no other accommodation within the park gates. So I was very happy to have a guide who knew all of this and planned accordingly!
Waiting To Drive In
I woke up before 6:00AM to drive up to the inner gates to Sossusvlei. We arrived at the inner gate early. We were sitting there waiting for at least 30 minutes as a line of cars grew behind us.
As we sat waiting, Tracey, Liza, and I worried that the person with the gate key would oversleep. They sleep in a little dwelling right next to the gate. At one point, Tracey got out of the car to knock on their window! I don't know that it helped.
I was so nervous we wouldn't be let through until after the sun rose!
Alas, the sky had only started to get lighter when the gates were finally opened. The stream of cars sped through the open gates and raced down the open, desert road lit only by headlights and moonlight.
Tracey told me the road was once unpaved. This was very dangerous for people rushing to reach Sossusvlei—an hour away from the gates—before sunrise. Luckily, the paved roads were a smooth ride all the way to Dune 45 which is about halfway to Sossusvlei.
The ride still took about 30 minutes. I was glancing back at the horizon the whole time, hopeful the sun wouldn't peer over the distant dunes.
Pacing My Hike Up Dune 45
We arrived at a small parking area in front of Dune 45. The sky had gotten much lighter by now, but the sun was still out of sight. I grabbed my daypack and ran for the path up the dune's peaked edge.
I had no breakfast in me. No water. Regardless, I ran full-force up loose sand! After a minute or two of incline, I started to feel the burn.
Between the dry, dusty air and my unfit body, my lungs lit on fire! It felt like I had smoked a pack of cigarettes or smoked a fat blunt before taking on Dune 45.
But I pressed on. I paced myself, stopping occasionally for some water and to catch my breath.
People prefer to climb the dunes when the sun is not out because of how hot it is. Smart! A dawn climb is a bit easier also because the sand is cooler. Many people suggest taking off your shoes when climbing the dunes.
This is only a good option if the sand isn't crazy hot from the day.
The time I was there was the perfect opportunity to take off my sneakers, but in my haste, I didn't. Perhaps it would have been easier for me to climb if I had gone barefoot!
Several other tourists were climbing with me.
There weren't too many, though, which I appreciated. The reduced number of tourists is one benefit of having the limit on accommodation options inside the park!
Many of the tourists hiked right on passed me and continued along the dune much farther up than I decided to climb. My lungs were burning so badly, I was coughing and ahem-ing up phlegm. So I picked a point along the edge of the dune that would challenge me but not murder me. I still had a big day ahead! And I wanted to calm my body in time for the sunrise.
When I reached my self-designated landing point, I plopped down and readied my camera.
The views were incredible in every direction. From this vantage point, I was positioned to view the natural result of 5 million year old sand blown and piled here from the Kalahari Desert. The Kalahari Desert is an enormous desert of red sand encompassing parts of Namibia, South Africa, and Botswana.
I loved seeing how shades of pink, orange, red, then yellow changed and then intensified as the sun emerged across the dunes. The light created beautiful definition and contrasting shadows against the brilliantly colored sand.
The following shows a photographic progression of the sunrise against the surrounding dunes before I went back down Dune 45.
Playing With Shadows
At the bottom of the dune, I found a tree that cast a perfect shadow against the dune's wall of sand.
It created some surreal photos.
After a while, other tourists climbed down the dune and came over to see what I was photographing. They all started to stand in the way of my photos and mess with the tree's shadow. This happens often when I travel. I will find a great spot to photograph on my own and then moments later it will be spoiled by other tourists.
I don't mind tourists taking the same shots I find, I just wish they would wait until I was finished! Oh well. I got some nice pictures anyway.
Leave Time To Visit Deadvlei
I only spent about 15 minutes at Dune 45 after the first rose over the distant mountains. I was eager to get to Deadvlei.
Some people skip Dune 45 to see Deadvlei for sunrise. But with the sun still low in the sky, half the surrounding dunes at Deadvlei would still be shaded. Long shadows would continue to stretch out from the famous scorched dead trees. And, most importantly, the area would not be totally overrun with tourists yet!
I won't spoil any more of my photos from Deadvlei because my next post will be a photographic diary of the place! Stay tuned for that.
The shifting colors and contrasting shadows across the Namib Desert at Dune 45 made for the most unusual sunrise I'd ever seen! I was incredibly grateful that I had early access to the dune. Despite its popularity, there wasn't a big crowd. So I was able to sit down and enjoy the view with little interruption.
A stillness came over me as I sat up there with the sunlight warming my face—a feeling that can only come from observing unspoiled, natural beauty.