Looking back in the rear-view mirror, the huge sand dunes stretch as far as the eye can see – their average height is around 200m, but one of them, known as “Big Daddy”, would loom over the Eiffel Tower at a stately 350m.
This is Namibia’s Skeleton Coast National Park in the Namib desert – a place that manages to be one of the most impressive places in the country, as well as one of the most bizarre.
The dunes illuminate the horizon with shades from orange to blood red. The older the sand, the redder it becomes.
This kaleidoscope is cut short by the bright white of a salt pan and the dry acacia trees of the Sossusvlei area.
Namibia boasts one of Africa’s most diverse landscapes.
In the south, there’s the diamond-mining Sperrgebiet area, with the German colonial town of Luederitz and Fish River Canyon, the second largest canyon in the world. In the east, there’s the Kalahari Desert.
Unlike many other African countries, in Namibia it’s easy enough to explore the wildlife in a rental car.
At Etosha National Park, you can hop on a tourist bus or just start driving and stop wherever you spot a herd of elephants or an interesting group of zebras, impalas and rhinoceros.
The dirt road from Sossuvlei to Walvis Bay in the north basically offers a do-it-yourself safari – herds of ostriches strut along the roadside and oryxes glide past. But it’s the endless expanse and the seclusion that really make an impression.
You’re more likely to see a zebra or a warthog than a village or a car. Namibia’s population is around two million.
The blue lagoons of Walvis Bay bring an abrupt end to the desert landscape. This is the place with the most water birds in southern Africa.
Thousands of flamingos transform the Atlantic Ocean into a pink sea, and pelicans and dolphins swim alongside tourist boats on their way to the seal colonies.
From the calm of the sea to something for adrenaline junkies: The 80m-high dunes south of Walvis Bay offer a real thrill.
Sandwich Harbour is a nature reserve where sand dunes seem to crash vertically into the tempestuous Atlantic. A few kilometres north, visitors can experience a real adventure in front of the gates of the coastal town of Swakopmund.
In the 25˚C summer heat it’s no easy feat to strap on skis, but former East German ski champion Hendrik May will show you how. He came to Namibia 17 years ago, swapping the snowy slopes of Europe for what might be the most exotic ski adventure in the world – dune skiing.
This isn’t skiing as we know it – standing at the top of a sea of sand dunes, 120m up, ready to ski down, a white four-wheel-drive car looks tiny where it has been parked at the bottom.
On the horizon the Atlantic Ocean glints in the sun.
“Follow my lead,” says May. “Go down as steeply as you can – and remember, sand will slow you down more than snow.” The descent is exhilarating. – dpa