The Namib Naukluft National Park is one of Namibia's national parks and encompasses part of the Namib Desert and the Naukluft mountain range. It is one of Namibia's most versatile conservation areas as well as one of the country's major tourist destinations, The Sossusvlei is renowned for its majestic, warm red, star-shaped dunes which contrast against the stark white floors of the pans. The Sossusvlei literally translates to dead-end marsh, which is relevant because it is the place where the dunes come together and prevent the Tsauchab River from flowing any further. This area is almost 60km east of the Atlantic Ocean, the initial destination of the river. But because of the extremely dry conditions which are experienced in the Namib Desert the River does not often flows this far and the pan remains dry most years. But every once in a while the area does see some unusually high rainfalls and the Tsauchab fills the pan, and although generally a popular sight, this phenomenon draws even more visitors from all around the world to witness the spectacular site. When the pan fills it can hold water for as long as a year.
Surrounding the pan are what are believed to be the highest sand dunes in the world, reaching heights of up to 300 meters. The area covers an immense 500 square kilometres of the Namib Desert, which is considered to be one of the oldest deserts by many geologists. The dunes themselves are said to be made up from residue or sand that had been carried to the western coast of Africa and deposited into the Atlantic Ocean. The currents in the ocean moved these deposits further north and washed them back up onto the shore, this ongoing cycle started to form the beautifully coloured dunes along the coast, the winds then began to move these coloured dunes inland. Dune formation sees sand deposited on the windward side makes the dune flat, while the opposite side is considerably steeper. The amazing patterns however which can be seen on the dunes vary according to the direction and speed of the wind. A process like this does not happen overnight and it is said that these dunes have taken a million years to develop. As the winds continue to blow, the Sossusvlei is an ever changing and evolving work of art.
The amazing colours of the dunes are one of the major factors attracting people to the area, especially those seeking special photographic opportunities. The presence of iron oxides in the sand coupled with huge amounts of garnet particles gives the dune its brilliant hue. The shades vary according to the age of the dunes, and the older the dune the brighter the sand's colour. The dunes do not look the same at different times during the day, as the angle of the sun affects the visual colour of sand.
Almost all of the 65 kilometre drive to the vlei is tarred, it is only the last 5 kilometres that aren't. For those who do not have a 4X4 vehicle, or for those preferring not to risk the off road drive themselves, there are shuttles providing access over the last 5 kilometres. Exploring the area is done on foot and is self-guided, unless you have hired a private tour guide. Always remember to take enough drinking water with you, as it gets very hot in the area.