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The Skeletons of Deadvlei

Deadvlei is different. It’s almost like the Grand Original Designer left his creations there, only for the select few who dare to go so far to see them.

Trees deadvlei

900 Year Old Trees
Proof of the existence of water in the region can be found in the skeletons of trees.

Deadvlei, the valley of the dead as its referred to in Afrikaans, is in basic terms only a clay pan with the remnants of dead trees. At least that’s how it was described to me by an acquaintance from the Netherlands, who in literal terms is an Instagram influencer whose job is to create Fomo in others, by posting beautiful travel pictures using his gross Lightroom presets, with total disregard for historical or cultural matters.   

I’m standing in the middle of Deadvlei at sunrise, virtually alone, and so sad to see how all these Instagram wannabes just pass through this breathtaking place without truly admiring its beauty. 

I mean, literally finding this gem in the middle of the desert is a real feat, and being present with only the sun and the wind, surrounded by these massive 900-year-old sculptures? I can only compare the feeling to being alone in the Galleria dell’Accademia and seeing Michelangelo’s David for the first time.

Tree Sculpture Deadvlei

The skeleton of a dead tree
Remains of trees and wood can be found everywhere in the pans between the dunes.

As the shadows began to creep across the pan, the light reflected off the white clay began colouring in the dark side of the dunes. And the blue-tray hues of iron began taking on their gold red tint, giving the dunes their distinct look, and revealing the secret life of those that live here, whilst they begin to take refuge from the scorching sun.

Oryx in the Desert
As the sun gets stronger, Oryx and other mammals try to find shade.

Blue tinted Dune
In the cold shadows of the early morning, dunes take on a blue tint.

Panoramic view of Deadvlei
A narrow panorama of the western side of the Deadvlei pan.

Size for Perspective

One thing about the dunes that one should always keep in mind is the intimidating scale that can be deceiving if the mind has no term of comparison to measure it against. People climbing the famous Big Daddy dune can send an entire morning to waste if not well planned, allocating one entire sunrise for the one activity alone.
It’s impossible to shoot sunrise and still do the climb comfortably on the same morning.

Challenging Climb up the Dune
A woman climbs the dune on all fours, whilst 2 men sit and rest. Big Daddy Dune in the Background.

The entrance to Deadvlei
Finding the entrance to the Deadvlei pan can be tricky because of the size of the dunes.

Finding the entrance to Deadvlei can be tricky, as it’s hidden between dunes and off road. The entrance is around 5Kms distance from the end of the main road, and it’s only accessible with a 4×4 vehicle driven by someone experienced.
The park has prepared a shuttle that takes visitors from the parking at the end of the main road, to the entrance of Deadvlei, and apart from the shuttle, walking the 5Kms and driving your own 4×4 through the sand, there are no other ways to get there.

Panorama of Deadvlei
Most of the pan can be seen in this image. For scale, a reminder that the trees are bigger than humans.

Towards the North
View towards the north, where Big Mamma Dune can be seen in the background.

Traveling to Deadvlei

Visiting Sossusvlei and the dunes and not visiting Deadvlei or Hiddenvlei would be a waste. It’s an amazing experience to have and an even better one to photograph. It’s incomparable beauty is a neat addition to the staggering collection of unique views of the region, and the fact that it can be tricky to reach is even better, adding to the adventure. The closest lodging options are in Sesriem, where you can find the campsite and an array of luxury lodges packed with adventure savvy visitors. Seeing that getting there can be quite the adventure, it would be best to leave the driving to the local shuttle service, or to a professional guide.