Sossusvlei Mountain Lodge

by Mandy Trickett

If you want to see the Big Five, this place is not for you. We saw a surprising amount of game for such an arid area, though, including leopard, giraffe, zebra, jackal, springbok, gemsbok, ostrich, beautiful geckoes, solfugid spiders, lots of birds.

Safari Review

I found &Beyond by word of mouth/personal recommendation.

We stayed at one of their properties - Sossusvlei Mountain Lodge.

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"By the way, there'll be some turbulence over the mountains," our bush pilot yells cheerfully. He's called Okkie and looks as though he should still be in high school.

Instead, he flies the lonely route between Windhoek and the Sossusvlei Mountain Lodge several times a week, across a landscape that turns from tan to terracotta to rust, as all vestiges of green disappear into a latté coloured ocean of sand.

As it turns out, the turbulence is just enough to remind us how small the plane is in the vastness of Namibia, and all too soon we're rumbling down the gravel landing strip at Sossusvlei Mountain Lodge.

Perched at the edge of the huge Namib Rand Nature Reserve, this is &Beyond's only air-conditioned lodge. For this, we are heartily grateful: the heat here is like standing under a hot-air dryer - an intense heat that whisks away sweat almost before your body produces it.

Our welcome from the staff is as warm as the weather, making us feel like the first and only guests they have ever greeted here.

This very special feeling is to stay with us all week, while we are pampered to within an inch of our lives by our ever-attentive personal butler, Marietta, and every other lodge employee. Everything here is geared towards personal care and romantic privacy.

"No-one is allowed to walk in front of the cottages," Marietta tells us and we soon understand why. Bringing an entirely new definition to the term "room with a view", even the bathrooms have floor to ceiling glass walls opening onto an arid plain where each small bush shelters a springbok or gemsbok (oryx) in its miserly patch of shade. Sand grouse putter through the pebbles while dust devils dance in the distance.

On our patio, the silence weighs heavily on our ears; it's a physical pressure and such a rare pleasure, we're seriously tempted to forego all the lodge's activities and never leave the cottage, just sitting and soaking up the ever-changing panorama of animal life.

But we don't, of course. We get up in the pre-dawn darkness to join game drives, expecting little in such harsh terrain but being rewarded with an astonishing kaleidoscope of creatures.

We're likely the only vehicle in a hundred kilometres. Disturbed by our lights, oryx canter across the gravel in front of us, snorting in displeasure. Skittish springbok dance away like beige ghosts out of the range of our headlights. We disturb a black-backed jackal carrying the limp form of a ground squirrel in its jaws.

As the dawn sky goes from black to a pale luminous blue dotted with pastel pink tinged clouds, a young leopard lopes across the rail ahead of us. He trots into the middle distance to join his sibling and they both settle down to watch us just as curiously as we are watching them.

We're up before the sun again to visit the famous Sossusvlei sand dunes. & Beyond's arrangements are flawless: we are one of the first few vehicles through the park gates as they open at 6 a.m.

Our engaging, knowledgeable guide Ronney helps us scramble up the flanks of dune #45, one of the biggest and most popular. It's 350 meters of the finest, softest sand you'll ever meet and we have it almost to ourselves.

"Let's go down this way," suggests Ronney, as he goose-steps off down the enormous vertical face of the dune. Here goes nothing, we think, as we follow him in great gallumphing strides through the luke-warm sand. This is fun with a capital F. By the time we reach ground level, our footsteps have already been erased by the breeze.

We hike out to Dead Pan, an ancient lake long since strangled to death by the dunes. The dune aptly called Big Daddy broods over half a dozen springbok delicately picking their way across the white clay. Gerbil, rabbit and scorpion tracks abound.

Our reward after this trek is an outstanding picnic breakfast served beneath spreading camelthorn trees (acacia dichotoma), where bees and ever-hopeful Cape sparrows join us for a continental breakfast. The bees are especially partial to coffee: after a dozen or so commit suicide in mine, I abandon all hope of a caffeine fix.

Despite occasional buggy guests, all meals at Sossusvlei Mountain Lodge are outstanding.

Breakfasts offer a smorgasbord of choices. We have to take sleeping safaris in the noon-day heat after epic three-course lunches.

At night, under soaring canopies of stars, we dine al fresco on delicacies like kudu carpaccio, springbok in rich wine sauce and white chocolate ice-cream.

In the flicker of candlelight, huge soft moths try to drown themselves in my wine. Apparently they're only attracted to white wine: my husband's red wine remains moth-free. After the bees this morning, perhaps it's just me.

The stars here are not just a casual backdrop; they're serious business.

This lodge is the only one in Namibia with a full-time expert astronomer. It also has the largest telescope at any lodge in Namibia, a 12" Meade Schmidt Cassegrain LX 200. We may not understand the technicalities: we just know that size matters.

The heavens are truly splendid. Tomorrow, we might actually listen to the resident astronomer. For tonight we simply stare open-mouthed at the glories spread out above us, hearing but not really absorbing terms like Magellanic clouds and the definition of galaxies. We're gobsmacked by the southern skies, Saturn, Jupiter, the Southern Cross, the Scorpion – the sheer immensity of it all.

We fall asleep with visions of quasars and black holes dancing in our heads ... quite literally. There's a huge skylight above our bed and the ponderous movement of the heavens scrolling by above us lull us to sleep.

We try out the lodge's quad bikes. "Don't use the hand brakes," Johannes warns me. "They'll pull you off course." It's my first ever outing on a quad bike and young Johannes has been the soul of patience with me.

The two bikes ahead of me have come to a halt at the crest of the dune and as I watch, they simply disappear.

I too stop when I see the 90° plunge we have to negotiate. They're going to have to blindfold me like a horse to get me down that thing. "Let the bike do the work," Johannes encourages as he sneakily nudges my bike over the precipice.

Half way down, I realize I'm actually still enjoying the ride. A brief eternity later, I'm down and it's high-fives all around. Thank you, Johannes, for helping me through this new experience.

We have been exceptionally spoiled here. Our time at Sossusvlei Mountain Lodge goes by in a whirl of game drives, dune climbing, quad biking, star gazing, and walking in the bush to see delicately beautiful Bushman paintings. We have enjoyed sundowners beneath pink and blue candyfloss sunsets, exceptional meals and truly exceptional service.

This is not a destination for those who want to see mega-vertebrates like elephant or rhino, but a visit here is guaranteed to make you fall in love with the desert.

With its peace, serenity and outstanding luxury, it's a hard place to leave.

Mandy's Safari Details:

Rating: 9.9/10

Safari company used: &Beyond (make an enquiry)

Parks visited: Namibia - Namib Rand Reserve & Namib-Naukluft National Park

Date of safari: 9-13 January

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