Sand dunes with shadow of a hot air balloon
Deserts,  Namibia,  Travel galleries

Gallery: up, up and away, in the Namib Desert

Deserts take many forms, but to most of us the word conjures up rolling dunes as far as the eye can see. Such a desert is the Namib, home to the world’s highest dunes. Many of them surround the clay pan of Sossusvlei, and one of the best ways to appreciate the scale and sheer number of these dunes is from above, in a hot air balloon.

Nobody can be uncheered with a balloon

Winnie the Pooh, A. A. Milne
Flame shooting up into hot air balloon
Inflating the balloon

This was not the first time we had the chance to fly in a balloon; we had tried it once previously quite near home, in Oxfordshire. But the green fields of the Thames Valley are a far cry from the deserts of Namibia, and we anticipated that this would be a very special experience – as indeed it was.

We were picked up from our lodge a bit before sunrise and given warm blankets to tuck around ourselves as we drove to the launch site a few miles away, along with a couple of other guests. Once there we watched as the balloon was inflated, enjoying the warmth that came from the flames. Desert nights here are very chilly, especially in winter!

Take-off

Once the balloon was ready we all climbed aboard. We took off, floating above the dunes as the sun rose over them. This was the perfect time of day for photos; not only was the red hue of the sands at its deepest but the low sun gave each dune a defined edge.

Our pilot gave us a wonderful ride. At times he dropped so low that the basket just caressed the top of a dune; at others he climbed high so we could get a sense of the scale of the Sossusvlei landscape. Near the start we passed above our lodge; later there were a few antelope below us, seemingly unaware of our passing.

Back down to earth

After an hour or so we landed smoothly in a peaceful hollow between the dunes. The balloon was deflated, and breakfast served, with champagne and some exotic Namibian specialities such as smoked kudu. Our pilot opened the champagne bottles rather dramatically with a machete. He gave me one of the bottle necks with the cork still wedged in it, which unfortunately has long since been mislaid.

But I don’t need a champagne cork to remind me of this amazing experience, as it will live in my mind forever. And these photos will always take me back to that sensation of drifting above the dunes as the sun rose and warmed the desert.

I visited Namibia in 2004

18 Comments

  • mtncorg

    Gorgeous. Our only time in a balloon was with a local winery. We were going up with a bunch of other invitees from the winery. The balloon was up about three feet when the whole thing was cancelled because the winds were too high – over 5 mph or something. If I remember right, there was a lot of smoke in the air anyway from forest fires. The consolation was a couple extra bottles of Domaine Drouhin wine and plenty of opportunities to taste on the ground. :-l

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Oh dear, that’s a shame – although I’m sure the extra wine was some consolation! But you can drink wine (almost) any time, whereas the chance to go up in a balloon doesn’t happen every day 😉 My first time was here in the UK and was also cut short. The pilot realised the wind direction had changed and we were drifting towards the flight path into Heathrow, which is NOT a good place for a balloon to be, and also strictly forbidden of course. We had to come down much earlier than planned but I did get about 15 minutes in the air which was enough to get me hooked on the experience!

  • Simone

    Such mesmerizing landscape, you captured the warm colours of the sun beaming over the orange coloured sand dunes so well Sarah! The Sossusvlei looks so stunning, and what a wonderful experience it must have been to see it from a balloon! Such a joy to read, but at the same time it makes me a bit sad… I was only a few days away from here when the Covid stopped us continuing the journey through Namibia. But we haven’t given up hope yet to go back here, it will be one of the first trips we will make when travels are possible again! So your blog gives me something to look forward to. And you inspired me to include a ballooning trip if we do get the chance to go here 🙂

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you so much Simone 🙂 I really hope you manage to complete your journey through this wonderful country some day soon! And yes, do try to include a balloon flight, it’s an amazing way to view this landscape and appreciate it fully 😀

  • Tracey

    Your photos are a reminder of how really colorful and diverse a desert landscape can be, especially against such a blue sky. How lucky to see it all from above.

  • Marie

    You lucky thing!! We were there in 2017 but not by balloon – it must have been amazing. We’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy a balloon ride over the Serengeti in Tanzania. A wonderful experience – even once in a lifetime.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Sylvia 🙂 Yes, you should definitely try ballooning if ever you get the chance, it’s an amazing feeling to be drifting so silently above the earth 😀

  • wetanddustyroads

    Wow Sarah, what spectacular views you had 😲. This is very close to home and we are longing to go back to those dunes (but I’ve never seen it from above and it was great to join you virtually to see this magnificent sight!)
    Thanks for sharing this journey with us!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Corna, I’m so glad you enjoyed it 🙂 I hope you both get the chance to get back to Sossusvlei one day soon. I envy you having this stunning landscape relatively close to home!

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