02-May-2007 -- This must be one of the most challenging and difficult-to-reach Confluences in Namibia. It is situated in a remote region within the coastal zone of the Dune Namib and is also within the restricted diamond area (Sperrgebiet). As a result, it required careful planning and preparation.
The first requirement was to obtain permission to visit this restricted area. I wrote a letter to the Senior Security Superintendent at Namdeb
, Mr Schalk Hugo, requesting his advice. This letter was forwarded to the Manager Northern Areas, Mr Tony Bessinger, who graciously gave us written consent to visit the area subject to obtaining restricted area permits and other conditions. Once we had complied with these, we were able to liase with Mr Schalk Hugo and decided to organize the visit for 02-May-2007.
We travelled from Walvis Bay to Lüderitz on 01-May-2007, a distance of over 800 km, which took us nine and half hours on the corrugated gravel roads. On the way we stopped at Solitaire for a loaf of their famous freshly baked multigrain bread and thick slices of fresh apple pie. We spent the evening in Lüderitz, our first task being to unload as much of our camping equipment as we could, in order to keep our vehicle as light as possible for the dune driving. We even left the two spare wheels behind, thinking that it was unlikely that we would get a puncture in soft sand. We had also run our spare diesel tank empty on the way to Lüderitz, again to minimize weight. We had estimated the distance from Lüderitz to the Confluence to be less than 100 km and felt that a full main tank of diesel would be more than sufficient.
The following morning we presented ourselves at the Namdeb Diamond Corporation office at 07:30 as arranged. There we met Adri Davids who had dealt with our permits. She introduced us to Mr Wynand Breytenbach, our security escort, who would accompany us. He explained that our trip along the beach was dependant on low tide as at high tide the sea reached the dunes and covered the beach area completely. For this reason he felt that we should be prepared to camp overnight somewhere along that way. We returned to our base at "Zur Waterkant" and rapidly collected a few essential items which we had previously unloaded. We then set off with Wynand leading the way in his white pick-up.
We arrived at one of the gates which lead into the restricted area for which Wynand had the key. Next to the gate was a yellow sign warning visitors in four languages not to enter without a valid permit. The first part of the trip was over fairly flat dunes. There was no road visible as the wind rapidly removes all vehicle tracks. Instead there were thin metal poles at intervals with rubber marine floats mounted on top and we drove from one to the next - "following the balloons". These poles were the only sign of human encroachment into this absolutely pristine area. At this stage we were several kilometers away from the sea.
The next part of the trip took us along the edge of the mudflats leading up to Hottentots Bay. These mudflats extend nearly to the base of the dunes, leaving a narrow strip on which to drive, sometimes at a rather unpleasant sideways angle. It was here that we managed to slip off the edge of the dune into soft sand and get stuck for the first time - lots more "getting stuck" was to follow! We managed to continue and reached Hottentots Bay, which is unspoilt and beautiful. From here we dropped down a steep dune onto the beach, which was already becoming narrow as the tide had turned.
We continued up the beach for about six kilometers until we reached Black Rock - the first big challenge. Here the rocks extend into the sea so we had to negotiate a route through high dunes in order to get past them. Wynand went ahead and after about thirty minutes of searching for a suitable route through the dunes, we realised that we could go on but we could see no easy way to return. We decided to press on. We descended once again down a steep dune and were back on the beach. By now the tide was coming in (it was full moon and spring tide), so at times our vehicle was caught by a wave - quite scary! We came to another rocky area on the beach called Gibraltar where we again needed to go into the dunes in order to pass, then to descend a steep dune back down to the beach. Just past this we again came to rocks and this time we had to drive over them, at times with the help of sand ladders. We continued along the beach until we were almost abeam of the Confluence. We then entered the dune area and searched for a way to drive east towards the Confluence. We managed to drive the lighter pickup vehicle to within 2.6 km of the Confluence. From there we proceeded on foot.
The dunes here run in an east/west direction, so we climbed to the top of the dune and walked for the most part along the crest, which made walking easier. It took us about an hour to reach the Confluence which was situated in a valley between dunes, so we unfortunately had to descend and lose our height advantage. We spent about thirty minutes taking our photographs and then started the long walk back to the vehicles and into the setting sun, the light being perfect for stunning dune photographs. By the time we had reached our vehicles, the sun was setting, so we decided to stay right there for the night, camping in the dunes under a full moon, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.
The following morning we found ourselves enveloped in heavy mist and everything soaked by the dew. All around our camp and along the dunes were the footprints of black-backed jackals and brown hyaena, both of which are common in this region. We packed up camp and headed north along the beach, still in thick mist. We eventually reached Saddle Hill and from there searched for a suitable route out through the dunes, getting seriously stuck in the sand on several occasions. It was a long drive back and by the time we reached Lüderitz, it was late afternoon. We drove the last thirty-five km with the fuel gauge on empty!
Our sincere thanks go to Mr Tony Bessinger, Mr Schalk Hugo, and Adri Davids of Namdeb. Special thanks to Wynand Breytenbach whose expertise and knowledge of the area was invaluable - we could not have done it without him. Lastly, my very sincere thanks to Marek Hrywniak for sound advice and the loan of his sand tyres and rims - again, we could not have done it without them...