Sesriem is often only thought of as just a gateway to the famous and amazing Sossusvlei, but it is also home to the Sesriem Canyon, a natural gorge carved millions of years ago by the once mighty Tsauchab River.
If you are heading into the Namib and you find yourself in the Naukluft National Park of Namibia, you will no doubt hear talk of Sesriem, a small settlement with a filling station and general supplies store close to the southern end of the Naukluft Mountains.
Sesriem Canyon, Namibia
Photo courtesy of TravelNewsNamibia.com
The canyon’s birth dates back between two and four million years, when continental upheavel resulted in the creation of most of the westward flowing rivers in the Namib Desert region.
Today the Tsauchab River only runs after good rains fall in the nearby Naukluft Mountains, but the canyon is a testament to the rivers long-past prime some 15- 18 million years ago when the gorge was created by the river’s once sweeping movement.
The canyon is up to 30 metres deep at points and is roughly about 1km long- with a width that ranges between one and three metres wide, flattening out as it approaches the iconic Sossusvlei.
The name Sesriem is derived from the Dutch/Afrikaans words for “six (zes) belt (riem)” and was given to the settlement by explorers returning from the Dorsland Treks. “Six belt” is a reference to the six belts, usually made of Oryx hide, that a thirsty settler would have to tie together in order to reach down into the deep hollows in the canyon floor to extract the crystal clear cool underground water which collects under the canyon’s floor.
Take a stroll along the river bed of the Sesriem Canyon
Photo courtesy of summitpost.org
Sesriem canyon is an interesting place to walk and appreciate the canyon’s multiple layers of exposed rock. It is best appreciated at sunrise or sunset, where the changing shadows and soft light foregrounds the area’s breathtaking scenery, setting up excellent photography opportunity or offering a weary traveler a chance for some quiet reflection.
For those visiting by day, a walking trail leads into the canyon from where the layers of the different sedimentary layers are more clearly visible. A variety of tree species also grow within the canyon, such as the unique laurel fig.
Do note though, if you are visiting in the warmer months of the year, do try and avoid walking around during the hottest parts of the day. Rather beat the heat and leave for your walks through the canyon very early or later in the afternoon when the Namib begins to cools down.
If you're staying in the park, ask your lodge to organise a special sundowner over the canyon for spectacular views
After good rains, pools of water collect in the narrow, sheltered sections on the floor of the canyon. These pools of crystal clear water are an invigorating sight in the barren and stark surrounds, and some of the larger pools even present adventurous explorers with a chance to enjoy a refreshing swim.
Deeper hollows in the canyon’s floor hold supplies of permanent water, even in the dryer months, which many animals use to survive in the harsh land. The pools are filled with species of fish, so be on the lookout for the barbell which call these pool’s their homes.
A campsite managed by the Namibia Wildlife Resorts is situated close by under huge camel-thorn trees, and right by the Sesriem gate, hot air balloons depart in the early morning, providing scenic flights over the Sossusvlei dunes.
The sand dunes at Sossusvlei are some 60km from the entrance the Sesriem gate of the Naukluft National Park, and the drive to the famous dunes will take about an hour.
The gate into Sesriem only opens at sunrise, so if you are staying outside of the park (which you will be unless you are staying at the Sossus Dune Lodge), you will have to wait until sunrise to begin their journey to Sossusvlei.
Never-ending views over the Namib at Sossus Dune Lodge, a stone's throw from Sesriem Canyon