The oryx can last almost an entire year without water in the Namibian desert. They have evolved with the landscape, learning to take the water they need from the roots of desert plants and digging for succulents when water becomes scarce. As our planet continues to change, there is a lot we could learn from the oryx. They do not try to change their surroundings, move to greener fields or panic order litres of water on Amazon Prime. They adapt the way they live. They evolve. The Sossusvlei desert is smattered with flora and fauna thriving in impossible conditions, even Deadvlei, the dry cracked earth holding trees that have been dead for up to 700 years, is home to birds, reptiles, arachnids and insects. andBeyond Sossusvlei Desert Lodge, a Beyond Green member hotel, is embracing this barren land, offering guests the chance to immerse themselves in the unique beauty of Namibia, with the lightest possible footprint. A journey to this remote and strange landscape won’t only help support its continued conservation, but it might just change your perspective on everything. Rebecca Cox reviews…
andBeyond Sossusvlei Namib Desert Lodge Review
Blink and you’ll miss it, this sprawling 10-suite retreat is designed to blend seamlessly into its desert surroundings, with just the gleam of the solar panels atop the roofs giving it away from on high. A Bond-esque lair in the middle of nowhere (most arrive by air or incredibly tired from a long drive), andBeyond Sossusvlei Namib Desert Lodge is a true oasis in the heart of this beautiful landscape. The suites themselves all feature private entrances and patios with plunge pools facing out onto the desert without being overlooked. From your pool you can watch the oryx graze, and look out for the area’s other inhabitants, the Hartmann’s mountain zebra, springbok, ostrich and the elusive leopard (though the chances of this secretive cat prowling past are slim). The glass-fronted rooms give the feeling of being immersed into the scenery, with even the enormous walk-in shower boasting the same, too-good-to-be-true views. Rooms are equipped with a fully stocked complimentary bar, snacks and watercolour paints, should the view (or the drinks) inspire you to get creative. Far better to sit with feet in the pool and socialise with the friendliest of the locals, the sociable weaver who will dip in and out of your pool with friends, chatting as it passes, before returning to it’s enormous nest that it shares with up to 400 other birds.
Atop the central hotel hub, which contains an appealing lounge and dining areas including a cosy walk-in wine cellar (packed with Africa’s finest vintages), is a fitness centre and spa, for all your wellbeing needs. How better to unwind after an early start and a desert hike than with an indulgent deep tissue massage using essential oils sourced and inspired by the land around you? You can then float downstairs for afternoon tea as the ostrich gather for their afternoon visit to the water hole.
One of Beyond Green’s membership criteria is to employ predominantly local staff. This is no mean feat in a land so sparsely populated as Namibia, particularly Sossusvlei. But the majority of the team are Namibian born and raised, and they hold the key to unlocking the magic of your stay at andBeyond Sossusvlei Namib Desert. Every single staff member treats you like family from the moment of your arrival as they greet you with a song, and you’ll get to know them all, though none as well as your guides. Sam, one of ours, left the country briefly to further his career, but felt drawn to return. ‘This place is truly special. It can’t get better,’ he tells me. His enthusiasm for absolutely everything the scenery holds is so infectious, every member of our group is soon examining animal dung with the same zeal as Sam. During a particularly challenging hike he proves his athleticism, and I suggest he should consider trying out for an Olympic event. ‘I could, but I prefer it here with the beetles!’ he tells me. And spending days exploring this magical landscape and night back at the andBeyond base, I don’t blame him.
The biggest problem in the Namibian desert? Water. What do luxury hotels require a lot of? You guessed it. The property site was chosen for its position, sitting atop the biggest aquifer in the southern hemisphere, with bore holes 250m below the ground providing water for the resort, with levels having only dropped 0.5m in 20 years. Still, water remains a precious commodity in the desert, and the pools are a luxury to be carefully managed. This means water saving mechanisms, water harvesting and recycling systems, including a hydraloop system to account for the 50,000 litres of water a month lost via evaporation. In addition, each building acts as a mini solar power plant, and there is a resulting 82 percent renewable energy to supply the whole property, with a generator running a maximum of two hours a day to meet the shortfall.
Our tour of the site’s energy saving initiatives is extensive and mind-boggling; everything you can think of has been accounted for, and plenty more besides. The planning has been effective but the success is in the measurement. How do you get people excited about sustainability? Gamify it. Apps track exactly how much energy is being used in each room, how much power has been generated, while also flagging potential issues on site. It’s why smart metres work and pedometers get us walking further; we can only improve if we know where we’re falling short. And in the case of Beyond Green member andBeyond Sossusvlei Namib Desert Lodge, that’s almost nowhere.
There are lots of ways to explore the beauty of Sossusvlei, but from above is definitely one of the best ways to take in the sheer scale and rich colours of the desert. One option is to climb to higher ground, which you can do by scaling one of the many famous sand dunes. Amongst the tallest (in the region, and the world) is Big Daddy, with spectacular views across Deadvlei. The hike is a challenging climb of roughly 40-60 minutes, but the sandy descent can be enjoyed in a matter of seconds, sprinting child-like down the near-vertical hill toward the cracked earth below. Pause to empty your boots before touring the iconic dead trees of the valley, making sure to greet (and congratulate) the rare species thriving in this barren landscape. Pack plenty of water, and wear a sturdy hat or headscarf and plenty of sunscreen: the desert sun is hot, and the whipping winds fierce at the top of the dunes.
Of course, to take it all in from above, you need to get really, really high. A sunrise hot air balloon flight is the perfect way to take in the space and silence of the desert. As you float above this otherworldly landscape, the sun rises above the dunes and turns the sky from inkey grey to orange and then brightest blue, while the shadows on the sand below shorten and disappear and the yellows and oranges grow richer. Not only will this new perspective bless you with one of the most memorable, and beautiful hours of your life, the new perspective will likely stick with you, and change how you view our precious planet forever.
And when you’re done with looking down, it’s time to look up. As the sun dips back below the horizon, turning everything golden and then an opaque black, the sky comes alive with a thousand stars, as the dark sky reserve of NamibRand Nature Reserve proves why it is one of the best stargazing locations in the world, with prestigious Gold Tier status. Make the most of the staff’s expertise to spot planets, shooting stars and constellations or retire to your andBeyond suite and take in the sights from the comfort of your own bed, which lies beneath a skylight. Just when the Namibian desert had left you feeling impossibly small, prepare to feel smaller still, underneath the glittering canape of the infinite night sky.
THE FINAL WORD
Choosing a hotel that is helping to preserve our precious earth and the creatures that walk it is a no-brainer, and Beyond Green member andBeyond Sossusvlei Desert Lodge is one of the most breathtaking ecotourism destinations on our ever-changing planet.
But when it comes to long-term action we have to adapt. We must learn to be more like the mighty oryx. We need to stop trying to change the world and learn to change ourselves.
Want to see more? Here’s a sneak peek of the trip to Namibia with Beyond Green.
See more from our trip photo album…