Namib Sky Balloon Safaris gives clients an areal view of the Namib–Naukluft National Park in Namibia of Southwest Africa. // © 2012 Chuck Graham
The roar of butane breathed life into the multi-colored hot air balloon. Previously limp and deflated, it now stood tall and taunt, ready for lift off above the desert floor of the Namib–Naukluft National Park in Namibia of Southwest Africa. When permission was granted by our experienced pilot, Mr. Paul of Namib Sky Balloon Safaris, 12 anxious passengers ambled into the sturdy basket ready to soar over the world’s oldest desert.
As we gradually rose above the world’s tallest sand dunes, Paul instructed his passengers on what to expect 1,500 feet above the arid openness of the breathtaking Namib. There are many ways to enjoy an African safari, but the unique perspective of a balloon safari goes arguably unmatched. The expansive views we received from our lofty vantage point revealed just how vast the windswept Namib Desert really is — extending approximately 60 miles west all the way to the Atlantic Ocean.
At sunrise, long shadows receded across the desert floor into the deepest troughs of the mountainous red dunes. The artistic, fish hook-shaped dune crests were perfectly groomed, the waves of sand seemingly infinite. The eerie silence surrounding the balloon was interrupted only by the occasional burst of butane and the swoosh of a soaring greater kestrel. Below us, roving herds of gemsbok browsed along the desert floor, while springbok leaped across the wide open plain. We spotted a marauding black-backed jackal digging in the sand, its prize a softball-sized ostrich egg. The shadow of the balloon always stayed ahead of us, eventually startling a scrub hare that darted from its hiding place.
While Paul concentrated on fluctuating wind speeds, he was in constant contact with his ground crew who followed us below. After spending 90 minutes floating above the Namib, we landed skidding along until we came to a complete halt with the balloon eventually resting on its side. Before we knew it, we were whisked away bouncing along in land rovers weaving between camel thorn and acacia trees to a hidden spot in the dunes. When we arrived at the undisclosed location, we found tables set and a spread of food awaiting us for a champagne breakfast in the bush to celebrate a memorable flight over the mystical Namib.