The sign for “Dunes” pointed left. We pulled off the highway lined with tall dry grass and spiny shrubbery, the kind that could conceal a lion’s mane, and that had me thinking we were world’s away from the city, daydreaming of sunrise safari drives and inspiring wildlife sightings. The lad squad (my dad and brother – designated adventure buddies for the day as we’d left my mother and the Mayoress of Paranoia behind for this particular outing) jumped out of the car to let down the tyres, while I dawdled through the sand – very helpful, I know. We’d arrived at the Atlantis Dunes before 8am, the first ones through the gate, and were more than ready to get stuck into the sandpit playground that awaited, just over the rise.
You see, it was meant to be a morning of badassery. According to the Urban Dictionary (a highly reputable source, obviously), Badassery is a real word and is described as “The act of being a complete and total badass” that effectively “renders all onlookers completely awestruck”. Which is exactly what I imagined we’d be doing as we conquered the towering dunes, flying over their summits in dad’s trusty Toyota Prado, with an artful spray of powdery sand like a really cheesy, but highly effective, 4×4 ad. Then, we’d bravely race down the almost-vertical slopes of the dunes, leaving deep tyre tracks in the otherwise pristine white sand, and bump fearlessly on to the next one.
Anyway, our first attempt at driving up a dune was an epic fail. We got stuck half way, tyres churning up sand as my dad tried to gain some kind of traction, and had to reverse down to the bottom. If badassery is about rendering “all onlookers completely awestruck”, the only thing we would have rendered our onlookers (if we had had any, which we didn’t, thank goodness) is in tears from laughter. Setting aside our own nervous chuckles, and embracing an attitude of “let’s pretend like that didn’t happen and continue the badass-ery” my dad sped after a fleet of 4×4 vehicles, whose inhabitants looked like they might have a better idea of what they’re doing, only to lose them over a blind rise. Not to be put off just yet, we pursued them full-throttle and came to a screeching halt at the dune’s edge, with my brother nervously laughing, “Don’t go down there, don’t go down there!” We all jumped out of the car and peered anxiously down the almost-vertical slope we apparently wouldn’t be going down – despite the 4x4s we’d been following having done just that moments before. Chicken? Very. Epic fail number 2? Check.
Thereafter, since there’d plainly been enough excitement for one morning, my dad and brother spent more time “surveying the landscape” – as in deciding whether or not they were still too chicken to bomb down the sandy slopes – than conquering any dunes.
As for me, despite the initial sweat inducing thrills of those epic off-road fails, I was feeling veryyyy relaxed. My dad, walking around with my camera sleeve over his head as a makeshift hat (I actually don’t know where I found these people) remarked that we should have brought along a beach umbrella for shade. And, really, he was so right – with the soft, comfortable sand, not a cloud in the sky and the sun already beating down at 9am, I was just about ready to settle in for a soul-soothing “beach day” amidst the undulating Atlantis Dunes. All we needed was a blow up pool and some of those cool flamingo and doughnut shaped lilos I’ve seen floating around on my Instagram feed and we’d be set. Even the company that arranges sand boarding and quad biking on the dunes was getting into the mood, having set up a volley ball net for their customer’s enjoyment.
But, it wasn’t just the beach-like sand that had me feeling super zen. It was the fact that I was completely surrounded by the stillness and untouched natural beauty (bar a jeep track or two) of the dunes, all thoughts of frenetic city life pushed aside. The silhouette of Table Mountain lingering in the background was the only gentle reminder that I wasn’t on another planet or, in fact, in Namibia (with white dunes, as opposed to red). I recently read an article on National Geographic (shared on the Facebook page of South African travel power couple and an inspiring source of creativity, How Far From Home) titled ‘We Are Wired To Be Outside’, which explains that, according to scientific research, immersing oneself in nature is the key to recharging the batteries, and to maintaining happiness and general wellbeing. This concept is one I can easily relate to. Whether it’s a sunrise hike, an intrepid kayak excursion or a simple stroll along the beach, getting outside and getting active is my favourite way to kickstart any day – I always feel more alive and ready to attack the day’s challenges after time spent outside.
And that’s also why I’m such a strong advocator of the outdoor micro-adventure – the idea that you don’t have to travel too far a distance to experience something new and thrilling and wild and maybe a little scary. The Atlantis Dunes are a mere 20-minute drive away (or 45-minutes if you’re coming from the city centre), yet I returned home from the morning’s outing feeling exhilarated and simultaneously rejuvenated after a busy week and smiling from ear to ear (and ready to continue the zen by spending the rest of the day on Cliton Beach because it’s a tough life, it’s true). So, if the outdoor micro- adventure is all about minimum travel time and maximum happiness-levels , then the Atlantis Dunes should be at the top of that list.
Before you embark on a day at the dunes, don’t forget to get a permit from the Atlantis Dunes Permit Office. I’d suggest heading out as early in the morning as possible (try for sunrise), as you’d be guaranteed “fresh” sand which makes for easy driving as well as photographs of softly lit desolate dunes (they get only more blinding and reflective as the sun rises), patterned by snake trails and hoof prints from the hidden animal life of Atlantis, before the tracks are covered by those of other visitors. There is also no signage whatsoever on the dunes which is great on one hand as it adds to the untouched beauty of the area. However, this means you should drive with care as you never know when you might encounter an almost-vertical drop on the other side of a dune’s edge. We were encouraged to hoot when going over these blind rises, to alert other intrepid travellers (whether they’re in off-road vehicles, or exploring by foot) of our presence.
I hope you enjoyed this blog post, and that you’re ready to visit the Atlantis Dunes this weekend, or to add them to your Cape Town bucket list. And remember, being outdoors is good for you (it’s true).
Travel safe, until next time. xx