The splendour of Dune fields

There is a stretch of coast that lies just past Port Elizabeth, known as the dune fields of Alexander. Most of this lies within the coastal section of the Addo national park. These dune fields run for nearly 80 km and at places go inland for 5 km. Some attain heights of up to 140m.

This area has some of the highest dunes in South Africa. It is also the largest, most pristine dune field in the Southern Hemisphere. The sand moves in at the rate of about 350 000 tons a year, blown in by the constant easterly wind. The dunes are said to be about 6500 years old. These dunes formed after the last ice age and lie on older, more solidified dunes dating back 100 000 years. The sand is constantly on the move. In the east the sea erodes the sand back at the rate of about 45 000 tons a year.

The landscape is surreal and stunningly beautiful in its shear vastness and starkness. As I gaze at the dunes I soon drift off into revere. The wind beats a tattoo on my clothes and the sand stings my face. There is constant grit in my mouth, even though I have wrapped my shemagh over my face like some sort of spec-force wannabe. Before me lies a beach so vast and wide, it glistens wet for at least 100m in-shore. A sheen of water so thin, the beach so flat, it looks like polished stone. I can even make out my feint reflection as I trudge.

The wind pumps the sand over the crest of the colossal dunes in a never ending stream, like sawdust spewing out an industrial saw mill. Wisps of sand snake down the beach in long thin ribbons, lazily zigzagging there way like smoke blown over a golden, smouldering landscape. I could be anywhere. On one side it resembles a desert, the other, an endless dark blue ocean. The waves whipped into frenzy by the wind, the slack water rolling up the beach covered in a milky froth, like the foam on a latte.

The dunes stretch so far back that it is just an endless landscape of sandy mountains, no vegetation to be seen. The endless howl of the wind only interrupted by the restless roar of the waves. As each wave starts to roll, an endless spray shoots up, like a power boat dashing along its crest, jettisoned by the relentless wind.

For once I cannot see endless miles of trash, as the wind soon whips it off the beach. I can truly see what my ancestors saw, a landscape that has been constant for thousands of years, yet it is a landscape that is constantly changing and on the move. Each dune perfectly etched, its crest knife sharp, its graceful curving “s” so appealing to the eye.

Hour after hour I trudge. Sometimes I can see dunes covered in vegetation, but mostly I see a vast landscape, wave after wave of living, moving sand. Like a painter that had only one colour to work with. The view is stunning, awe inspiring in its shear size, the dunes impossibly tall. Yet it is also so incredibly monotonous in its endless repetition. Here lies the zone where your mind can escape the bounds of your reality. It is here that my thoughts seem to take wing and float over the dunes, like a seagull riding the wind without flapping it’s wings. I loose track of time, my feet beat a steady rhythm and I forget how heavy my pack is.

My thoughts begin to soar and in my minds eye as I go higher and higher. I get to see a solitary speck, slowly plodding over the largest coastal sand sculpture this side of the equator. A small speck on a huge geographical canvas. Here lies a sculpture created by a cosmic Michael Angelo.

It is here that nature becomes art.

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