So, where in the world are we?
Guest contributors: Rob and Lynne Pearson
Cape Town, South Africa
African nature lovers paradise
For most first-time visitors to this vast game park—spanning the borders of 3 African countries—the remoteness and charm imprint a strong desire to return again and again. Therefore, on this, our third trip to this self-drive destination, which brings you as close as you can get to nature in all its forms, our camping dreams continued.
Setting out on the adventure
Leaving Cape Town in our 4-wheel drive (4WD) vehicles, we were a group of 8 longstanding friends. Some of us have visited this park several times in the past; and now that we are retired, we can join our friends without hesitation.
We entered the park on our third day having driven from Cape Town to Kgalagadi, stopping at safe campsites along the more than 1100km route. We have tents that sit on the rooftop of the 4WD but one couple slept in a ground tent.
Being prepared for the cold nights and warm days
Being the middle of winter, we were aware of the need to be prepared for cold nights where the temperatures can drop to -10oC. We were lucky to have milder temperatures with just two very cold nights where the temperature was -2oC, and the layers of clothing and bedding were enough to keep us warm. The daytime temperatures were enjoyed at a pleasant mid-20oC.
A taste of history
The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park—so named because it has borders (frontiers) with South Africa, Namibia, and Botswana—has most of the 38,000km2 conservation area in the Botswana territory. It lies in a large sand-filled basin on the western aspect of the Southern African subcontinent known as the Kalahari. This Malaria-free wildlife park is home to some of Africa’s famous wildlife beloved by nature watchers including lions, leopards, cheetah, gemsbok, eland, and other antelope. There are many other smaller mammals, snakes, and birds. Poaching has long been the enemy of these magnificent creatures and, uniting two adjoining parks—the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park in South Africa and the Gemsbok National Park in Botswana—has afforded protection for the animals.
The area has a long and colorful history. The park was formalized in the early 1930s when two conservationists invited the Minister of Lands Mr Piet Grobler to inspect the region. Boreholes were dug by the South African Government in 1914 to supply water to the soldiers along the Auob River and in 1935 the boreholes were recommissioned to supply water which would keep the people and animals in the area. Many of these borehole stations are still used today and these water holes provide the best game viewing opportunities. Many ancient nomadic tribes live and have traversed these lands; and during several decades of various wars, soldiers were stationed in these areas, surveys carried out, and farmers lived on these lands. But, it is nature that brings people back.
Read more of the fascinating history here: (right click to open in a new tab)
The desert offers so much
The area is arid with only intermittent rain. Rivers may only have water flowing every 20 years and the South African side is dominated by the Auob and Nossob dry riverbeds. We were filled with joy as we entered the game park knowing we were again in our ‘happy place’ in nature. The entry point is at Tweerivieren, which is Afrikaans for ‘Twin Rivers’. Looking at the map, reveals that the huge park stretches over 38,000km2 in which the red sand dunes, sparse vegetation, and dry riverbeds offer great opportunities for camping and atmospheric conditions for wildlife photography.
Strategic management for a bush journey
We were aware of the need to carry our food and fuel supplies on the Botswana side of the border; however, on the South African side, supplies could be replenished at the three main rest camps with accommodation and facilities including shops. There are smaller camping areas along the way which are all fenced for safety. The roads are sandy and corrugated, and are maintained by regular ‘grading’.
We camped for two nights at Tweerivieren, spending the daytime driving alongside the Auob River towards Mata Mata knowing we would have an opportunity to view the animals. Due to the arid nature of the area, the types of animals we would be able to see was limited and comprised mainly herd animals such as Springbok, Wildebeest, and Gemsbok.
Birds of Prey
The bird life consists of smaller flocks and a range of beautiful Raptors. We were treated to a wonderful sighting of a Martial eagle and a Tawny eagle holding a Puffadder in its talons.
What animals can survive these conditions?
There were ground squirrels and other smaller animals but elephants, buffalo, and rhinos can’t survive the temperatures in this waterless region. The big cats are mainly seen at dusk and dawn.
Exploring the Eastern reaches of the Kalagadi
We moved on and spent a night at Nossob Rest Camp to replenish supplies of food, water, and fuel before crossing into Botswana. We travelled for 200km, far to the east towards Mabuasehube. This wilderness area has a few campsites situated near the salt pans and travelers need to be fully self-sufficient because very few of these campsites have running water or ‘long-drop’ toilet facilities. Water and fuel for the vehicles need to be carried on the roof racks.
Remote and wild
The geographical situation of this wilderness area is extremely remote and, unlike the previous camps, are unfenced, which added to the excitement of being within close range of all the animals. It also meant a higher danger risk and that everyone had to be extra vigilant and stay close to the camp.
Lion: King of the jungle
On our second night’s stay, we were treated to the roar of a male lion, who was very close to our camp, for the entire night. In the morning we found his ‘spoor’ (footprints) right next to the cars and we could see he had done a walk around the camp.
The thrill of hearing that roar in the dead of night in the middle of the African bush is unforgettable. In the morning we woke up to a huge roar which came from a short way off and from our rooftop bed we watched this majestic gentleman saunter past our 4WD and settle on the edge of the salt pan nearby.
Wandering herds of Botswana and South Africa
While driving around Botswana we saw many other wandering herds but this area is more sparsely populated with animals due to the shortage of water, which is essential to all life. After 5 beautiful days in the wilderness, it was time to head back to the South African side where we enjoyed more wondrous sightings of herds of buck, giraffe, and other animal inhabitants of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.
Every animal has a unique beauty and we feel a thrill at seeing them living in their natural surroundings. On this trip we did not see any leopards or cheetahs and felt a little disappointed; however, it is a good time to remind ourselves that this is not a zoo and if we do see them, we are very fortunate.
Shared meals and shared stories
We enjoyed meeting other campers and sharing stories and meals of a South African flavor—braai (barbeque) and potjie kos, a form of meat stew cooked in a big pot over an open fire. Our travelling friends are an amazing group to share these journeys with. At home now, the clean-up and sorting out of the ‘kit’ has been carried out with enthusiasm as we start planning our return trip.
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