Photo: Chloe Durr
10 September 2019 | Tourism
Dusted with red sand from head to toe, dazzled by the brilliance of stars and revitalized by splendid isolation, I am back in Windhoek after an adventure in the Kalahari - strictly speaking not a desert but rather a semi-arid sandy savannah or so-called semi-desert, as it annually records an average rainfall of 24mm.
This is a place of extremes, where ice-cold temperatures in winter months soar to blinding heat on any given day and bone-dry riverbeds can instantly turn into raging rivers on account of summer downpours. This rich and diverse landscape hosts thousands of plant species and is inhabited by 320 species of mammals. Here you find cheetah, lion and leopard successfully surviving in the sand dunes. One side of me is dismayed by this “waterless place”, while the other is eternally attracted to this thirst land, that covers an area four times larger than the United Kingdom, encompassing all of Botswana, half of Namibia and a part of South Africa.
This desert backdrop has featured in feature movies, such as The Lion King and The Gods Must be Crazy for a good reason. There is nowhere better to put life into perspective than facing vast nothingness. As Confucius once wrote “Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it”.
My earliest memories of the Kalahari remain imprinted in my soul, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I still have those grains of red sand lodged in my ears 18 years later, when our family of four daughters – all under the age of ten – took a short trip across the Kalahari dunes on a donkey cart joining a San Bushman to meet his family. The “short” trip ended six hours later outside his stretched-springbok-skin-home. With a “papwiel” (flat wheel) and sand-blasted faces we had to amble the desert pans back the way we had come, whilst following Piet and his donkeys – Bliksem and Witbooi – and a crescent moon. We hopped on and off the donkey cart singing to our hearts’ content. My two-year-old sister picked up “hiert julle boggers”, Piet’s cry to get the donkeys moving, and it has remained a family saying ever since.
Day 1: A harsh World
After travelling along the main road B1 from Windhoek to Rehoboth we decided to immerse ourselves into the desert landscape and take the scenic route along the C15, which leads past Uhlenhorst, Bitterwasser (the world-renowned flight-center for gliding planes near Hoachanas), Stampriet and Gochas towards the Kalahari Game Lodge. This route certainly acquainted us with sparse terrain and gave us an insight into farm life (not much dissimilar to the Karoo) and the history of the area – but it probably added two hours to our journey. Although the C15 is a well-maintained gravel road, it is treacherous – do not travel at speeds exceeding 100km/h.
Our red dune adventure truly began after we had arrived at Kalahari Game Lodge just before sunset. We immediately fell in love with the picturesque private campsite alongside the dry Auob river bed, enveloped by the signature red dunes of the Kalahari and surrounded by antelope silently grazing in the golden light. We lit our donkey-boiler and set off to explore the dunes on foot, enjoyed a braai and went to bed under the star-lit sky, ready for a sunrise excursion of a lifetime – tracking the black-maned Kalahari Lion.
Day 2: “His Majesty”
After a morning spent tracking and admiring two prides of lion, and even witnessing my first kill, we eventually found the rare and regal black-maned Kalahari Lion wandering along the crest of a blood-red dune in the midday heat. His pitch-black mane, extra-large paws and greyish streamlined body, adaptations to survive this desert-type environment, was a sight to behold. Kalahari Game Lodge is home to the only population of free-roaming Kalahari Lion in Namibia. Conservation and protection of this magnificent species is at the core of their initiative and makes the GPS tracking experience easier to accept.
Conveniently located just 18km from the Mata-Mata border post leading to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park – the Namibian-side Kalahari Game Lodge is a fantastic option for lodging outside of the frontier park - Torgos Lodge is also worth a mention. After a short 20km drive we arrived at the Mata-Mata Border post, where all of our braai wood was promptly confiscated. Thankfully the Mata-Mata shop sold wood, even though at an exorbitant price.
After deflating our tires to the suggested 1.6 bars and refueling at the Mata-Mata gate our game-drive cum journey through a sea of sand, the Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park began. Our afternoon was filled with a fascinating mixture of the more diminutive sightings to be enjoyed in this park: honey badgers, jackals, ground squirrels, a sleeping Giant Eagle Owl and other birds of prey.
Tips: pack charcoal and familiarize yourself with Customs regulations regarding meat and fruits.
Check on Gate and Border closing times.
After deflating our tires to the suggested 1,6 and refueling at the Mata-Mata gate our game-drive-journey through a sea of sand, the Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park began. Our afternoon was filled with a fascinating mixture of the miniature sightings to be enjoyed in this park; honey badgers, jackals, ground squirrels, a sleeping Giant Eagle Owl, and birds of prey.
Tips: Twee Rivieren is a high density, high traffic, area and most suitable for a one- night stay.
Late Bookings for the main campsites can be made at Reception, and are often available, if the Wifi Systems are functioning.
Take note of Park Rules regarding the mandatory number of nights spent.
Always travel with cash (relevant to the area), as Card Machines cannot function if the systems are down.
Speak to camp guests regarding their daily sightings as lions are territorial and can be spotted over consecutive days.
Toilets are few and far between. Only available at Picnic Sites.
Pack a Picnic lunch and cooldrinks and spend most of the day in the park, as time and patience are a necessity to game spotting. Waterholes are restful places to park at.
Check Gate Closing Times and plan your destinations accordingly (Leaving time for game sightings and Speed Restrictions).
Although the main roads of the park are said to be Sedan-friendly we witnessed more than one car stuck in the sand.
A place where geckos bark like dogs and mice build nests in trees it’s hard to imagine that the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is in fact a predator’s playground. We were excited to learn our first lesson regarding animal behavior when whilst watching a family of Meerkats at play we observed that they all sat up on their hindlegs and pointed their noses nervously directing us to a sighting of a male lion silently sidling down a dune. The lion let out a series of soft dog-like yelps and within a short while we observed a second male lion walking out of the dunes and across the pan towards him. The fondness of the siblings meeting was so endearing that we wished we could join them. We patiently waited and then drove slowly behind them as they walked along the road to a waterhole and languidly drank side by side. Later we spotted a Lynx, a more exotic sighting than given credit for, a Cheetah, that had been lying hidden under the shade of a Camel Thorn Tree on the side of a grassy dune, that stood up and slinked down the hill and across the front of our vehicle, and a sleeping Brown Hyena.
We ended the day by purchasing, made to order, freshly baked Roosterkoek and bread from a charming lady who was selling them outside of the Nossob camp Shop, and relaxed at the Hide to watch the sun melting into the dunes.
Tips: Do not be fooled into believing that predators are only seen in the early and end parts of the day. All our predator sightings were at midday.
The main camps offer comfortable accommodation and afford one the opportunity to shop for meat and groceries, and refuel, but the best Kgalagadi Experience is to book early enough in advance for the Wilderness Camp Sites where one can truly enjoy the privacy of a perfect Desert Experience.
The sand roads to the wilderness camps are deep and impossible to drive without the professional advice from a 4x4 Ranger.
I found myself lost in translation as we entered Bagatelle Game Ranch located on the edge of the Southern Kalahari. The wind-sculpted-dune-waves so oxidized by the colour of red iron that they might as well be cast in it! This is in stark contrast to the Kgalagadi, which now seems dull in comparison. We settled into our campsite hidden in the dunes under a brilliant canopy of stars illuminating the black sky and fell asleep quickly to the overwhelming sound of silence.
A sunrise horse ride through the red dunes, accompanied by a Bushman Cowboy, offered a view of intoxicating beauty unlike anything I have ever experienced before. On the back of a galloping horse one truly becomes one with nature whilst riding alongside herds of wildebeest and journeying giraffe.
The Premium Chalets are spaced magnificently along a dune ridge with uninterrupted views of the Red Sands; eland, springbok, giraffe, gemsbok and kudu pass silently by. The camping sites are well equipped and nestle between the dunes. Dinner, breakfast, tea, bar and a magnificently placed swimming pool is available at the Restaurant/Lodge. Bagatelle Game Ranch encapsulates the ultimate Kalahari Family Experience with an array of activities to choose from - a truly magnificent destination for an extended stay.
-Pack charcoal and familiarize yourself with customs’ regulations regarding meat and fruits.
-Check on gate and border closing times.
-Twee Rivieren is a high density, high traffic area and most suitable for a one-night stay.
-Late bookings for the main camp sites can be made at reception and are often available, if the Wi-Fi-system functions.
-Take note of the park’s rules regarding the mandatory number of nights to be spent.
-Travel with cash (relevant to the area), as ATM’s do not function, if the systems are down.
-Speak to camp guests regarding their daily sightings as lions are territorial and can be spotted over consecutive days.
-Toilets are few and far between - only available at picnic sites.
-Pack a picnic lunch and enough cool drinks and spend most of the day in the park - time and patience are a necessity for game spotting (water holes are restful places to park at).
-Check gate closing times and plan your destinations accordingly, leaving time for game sightings and speed restrictions.
-Although the main roads of the park are said to be sedan-friendly, these vehicles frequently het stuck in the sand.
Quote: “Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it” Confucius