Remote, huge and incomparable, this conservation area straddles both South Africa and Botswana, and like the tract of Kalahari desert it conserves, its famous for its heat, dust and long distances. Despite the climatic challenges it poses to humans and animals alike, it is unforgettably impressive in size, scenery and wildlife. The vast desert pans and dunes conserve several predator species of all sizes, on land and in the air, including the famous black-maned lions and the rare pygmy falcon. Other distinctive species include the desert-adapted gemsbok antelope, meerkat and sociable weaver birds which build the largest bird nests in the world. A true wilderness experience awaits visitors. Size: 3,6 million hectares. Situated north of the town of Upington in South Africa.
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
So, it’s my last night here in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. I’ve covered pretty much every road and jeep track in the 38 000 square km protected area.
I’ve seen far too many lions (if that’s possible), not enough leopards (not one!) sweated many drops of sweat (it’s been VERY hot), stood spread-eagled under several rainstorms to cool off and driven through way too much sand (I didn't know this until recently, but did you know the Kalahari is the biggest continuous expanse of sand in the world?! It starts in northern Congo and extends all the way down to the northern Cape in South Africa. That’s a LOT of sand).
And I’ve met some special people. They all have one thing in common: they love the Kgalagadi and they love nature. (That’s one of the reasons why I enjoy my work – most Read more »
If you have ever been here, then you’ll know that it’s almost always a hot and dry place, with average rainfall of around 200 mm. Well, in the last three days there has been about 30mm at Nossob, and the usually dry Nossob River bed actually looks like a river!! (This river only flows twice a century usually). I took these photos this morning between Polentswa and Nossob…and it’s still drizzling right now. Strange to be driving through knee high water in the Kgalagadi! The earth and the animals must be very happy, although the wildebeest look very grumpy (but they always do). Enjoy the photos!
For more, go to Read more »
It was a Thursday afternoon, and I was in the middle of the northern Kgalagadi, sitting in my 4x4. I was alone, except for a huge black-maned lion, which was lying just a few metres away in the shade of a camel-thorn tree.
He looked at me. When a wild Kalahari lion stares directly at you, it’s predatory gaze fixed on your human frame like a missile locked onto its target, there are two things that happen.
First, everything else on your mind tends to disappear instantaneously. Right then, there is nothing else in the world that matters, except the lion and you. Work, obligations, anxieties, ambitions, dreams…they all evaporate in the golden glare of an animal that cares only for you as a food item.
Second, you can’t look away – and you don’t want to. A primordial fascination rises Read more »
After Mabuasehube, I headed back to Nossob, then moved north to Ta Shebube Lodge near Polentswa. This is the sister lodge of the one further south near Rooiputs, where I stayed ten days ago.
It’s got a spectacular location on top of a dune, overlooking the wide Nossob River valley, and I prefer the tented camp “feel and look” to the more formal wooden chalets at Rooiputs. Seems more in keeping with the wilderness surroundings.
(The lodge at Polentswa, fortunately, is several kms away from the old, small campsite, which can be booked by 4x4ers through Botswana Parks. So the campers can’t see the lodge, and vice versa – unlike at Rooiputs, where the wilderness atmosphere is compromised somewhat by the proximity of the campsite and Read more »
The Botswana side of Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is mostly undeveloped, and certainly wilder from a visitor point of view. The three main camps on the South African side – Twee Rivieren, Nossob and Mata Mata – are all fenced. While the so-called wildernesss camps on the SA side are indeed unfenced, all the camps have chalets with plenty of comforts (Fresh water! Beds! Kitchens! Fridges!).
The Botswana campsites are all very basic, without any facilities to speak of (except for a wooden shelter, long-drop toilet and maybe a tap or shower – if it’s working). So you must have a 4x4 that is fully-equipped so you can be totally self-sufficient.
If you come prepared, you can have an exceptionally wild camping experience on the Botswana side. I ventured east from Nossob Camp on the South Read more »
When the locals tell you that it’s going to be “cooler” in the next few days, and that the predicted temperature will be 38 degrees, not the usual 45 degrees, then you know it’s hot. When those denizens of the desert – the gemsbok - start moving into the shade of the camel thorn trees at 9am to spend the day out of the sun, then yip, it’s going to be a smoking hot day.
While everyone was driving south out of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in middle of January, going back to work and heading back to school, I was driving north, into the heat.
I’ve only ever been here in winter time, during dry season, when day time temperatures are more reasonable, and night time temperatures can drop to below freezing.
But summer in the semi-arid Kgalagadi seemed like a quintessential thing to Read more »
Well, once again, everyone except me has seen lions in the Kgalagadi! The photos below are from Grant Francis, who I met in the Kgalagadi at Nossob. Now, on one hand I am quite jealous, but on the other, I'm really happy for him! Those lions are just magnificent. Some say the lions of the Kalahari have black manes because they are a remnant population of the Cape lion, which also had a black mane, but which was hunted to extinction a few hundred years ago. But no one knows for sure why you find black-maned lions only in the Kalahari.
Thanks Grant for the photos of the lions....and one of the bee-eaters!
As you may know, the famous Kalahari lions eluded me and Gareth on our recent trip to the Kgalagadi. Everyone else seemed to see them! Anyway, while we were there, we met up with Michelle Swemmer, who works as a wild dog researcher in Natal, but who was on holiday with her parents in the Kgalagadi recently. She is also a really good photographer, with a knack for being in the right place at the right time! The day Gareth and I left Nossob, a pride of lions descended on the fence line of the camp! Here is an excerpt from Michelle's e-mail to me:
"You are not going to believe it, but you and Gareth left Nossob on the wrong day I’m afraid. The Nossob lion pride came to the waterhole that afternoon on the 28th, stayed the night in the riverbed, drank again on the morning of the 29th Read more »
While we were in the Kgalagadi, we made friends with Andrew and Lohla Samassa...and they were lucky enough to get some decent photos of cheetahs. They wanted to share them with all the followers of Year in the Wild. Thank you Andrew and Lohla!
The Kalahari does things to you. At first, it appears to be an endless and monotonous expanse of grassy dunes, grey camel thorn trees and swirling red dust. We’ve been here for nearly two weeks now, and to be honest, we haven’t seen the wildlife that everyone said we would. Perhaps we’ve been a bit unlucky – everyone else seems to have seen lions, leopards and cheetah, but they’ve eluded us. And it is winter, which is a time of stillness, slumber and suspense…there are few insects around (too cold at night!) and the animals seem to be waiting patiently for the rain, biding their time (which they do so well).
But what’s interesting is that the longer we stay here, the more we find to admire in this seemingly empty place. We’re now experts at watching wildebeest, springbok and gemsbok, Read more »
The last few days have been a bit slow...we have seen little wildlife, except of course for the herds of springbok and wildebeest. And it seems like we're the only people NOT to have seen lion. Well, we have now moved from Mata Mata to Nossob, which is home to several resident lion. Gareth and I are camping on the fence line, and apparently the lions sometimes walk up and down during the night...we hope to see them! I feel like I can't leave the Kalahari without seeing them...they are some of the biggest lions in Africa, and the males have dark manes. Very photogenic...or so I'm told!
We did see a Secretary bird catching and eating a snake...that's a first for me! And our Martial eagle posed for us again...
We're off to Xaus Lodge tomorrow for a night...looking forward to that! It's Read more »
I was last here in the Kgalagadi as a 10 year old boy, and my memories are of long, dusty roads, the sounds of springbok and wildebeest hooves on the dry Auob River, the shrill call of jackal in the night, and my Dad making a braai outside our chalet at Mata Mata camp while my Ma and my two sisters chat around the warm fire.
Well, it's so good to be back here 25 years later. I feel like I'm reclaiming some of my childhood memories..life seems to go so fast! Which is one of the reasons I love being here. There is slowness, space and silence. It's hard for me to explain it without getting sentimental or self-indulgent, but it's what I feel...at times, when witnessing these natural miracles, like seeing the sun rising over a herd of springbok, or hearing lions roar in the mornings, or Read more »
Gareth and I went out yesterday for an early morning walk at Twee Rivieren with head field guide Jan Kriel, and guests Guillame and Christa Nell. Well, little did we know that it would be such a momentous occasion. Did we see a lion hunting a giraffe? Or a leopard jumping out of a tree onto a gemsbok? If only we were so lucky! But we were witness to one of the rarest animals in the Kgalagadi – the humble dassie, which is apparently one of the most appreciated animals in this semi-desert region.
I come from Cape Town, where dassies – or rock hyraxes as they are known in English – seem to fall out of every rock on Table Mountain. They’re not really that high on anyone’s priority list. But out here in the Kgalagadi, where there are very few rocky areas, seeing a dassie is akin to seeing Read more »
The Kgalagadi...or as some people know it - the Kalahari. The name comes from the Setswana word for "The Great Thirst". I wouldn't disagree, especially at this time of year. Its dry, and windy, and very dusty! (Our growing beards seem to be collecting more and more dust...might have to use a vacuum some time!)
This semi-desert conservation region in the north west of Southern Africa stretches over 3,6 million hectares across two countries - South Africa and Botswana. It's a HUGE area...twice the size of the Kruger National Park, yet the area under conservation is just a tiny fraction of the massive Kalahari Desert, which ranges from Angola and Namibia in the west to Botswana and South Africa in the south and east.
This morning I chatted to Dr Gus Mills - a carnivore research expert Read more »