Camping in the Kalahari Desert is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when you are planning a honeymoon, but for us it was. Both being nature lovers, we decided to skip the island vibes and headed for an 11-day trip to discover the beauty of the Kgalagadi Transfontier Park. By Davide Gaglio and Michelle Maritz

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A familiar sight in the Kgalagadi: two conflicting gemsbok males. Pictures by Davide Gaglio

It was early December, so it was hot, but that’s what brings the animals to the waterholes and the encounters we had with all the predators, birds and wildlife will remain with us forever.

The drive from Twee Rivieren to Mata-Mata along the Auob Riverbed, was a great start to our trip. Just before reaching the Houmoed Waterhole, we saw a pride of lions encircling what looked to be an injured gemsbok – not attacking yet, waiting as the prey couldn’t escape. All were there: three lionesses and a young male.

What a scene! It felt as if we were in a wildlife documentary as we moved along from waterhole to waterhole. Each waterhole had its own story. At Auchterlonie Waterhole we saw lazy spotted hyenas selfishly lying around the water not allowing anyone else to drink from the precious source. Next was a herd of wildebeests – one had just given birth to a still-born calf. We won’t forget the agony of the mom trying to resuscitate and push the calf up, all to no avail.

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Red-necked falcon

Onto Rooibrak Waterhole or what we fondly recall as the bird of prey waterhole. It seemed tawny eagles, yellow-billed kite, secretarybirds and vultures – both lappet-faced and white-backed – had all been there for a council meeting. We sat and watched them coming and going from every angle.

Further along the vegetation changed to more trees and with that came some very inquisitive giraffes, peering from behind the branches, as well as a pair showing some giraffe love. A few of them were coming down the hill at great speed – we really thought some would topple over! As we edged closer to Mata-Mata, at the Sitsas Waterhole, a hardly-eaten kudu male carcass caught our eyes.

Once we reached camp, we made some enquiries to find out what had happened. Originally a cheetah’s kill, the kudu was snatched from the cheetah by a group of lions before the spotted cat could even have a taste of its hard-earned meal.

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As the days wore on, we fell in sync with the animals – rising early morning, heading to the waterholes before relaxing under the shade of a large tree. In our case, enjoying the swimming pools at one of the campsites.

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Crimson-breasted shrike

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Pearl-spotted owlet

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African cuckoo

Mata-Mata Rest Camp wasn’t too full and we claimed a great spot under a large tree which was often visited by many small birds including sociable and white-browed sparrow weaver, crimson-breasted shrikes and scaly-feathered finch. The area didn’t let us down and we even crossed paths with our favourite predator, a young leopard known as Itumeleng. The encounter was pretty special as we were alone when she decided to move from her hidden spot under a tree toward us.

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Onto Nossob, through the desert, with a fitting sighting of a huge male eland bull at Elands Waterhole and vultures circling above a carcass of a gemsbok. We spent an evening down at the bird hide, hoping to see some lions as we’d heard them in the distance roaring. Almost on cue, we saw two males appear from the bushes to come for a drink.

Honeymoon highs

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We treated ourselves to three nights at Kieliekrankie Wilderness Camp. On our arrival we were welcomed by a friendly SANParks ranger who told us about a family of wild cats hiding under the hut and the possible presence of a yellow cobra.

Kieliekrankie is like no other place on Earth with its beautiful red dunes touching the horizon. Visitors to the waterhole right in front of us included jackals, gemsbok, ostriches and a brown hyena.

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Black-backed jackals investigating their surrounds.

It is not only the beauty of Kieliekrankie, but its location that makes it perfect. From here you can reach various waterholes at the break of day. Catching a glimpse of two cheetahs walking in the morning light, totally indifferent to our presence, is something we will never forget. 11 days after our arrival, we left the Kgalagadi – not only with hundreds of pictures, but with even more memories of an incredible honeymoon.

Desert romance

If you want to treat the special person in your life to a Kgalagadi experience, why not check into the Honeymoon Tent at Kalahari Tented Camp or Riverside Honeymoon Cabin at Urikaruus Wilderness Camp? Situated close to Mata-Mata, the Kalahari Tented Camp is unfenced and overlooks a waterhole in the Auob Riverbed. You could spend all day on the deck, first game viewing at your leisure and then stargazing before retiring to your comfy double bed.

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