From sunrise to sunset the Kgalagadi Transfontier Park will keep you enthralled. There’s nothing quite like that Kgalagadi rhythm. By Ron Swilling
That transient time of day when lions wake up, yawn and stretch is when Kgalagadi splendour is at its best. For a brief time the sun bathes the red dunes in gold and turns the vegetation verdant green. This magic pauses time in a sublime moment before the sun slinks behind a dune. Shadows lengthen and glimpses of deep colour can still be caught in side mirrors on the drive back to camp.
There may still be opportunity to view night-time visitors at the waterholes, otherwise evenings are spent around the fire and under the stars. And it’s early to bed for animal dreams. Days of exploration begin before first light when the gates open at sunrise and afternoon siestas are spent under the shade of a tree with a book or in quiet conversation, broken for brief spells with cool dips in the pool. A languid mood spreads through the camp in the heat of the day. Then, as the day cools and the sun begins to dip, the throaty sound of 4x4s can be heard as people head back into the park.
The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, a pocket of Kalahari Desert nestling between South Africa, Namibia and Botswana, has two dry rivercourses that wind their way through it. The park is characterised by red vegetated dunes and camelthorn trees, some adorned with sociable weaver nests. With no cell phone reception once you leave the Twee Rivieren camp in the south, the Kalahari beckons and unencumbered by the traps of civilisation, you accept the invitation into desert wilderness.
Keeping to the speed limit of 50km/hour, there are ample chances to check under camelthorn trees for the big cats lurking in the cool of the shadows. (Those vêrkykers – ‘far-lookers’ /binoculars are of prime importance for a Kgalagadi trip, to enlarge murky shapes under trees and to identify the numerous bird species that make the desert oasis home.) Keep eyes open for the small life like black-backed jackal pups and owlets up in the boughs of trees. There is a surprise lurking around every bend in the road: an ostrich taking a sand bath, a bright conglomeration of springbok on a green swathe of river valley, gemsbok at a waterhole or giraffe taking a shady rest.
Water in the desert
Interestingly, the boreholes that attract the plethora of wildlife to the Kgalagadi were drilled by the South Africans at the time of World War One to provide water for their army should they need to enter German South West Africa. This route was never used and later several farmers attempted to survive in the arid area. Today, better use is made of these water sources and they are core elements of the transfrontier park, providing precious water from the sandy depths of the riverbeds.
This is the Kgalagadi. Unexpected soft beauty. Take time out for Kgalagadi rhythm.