With all my work pretty much on track, I took two weeks off to get out a bit. First a few days back in the Cape catching up with some friends, then a bus trip later to spend some time with my girlfriend in the Northern Cape, where I had the opportunity to travel 1.6km below ground. Certainly the lowest altitude I’ve ever been at, or expect to ever reach.
We then joined up with my parents, and later the rest of my gesin and some other family for a seven day trip to what is currently known as the Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park, previously known as the Kalahari Gemsbok Park.
The stage opens at an odd looking building that is split right down the middle (including the parking lot outside) to indicate the South Africa/Botswana border. Large sections of the park reside on both sides of the border, and it was with the formation of the Transfrontier park that a border post was established here allowing one to travel extensively in the park.
Our trip consisted of a night in TweeRiveren, three nights camping at Nossob and two nights in the lovely (unfenced) Kalahari Tented camp. Most days consisted of a game drive or two, including trips between the camps. Although the roads are bearable, certain sections have fairly bad corrugations. Made me thankful we were in a rental and not my own car.
Although there are no vehicle restrictions in the park (a small fiat and Toyota Tazz were spotted deep into the park) and roads are passable, a more comfortable ride would be had in a vehicle more suited to off-road driving. The major advantage with these vehicles is the added height, enabling one to see over the bushes and grass that line most of the roads.
The most prolific species we saw was probably the Springbok, followed closely by Gemsbok and Wildebeest. They are in no short supply. Ostriches, Kudu, Eland, Hartebees and Giraffe are also to be seen, depending on where one travels.
The park also plays host to Lion, Leopards and Cheetah, but there is no guarantee of seeing any of these. Birds however! Birds are everywhere. Every drive we made included multiple sightings of Kori Bustards, Secretary Birds and Pale Chanting Gosshawks (abbreviated to PCGs). Along with the PCGs are a wide array of other raptors. We saw several species of Eagles, Owls and miscellaneous Hawks and a Vulture or two.
We were there in the middle of July. Some snow storms down south (the N1 outside Beaufort West was closed) led to a few extremely cold nights. Most nights went negative, making it very difficult to get up some mornings. I believe -5 deg C was the lowest temperature we measured when on a drive. That being said we also had some amazing weather. First few days were slightly cool, but our last few saw most people breaking out the shorts as temperatures hit close to 30 deg C.
Our most exciting aspect was probably our multiple Cheetah sightings. On our trip from TweeRivieren to Nossob we stopped alongside a group of cars to view a group of several Cheetah off in the distance, barely visible without binoculars. The next day while trying to make out a leopard in a tree (I don’t count this as a proper sighting), five cheetah (we assume the same ones) made there way out to a waterhole.
The exciting part came the next day when we witnessed them on a short-lived hunt on a herd of Springbok, which was unfortunately unsuccessful. Later that evening they tried again at waterhole by Nossob, also unsuccessful. It was fascinating to view a herd of Wildebeest, who were nearby band together and chase off the group of Cheetah (now down to four members). Later that night they were spotted just in front of us on a night drive.
We saw, what we think was them, once more on our last day heading out shortly after they had finished a meal on a baby Eland which we found several hundred metres from them.
Our camping at Nossob was quite pleasant. Electricity is turned off between 22:00 and 06:00 at night, and the use of communal ablutions means you’re not always guaranteed a hot shower, I had one or two showers which were just bearable.
Kalahari Tented is absolutely beautiful, with individual building/tent combos situated 50-100m apart from each other overlooking the river bed and a water hole. This unfenced camp can make one quite nervous, especially at night when doing a quick dash from one hut to the next.
We had an amazing time there, and were very fortunate to see all we did, even if we managed to complete miss all the lion. We saw enough Lion spoor to keep a tracker busy for days though. So they are there :) Our night drive from Nossob was very pleasant, saw a Brown Hyena, several owl, the Cheetah and several other interesting animals which are more readily viewed at night. The drive was made enjoyable by our knowledgeable and friendly guide Anna, who wasn’t disheartened when she mentioned how one never sees Caracal or Cape Foxes during the day, only for us to tell her how we’d seen both species the previous day.
One is free to drive through the park between sunrise and sunset (07:30-18:00 while we were there) and each camp has several morning,day and night rides available. The experience of lying in your tent, in the freezing cold and hearing Lion’s roar (what sounds like right outside) in the dead silence of night is something incredible, and a sure occurrence, especially at Nossob.
On a side note, we hired a VW Kombi T5 tdi. I’m not sure which specific engine it had, but I’m quite sure I stalled less times while learning to drive than I did driving that vehicle for 7 days. I’m not sure what exactly made it give up so easily, but as soon as the revs dropped below 900, the engine would just die. This happened quite often on the dusty roads when slowing down to look at something, not being able to hear the engine over the noise from the corrugations. Besides that it was a very comfortable, reliable vehicle and the high seating position lends itself for game viewing.