Our very long Augrabies / Kgalagadi trip report - 6-20 August 2005
You can see all our photos from this trip here
Day 1 - Saturday 06/08/2005
The first day of our trip started with us almost getting to the airport late due to the main route being closed by police. There had apparently been a cash-in-transit heist earlier in the day, and the road was still closed to traffic. After a desperate detour around suburbs of Durban we didn't recognise, we made it to the airport in time to check in and start relaxing for our holiday. We flew from Durban to Johannesburg, then waited for approximately 1.5-2 hours at Johannesburg airport before boarding a tiny Jetsream 41 aircraft (it seats 29!) bound for Upington. We arrived in Upington shortly after 17:30, collected our Toyota Condor rental car and headed for Augrabies. We reached Augrabies at around 19:30, checked in at the gate and headed for our chalet (No. Eight) where we unpacked and then headed over to the restaurant for dinner. The restaurant at Augrabies is excellent, and we found all staff in the park to be extremely friendly.
Day 2 - Sunday 07/08/2005
We slept in this morning - it was our first proper day of holiday, so we were allowed to! :-)
After breakfast at the chalet, admiring the view and enjoying the birds and squirrels around camp, we took a drive around the reserve. We didn't remember there being such a large area to drive around from our previous visit 5 years ago, the old map we had ended at Fountain Viewpoint. We found all the animals we expected - dassies, squirrels, pale chanting goshawks, springbok, klipspringer, baboons etc. And quiver trees, of course. :-) In the afternoon we went along the boardwalk to the waterfall, not much water there this time around, but we're still glad we visited the park again. Augrabies is such a beautiful place, I could spend hours just enjoying the landscape and scenery. We heard later from some foreign tourists while visiting Kgalagadi that they had been advised to avoid Augrabies on their trip as there was "no water"?, which I think is quite sad - they missed out on a beautiful destination. Dinner was had at the restaurant again, another night sleeping on a very full and happy stomach!
Day 3 - Monday 08/08/2005
Up early this morning and off to Upington to do some grocery shopping before heading to Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. We were a bit concerned about distance, since we were booked in at Mata-Mata for the first night, but it all worked out quite well. We had breakfast in Upington at the Wimpy, had hoped that the Woolworths nearby would have a food market but it turned out to only have clothing, so grocery shopping was done at the Pick & Pay once we eventually found it. We knew we would need drinking water at the wilderness camps in Kgalagadi, but if we'd known beforehand that the water at the main camps wouldn't taste so great either, then we would've stocked up on even more water in Upington. You can get bottled water at all the main rest camps, but it would've been cheaper to buy it in bulk in Upington instead. Also, because we were moving around camps quite a bit, and had flown in, we didn't have the luxury of refrigeration (not enough to store meat for braais), so our meals consisted mostly of pasta, cereals, instant oats, etc. and let me tell you, pasta cooked in the tap water from the camps in Kgalagadi is not the best!!
We left Upington shortly after 11:00 and arrived at Twee Rivieren around 14:00. This was a chance to drop tyre pressures, re-fuel (the vehicle and us!) and make phone calls before heading on to Mata-Mata. It felt great to be back in the Kgalagadi! Even after that awful stretch of road to enter the park - at least the roads inside the park will be better now, we thought.
On our way through to Mata-Mata we saw lots of the expected animals - gemsbok, springbok, wildebeest, ostriches, squirrels, whistling rats, black backed jackals, raptors (very poorly identified in the beginning, but we got much better towards the end of the trip!), and of course vast numbers of Kori bustards. We also saw a yellow mongoose, not close enough for good photos, and a fleeting glimpse of an African wild cat near Craig Lockhart waterhole. We were excited to see two groups of giraffe around Veertiende Boorgat and Dalkeith, as we had not seen these on our previous trip, but as we soon learnt from spending a few days in the area, the giraffe were hardly a great find as they were always in this area!
Mata-Mata has been renovated recently and our unit (No.4) was lovely. We really enjoyed our stay at Mata-Mata, I understand it was a more basic camp in the past, but to anyone who still thinks it's got no atmosphere and it's not worth staying there, I say give it another try. The staff again were all very friendly and helpful, and the animal life around the camp is fantastic. This camp must present the best opportunity for squirrel photography anywhere! The only disappointment at the camp was the hide, which is too close to the fence where people are camping to serve any real purpose.
Weather-wise, we had now switched from shorts & t-shirts to long trousers as it was starting to feel a bit cooler, but we had no idea what was in store for us!
Day 4 - Tuesday 09/08/2005
Out early in the morning in the hopes of finding some really good sightings. Before reaching Sitszas waterhole we had already found some black backed jackals and a pair of bat eared foxes shortly after the waterhole. Before long, we had found another 6 jackals, and stopped counting! At Dalkeith waterhole we watched a lanner falcon trying to catch the doves that come down to drink, but it wasn't successful in the time we were there. This is a lovely waterhole for photography, especially in the morning when the sun is just in the right place. We found the giraffe just past Veertiende Boorgat again, and plenty of gemsbok, springbok, etc. At Dertiende Boorgat, we stayed a while and watched the sandgrouses coming in for water. Kamqua picnic spot made a nice stop, and then we headed along the lower dune road for a bit, turning around at Morevet. We found that both dune roads were quite productive for northern black korhaans and steenbok, and learnt that in years where there has been a lot of rain and springboks are more plentiful, that the cheetahs will move down to the river beds and hunt them, so you will tend to find more steenbok in the dunes. In leaner years, you will find more cheetahs up in the dunes hunting steenbok, and then of course, steenbok will be more difficult to spot. On the way back to Mata-Mata, we found an ostrich pair with 13 cute babies near Urikaruus - we were to see plenty of ostrich during the rest of the trip, but no more babies. They were unfortunately a bit too far for us to photograph very well.
We checked in to Kalahari Tent Camp ready for our luxury stay in the honeymoon unit (No.1) (it was the only one available when we booked). Luckily we found out before gate closing time that you are expected to bring your own matches for the gas stove, and rushed over to Mata-Mata to buy some - this really needs to be made clearer to visitors, as we found the same thing at Grootkolk where it would not have been so easy to resolve. Since we weren't planning to braai, we had no need for firewood, and the instructions only told visitors to bring their own firewood and drinking water. KTC is very nice, but not too different from what we have experienced in some of the KZN reserves. We found that the honeymoon unit was a bit far away in terms of game viewing - not too close to the waterhole.
As soon as the sun set we realised we were in for a long COLD night! We were tucked into bed by 19:30 in an attempt to stay warm, and there was absolutely no chance we were getting out to use the bathroom - we think it was just a really cold spell that hit at the time we were at KTC, but it really put us off staying there again. The tent was big and draughty and definitely not the best choice for a winter visit.
Day 5 - Wednesday 10/08/2005
Out early again, partly because we were desperate to get warm again.
We decided to drive down to Twee Rivieren via the lower dune road, which meant we had a lot of driving ahead of us. The giraffe were in their usual spot, near to Urikaruus, and a second herd nearer to Montrose. We headed onto the lower dune road, and for the first time noticed a big change in the vegetation by the time we passed Tierkop waterhole - much more sparsely vegetated on the Nossob side of the park. Twee Rivieren was our lunch stop, and a chance to get in touch with family again after a few days out of communication. Heading back on the Auob river road, we found our first meerkats and more yellow mongooses near Kamfersboom waterhole. The meerkats were tremendously entertaining and we stayed for quite a while watching their antics.
Just after Gemsbokplein, we found a traffic jam (although this was really a minor one compared to the ones you experience in the Kruger park!), and discovered the cause of this - 5 cheetahs walking right down the middle of the river bed in the direction of Mata-Mata. We had just missed 2 of them attempting to chase some springboks, it was apparently a half hearted attempt by the over eager cubs. The cheetahs were a mother with her 4 cubs, already quite large as you can in the pictures. Together they must make a formidable hunting team. We stayed with them for quite a while, until they saw another springbok ahead in the river bed and dropped down - we hoped they might try hunt again, but they soon became sleepy and lay down in the river bed. Still having some way to travel, we left them and continued up to KTC. Not very far past Batulama, we found a slender mongoose in a hole very close to the road and this made for a lovely photographic opportunity.
Back to KTC for another cold night, not quite as bad as the previous night, but still difficult for us who are quite unused to very cold weather. (When we got to Nossob the following day, they were reporting that it had been -6C overnight and it seemed warmer to us on that side of the park.)
Day 6 - Thursday 11/08/2005
We took the direct route to Nossob, via the upper dune road, and it was a fairly uneventful drive. We were starting to see quite a few red hartebeest now too, and plenty of raptors of course. We arrived at Nossob shortly before 13:00 and checked into our unit (No.10B). The squirrels around camp were great to watch over lunch, and we encountered two very brazen hornbills that took a great fascination to our car. We went out for an afternoon drive at 16:00 and headed north, turning around between Kwang & Bedinkt waterholes - not much seen on this drive, and the road was noticeably a lot worse than the Auob river road.
There is a problem with jackals inside the camp at Nossob at the moment, which I'm sure is not helped at all by people like the ones staying next to us - we didn't see it being done, so couldn't really complain to them about it, but from their conversation and the behaviour of the jackal nearby, it seemed clear that they were feeding it from their braai.
We visited the hide a few times during the night, but only saw jackals there.
Day 7 - Friday 12/08/2005
We were up early and ready to head out at 07:00, and while packing the car heard lions roaring just outside the camp. Of course, everyone raced out of camp immediately to find them, which spoilt the sighting somewhat. They were not far north of the camp, but there were just too many cars for decent viewing, so we continued on northwards.
Shortly after Kousant waterhole, in the distance we saw 4 spotted hyaenas and approximately 10 jackals on a fresh wildebeest kill. We looked around for other predators in the area, but found none.
We arrived at Grootkolk at 11:00, too early for check in, so continued up to Union's End. There is a new information board at Union's End now that had been erected by the honorary rangers of the region earlier in the week. Unfortunately both waterholes between Grootkolk and Union's End were dry so didn't provide much activity.
We headed back to Grootkolk and checked in. Grootkolk is a fantastic camp - there are only four units (we were staying in number 2), made of sand bags (for the lower walls) and canvas tent. The kitchens are on the outside, uncovered, and I thought this would be a problem since it was still quite cold in the evenings, but it was actually fine. There is also a communal kitchen & dining room unit which can be used if you have a big group booking out the whole camp. Gert, the tourism assistant on duty at Grootkolk when we visited, is great! He was entertaining, and really helpful, as well as being full of interesting stories.
We went for a drive again in the afternoon. There were some meerkats right on the main road opposite the Grootkolk road. We drove down to Kannagauss waterhole, where we found a bateleur drinking, and then later a herd of wildebeest came in to drink.
We met Oom Piet Heymans at the waterhole, he was passing through after checking on the various waterholes, and stopped to chat. What a wonderful man, he loves to share information with anyone who expresses an interest and is a brilliant ambassador for the country, his love for the area shines through.
Kannagauss apparently has good fresh water that raptors prefer to drink, so you may often find bateleurs and vultures especially at this waterhole.
There is a waterhole just in front of the camp that is lit at night (not a huge floodlight, but adequate). This camp has a reputation as having a resident leopard, and he did not disappoint - he came right through the camp shortly after 20:00 and we were able to get a really good look at him while he drank at the waterhole and then strolled off. We also had a spotted hyaena visiting the waterhole early in the morning. If you have a large spotlight it would really come in useful at this camp!
Day 8 - Saturday 13/08/2005
The only problem with Grootkolk is that there isn't much to do during the day if you're staying for more than one night. We opted to stay in the camp for the morning and enjoy a leisurely breakfast while keeping an eye on the waterhole. A herd of wildebeest came in, but nothing else. Gert said that kudu are common visitors at the waterhole, but we weren't lucky enough to see them.
We went out at lunchtime and drove down past Kannagaus waterhole, then back up to the waterhole for a lunch break. Nothing came in while we watched, so we headed back to camp and spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing and enjoying the camp. We spent the evening taking some star trail photographs.
During the night we only had a spotted hyaena visiting.
Day 9 - Sunday 14/08/2005
We awoke to find that it was overcast - the first and only time during our trip. We headed down towards Nossob, seeing evidence of another kill near Kousant with lots of vultures and jackals present. There were 2 jackals at Kousant waterhole trying to catch sandgrouse but not having any success.
We arrived at Nossob at lunchtime and checked in - the unit we were in (No.5A) was smaller than the one we stayed in on our way up towards Grootkolk, but was still very nice. Not too long after settling in, GavinW popped in to say hi, and we discovered we were staying very close to Tabs & friends, and Gavin was camping nearby too.
We went driving again in the afternoon, doing Marie se Loop this time. We found a group of kudu along the first stretch of the loop, but nothing else to write about. We had hoped to find the cheetah and/or lions that people had seen on this stretch earlier in the day, but again found ourselves chasing phantoms. :-) I've already had a moan in another thread about the condition of the roads, especially in this area of the park. We saw someone stuck at the exit of the loop road who luckily were able to push themselves out.
The evening was spent with Tabs & friends and Gavin & Debbie, enjoying a lovely potjie dinner. Oom Piet was invited to dinner too, and we were privileged to watch a few of his AV presentations, which were extremely motivating for us. He shared some great photography tips with us too.
Day 10 - Monday 15/08/2005
We left camp early and headed down to Marie se Loop again, this time it was our turn to get stuck.
Thankfully a 4x4 came along soon enough and helped us out, but it was a very frustrating experience and I really feel that SANParks needs to do something about this.
We headed north, up to Bedinkt and then back down to camp. There was a cold wind blowing. Not too far from Kwang we found 2 male lions, with Oom Piet keeping an eye on them. They were quite far from the road, and were settled in for the day in the sun, keeping out of the cold wind as much as possible. At Kwang waterhole we were stopped by elpaco who had seen our yellow ribbon.
Once back at camp, we had lunch and then walked around the trail. This was very productive for birds, and of course there were lots of squirrels around.
We went for another drive in the afternoon, north at first where we found the 2 male lions lying in the same spot, and then south again to Marie se Gat and back to camp. There was a very large herd of springbok around near Nossob as well as lots of gemsbok in the area.
We spent another wonderful evening dining with Tabs & friends, and were also joined by Gavin & Debbie, and elpaco (Francois) & Marie for drinks.
Shortly after heading for bed sometime after lights out time, heard lions roaring very close to camp. Oom Piet's advice for seeing the big cats in Kgalagadi is the hotter the better - in winter they will head into the dunes for warmth, or lie down all day like we had seen with the lions earlier. It made us feel a bit better about our limited sightings, but we still wish we had been a bit luckier.
Day 11 - Tuesday 16/08/2005
We left Nossob around 08:00 after packing up, and found one male lion just past Rooikop waterhole, very close to the road, but definitely on the wrong side for photography. We took the upper dune road over towards Mata-Mata, and were very pleased to be back on the Auob river road finally - not so many corrugations!
The general game was suddenly much more abundant again, and immediately we felt happier - driving for hours and not seeing anything, not even a gemsbok, can get you down a bit.
The giraffe were in their usual spot, as if they hadn't moved in a few days.
We arrived at Mata-Mata just after 15:00, and checked into our unit (No.3). Cheetah and lion were marked on the sightings board at Craig Lockhart waterhole from the morning. We headed out again in this direction at 17:00 and found prints all around the area, but no cats unfortunately.
Day 12 - Wednesday 17/08/2005
We were out early again in our quest to find the 5 cheetah again. They had been seen regularly in the area while we were over on the Nossob river side, and we hoped to find them one more time. We found 2 quite young gemsbok with adults near to the road and in perfect light, and then a huge herd of springbok near Dalkeith waterhole, pronking, so we spent quite a long time with them. We headed down to Dertiende Boorgat and then turned back and got back to Mata-Mata around lunch time.
We left camp again at 15:00, and this time had a beautiful jackal sighting very close to the road not far from Craig Lockhart and in good light. On the Veertiende Boorgat loop road we found a martial eagle in a tree with small prey, and then a whole host of birds on the ground near it - plovers, lilac breasted roller, crimson breasted shrikes, a juvenile eagle we guessed was probably a tawny eagle, and spent quite some time photographing here.
We arrived back at camp shortly before gates closed.
Day 13 - Thursday 18/08/2005
We were out early and headed down towards Twee Rivieren slowly. This morning it was cold enough to ice over the windscreen when we attempted to wash it.
We found a Verreauxs' Eagle Owl very close to the road in a tree, I suspect it was the same one elpaco found at around about the same time. Further on there were 4 spotted hyaena's and lots of jackals in the river bed scavenging from an old kill.
Shortly after Kamqua picnic spot, we saw a honey badger running across the Auob river bed towards the road ahead of us - we tried to get there in time to see it properly before it crossed the road, but it seemed to pick up pace as we did! We watched it run out in front of us, then along the road for a bit, and then up the dune on the other side and over. A pale chanting goshawk was following it closely, as you always read about in the guide books. I was very happy that I had finally found my honey badger!
We arrived at Twee Rivieren shortly before lunch, and checked into our unit (No. Eight). Twee Rivieren chalets could do with the upgrade that has taken place at Mata-Mata and Nossob - they seem a bit dated now, although still comfortable enough.
We went out again at 15:00, and headed north up the Noosob river bed. We were planning to turn around at Kij Kij, and as we got near, saw a lot of cars on the dune road near to the waterhole, so proceded towards them. Up on the crest of the dunes were 2 lionesses, and as we stayed and watched for a bit, 2 more came and joined them from behind some bushes. We headed back down to camp shortly after 17:00. This evening we dined at the restaurant and afterwards joined elpaco for a drink. I have to say that this yellow ribbon idea is a fantastic one, it gives a great opportunity to get to know other people when on holiday.
Day 14 - Friday 19/08/2005
Our last morning in the park - we got up early and headed out as soon as the gates opened. We took the Auob river road north, and again found ourselves with a frozen windscreen as it was a very cold morning. Not far past Munro waterhole we found a group of swallow tailed bee-eaters huddled together warming up with their backs to the sun - a wonderful burst of colour in the otherwise dull bush.
We took the lower dune road over towards the Nossob river, and found a greater kestrel very close to the road, and very calm while we photographed. We headed north after reaching the Nossob river road, and turned back at Melkvlei to head towards the exit. We passed elpaco along the way and he had just seen cheetahs near Rooiputs - that's just how it goes I guess, had we chosen to head straight down towards Twee Rivieren instead of trying to get maximum time in the park, we may have seen them too!
We left the park around 12:30, headed for Upington where we stayed overnight at the Protea Oasis Lodge (very very nice!) before flying back home on Saturday morning.
Summary of sightings
When we arrived at Twee Rivieren on 8th August, we had purchased a checklist titled "Animals of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park"?. Travelling as light as possible, we had chosen to leave most of our field guide books at home, and this looked like the perfect solution for those animals/birds that may be difficult to identify. All in all, these are what we managed to tick off during our visit:
African Wild Cat
Cape Ground Squirrel
Four-striped Grass Mouse
Brants' Whistling Rat
Northern Black Korhaan
Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk
White-faced Scops Owl
Acacia Pied Barbet
Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill
African Red-eyed Bulbul
Cape Glossy Starling
Southern Grey-headed Sparrow