Many forumites contributed both directly and indirectly, through trip reports and postings in the Arid Parks Forum, to the planning and success of this trip. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to all the forum's KTP enthusiasts.
I am particularly indebted to Jumbo, whose inspirational trip reports filled me with an irresistible desire to return to the Kalahari as soon as I possibly could, and whose practical advice and recommendations added greatly to my enjoyment of this long-awaited return.General Observations
My previous visit to the then Kalahari Gemsbok Park was in October of 1992, so I was prepared for lots of (mostly positive) changes. Twee Rivieren is, I believe, somewhat larger, but overall seemed little changed, while for me, both Mata Mata and especially Nossob were quite unrecognisable. Both camps are far larger than they were in 1992, when each had at the most five or six very simple bungalows. I think I finally worked out which were the existing, but now much modified, 1992 bungalows at Mata Mata, but I never could work out what remained from Nossob in 1992, the camp seemed quite differently configured, as well as larger. And of course, given how precious (and costly) every frame of slide film was, I didn't take any camp or accommodation photos in 1992. I'd be very curious to see photos from that time, if any forumites might have any old pix from the Gemsbok park?
There have also been changes, many of them improvements, to the Auob and Nossob riverbed roads. I don't recall the "loops" at 13th and 14th boreholes and elsewhere, and of course, the Auob road now also detours away from the riverbed to accommodate the new wilderness camps, Urikaruus and Kalahari Tented Camp. I expect that the Nossob road also detours a bit from its 1992 route to accommodate Grootkolk, and there are several other Nossob loops that I don't think existed in 1992. I also recall that the Nossob camp gate was "downhill" from the camp office and bungalows in 1992.
The lower dune road did not exist in 1992, and the upper dune road was far less "developed". I don't recall the waterholes along this road (altho when I checked my map from 1992, they appear to have been there) and I remember the road being a very simple sand road, not the broad gravel "boulevard" it now is. I suppose that this is necessary for the greatly increased park usage — as well as the predominance of SUVs, 4x4 bakkies, and other heavy vehicles; in 1992 most visitors drove sedans — but I missed the "lost in the dunes" feeling of that older, narrower sand road, winding through the encroaching dunes.
However, the greatest and most disconcerting "change" for me is that the Auob road no longer follows the Auob riverbed all the way to the confluence with the Nossob, but now takes a lengthy 10km detour through the dunes to join the Nossob road south of Samevloeling. I was shocked the first time I drove from Kieliekrankie to TR — having traveled from TR to KK via the Nossob and lower dune roads, this was my first venture onto the Auob road — and missed the old route desperately each time I had to travel this section of the Auob road. I suppose the dune route avoids potential flooding, but it would have been nice if the old road, of which I have very fond memories, had been retained as an alternate or loop route.Sound and silence
Because I came to Augrabies and Kgalagadi directly from Kruger, I was perhaps more aware than I might otherwise have been of the differences between these park experiences. The obvious difference is the contrast between the density of vegetation — even at the end of a dry winter — in KNP, with the even drier and far more open landscapes in KTP.
However, a far greater contrast is the "deafening" silence in these "arid savanna" parks. In Kruger you drive with your windows open so as never to miss the sounds of birds, insects and wildlife, and whenever you stop, there is plenty to hear. By contrast, in KTP (and in Augrabies as well) I found that silence predominates, and often when you stop, all you hear is the wind. At night the barking geckos take over — except at Grootkolk, tho I've no idea why there was no gecko chorus there — and if you're lucky, you'll hear jackals or even lion calling. In camp there are occasional bursts of birdsong, but again, at least in my admittedly limited experience, silence predominates. One of the most amazing things about Union's End, which is one of my favourite KTP places, is the emptiness and the silence; it was amazing to feel so utterly alone!
Union's End looking south (top) and northKgalagadi animals
Another contrast, I felt, was the difference in behavior vis-á-vis visitors between KNP and KTP animals. In Kruger most animals (and even many birds) seem indifferent to cars, but KTP animals appeared far more skittish and often moved quickly away from the road when I slowed down or stopped. For example, a gemsbok resting in the shade of a thorn bush just a few meters from the road would invariably get quickly to his feet and move off. Birds as well, if perched close to the road, would fly off to a more distant perch, very frustrating when you'd been hoping for a reasonably close photo. The exception is the Kgalagadi lions, which appeared to have no problem whatsoever with the close approach of tourist cars, merely yawning, staring with utter disdain, or rolling over and turning their backs on the noisy tin boxes.
I had great good fortune with seeing much that was on my wish list — eland (many, often, and up close, which was a first for me), brown hyena, leopard, pygmy falcon, cheetah, whistling rats, African wildcat — but I was also surprised (and even a bit disappointed) by what I didn't see. Try as I might — and I swear I've seen every danged squirrel in the Auob riverbed — I saw no meerkats, nor did I see any foxes, neither Cape (which I've never seen) nor bat-earred.Sunday 9 September 2007
Today was going to be a very long travel day, with stops in Upington to collect my replacement car, and, I hoped, my missing luggage, followed by shopping at Pick ‘n Pay and Skaapland, before the long trek north to Kgalagadi. However, since no one would be at the Upington airport before 10, I was able to enjoy the sunrise and the antics of the Augrabies camp birds before heading off shortly after 08h00.
Once my various Upington errands were completed, I headed north. The drive from Upington to Ashkam and the end of the tarred road is long and very boring — a straight road traveling over endless rolling red dunes, with little to see beyond the occasional goat or cow. I'd packed some music CDS especially for this drive, knowing that there would be no radio reception, but somewhere along the way, the music CDS had gone missing — I have no idea where. Fortunately I also had two Pieter-Dirk Uys CDS: I can now recite his Truth Omissions
and Foreign Aids
Following forumite advice, I stopped at Molopo Lodge to have my tyres deflated before heading for the remaining untarred portion of the road to KTP. I had read with some scepticism the many reports of the horrors of the KTP access road north of Ashkam, expecting that they were somewhat exaggerated. They were not. On this particular day, this was without a doubt the worst road that I have ever driven (altho a few days later, the Nossob road between Melkvlei and Nossob was to prove even worse). Indeed, even the reputedly preferable alternative "donkey track" was chewed up, rutted and corrugated — clearly by the high-performance SUVs and 4x4 bakkies (most towing trailers) that raced past me (some passing me — at high speed — with only inches to spare) in both directions. I lost a hubcap along this horrendous 30-40km stretch of road and was grateful that the damage to my VW Polo wasn't worse. As for the damage to my nerves ....
Much shaken — literally, both physically and psychically! — I eventually arrived at the Twee Rivieren entry gate and was impressed that the KTP permit includes a list of park rules that every visitor — or rather, every driver — is required to read and sign before entering the park. A short drive up the hill to TR reception and I was quickly checked in by the welcoming reception staffers and settled into chalet #1, at the far northwest end of the camp. It is a bit close to some staff accommodation, so there was occasional, tho not unpleasant, noise of children playing, but it's also a lovely and quite private location, with a dune rising to the north and surrounded by a colony of ground squirrels and yellow mongoose.
After settling in, I was ready for our planned mini-meet with bucky, penni and suej, and made my way down to the campground to find bucky's caravan. His bright red combi is hard to miss! Bucky treated us ladies to a sumptuous repast featuring my first potjiekos — delish!! — bread baked over the fire, and plenty of excellent SA wine. Good food, good wine and best of all, good company — what better way to start off a KTP adventure!?!