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Kgagaladi - Park Of Contrasts : Jan 2007

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Doug Taylor
Posts: 9
Joined: Mon Sep 25, 2006 6:41 pm
Location: Johannesburg

Kgagaladi - Park Of Contrasts : Jan 2007

Unread post by Doug Taylor » Thu Jan 18, 2007 11:04 am


We arrived at Twee Rivieren, the main entrance camp to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in the late afternoon of 6 December 2006. Our trip had been delayed by the necessity of having to fit new tyres to the Landy in Uppington. The road from Uppington was a treat, unlike our experienced some 10 years ago when towing a caravan and almost shaking apart. It is tarred to within about 50km of the park and shortened our journey by an hour compared with our last trip.

Twee Rivieren, for those who don’t know Kgalagadi, is at the bottom of the “V” whose arms comprise the Nossob River on the right and the Auob River on the left. Actually, river is too generous a term for the flattened bottoms of two shallow valleys cut through the arid Kalahari region, but these dry rivers form the basis for the road system through the park. Twee Rivieren (“Two Rivers”) is essentially at the confluence of these two dry river beds, although the actual confluence is a few kilometres from the camp. The rest camp is typical of most South African national parks with its functional thatched huts, shop, restaurant and information centre. The en-suite rooms are comfortable (and air conditioned) and it wasn’t long before we had braaied our supper and were fast asleep.


The next morning, at about nine o’clock we drifted down to the garage and deflated our tyres to 1.6 bar to make driving on the sand roads easier for us and less destructive on the roads. We then set off for Nossob, approximately 150km to the north, where we were to spend the night. The excellent information guide advises that expected travelling time is 3.5 hours, however, being avid birders, we had managed to travel 15 km in the first hour as we frenetically scanned the bush and our bird books, stopping every few hundred metres as a new sighting came into view. The Nossob route was quite green and not very treed. As one drives the view is mostly across the river bed on the right to the red, grass covered sand dunes. On the left the calcrete base of the dunes is exposed in many places producing shallow cliffs with caves and vegetation at their base which we hoped (in vain) would produce a leopard.


Springbok abound, and for visitors who are used to the Kruger National Park where Impala dominate, it was interesting to note the similarities and differences between the two species. One immediate difference was their tails – little bits of string hanging between their legs compared with the Impala’s bush which flashes white as it runs. Other large mammals were the Blue Wildebeest and Red Hartebeest, which from the back always remind me of a child in nappies. Then, of course, there is the mighty Gemsbok. What a magnificent creature – those long, pointed horns, the rippling muscles indicating a real strength, and their wonderful painted faces. Wherever we travelled in the park we encountered these unique buck and never tired of admiring their beauty.


On our earlier visit to Kgalagadi, which was in winter 1994, we saw Suricates everywhere. On this trip we did not see one, but were almost as entertained by the Ground squirrels who seemed to use their large fluffy tails as parasols to protect them from the sun.


Doug Taylor
Posts: 9
Joined: Mon Sep 25, 2006 6:41 pm
Location: Johannesburg


Unread post by Doug Taylor » Fri Jan 19, 2007 2:22 pm

Then came our fist sighting of the famed Kalahari lions. In this case three young females in prime condition, but we still had to wait to see the black-maned male.

All along the route there are water holes, fed by boreholes run mostly by solar energy and the occasional wind mill. In some places older structures have been demolished but the wreckage remains and should be removed as it detracts from the beauty of the park. The herds of Springbok and Wildebeest were mostly to be found in the vicinity of these waterholes and every waterhole seemed to have its resident Black-backed Jackal and these dapper little creatures were continuously on an important mission patrolling the areas around their water holes.

Of course the birds were a vital part of the trip and we saw a total of 68 different species on our travels, including at least half a dozen lifers. Fork-tailed Drongo’s kept a ceaseless chatter along with flocks of Cape Turtle Doves, flying in and out of the water holes, and the ever-present Whitebrowed Sparrowweaver. A first for us was the beautiful Swallowtailed Bee-eater which swooped along the main roads throughout our visit. Also on the look-out for any careless lizards, rodents and small birds were the Pale Chanting Goshawks, perched atop many large trees along the route.

It will be of no surprise to learn that we reached the picnic site at Dikbaardskolk at around four o’clock in the afternoon. This spot is some 100 km from Twee Rivieren and 50 km from the Nossob camp. The picnic sites are all unfenced and have a number of concrete tables and wooden benches with an attractive wooden feature at the end of each table. We drank a cup of coffee, visited the spotless ablution facilities and climbed back into the Landy. I turned the key and there was no response, not a light glowed. I tried several times, opened the bonnet and fiddled with the battery terminals and used one or two expletives – all to no avail. We were stuck until somebody came by and we could jump-start the vehicle (this being one of the many frustrations of owning an automatic vehicle – it cannot be push started).

Dikbaardskolk is at a union of the main Nossob road and a road which connects to the Auob / Mata-Mata road through the dunes. Of course someone would come from either direction as there were still some three and a half hours to gate closing time. My wife, Vicky, and I sat and waited – reading, watching the birds and patiently listening for the sound of an approaching engine.


By six o’clock we realised that no-one was coming and made the decision to sleep in one of the ablution rooms as we could not open the Landy’s electric windows to allow fresh air into the car and we certainly were not going to sleep with the doors open! We moved our essential luggage into the “Ladies”, which was the larger of the two sections with provision for a wheel-chair, and proceeded to cook and eat supper on the braais provided, knowing that sunset would be around seven-thirty. We then moved into the ablution facility and set up camp. Each facility comprises a brick and mortar room with a toilet and a secure outside area surrounded by wooded bars containing a wash basin. This area has a sliding door providing some security and we reasoned that if anything really serious arrived we could always close ourselves in the toilet room, which had it’s own door. We always travel with our own pillows, so with our towels spread on the concrete floor and pillows under our heads we settled down to spend the night in the wild.


I was fast asleep when I was shaken awake by my wife to see a set of headlights piercing the night sky. I had earlier placed the car’s warning triangle in the middle of the road in case someone came along and we were quickly joined by the assistant area warden, Aubrey, and one of his colleagues from the office at Nossob. We rushed to jump-start the Landy, only to find that the cables were not thick enough to carry the current required to start a diesel engine. We tried changing batteries, but the battery cables would not reach and so Aubrey eventually radioed through to Nossob and asked a technical team to come out with a spare battery from one of the camp’s vehicles. Eventually, after much effort and ingenuity from the Nossob team we got the Landy started. The three vehicles then set off in convoy through the night and we arrived in camp after midnight. We fell into bed and were asleep within moments, much relieved and extremely grateful.

The kindness and efficiency of the Nossob staff did not end there. The next morning a team arrived to sort out our battery problem. They removed the battery, confirmed that it had long passed its useful lifespan and proceeded to fit a spare battery from the camp. “Don’t worry about anything”, I was told. “We will sort out your problems for you.” It transpired that one of the staff was going to Uppington that day and would buy a battery for me and bring it back to Nossob where it could be fitted later. In the meantime, we could proceed to our next stop, Grootkolk, which is further up the Nossob River towards to northern boundary of the park.

I must pause at this point to pay tribute to Aubrey and the rest of the Nossob staff. I do not know all their names, but they will know who they are. Gentlemen, you are not just a credit to yourselves and the Kgalagadi Park, you are a credit to the Parks Board and tourism in South Africa. It is people like you, who gave of your own time and ingenuity to make sure that our holiday was unspoiled and uninterrupted, who add a whole new dimension to the term “service”. Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you!

Back to the trip – and no end to the excitement. The Kgalagadi Information Guide states that the average annual rainfall in the northeast of the park is 350mm. I would swear that we experienced the entire annual rainfall on our drive to Grootkolk that afternoon. At one moment we were driving along dry, dusty roads admiring the numerous Kori Bustards and Secretarybirds and revelling in our first ever sighting of Ludwig’s Bustard as they all stalked through the veld or, in the case of the Secretary Birds, gathered in flocks at one or other water hole. The next instant the skies opened. We had seen it coming. The clouds had been darkening the sky before us, but we did not anticipate the volume of water that suddenly poured out. I fully expected to see all the animals lining up two-by-two! Roads became rivers and we found ourselves creating bow waves as we powered through water which in some cases reached the bottom of our doors. Driving off the roads, on the by-passes obviously created for previous occasions, was not always easy either, as the Landy slipped and slid on the wet grass and mud. We were terrified that we would become stuck in the mud and wondered how we would justify to the guys at Nossob having to be rescued two days in a row.




The rain eventually abated and we reached Grootkolk wilderness camp late in the afternoon. The camp attendant seemed pleased to see us and we discovered that he had been requested to report our safe arrival to our guardian angels at Nossob. We queried whether the roads would be passable the next day and were told not to worry. “Die Kalahari soek die water (the Kalahari seeks the water)” we were told. The next day proved this to be true.

[to be continued]

Doug Taylor
Posts: 9
Joined: Mon Sep 25, 2006 6:41 pm
Location: Johannesburg


Unread post by Doug Taylor » Sun Jan 21, 2007 10:19 pm

Grootkolk was our first experience of a Kgalagadi wilderness camp and prompted us to change the following night’s booking from Nossob to remain at Grootkolk. The camp comprises four two-bedded units, part tent and part construction from plastered sand bags – very effective and altogether architecturally pleasing. Each unit has its own kitchen and braai area as well as a toilet and shower and is fully equipped with anything the visitor might need.


There is also a waterhole in front of the camp, but due to the rain there was little reason for the animals to use it and we saw nothing of great interest.

Our journey the next morning to Unions’ End, the very top of the park, was interesting for two reasons. Firstly, because the road and surrounding veld was substantially dry and secondly because of the large number of trees, mostly Camel Thorn which had blown down. As we were the first vehicle on the road I had to climb out to remove branches on several occasions. Writing in the Forum on the National Parks Board web site, Dr Gus Mills noted that he counted in excess of one hundred trees blown down that morning!


We left Grootkolk early on the morning of 10 December and drove down towards Nossob, the first car on the road that day. A short way down the road we came across what could only be lion footprints in the road. We drove on slowly, scanning the bush and tracking the footprints which occasionally wandered off the road and then back on again. Suddenly we saw him, a beautiful big black-maned lion striding through the open veld. He totally ignored us and we followed and watched him for about 30 minutes as he walked down the valley and finally climbed the dune and disappeared.

We arrived at Nossob mid-morning and our team of Kgalagadi Heroes were soon there fit our new battery. I suppose what strikes me about these men was their unrelenting helpfulness and kindness and they fitted the battery and well-wished us on our way.

When choosing a camp in which to stay from a map there was no way of knowing what we were letting ourselves in for. Our next stop was Bitterpan, a camp right in the middle of the dunes between the Nossob and Auob Rivers. We were advised that four-wheel drive was required, but nowhere did it explain that we would be dune surfing! The red sand Kgalagadi dunes all seem to run North-South and our route took us East-West – across a range of dunes for some 28 km. Again there were some hairy moments, but I was gaining in confidence as we ploughed our way up the dunes and slid down the other side. Then we encountered the mother of all dunes!. We could see that it was steep and very high. We could also see where other vehicles before us had tried to climb where there was more vegetation to provide traction and how that section had been fenced off. Nothing daunted we attacked, stuck in the sand, reversed, attacked and progressed a little further, stuck in the sand, reversed and attacked again. Finally, on the sixth attempt, we breasted the crest of the dune with much relief and internal applause.


We estimated that we must have crossed between fifty and sixty dunes by the time the road turned left and ran parallel with the dunes. This was easier driving, but I missed the adrenalin rush of surfing the big red waves. One of our fond memories of this part of the trip will be the vast number of Northern Black (White quilled) Korhaan. These beautiful birds seem to own their own dunes and made sure we knew they were protecting them with their loud “Kraaaak, kraaak” calls. The rest of the trip continued without much incident and we reached Bitterpan some six hours after leaving Nossob. By this time I had come to realise that the Park authorities and I live in different time dimensions, as their estimated time for this trip is three and a half hours. Admittedly the camp attendant did say that we were the first visitors to the camp for a while and that the road had not been travelled recently. Evidence of the difficulty of the trip was the dark patch of sand en route where a vehicle had burnt out earlier in the year.

Bitterpan is an amazing camp. Four double bedrooms with their own bathrooms across a narrow walkway and a large communal kitchen, dining room, braai area. The camp overlooks an enormous arena of what one presumes is sand and where a pan must once have been. In front of the pan is a waterhole, easily monitored from the rooms and communal area.

We spent a very pleasant evening with two other couples (South Africans, three of which with broad Scottish accents!) and the next morning were privileged to see flocks of birds flying into the waterhole. Closer inspection revealed that these were Namaqua Sandgrouse, which only need water every three to five days, and Burchell's Sandgrouse. These birds only fly in to drink a few hours after sunrise and we felt very privileged that they had arrived while we were still in the camp.



Our next stop was Kalahari Tented Camp, where the Auob River reaches the Namibian border. We had a choice of another drive through the dunes for some 46 km or an alternative quick (12 km) drive south, down to one of the two roads linking the Nossob with the Auob. We chose the latter as by this time my nerves had settled and I had no desire to feed them any more adrenalin. Bitterpan is an amazing camp and, as a four wheel driver, I like the limited access. However, it seems to me that making the road from Moravet, where it reaches the cross road, into a two way road would make the camp substantially more user friendly. At present the only way into the camp (legally, at least) is via the dune road from Nossob, with the two exit routes as described. It means that staying in the camp one cannot go for a day drive without having to brave the sands of the desert each time, and that is hardly practical. Our fellow tourists and the camp staff had come up the road from Moravet and that seems a logical step to take.

Kalahari Tented Camp is the largest of the tented camps, with fifteen tents / huts. Again, one can have nothing but praise for the layout and facilities. All the tents (except ours which was hiding behind a tree) look out over a waterhole and consideration could be given to having this lit at night. The kitchen and braai area are separate from the main tent and provide a very pleasant area to relax and watch the passing animal parade.


It mustn’t be supposed that there were no animals on this latter part of the trip. We had seen a number of new birds, and many old favourites such as the exquisitely painted Namaqua Dove and Lilac Breasted Roller. We had also seen our large black-maned male lion, several in fact, and studied them, in awe at their immense latent power. We had also seen a Round-eared Elephant Shrew moving across the veld at a rate which, on a comparative basis, would have given the little creature a five second 100 metres record. The beautiful little Striped Mice were also everywhere and climbed all over our feet at one of the picnic sites in search of the inevitable crumbs. On the Auob side of the park the trees seemed taller and it was here that we saw Giraffe for the first time in the park. There was one very arid section of the route but otherwise, like most of the park, it was quite green.

A visit to this side of South Africa would not be complete without a sighting of the Crimsonbreasted Shrike and we saw our first one in Mata Mata as we stocked up with water for the journey.

I suppose I should cover two aspects of the trip here. Firstly the water. We had previously found that there is an enormous taste difference between Johannesburg water and Kgalagadi water, and we find the latter totally undrinkable. As a result, and knowing that many of the tented camps required us to bring our own water, we had a 25 litre bottle with us in the car, and this proved just about adequate for the two of us for the seven nights we were in the park. Probably two litres per person per day would be the right quantity. Secondly the heat. I suppose we were lucky that it was only on the last day that the outside temperature got close to 40 degrees Celsius. This may have been due to the rain storm or to a cold front coming through the country, but there were several nights when we dragged on the duvets towards the early morning. The tents only have fans, so we were lucky that the potential December heat did not really get us.

The Landy is air conditioned, so during the day, provided we were aware of where the sun was, we drove with the windows open and the aircon providing a cold breeze to refresh us. There were however times when even the aircon could not help and I entered the Mr Wet T-Shirt competition on several occasions, revelling in the coolness as the water evaporated and refrigerated my body.


Our final night was spent at Kielie Krankie. This was a spur of the moment decision as we were booked for Twee Rivieren but had so enjoyed the tented camps that I seized the moment and changed the booking. Kielie Krankie is an amazing camp. Set high in the dunes it looks down on a water hole in what must be an optical illusion as the water hole itself was not really that far away.

The camp is very modern and appears out of the dunes as some sort of space station on a lonely planet. Unlike the other wilderness camps this camp is built largely from brick, with canvas on the front. Each unit has a small kitchen with an eating counter and a bedroom leading onto a large veranda with a braai facility on the end. It is one camp where I believe the architect got matters a little wrong. The bedroom is fitted with a skylight which lets in hot sun. This may be acceptable in winter, but in summer it merely adds to the pain. Also, there is no way of arranging a through draft in the bed room as there are no back windows. We had also learned by this time to keep all tent sides facing the sun closed and this exacerbated the problem. Also, unlike the other camps, one could see the occupants of the other units from the veranda, which is a bit of a problem. Nevertheless, the place is very different and certainly worth a visit.

We arrived in the midday heat and having unpacked the car we took a brief siesta before heading out in search of more game and more birds. We were back in camp well before sunset and commenced to light the fire and settle a few cold beers. We sat watching a lizard shed its skin, rubbing itself up against the rocks and sloughing off more and more skin which it eventually ate and then disappeared in its new black finery. Later, while we were looking at the water hole, very aware of the number of doves drinking, I suddenly saw a large Tabby cat at the waterhole. This was an African Wild Cat and we watched this wonderful creature until it became too dark to see. Two Jackals came down to drink and the scent of the cat must have been quite fresh for then followed an interaction such as one would see with two boxers – each one respecting the other and determined not to pounce or be pounced on first. The cat and Jackals tracked each other all over the crater before the Jackals gave up and vanished over the dunes. The cat then came back and proceeded to spray almost every bush in sight in a determined effort to stake his undisputed claim to the territory.




As with all good things there has to come an end, even if only so we can appreciate the contrast and earn the money to repeat the experience. The next morning it was back to Twee Rivieren, finally checking out, pumping our tyres back to normal and on the road away from civilization.

What did we think after a twelve year gap between visits? Firstly, twelve years is too long. In mitigation, however, we had been put off by the road from Uppington and now that it is tarred almost the whole way to Twee Rivieren it makes the trip so much more enjoyable. The next step, for us “Gauties” would be for the road from Kuruman via Hotazel to be tarred to cut another few hours off the trip.
Secondly, the roads in the park itself are much improved. We became stuck in sand on the main road on our earlier trip in a little Starwagon. No chance of that now unless you are really careless. Also, you do not need a 4X4 to see most of the park, so don’t be put off.
Thirdly the picnic sites are vastly improved and very pleasant to visit and, a tribute to both officials and visitors, are always clean.
Fourthly the tented camps are wonderful. Each has its own character and, while I would not advocate abandoning the original camps, visitors should include at least two or three tented camps in any visit.
Finally, for those of us who regularly visit Kruger or other national parks, Kgalagadi is such a different experience that it should be regularly included in our holiday plans. We are already encouraging friends to come with us on our next trip, which will include an expedition into the Botswana side - in a manual 4X4 this time!

Congratulations to the National Parks Board for an excellent job done at Kgalagadi and especial thanks to the Nossob Heroes, Aubrey and his team!

Distinguished Virtual Ranger
Distinguished Virtual Ranger
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Joined: Mon Jan 17, 2005 5:57 pm

Unread post by gwendolen » Mon Jan 22, 2007 2:21 pm

This reply for Gwendolen to edit because instead of a simple trip report I wrote the equivalent of War & Peace

:lol: It was my pleasure, Mr Tolstoy.

Here are the links to the photos sized 800x600.


Doug Taylor
Posts: 9
Joined: Mon Sep 25, 2006 6:41 pm
Location: Johannesburg


Unread post by Doug Taylor » Wed May 02, 2007 10:07 am

Thanks Jannie
Such wonderful service deserves the best praise!

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