Click here to search
Back to top

Front Runner does Kgalagadi





5 December 2016


An Ironic Adventure
The park official shouted, colourfully: “You have no respect for your own country!” His name was Aubrey. Aubrey from Nossob. And he wasn’t finished. “Maybe you are hiding some rhino horn in your 4x4s too, heh?” Indeed, a recent adventure to the Kgalagadi National Park had more twists and turns than an SABC board meeting. Deon van der Walt tells the story.

So there we were, watching park official Aubrey throw his toys all over our campsite, in the most colourful and expressive Afrikaans. We had just arrived back at Polentswa camp after an excursion to Union’s End, in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (KTP). We were late clocking back into camp, and with a strict ‘no driving after dark’ policy in place to aid the fight against rhino poachers, we had attracted the attention of Aubrey.

If Aubrey from Nossob were a pressure cooker, he’d have exploded already. “I want you out of this park! Out!” he shouted. But before Mr Aubrey has his final say, let’s backtrack a few days, to the start of what promised to be an epic journey in a Suzuki Jimny, a Mitsubishi Pajero, a Jeep Wrangler and a Kia Sorento. And two Bruces from Australia, too.

kgalagadi-02

Day 1: The easy stuff
We left a chilly Joburg in our rear-view mirror, armed with plenty of biltong – clearly the beefy stuff was well known to our Aussie travel companions because they insisted on stopping for some in Sannieshof. Our band of travellers included John Rooth, better known as ‘Roothy’, one of Australia’s best-known adventurers. Also part of the gang was Gordon Shaw, a Scotsman turned Aussie. And so, with Roothy fishing one piece of biltong out of his beard for every five that landed up in his mouth, we headed in the direction of the Red Sands Lodge and camp, situated just outside of Kuruman, for our overnight stop. As far as travelling days go, this was a just-around-the-corner 600km kind of day.

Day 2:  On the road again
Early the next morning, the campsite was a discreet buzz of activity. Fatigue was visible on some faces thanks to a suspected case of wine flu. But we had a long day ahead of us, and excitement was in the air. Finally, everything was neatly stowed away and our convoy made haste in the direction of Van Zylsrus.With the Jimny leading the way, we chased the horizon along the scenic, but potholed, R380 towards the R31. About 30km from the small Kalahari town, we encountered our first stretch of gravel road.

Thankfully it was well maintained and featured a combination of gravel and deep sand. While it was tough going at times, in the Kia it was all calm and plush thanks to its more comfortable independent suspension set-up. Arriving at our Van Zylsrus pit stop, we brimmed the fuel tanks, replenished our dwindling snack supplies and pointed the convoy in the direction of Twee Rivieren.

Like a possum up a tree
This leg of the journey has more than 100km of badly corrugated gravel road, making progress quite slow. The Jimny, though, piloted by a heavy-footed Roothy, quickly left the rest of us coughing in his dust – clearly he fancies himself a bit of a Dakar rally type. Since the Jimny was the only vehicle with a GPS loaded with Tracks4Africa, the rest of the convoy had to follow it. But when the little lorry’s dust trail disappeared in the distance, we were left without, well, direction.

The two-way radios also proved ineffective thanks to the hilly landscape. Finally we did manage to catch up to Roothy and the Jimny, waiting for us in the shade of a tree. “Crikey Roothy, fancy a bit of off-road racing in a Jimny then?” someone covered in a layer of dust asked. “Well mate, that’s how we drive back home,” he replied, as if us Saffers were supposed to know that Aussie overlanders reckon they are all in a race of sorts.

After performing a quick check on all the vehicles, we were on the road again. But despite following the instructions on the road signage to a tee, we managed to get lost. Again. Soon we found ourselves on private property that strictly forbade the use of any motorised vehicle, and were faced with a worthy adversary for the Kia – a very deep sand track. This posed a problem. The Kia was the only so-called soft-roader on the trip (with no transfer case and not a lot of clearance to work with). It also had its stock 19-inch wheels with highway terrain tyres. It was surely going to get stuck.

We had to forge ahead regardless, and the Kia tackled the sand with gusto. It was a nervous affair, but it made it through without much drama. After some extensive sand driving, we soon found our way back to the Twee Rivieren gate, where we were faced with a brand new challenge.

Petrol? What petrol?
Finding out that it was not necessary to present a passport at the border control if you intend to exit the park at the gate of entry, we completed the necessary paperwork and enquired about refuelling. The friendly lady at the desk said that while they did have diesel, petrol might be a problem since the closest camp with any stock was Nossob, another 140km to the north. This was not good news. Roothy’s enthusiastic driving had left the Jimny’s relatively small 40-litre fuel tank nearly dry. The only option was to tap into the Wrangler’s auxiliary tank to donate fuel to the Suzuki.

After the refuel, we headed in the direction of our over-night stop at Rooiputs. This short 25km stretch was bursting at the seams with wildlife. Arriving at the camp we heard via the camp grape-vine that a leopard had been spotted in the area. Not every-one shared the enthusiasm about seeing one, though, arguing that a canvas tent offers limited protection.

Day 3: Jump-starting, towing and potjie
Rising early the next morning to tackle the more than 200km of corrugated gravel road ahead to Polentswa, the Pajero played dead. A door had been left ajar, leaving the interior lights activated, resulting in a drained battery. Five minutes and a jump-start later, the diesel engine came back to life. With everyone ready, we jumped into the Jimny, and calculated that if we keep the variable valve timing (VVT) engine in its optimum range, we might just make it to the petrol station in Nossob, 110km to the north.

The added weight the Jimny was carrying didn’t help our petrol-saving effort and we were soon forced to try different fuel conservation strategies. Nothing seemed to make any difference, however. Along the way, we spotted a leopard next to the road. It may have been the same leopard rumoured to be hanging around looking to eat tourists in canvas tents. But then again, it could just as well have been a casual day visitor. We continued onwards regardless.

kgalagadi-07

Eventually the fuel light started blinking urgently – and we were still 60km from Nossob. Okay, so we knew we had lost that fight. The question was just how far we would make it before running out of petrol. Surprisingly, we mustered another 40km before it finally spluttered to a halt. Standing next to the gravel road, Gordon, the Scottish Aussie, came to the rescue with the Pajero. He attached a snatch-strap to the front of the Jimny and provided a quick tow briefing. “Alright mate, when I show you this hand, you should stand on the brake. Oh, and don’t forget to keep to my right.”

And off we went, the Jimny being tugged along like a little Venter trailer behind the bigger Mitsubishi. We soon got used to it, though. But a few clicks later, drama: Gordon stuck his hand out of the window, indicating, in no uncertain terms, for us to brake, brake, brake. Stomping on the brake pedal, we watched as the Pajero became airborne in front of us, courtesy of a ditch… thankfully though, we had scrubbed off just enough momentum for the Jimny to stay in contact with terra firma.

We finally reached Nossob, and more importantly the fuel station. Gordon, putting on some of his best Aussie swagger, duly proclaimed: “Gee mates! Have I got a story to tell! I rescued a Jimny!” Reaching our final stop on the trip, Roothy volunteered to try his hand at oxtail potjie. Since the potjie had travelled all the way with us on the Kia’s Front Runner roof rack, it would have been a shame to not actually use it. But while Roothy is considered to be a formidable bush cook on the other side of the world, making a potjie for a group of South Africans… well, that’s a whole different ball game.

“It’s really simple, isn’t it? It’s just mixing a bunch of veggies, some meat and you hope for the best,” the man with the big beard reasoned. Suffice to say that Aussies should stick to rugby, cricket and didgeridoos. Although Roothy’s attempt was okay, he clearly needs to practise a bit harder at the potjie business.

Day 4:  The rough road
On the final day of our short adventure, we were greeted by a spectacular sunrise. The sun’s rays soon filled every nook and cranny of this barren landscape and whatever cold remained from the night before made way for temperatures soaring in the high 30s. Our mission was simple: reach Union’s End on the Namibian border and hopefully see some members of the Big Five on the way. On paper, the 73km journey shouldn’t have taken more than two hours. Piloting the Jeep Wrangler for this stretch, we soon encountered a very unpleasant corrugated dirt road. The Jeep, even with its tyres deflated to 1.4-bar, was shaking and rattling like you wouldn’t believe.

As a result, we had to slow to a crawl as each vehicle in the convoy was cursed with a chorus of a thousand rattling noises. It was so bad in fact, that talking on the radios became nearly impossible. So we had to make a decision: Turn back and have a spot of lunch or endure the African massage. We opted for lunch.

The king of the Kgalagadi
After lunch, we deflated the tyres even more and stocked up on water before giving it another shot. A short while later, near the Kannaguass watering hole, we heard the bone-chilling roar of the infamous black-maned Kalahari lion. The roar reverberated through the plains. Birds, like in the movies, really fled in noisy panic from the nearby trees.  Naturally, we went in search of the origin of the sound. A long search later, we admitted defeat – the lion was not in the mood for socialising.

kgalagadi-12

And then the penny dropped: we had to be back at camp before sunset. Climbing behind the wheel of the Pajero, we studied the map and realised we had, in fact, landed up quite a distance from our camp, near Union’s End. The clock was ticking and the sun was closing in on the horizon with more than 50km back to our Polentswa camp. The strict curfew and hefty fines imposed by the park on visitors is not without good reason. The increase in rhino poaching has forced the park to limit traffic at night in order to easily spot a possible suspect vehicle after dark.

The angry man from Nossob
After a bit of a mad dash, we finally made it to camp, thinking we might just have made it in time. And this was when Aubrey from Nossob arrived on the scene, rather upset. He formally introduced himself as Aubrey from Nossob. In an instant the initial pleasantries were done and he pointed out to us that we were more than 30 minutes late.

Jaco Nel, our calm and collected tour leader, humbly apologised and explained that we were willing to pay the applicable fine. But Aubrey from Nossob’s demeanour took a turn for the worse after that statement. “I want you out of this park, I want you out now!” he yelled at the group. “I should inspect each and every one of these cars for rhino horn,” he continued, the proverbial steam blowing out of his ears. “You are more than welcome to look inside each vehicle,” Jaco countered, still remarkably calm. “We have nothing to hide.”
He ignored Jaco though, stomped off and climbed into his bakkie. Still with his calm hat on, Jaco tried one last time to convince Aubrey from Nossob to please check the vehicles so that the air can be cleared.

Aubrey did not take kindly to this. He accused us of attempting to bribe him, and became even more aggressive and abusive. Finally, he pulled off in a cloud of dust. Explaining the Afrikaans exchange that just took place to the Aussies, Roothy remarked (a smidgen sarcastically) that he never knew that a Kia Sorento would be so highly favoured among rhino poachers, before taking another man-sized swig of his rum.

Driving back to the concrete jungle the next morning, we made a quick pit stop at Nossob, stocking up on supplies for the journey back. And that’s when we saw a name we knew quite well: Aubrey. The angry man from Nossob. And his name was at the top of the toilet janitorial staff list. Oh, the irony.

About the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (KTP)
If you enter the park at the Twee Rivieren gate and exit at the same gate, a passport is not necessary. If, however, you wish to leave the park at a different point of entry/exit, the standard border-crossing formalities can only be completed at Twee Rivieren. Rates: R70 per
adult, per day; R35 per child, per day

kgalagadi-19

Kia Sorento 2.2CRDI AWD
R8 750 Slimline 2 roof rack
R1 495 45-litre water tank
R465 Rack-mount shower arm
R1 395 Four-inch/100mm LED flood Light
R1 245 Footwell water tank
R4 195 Stainless steel camp table kit
R3 890 Easy-Out awning and brackets
R11 995 Roof-top tent and ladder
R6 995 40-inch/1 016mm LED/Spotlight combo
R1 395 Pot carrier and pot (No 3 pot)
R795 Gas bottle holder
R229 Wolf pack containers
R42 844 Total (excludes fitment)

kgalagadi-18

Jeep Wrangler 3.6 Rubicon
R12 390 Slimline 2 Extreme roof rack kit
R2 990 45-litre water tanks (x2)
R11 995 Roof-top tent and ladder
R795 Gas bottle holder
R4 195 Stainless steel camp table kit
R6 750 48-litre auxiliary fuel tank
R3 995 Cargo slide
R995 Drop down table
R3 995 Interior cargo storage rack
R6 995 40-inch/1016mm LED/Spotlight combO
R3 895 Easy-Out 2.5m awning
R3 995 Movable arm for awning
R855 105A battery box
R2 495 10-inch/250mm LED flood light
R458 Wolf pack x2
R295 Stratchits tie-down straps x2
R995 Spare wheel mount braai grid
R68 083 Total (excludes fitment

kgalagadi-17

Mitsubishi Pajero 3.2Di-D
R10 450 Slimline 2 roof rack kit
R1 495 45-litre water tank
R425 Ratcheting spade/shovel mount
R3 950 Pro stainless steel prep table
R575 Axe bracket
R1 395 Four-inch/100mm LED floodlight
R795 Gas bottle holder
R458 Wolf pack x2
R295 Stratchits tie-down straps x2
R269 4×4 spade with axe edge
R20 107 Total (excludes fitment)

kgalagadi-16

Suzuki Jimny 1.3
R4 995 Grab-On Slimline 2 roof rack
R7 995 Drawer system
R1 995 Fridge slide
R1 150 Jerry can holder x2
R650 20-litre jerry can x2
R695 Large transit bag
R345 Cub pack
R425 Ratcheting spade/shovel mount
R995 Spare wheel mount
R458 Wolf pack x2
R295 Stratchits tie-down straps x2
R19 998 Total (excludes fitment)

Interesting facts about the KTP:
The Nossob and Auob rivers inside the park are rumoured to flow only once every century Three-quarters of the park lies within Botswana, while the rest is in South Africa The total area of the park is nearly 40 000 square kilometres In 2014, half of the Botswana portion of the park was sold for shale gas fracking Kgalagadi means ‘place of thirst’  There are 200 different bird species in the park