Photographs: Loftus, Lühann & Amori Viljoen, Heinrich van den Berg, Jannie Herbst
The annual rainfall varies between 230 and 500mm, and it normally rains only in summer.
If you venture deep into the Kalahari, be certain that you know where you’re going and have the necessary equipment, as the Sandveld can become a treacherous mine-field of sand or mud – as many unwary travellers have discovered the hard way.
You need to keep up the momentum of your vehicles, though that does not mean speeding. The most common mistake people make is to drive too close to the vehicle in front. This is a certain recipe for losing momentum and subsequently getting stuck.
The Kalahari is mostly 4×4 country. It is vast, with endless plains of savannah grasslands dotted with woody shrubs and the ubiquitous camel-thorn tree.
Camp fires are synonymous with outdoor living and part of South African culture, but this does not mean we can go out and decimate trees in the bush – it took them many years to grow. It has now become common practice to take your own wood, as this is normally from alien trees or areas that were cleared for agricultural purposes. Cooking with gas, charcoal or briquettes is fast and convenient, so you can use less wood for your campfire.
The Kalahari proved ideal for cattle farming, but the competition for grazing on the savannah grasslands led to inevitable conflict between the pastoralists and the wild animals.
The Central Kalahari Game Reserve was proclaimed to protect and conserve the wildlife. It is Botswana’s largest game reserve, covering an area of nearly 53 000 sq km. The northern section is bordered by the Kuke fence and the southern section by the Khutse Game Reserve. This huge park has only three entry gates: Khutse in the south, Xade in the west and Matswere in the north.
The summer days are hot, especially before the rains. We have encountered temperatures of between 38 and 44 degrees. October is usually the hottest.
The winter skies are clear, especially at night when you can gaze at the stars for hours on end. The days are usually mild, but it can be so cold at night that water freezes.
For tourists, the best months to visit are from April to October – in terms of both weather and game viewing. It is during this period that the wildlife gather around the available water resources – the natural waterholes and borehole-fed dams – and are at their most visible.
“So many places to see… so little time…” got a new meaning for us when the Ngonyama Safari Club took their annual Easter Safari to the Central Kalahari and specifically the area around the Makgadikgadi Pans.
Apart from our normal overnight stops, we planned to stop over for 48 hours at places like Leroo la Tau, Central Kalahari, Kubu Island and Khama Rhino Sanctuary. At some places you need to stay even longer to be able to absorb the beauty and ambience. One of these is the Central Kalahari Game Reserve – in future we’ll “steal” a day or two from the other places, and still be in a position to complete the trip in 10 days.
When we arrived at the Kwa Nokeng campsite we learnt that the border post remained open for 24 hours during the Easter period. Normally the border post at Groblersbrug/ Martins Drift opens at 06h00 and closes at 22h00.
It’s about 450km from Kwa Nokeng to Nata, where we arrived late afternoon, just in time for a couple of us to visit the Nata Bird Sanctuary.
For the next two days we camped at Leroo la Tau and came upon a wonderful sighting – two white rhinos in the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park. Rhinos were hunted almost to extinction in Botswana, but some time ago a couple of white rhinos were reintroduced into the Moremi area by the Botswana authorities.
Two of these rhinos had wanderlust and walked all the way from Moremi to the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park – about 150km. They seem to like their new habitat and the people at Leroo la Tau lodge are thrilled with their new neighbours.
The lions in this area must have had a royal time recently as we came across not less than 20 zebra carcasses in the veld.
From Leroo la Tau (the spoor of the lion) it was a short trip to the Matswere Gate of the Central Kalahari via Rakops, but we had to refuel with a hand pump and replenish our water supplies at “the pipe” in the village.
The distances inside the Central Kalahari Park are vast so you need to fill up at Rakops and calculate how much fuel you will use inside the park. We were able to buy fresh eggs, but bread and other food and grocery supplies were scarce.
A huge signpost indicated the “road” to Central Kalahari – a 45km twinspoor sand track. At first we thought we had read the signpost wrong, but the GPS showed it to be the correct track. We came across many cattle on the savannah plains, even horses and “rooi Afrikaander osse” literally around every corner.
We would have loved to camp on the Deception Pans but instead settled for a public campsite near the gate to accommodate one of our guests. From the entrance gate to Deception Pans is another 36km on mainly sand, but once on the pans the surface becomes hard, albeit slippery when wet.
We didn’t allow ourselves nearly enough time in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve and we were disappointed to have to leave.
All too soon we were back on the tar road en route to Kubu Island and Khama Rhino sanctuary to conclude our Kalahari trip. We braced ourselves for the notorious potholed road at Mopipi that normally took us hours to negotiate, but much to our surprise we found this road tarred, shortening our travelling time by more than 50%.
We had a further surprise in store – at Lethlakeng, our last refuelling stop before entering the Makgadikgadi Pans, we found that about 30km of the south-north road to Kubu Island was also tarred, leaving us a relatively short 45km stretch of sand.
A visit to the central Kalahari is not complete without a stop-over at the magical Kubu Island. The Gaing-O community trust administers this tourist attraction and has recently upgraded some of the facilities by building new toilets and a small water reservoir at Campsite Three. Kubu Island has magnificent “photo opportunities” and was one of the highlights of our tour.
Our last stop was at Khama Rhino Sanctuary near Serowe, where we had a last chance to see some rhinos before leaving for home.
- The Ngonyama Safari Club offers safari trips to Zambia. Kafue and South Luangwa are next on the menu, in July and August 2007 respectively. For more details contact Annette or Larochelle Viljoen on 012 347- 9824, 084 441-0333 or [email protected] co.za