In last week’s blog, Wayne Jacobs decried the pitiful state of the Kgalagadi. Alan Ramsay recently also paid a visit to the famous, but seemingly dilapidated Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. There were one or two issues, but the experience turned out to be worth it after all
The experience reported in the guest column, “Nightmare in Kgalagadi” by Wayne Jacobs, was in part – but only in part – matched by my own experience recently in the same transfrontier park, which I visited with my wife in our Lexus RX450h. It does appear that the park, its management and its accommodation, could do with greater TLC (tender loving care).
We arrived at the park in mid-June with a number of apprehensions. Would the weather be unpleasantly cold? Would the accommodation meet our aspirations? Would the Lexus cope with the corrugations that we had been warned about (and about which Wayne Jacobs complained) and with the sand roads and dunes on route to the wilderness camps we had booked? And, of course, would there be good game sightings?
Friends had warned us about the corrugations on the two main roads between Twee Rivieren and each of Mata Mata and Nossob, but to our delight we discovered that the roads had recently been graded or scraped. Like Wayne, we found the sand roads far less challenging than expected though we, too, experienced several dune crossings where the road had been heavily corrugated by earlier visitors and the combination of a rapid ascent and aggressive bumping was required to get to the top.
Traversing dunes with smooth sand was well within the capabilities of the hybrid Lexus, with its second, rear electric motor kicking in without hesitation to help claw the vehicle up the slope. This was achieved with standard road tyres, though we had reduced pressures to around 1,2 kilopascals. We had also fitted tyre pressure monitors for peace of mind.
In fact, a bigger challenge on the sand roads to the wilderness camps was the middelmannetjie. The Lexus has plastic shields for both sump and rear fuel tank protection and, while I felt regular “bottoming” of the undercarriage, I was nevertheless surprised to discover on our return home that the fuel tank shield had all but disappeared. Next time, for similar trips, a more solid shield made by companies like AluCab might be an option.
Weatherwise, we struck it lucky. Every day was sunny and surprisingly warm, often in the high 20s, and mid-winter evenings were warm enough for us to eat outside our cottage next to the braai fire. But we did have one or two very cold spells, with the temperature one morning being down to – 6ºC. On another night at Garaghab, we needed sleeping bags under the bedclothing in the “tented” huts.
We wondered whether these conditions contributed to poor “big” game sighting numbers (antelope were prolific), but we did have excellent birding experiences and, most of all, the scenery in the Kgalagadi is stunning – and that alone makes the visit worthwhile. This “scenery” includes sitting at the braai, the sun setting in the background, and watching the campers around their fires, with their exotic equipment and their warm conversations.
We knew that some of the Kgalagadi accommodation was dated, and we also learned from the website that some of the newer cottages offered excellent value for money. All provide spacious accommodation, particularly at Mata Mata where the riverside cottages have comfortable twin-bedded bedrooms, a spacious living room with kitchenette and equally large patio and braai area.
But much of the accommodation needs TLC. We had a kitchen cupboard door hanging loose, an ill-fitting kitchen sink, blocked shower outlet, leaking kitchen tap, “dead” electric plug and other similar signs of poor attention to maintenance detail. None of this detracted from the pleasure of the visit.
One big attraction of this park and its camps is their remoteness, which requires some careful preparation. We took both vehicle and medical emergency kits, the contents of which were fortunately not needed. But there was peace of mind particularly from having an electric tyre pump, tyre repair and weld kit, beefed up wheel spanner, tow rope, folding spade, battery charger and five-litre jerry can of spare fuel.
Useful “creature comforts” included an Indel B 40-litre, 12/220 volt portable fridge, LED lights with clamps or stands for bedtime reading (bedside lights are now much improved in the camps, albeit that power is usually switched off from around 22h00) and our own pillows to replace what are occasionally very firm SANParks offerings. Our hot water bottles were extremely useful. And, if you are pedantic about the dust in your vehicle, which is extensive, albeit very clean, a portable vacuum cleaner!
A friend once said that you only finally “graduate” from your South African game park visits when you have been to the Kgalagadi. Our visit was the third after a 30-year gap, and our expectations were met most satisfactorily.
Space – because of the limited accommodation and high demand – is hard to come by and reservation processes can be frustrating, as Wayne Jacobs found. But visiting the Kgalagadi is an experience to have on your “bucket list”.
The management and maintenance challenges that the SANParks leadership faces could well be resolved by offering, as some private lodges do, free accommodation in return for specialist services. So how about trading four nights of accommodation with, for example, an expert plumber, for two days’ maintenance and repair work? Just a thought – to enhance the experience that is a national treasure for us all to enjoy.
About the author: Alan Ramsay retired recently from his role as chairman of RamsayMedia, publishers of Leisure Wheels. He is the founder of Getaway magazine and enjoys discovering and experiencing off-the-beaten-track routes and destinations.