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South Africa

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Author: Evan Haussmann.  Multimedia Images.

Source: Southern Africa’s top 21 parks taken from the April 2010 Issue of Getaway Magazine.

Kgalagadi became the first formally declared cross-border conservation area 20 years ago.

What is so special about this place that made politicians actually agree on something? Evan Haussmann takes a look.

Local guides offer insight into their Kgalagadi ancestral lands. Inset: The elevated Bitterpan Camp tower offers excellent vistas, especially around sunrise and sunset. Photo by Leigh Stefanski.
Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park
Top: Kgalagadi lions’ home ranges are extraordinarily large because of the low prey density in this arid land. Photo by Scott Ramsay. Below. In travelling the 30 kilometres to IXaus Lodge, visitors cross over 90 sandunes. Photo Leigh Stefanski.

The vast, silent Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park, declared in 1990, is one of the last conservation areas of this scale in the world.

The 3,6-million hectares of red dunes and scrubby flora straddle the border marked by the dry Nossob River bed, between Botswana and South Africa. Like the other main river, the Auob, it flows just once or twice a century.

Around 80 boreholes dot the park, many along the course of riverbeds, sustaining a large number and surprising diversity of mammals.

Notable among them are the iconic gemsbok, some 450 black-maned lions, meerkat and giraffe, which were reintroduced in 1990 after being hunted out. Around 280 bird species have been recorded, although only 92 are resident. The remainder are vagrant, migratory and nomadic types.

In 2002, about 580 square kilometres of territory were returned to the marginalised Khomani San and Mier communities with an agreement that allows cultural and symbolic use of the land.

Together with Sanparks, they receive equal shares of the income generated by commercial tourist activities. One of these ventures, IXaus Lodge, overlooks a game-rich salt pan and hunter-gatherer guides offer dune walks and game drives from the isolated site.

Experiencing the intimate relationship that these people share with this ‘great thirstland’ provides a fascinating glimpse into another culture with its roots in a time long forgotten.

The park has five entrances in three countries. From South Africa, access is through Twee Rivieren, from Namibia through Mata-Mata and from Botswana through Two Rivers, Mabuasehube and Kaa gates. The facilities on the South African side are most developed, offering chalets, cottages and campsites available at Mata-Mata, Nossob and Twee Rivieren Rest Camps. Kalahari is a tented camp and cabins are available at Bitterpan, Grootkolk, Gharagab, Kieliekrankie and Urikaruus Wilderness Camps.

Botswana, the ‘wild side’, has unfenced campsites with no electricity. It’s a good idea to ascertain if a camp’s borehole is working when you book. For safety’s sake, it’s advisable to travel by 4×4 and in convoy with at least one other vehicle in the Botswana section.

Sand and dunes do not a desert make

Visitors to Grootkolk Camp in the wilderness must bring their own water and wood. Photo by Justin Fox.

The Kalahari is the largest continuous stretch of sand on the planet. Because of its porous sands, calcite ridges and scarcity of surface water, it is mistakenly referred to as a desert. But annually, around 200 mm of precious rain falls between the searing hot months of November and April, spreading a light blanket of drab green and grey over the landscape. Technically, this squirt of water turns the ‘desert’ into a semi-arid savanna supporting an amazing diversity of animal life.

In South Africa, book through Sanparks central reservations, tel 012-428-9111, e-mail, website.

In Botswana, contact Parks and Reserves reservation office, tel +267-318-0774 or e-mail.

Sunset in Kgalagadi
With only 200 mm of rainfall annually, you’re pretty much guaranteed a good setting for sundowners every evening. Photo by Jazz Kuschke.
Before you rush off, know this
  • Sedans can drive the main roads, but it’s advisable to travel by 4×4 – and a 4×4 is absolutely essential for access to the Botswana side.
  • Within Botswana, at least two vehicles must travel together at all times.
Ground Squirrel
Ground squirrels. Photo by Jazz Kuschke.
  • Temperatures vary from -11 °C on winter nights to 42°C in the shade in summer, when ground surface temperatures reach 70°C.
  • The road between Samevloeiing and Kij Kij is closed until December 2010, but a detour via the lower dune road (Kieliekrankie Road) connects Twee Rivieren to Nossob River Valley
  • If you plan to exit through a different gate into another country, you will need to take your passport. Twee Rivieren and Two Rivers are the only gates with passport control.
More info on the quaint town of Kgalagadi More info on the Kalahari area


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