We were SUPER excited to be heading back to Botswana – and even more excited by the prospect of spending a full week in the crazy remote wilderness of the Kalahari. Neither of us had been to CGKR before but the idea of just us, our 4×4 roof top tent and some amazing wildlife was sounding like heaven. Kruger is probably my favourite place in the world, but every year it gets busier and busier such that it doesn’t feel properly ‘wild’ anymore. Well the Central Kalahari still feels wild, let me tell you! It’s probably one of the few remaining true wilderness areas in Southern Africa – a place where you could drive all day and not see another car, where you are left to camp in an open area with absolutely no amenities and with no other people within 30km (depending on campsite). There’s no food, water or fuel available in the park – in fact there are no ’employees’ – there aren’t even any bins. You have to take everything you need in with you and you have to take everything back out with you as well (sometimes with a potential added mouse or two)!
Suffice to say you need to be FULLY PREPARED or else you just won’t survive. That’s right, you will DIE (slight exaggeration as you probably could find someone to help you or just leave the park). But listen, the point is this place is proper African bush and it’s bloody amazing. Thanks to a few cool forums we thought we were totally prepared to conquer this wild and crazy place, that was until our very first day (before we even made it out of South Africa)….
Central Kalahari Day One: a loose definition of a fully equipped 4×4
We were lucky that Zebra Campers, where we were hiring our fully equipped 4×4 from, allowed us to pick the vehicle up the day prior to the start of our trip. We had a long way to go and we didn’t fancy leaving after 8am (the earliest you could pick the vehicle up). As it turned out that was for the best as it took us a good two hours to pick it up, sign our life away and have all the functionality explained! The only snag was that we found out by accident that this vehicle had NO long -range fuel tank, which was a necessity for our trip to the Kalahari! This was despite the fact we had specifically confirmed that it would, in fact, have a long-range tank when initially booking it.
Luckily they had three jerry cans and we had two (from the dramas during our trip to the Kgalagadi) so although we still have less fuel than if we had have had the long range tank and our two jerry cans, we hopefully will be OK. It also means we will have to keep filling up the car manually, but some things cannot be helped (at least not if your car hire company screws you).
We chose not to buy any meat, fruit or vegetables in South Africa, as although their government website says it is OK, and although we specifically rang the border post and checked, we didn’t trust the information. Why? Because this is Africa and what happens rarely = to what you expect or were told. On top of that various forums and the lady who hired the car to us had suggested the meat would be confiscated regardless of what anyone said. I think Van was tempted to try our luck but I really didn’t want to spend a stack of money on meat to have it all taken away just because AFRICA.
As it turned out when we got to the border nobody even searched our car, but they did ask us what we had so who knows had we said we had meat what they would have done! There were no issues crossing the border, though a very long wait at the cashier to pay. I think the whole thing took about an hour and at least they accepted our credit card for payment (we had also checked this but once again… TIA). Oh and the guy at the South African border was pretty impressed by the zebra camper, and the fact all seats were zebra patterned! I think he was tempted to confiscate the whole car so he could take it for himself.
Across the border we stopped to use the last of the signal and got some random guy to take a pic of us in front of our Zebra camper! Then we were off again, stopping one more time at a town about 1.5 hours away from Khama to have some lunch and withdraw money. Unfortunately our Australian bank cards were not working, so we had to withdraw almost all the remaining money in Van’s South African account! We are not sure if you can pay at CKGR with credit card, so safest bet is to have pula.
Onto Khama and a relatively uneventful drive had us there at about 3pm. On our way there wasn’t much to see other than the standard cows, donkeys, horses and goats ALL OVER THE ROAD. You have to be very careful as lots of people die in Botswana from hitting cows (especially at night). These cows are really quite something because they genuinely give ZERO SHITS about your car hurtling towards them at 120kmh. In the world of cows, the road is definitely not there to share. It’s there for them to walk, stand and lie on whenever and wherever they damn well please. Perhaps they are just sick of their aimless life? I don’t know but seriously, people need to take better care of their cattle in Africa! Once we had checked into Khama, we did our own self-drive and saw lots of lovely rhinos (including a baby!) as well as springbok, impala, wildebeest and ostriches. There weren’t many cars out, which made it even more enjoyable.
We came back while it was still late, however Van wanted to eat at the restaurant and since it was quite far from our campsite (and not within walking distance) we were not able to set up our camp beforehand. This meant that after dinner (which turned out to be a big mistake because it was expensive, had a hair in it and not very nice) we had to set up the tent for the first time in the dark! We were the only ones in the restaurant the entire time (a sign perhaps?) but for some reason this didn’t stop them from taking an age to bring out Van’s fillet steak. He was then unimpressed because although it was meant to be beef, he was very suspicious that it was a game meat! At least he did have a couple of beers to wash it down.
Our campsite was number 5, which we really liked as it surrounded a big, beautiful tree and was quite close to the ablutions. We had been excited for the privacy as nobody camps all that close, however we were hit with our typical CAMPING CURSE and there were some people having a major party in a campsite nearby, complete with extremely loud music. This despite there were actual signs in the park specifically saying ‘No music allowed’. Cue Van’s anger. He literally got his knife and threatened to slash their tyres but luckily I convinced him otherwise. I think? I wouldn’t really know because I popped half a phenergan so I could get a good night’s sleep as I hadn’t been sleeping well. After struggling with the shower (it seemed to have two settings: scalding or cold) I was ready for our first night of sleeping in a roof top tent!
Perhaps it’s a little sad but I was actually kind’ve excited for our roof top tent living! I had been a bit concerned about being cold but we had that well and truly covered between sleeping bags, the duvet provided by Zebra and two very warm blankets/duvets borrowed to us by Van’s aunty! On top of that I slept in warm clothes including two thermal-type tops! True to expectation I didn’t get cold and even though some dogs went crazy and our neighbours continued their party, I managed to get to sleep pretty quickly and didn’t really wake up until the alarm went off at 5am. It was hard to get up because we were so snug up there!
Central Kalahari Day two: camping crises continue.
So today was a bit of a frustrating day. We set out a little late but we were not worried as it wasn’t all that far we had to go. Or so we thought… however when we pulled into Lletakane (about two hours from CKGR) to fill up with diesel we found out that one of the jerry cans Zebra had loaned us had leaked. So not only did we have to pay for diesel that ended up on the ground of the petrol station, but we were 20L down on diesel, which we were already down on due to not getting the long range tank. We then had to go and find a jerry can to buy, which caused more issues because they needed us to pay in cash, but we weren’t sure we had enough on top of the cash we needed to get into the park. Cue massive debacle. Plus we noticed the water tank was leaking. We had seen it leaking from the start but we were told when we asked about it that it was just because it was really full. But now we had our doubts because you know, after leaking for 48 hours, it’s probably NOT still full. So on top of the new jerry can we had to buy a container for water. But because we had SO MANY jerry cans in the back already, plus all of our shit, we could only fit one 25L container of water. But the problem was we only had so much pula and as expected, the shops we wanted to buy our jerry cans and containers from did not accept credit card. And we also didn’t know if the CKGR accepted credit card… so much fun!
Anyway after about two hours in this little town we managed to make a plan by finding a DWNP (bots department of wildlife) office and pre-paying our entry partly with cash and partly card (thank you Michael from DWNP who is a treasure!), then using the remaining cash to buy the shovel, jerry can and water container. We then bought all our groceries for the week, had lunch at Hungry Lion (cheaper but just as good version of KFC) and set off. TWO HOURS LATER. Thanks so much Zebra campers. The most astonishing part of this tale is the fact I didn’t even CRY ONCE during this taxing ordeal. Despite it being close to the worst thing that has ever happened to anyone over the course of history on our planet, I didn’t even have a minor breakdown. I honestly don’t know what was wrong with me, because out of the two of us I was the one saying it would be OK. Van was more angry and upset than me! I was just like: we just won’t shower for the week, or drive that much! It probably helped that I had purchased about $1,000 worth of wet wipes, so I figured we were totally covered by wet wipe showers (I CANNOT GO TO BED WITH DIRTY FEET NO MATTER HOW MUCH MONEY SOMEONE PAYS ME). I don’t know if it was just one of those once-in-a-lifetime miracles or if I have had some sort of epiphany over here and developed even an ounce of a coping mechanism, but there you have it. I’m feeling pretty proud (particularly when you compare this to the full code red super sonic 5000 meltdown that was had back when we had to leave the park and drive 140km to get fuel in the Kgalagadi because AFRICA).
An uneventful drive (including copious cows, donkeys and horses on the road) saw us get to Matswere gate at CGKR at around 2pm where we signed in and were allowed through pretty quickly since we had all our paperwork in order. One thing that did surprise me was that we were not given any information on rules about driving/camping here! I had read that you have to be out of the park on the day you leave by 11am but if that is indeed true, there was no mention of it to us. There was also zero mention of the times you are allowed to drive (I had read at this time it was 6:30am – 6:30pm, but who knows?). They also did not check that we had any supplies. We could be some totally ignorant tourists thinking there would be diesel, water and even a Mcdonalds in the park, but these guys CARED NOT. They reminded me of the Botswanan cows for how much they cared about our basic survival. They had checked our paperwork, so their job was done! Now we could go and live or die in the African wilderness (jungle) for all they cared.
Anyway. After two long days of driving Van was keen to simply get to our campsite and sort some things out with the car, given it now looked like a bomb had hit it with 50,000 containers of diesel and water. Nothing of great excitement was seen on our drive there other than steenbok, Oryx, springbok and some nice birds. Oh and elephant tracks and poo all over the place! As I understand it, it’s pretty rare to see elephants here but we definitely saw a lot of signs!
At our campsite I was pleased to see we actually had a proper long-drop toilet. I had thought it was more rudimentary but I don’t know if it is just because we are at the most popular campsite tonight (Deception). We had deception 5, and the guy had said that the previous night the camp was pretty much empty, but we did drive past some other people camping at number 4. According to the sightings board at the gate nobody had seen anything while camping at Deception campsites yet this month, so we weren’t really holding our breath to have any cats invade our campsite (which is pretty much my #1 dream while here after reading Stan’s Slow Donkey report of when a lioness came to his campsite and trashed THE SHIT out of it. That is what I want.). We did however have an amazing natal spurfowl family, who gave me lots of joy as they paraded around our campsite completely ambivalent to our presence! The little chicks (?) loved dust bathing around our fireplace. So sweet.
Anyway we got to our campsite at about 4:15pm and it’s now 5:40pm – Van has spent the last hour and a half trying to fix the water tank because it was coming out in quite the stream, which was clearly very exciting for the local birds who relished the drink/shower. Sadly for them Van managed to make a rudimentary plan involving a straw, plastic, sticks and matches (he is ever resourceful) but unfortunately it meant he got so sweaty in the process that he will need to use a stack of our water for a shower today! I am going to try and wait until tomorrow because we NOW HAVE LITTLE WATER and I just had a shower last night. Showers are for pansies out in the bush anyway. Right? Right.
Camping is such fun. The two things you need to make sure you have in the Kalahari are diesel and water, so we are clearly doing well with our single 70L diesel tank and half-empty 50L water tank… NEITHER OF WHICH IS OUR FAULT.
I better see a lion trash our campsite at some point or else. P.S OK so these first couple of days were not that exciting but I PROMISE the rest are much more entertaining and the PICTURES ARE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC STANDARDS PLEASE KEEP READING TO HEAR ABOUT THE LIONS AND TIGERS AND BEARS OH MY (minus tigers and bears but plus a caracal and lots of cheetahs, honey badgers and other assorted amazingly cool shit.)