We decided to check out the Kgalagadi as it came highly recommended by Van’s parents, and we figured it was time we did something different to our usual Kruger trips! We got very lucky finding accommodation availability only about a week or two prior to visiting – this may have been due to cancellations as I understand it can be very difficult to book the Kgalagadi unless you do so about a year in advance! (side note: check out our recent article on 5 reasons you should visit the Kgalagadi if you need more swaying).
Beggars can’t be choosers, so we weren’t able to secure any nights at the popular camps Urikaruus or Kilie Krankie, but we did manage to get a night at Grootkolk and two nights at Kalahari Tented Camp – both of which are wilderness (unfenced) camps. The rest of our trip was spent at Twee Riverien and Nossob. All in all we did five nights at Twee (4 camping, one chalet), four nights Nossob (2 camping, 2 chalet), one night at Grootkolk and two nights at Kalahari Tented Camp. We figured a total of twelve nights would be enough to give us a good idea of what the Kgalagadi was like!
Unfortunately as we don’t have a 4×4 (and weren’t prepared to pay to hire one) we weren’t able to explore the Botswana side of the Kgalagadi for this trip, but it’s definitely something we’d love to do in the future. Here’s a pretty detailed overview of our trip, hopefully the photos will keep you from total boredom!
Day one: A ten hour trip to the land of meerkats!
Our first day mostly consisted of an extremely long and relatively uneventful drive from Pretoria all the way to a guest house about 30km outside the park. So basically over ten hours of driving in South Africa’s relentless sun! The drive was relatively uneventful and we stocked up on groceries for the trip in Uppington – we had a portable fridge that plugs into the car cigarette lighter, which proved extremely useful for our trip (thanks to Van’s parents Ilse and Jannie)!
The worst part of the trip was driving the road from Upington towards the park, where the amount of road kill was disturbing. In particular it seemed that an entire colony of owls had been wiped out (ok I know owls don’t live in colonies but even so). It was very upsetting to see all the poor owls that had been hit, presumably by trucks driving through during the dark hours. If you find yourself driving at dusk or dawn (or in between), please slow down and be careful of our beautiful creatures like owls and foxes!
We arrived at Kalahari Trails Camp at about 5pm, feeling pretty tired and keen to get settled in but there was no way I was going to sit down and relax when THERE WERE MEERKATS PLAYING! A large part of the reason I booked into Kalahari Trails was their resident meerkat colony, but I wasn’t entirely sure how much we would get to see them. Well, they were scurrying around as we arrived, apparently on high alert having just chased away an unknown meerkat. Anne (the owner) told us we could go down to where the meerkats were and we didn’t need any further encouragement. With my camera in my hand I hightailed it over to where these amazing animals were playing, digging and generally going about their business. It was truly an experience I will never forget, as sometimes a meerkat would come up to us and rub against our leg or even go to jump into Van’s lap! We were very careful not to touch them (even though I wanted to!) as although they are clearly quite tame, they are ultimately still wild animals and that should always be respected.
We stayed with the gorgeous meerkats until they eventually found their way back to their burrows and went to bed – all except one (I think it was Big Douglas), who had recently been unceremoniously kicked out of the family along with another poor male meerkat. Well Big Douglas really didn’t know what to do with himself now that he was no longer welcome to sleep in the burrows, and so he just followed Anne around everywhere she went (including as she showed us our room and the rest of the facilities). I don’t know where poor Big Douglas slept that night but I hope he wasn’t too lonely!
Day two: the first taste of Kalahari lions
Jet lag had me up from about 4am, mentally getting ready for my big morning of meerkat watching. I put the GoPro in place, and switched it on as soon as I saw the first little head pop up from their burrow. Decided I was taking national geographic-worthy footage, until of course I later realised I had the settings on time lapse photo, not even time lapse video! I blame this squarely on GoPro, as I had specifically changed the settings to video (narrow view) but I can only surmise that because I switched it off again before I pressed the record button, it decided to revert to the previous setting? I don’t know, but what I do know is that GoPro owes me big money for my lost national geographic opportunity!!!!
After I had taken an infinite number of photos of meerkats, we decided it was time to head off to the Kgalagadi. We arrived and checked in before finding the best campsite that was left. We then set about setting up our little campsite at Twee Riverien! And as you can all guess, I use the term ‘we’ perhaps a bit liberally. Van did most of the work, but I did sort of help. A little bit. I have come to realise I’m all about equal rights for women, so long as it doesn’t involve me having to do more work – so let’s just say I was happy to let the ‘man’ do the ‘manly’ job of setting up the camping stuff. Oh and a little common house sparrow invaded our tent bedroom and shit on my pillow. Welcome to the Kgalagadi huh!
We set out on our first Kgalagadi self-drive safari at about 1pm – admittedly not the most opportune time to see game, however we did manage to find lots of famous Kgalagadi residents in relatively short time: gemsbok (Oryx), springbok, wildebeest, secretary bird, red hartebeest, plenty of raptors, ostriches (with babies!!!) and LIONS! The lions were doing what they do best (sleeping – side note: read my latest blog about the secret soap opera lives of lions) so we headed off to check out a couple of other waterholes before heading back to see if they were more active. OF COURSE we just missed some of them drinking at Kij Kij waterhole, partly because Mr Black-Maned Kalahari Male Lion was in the road, blocking us from getting to the waterhole. We hung out with the lions until we had to leave, and at least did get to see one drink, and the others play around a bit. There was one big male, one sub-adult male and about seven lionesses. Given the waterhole was only an hour from Twee Riverien and closer to Kilie Krankie there were about 14 vehicles also hanging out with the lions, which definitely hampered our enjoyment of the sighting somewhat. We expected KTP to be a bit quieter than Kruger, but have found it isn’t really. This is probably exacerbated by the fact we are staying in the biggest camp and there are only two main roads to drive from said camp! So realistically you are going to come across a lot of people every day. WHICH SUCKS. (side note: we since realised it was a long weekend, so that probably didn’t help).
On our way back, we briefly saw an African wild cat hunting, but it was too quick for me to get a photo (my incompetence played a role in this too). As we rushed back to Twee Riverien camp we enjoyed a spectacular sunset and made it through the gate at exactly 7pm (sticking to our Kruger trend of hitting the gate right at close). This unfortunately did not stop us from getting a talking-to by the guy at the entrance gate, where we had to drop our permit off to. He threatened to have rangers put on the other gate the next night, which I felt was overboard since it was 7:02pm and we had driven through the gate at 7pm, which was the gate closing time. TOUCHY.
I am writing this as Van is slaving over his much cherished braai – tonight we are having garlic bread roosterbroodjies (basically little garlic breads), potatoes and steak. I am oddly excited about our campsite, so who knew I was a closet camper at heart? We are also very thankful to Van’s parents for providing all of our camping equipment, including a very awesome tent and a queen blow up mattress! This along with our portable fridge and other exciting bits and pieces is probably contributing to my newfound love of camping – we are not exactly roughing it.
Summary day two:
1. MEERKAT HEAVEN!
2. GoPro owes me about $1,000,000
3. Kgalagadi already living up to its predator reputation
Love our little campsite! Thanks Ilse and Jannie!
Day three: EVIL KGALAGADI GODS
So for some reason that defies any sort of logical comprehension, you cannot get petrol at Twee Riverien after about 9am in the morning. Yet the petrol station doesn’t open until 7am, which for most months of the year (or at least half?) is after gate opening. For us in March it was half an hour after gate opening, but we begrudgingly waited even though it was our first morning in the park and we were KEEN AS MUSTARD to get out there and find some more animals. We rolled up at 7:01am to find ourselves in a relatively long line. We waited, and waited, and waited. Finally after what seemed like (and was) an eternity, it was our turn to be served. Alas, we were promptly told (or not so promptly, given we had waited for the aforementioned eternity) that the petrol pumps weren’t working.
Now this left us in quite the quandary. We barely had any petrol left in our car. The other two camps in the park that have petrol (Mata Mata and Nossob) were a) most likely too far away for us to make it there with our paltry fuel and b) perhaps also out of fuel – nobody could say with any certainty whether these camps would even have petrol if we happened to make it there. Because, you know, AFRICA.
What to do? WHAT TO DO? My choice was basically to have a full code red breakdown. Luckily Van reacted in a much saner, mature and rational way and decided we would drive outside the park 70 F*(*KING KMs to get fuel in the nearest town. THEN DRIVE F*^(ING 70KMs back. This did not make me overly happy because it seemed counterproductive to use 140KM of fuel to get fuel. BUT AFRICA. So off we went and wasted 140KM of petrol and three hours of our time to go to said town and fill up with fuel. We also bought jerry cans full of fuel because F^&( you AFRICA (and KGALAGADI) you won’t screw us out of another morning’s game drive (we hope). I also got a slice of home-made lemon meringue pie and it was heavenly. So there. We arrived back at camp at about 9:30 or 10am and went on a short game drive to a nearby picnic site to have breakfast. Despite being told there were lions at a waterhole en route, no predators were to be seen and we came back to camp to do some chores and admin (and have a nice swim) before heading out again at around 4pm. This time we chose the other road (there are only two options), which according to the sightings board at camp had seen approximately 10,000x more sightings than the road we had driven earlier. OF COURSE.
Driving along not more than 10km from camp Van and I simultaneously spotted lions under a tree. They were being pretty boring, so we drove on for a while, but other than general game there was nothing exciting to be seen. On the way back I managed to get some cool sunset pics and then now just 7 or 8km from camp our little lion family was on the road. Shitfights’r’us was in force, but not quite as bad as the previous day, likely because it had been a public holiday the day before and presumably lots of long weekenders had buggered off home. Even so, many cars were enjoying another big male kalahari lion with his lover and some juvenile offspring. Van in his typical expert style drove past all cars and parked in a prime position facing the oncoming lions, who then very obligingly walked straight to us. WINNING. Lots of photography ensued by me, and Van even managed to get some new national geographic footage. Home again nice and early (15 minutes) so that we were not told off by mr permit gate guy. Hooray!
Van even managed to organise for a 25L jerry can of fuel to be delivered to our tent so we could be FULL FOR THE FOLLOWING DAY!! IN YOUR FACE EVIL KGALAGADI GODS!
Another braai for dinner, but I focused more on roasting marshmallows. Unfortunately our neighbours decided to START their braai at 9pm, which was not very convenient for us as that was when we wanted to go to bed, and their braai was only a metre or so from our tent. This was made worse by the fact it was a little windy and the embers were threatening to set our (or rather Van’s parents) tent on fire! ANGRY FACE. What’s more by the time they went to bed they snored horrendously. Neighbour FAIL (incidentally this seems to be a curse we have at virtually all campsites!)
So in summary:
- Kgalagadi SUCKS, and you should NOT drive petrol cars in the park. Diesel only if you want to stay sane.
- I HOPE OUR CRAPPY CAMP NEIGHBOURS GET MAULED BY LIONS. Please if you are camping have respect for your neighbours. This includes not deciding to START your braai at 9pm when everyone else is going to bed, managing your fire so it DOESN’T end up lighting your neighbour’s tent on fire and finding a campsite in a secluded spot if you happen to snore like a freight train. Thank you for your consideration.
- LIONS ON THE ROAD, two days in a row. Kgalagadi is living up to its reputation of predator park
Day three in Kgalgadi complete!