13 ways to pack more punch into your Kgalagadi holiday

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VIEWS

Words and pictures by Koos Pieters.

13 ways to pack more punch into your Kgalagadi holiday

This park has become so popular it’s practically impossible to get a reservation on short notice, this means you’ll probably end up scratching for crumbs in the form of cancellations – and having to stay in camps far apart. Which in turn means that you’ll spend too much time travelling and backtracking. So, and trust me on this one: book early. Book up to a year in advance, if you can. .

2. Familiarise yourself with the park, and plan your stay Use a park map to determine where you want to stay and for how long. There are three main camps, each offering different strokes for different folks: Twee-Rivieren, at the park’s main entrance; Nossob, about 160 kilometres further north along the Nossob river; and Mata Mata, on the park’s north-western border, which allows you entry into Namibia provided that you’ve spent at least two nights somewhere in the park.

3. Try all the main camps
If you’re a first time visitor, consider staying two to three nights at each of the main camps in order to get a feel for them. All three offer swimming pools, and shops where basic supplies can be purchased. In summer the pools can make a huge difference to your holiday, temperatures in the park can soar into the late 30s and early 40s – and stay up there until late at night. So don’t forget the sunblock and protective stuff like hats and beach umbrellas, or you may end up with heat stroke and serious sunburn.

3. Try all the main camps
If you’re a first time visitor, consider staying two to three nights at each of the main camps in order to get a feel for them. All three offer swimming pools, and shops where basic supplies can be purchased. In summer the pools can make a huge difference to your holiday, temperatures in the park can soar into the late 30s and early 40s – and stay up there until late at night. So don’t forget the sunblock and protective stuff like hats and beach umbrellas, or you may end up with heat stroke and serious sunburn.

4. Stock up outside the park
Take enough wood, meat, food, and drink to last the holiday. Most of these items, as well as other basic supplies, are sold in the main camps but they’re expensive, and you may not find the brands you prefer. Take lots of drinking water – the park’s water isn’t very pleasant to drink though it does make really nice foaming coffee. Ice is sold in all three camps, but at Nossob and Mata Mata they sometimes run out, and the quality of the ice might be found wanting.

5. Switch off and listen up
You’ll lose cell-signal minutes after you leave Twee-rivieren. There’s no radio reception, so no rugby match can upset you. So, forget about the office. Forget about the folk back home. Here, nature is your soundtrack; open your windows and listen for the sweet singing sound of a Pale Chanting Goshawk, or the sharp call of the Giant Eagle Owl.

6. Drive slowly
The biggest blunder you can make is to drive like a maniac from one waterhole to the next. Most of the roads are corrugated, and the rattles produced by faster speeds will spook much of the wildlife you might have seen, had you been travelling at a more relaxed pace.

7. Downsize Forget about the park’s famous black-maned lions, and focus on the smaller things. If you see a snake in the road, don’t rush past. Stop and observe for a few minutes. It could be that an ever-vigilant Snake Eagle has also noticed the snake – and no lazing pride of lions will offer as much action as a bird of prey attacking a snake or something similar. Spend time watching meerkats in their typical habitat – you’re guaranteed some exhilarating entertainment.

8. Twitchers, take note
If bird-watching is your scene, you’re in for a good time. Take your bird book, binos, and a notebook in which you can record your sightings. Consider getting a raptors guidebook if you don’t have one. Drive really slowly, almost from tree to tree, and scan the branches for owls. Owls rest in trees most of the day, as they are mostly active at night. Keep an eye out for the larger birds of prey which could be sitting in trees with their catch. Scan the tops of large trees for vulture nests, and for those of eagles. Spend lots of time at waterholes which have trees close to the water. Look out for Pale Chanting Goshawks on the ground, as they often hunt with Cape Cobras. The snake sticks its head into one mouse-hole, and as the mouse pops out of one of the other holes, the bird is there to snatch it up. Scan the nests of Sociable Weavers for Cape Cobras. They often raid the nests for chicks, and they can be seen making their way through the many apartments of the nest, causing pandemonium amongst the terrified inhabitants.

9. Work the daylight hours
Get up early, so that you can leave your camp as soon as the gates open. Make your way to the nearest waterhole, and have coffee and a few rusks there. Find a good vantage point with the rising sun behind you, and get your camera and binos ready for action. Be patient, and see what shows up for an early-morning drink. You will find the trees around the waterhole jam-packed with birds, all waiting for the bravest to approach the water first, knowing that somewhere in the trees one or two Lanner Falcons are waiting to launch their deadly aerial attack on the first birds to come down. If you stay there long enough, chances are good that a variety of animals will pop out of the bush to come and drink. Don’t be surprised if a thirsty lion or two shows up unexpectedly – they disappear back into the bush just as quickly. In fact, the best way to see the biggest number of animals is to spend the entire day at one waterhole. It takes a lot of patience, but it may reward you with some exciting viewing.

10. Chill out at base camp
Spend at least one full day in one of the camps. Get up late, and sip your morning coffee slowly while watching the birds in the camp, and listening to their wake-up chats. Have a leisurely breakfast, and linger around your tent or chalet. By noon the birds will start disappearing, which means it’s a good time for G&T. After lunch, take that siesta you always dream of at the office. The birds will start chatting again around 16h00, so that’s a good time to take a stroll around the camp to see what species you can spot. Ask the staff in the camp about resident birds; they’ll know whether there are interesting birds, like owls, in the vicinity.

11. Homemade treats are neat
Order homemade italics roosterkoek or freshly-baked bread from camp staff in Nossob and Mata Mata. The reception staff will take your order and the goodies will be delivered to your tent just as the sun goes down. Buy a little extra for padkos for the next day.

12. Go wild
In the last few years, SANParks have developed a number of small wilderness camps in the Kgalagadi. All of these, apart from the Kalahari tented camp outside Mata Mata, consist of just four self-catering units. They are unfenced, which means that your movements are somewhat restricted. The camps offer an experience worth having if you’ve only ever stayed at the main camps, but expect to pay quite a bit more. The magic of these venues lies in the fact that you’re almost alone in this wonderful place, with no cars, no noise, and very few other people. Just you and the park.

13. It’s not about the Big Five
Don’t go to this park intent on seeing the Big Five; or any animals at all, for that matter. Go there to get away from it all, and to experience the mystical magic of the red Kalahari dunes, the magnificent camel thorn trees, and the incredible night skies. If you allow the uniqueness of this place to work its way under your skin, you will find it very difficult to stay away.

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