Words and pictures by Peet Schultz
We visited Kukonje as a one-night overnight between Vic Falls and Khama Rhino Reserve, and were pleasantly surprised by the beauty and serenity of this freebie!
You get there via the A3, 57 kilometres south of Nata, at the Dukwi Veterinary Control Gate (S20 34.067 E26 29.190). Coming from Nata, you drive through the Vet Gate and turn to your right. Then follow the vet fence for 48 kilometres to get to the Kwadiba Veterinary Control gate (S20 54.965 E26 16.634).
The ‘vet road’ is mostly a 4-lane gravel highway, and I felt confident enough to travel it at 60 km/h in 4WD while towing our Echo4 trailer. At the time it seemed to have been freshly graded. There is the occasional riverbed crossing and dry donga, so be aware that you may be required to stop in a hurry!
There is one manned gate where you have to cross the railway tracks. These gates in the vet fence are manned between 06h00 and 22h00, so plan accordingly.
Tracks4Africa allows about two hours to drive this stretch but I guess it depends on the road condition. My Garmin initially indicated an arrival time of 18h15, but we arrived 30 minutes earlier.
If you are coming from Letlhakane on the A30, turn left at the Vet Gate – at S21 18.366 E26 13.987 – on the Tlapana Vet Fence. The first 20-kilometre stretch on the road is rocky and full of loose stones from the grading exercise, but thereafter you have a fine gravel road all the way to the Kwadiba Veterinary Gate. There seems to be an alternate entry point on the A30 at Makobelo (S21 13 58.1 E26 25 48.1), but on the way out from Kukonje I didn’t see any alternate turnoffs so we just kept going along the Vet Fence. It is more fun to drive there, anyway!
To get to Kukonje Island, you enter via the gate at Kwadiba (manned by two ladies who would appreciate a cold Coke and a couple of sweets!) and drive for about seven kilometres over the pan. The vet fence forms a sort of “T” at this point, with the long leg of the “T” almost reaching the island. It stops about a kilometre short of the island. You are now driving on what looks almost like dry white ash and, if you are in convoy, you will have to allow some time for the dust to settle. The crust on the pan is almost a centimetre thick and will “crackle” under your shoes. Almost like walking on a layer of Simba chips! The island is fairly big, so there is lots of space to camp just about anywhere.
There are a few campsites, which are marked by the presence of a long drop toilet, but there is nothing in the line of fireplaces, braais or anything else at all. You will have to take everything that you need with you – water included. Although there are cattle grazing on the Island, I could not find the place that they get water from; certainly the well that is on the island has not been used for a long time.
A word about the Long Drops: they are not in a state that anyone (men included) would like to use. You will have to make provision for your toilet needs; and please, please burn the toilet paper when you are through. The one thing that is in process of spoiling the place is how many little white flags are fluttering about in the wind. Toilet paper does not degrade quickly! I would also suggest you bring your own firewood.
If you want to get away from it all and experience silence in its purest form, then this is probably one of the places to go to for a few nights. I can recall waking up in the middle of the night and realising that I had woken up because it was so quiet!
I think my wife and daughter were a bit sceptical when I told them about the place where we would be spending the night. When we arrived at the huge baobab where we made camp, I could hear that they were deeply affected by the sheer magnitude of the nothingness that surrounds you at Kukonje. It is truly difficult to walk out on the pan and not realise just how magnificent and varied the creation around us is!