Travel: Green Kalahari


Words and Images Jacques Marais

“Hey, bru, if this was 200 million years ago, right now we’d be dodging dinosaurs in this Trailblazer.” I’m not sure how Pistol Pete gets onto these side-track conversation fillers, but a few years of being his mate has taught me that he has a knack for acting like an encyclopaedia brimming with quirky facts.

“How so?” I mutter, as I try to spot an elusive canoe through the rustling reed beds lining the ‘Grootrivier’. This is what most of the locals call the Orange River in these parts; and, so far, today, we’ve bumped into a fair number of the hardy local folk while following the canoe race. Or maybe I should say ‘… while trying to follow the canoe race’.

The thing is that the Orange River up here between Upington and Kakamas constantly splits into numerous channels, and you never know whether the paddlers are going to duck left or right past the next island. Some way back, we were pointed towards a dusty jeep-track, but it seems that something was lost in translation.

Or, maybe, Pistol just got the left-left-right-left sequence a bit wrong. It turns out he got the dinosaur story pretty much spot-on, though, give or take a few million years. During the late Jurassic period, this self-same ‘Great River’ was not even a stream, but instead a vast spread of stagnant pools. A gargantuan swamp covered much of what is now the southern African sub-continent, and you’d have needed an amphibian monster truck to get around. Godzillasized beasts stalked an immense inland basin (now known as the Kgalagadi) snacking on four-storey ferns and no doubt making an almighty racket when it came to the odd bout of slap and tickle.

Over the millennia, as the swamps dried, distant water bodies were joined by streams, which (in turn) became rivers as the landscape around them continued to morph and dry out.


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