It doesn’t happen very often, but sometimes, just sometimes, an unplanned trip can be the most unforgettable. Our recent June / July Kgalagadi trip is a case in point. We’d left our plans to the very last minute and were unable to secure consecutive bookings within the park. I turned to the net for options.Words and pictures by Bryan Milne.
While browsing SANParks’ website I came across the Nossob Eco Trail – previously known as the Kalahari Wilderness Eco Trail. This guided four-day route runs between Nossob and Twee Rivieren – alternating in direction each month – and is open to self-sufficient off-roaders only. It doesn’t happen very often, but sometimes, just sometimes, an unplanned trip can be the most unforgettable. Our recent June / July Kgalagadi trip is a case in point. We’d left our plans to the very last minute and were unable to secure consecutive bookings within the park. I turned to the net for options.
While browsing SANParks’ website I came across the Nossob Eco Trail – previously known as the Kalahari Wilderness Eco Trail. This guided four-day route runs between Nossob and Twee Rivieren – alternating in direction each month – and is open to self-suffcient off-roaders only. Of course you have to carry all your own water, food and camping gear. Fortunately, when I phoned to enquire about the trail, I was told there was space for two more 4x4s. I booked both spots straight away; I knew one of my mates would join me.
Leaving from the Twee Rivieren camp we followed our guide, Dawid, along the park’s gravel roads until we came to an intersection. The route then branched off and followed a sandy tweespoor track, the predominant terrain type for much of the trail. We kept our tyre pressures at 1.1 bar which proved ideal for the entire journey.
The trail dips and dives into a series of valleys, each separated by a small to medium dune belt. In between these brief bouts of off-road excitement you slowly track along red desert sand and enjoy ample game-viewing opportunities. We saw everything from the elusive bat-eared fox to a black-backed jackal digging for a whistling rat. The most rewarding sight of all was a young male lion guarding his kill. The lion had dragged the antelope not far from the road, but as soon as we got close he bolted up a nearby dune. However, it didn’t take long before he regained his confidence, turned around and charged back towards us. Fortunately, it was a mock charge and he stopped halfway down the dune face. But that didn’t make the experience any less frightening, particularly for my wife who watched the episode through a pair of binoculars that made the scene look far closer than it really was. All three campsites (Witgat, Rosyntjiebos and Swartbas) are structured around a clutter of trees with long-drop toilets and a bucket shower. All the facilities are clean and well kept. We placed a water-filled jerrycan close to the fire at night and used the hot water for our evening shower – a definite hit among the ladies and gents alike.
We spent our first night sitting around a campfire listening to a male lion roar close by. That evening Dawid shared stories with us about life in the bush. I’ll never forget his description of the Nossob jackals: “Daai Nossob jakaals, hulle kan lees en skryf” he said. Dawid was an excellent guide, his stories were entertaining and his knowledge of the park and all its secrets was inexhaustible. What’s more, Dawid’s timing was spot on; every morning we’d leave camp at 09h00, take a leisurely drive and frequently stop for refreshments or the odd photograph opportunity. Yet, we always arrived at camp with more than enough time to pitch our tents and relax.
On our final morning, we’d driven barely 50 metres from camp when Dawid stopped his 4×4 and pointed out two lioness spoor. According to him, the spoor was just two hours old, which was a chilling thought for my wife and I as we’d taken a dawn stroll along that very path. This gave us a poignant reminder of our location and who the locals were.
Because the eco trail ends at Nossob you need to get back to Twee Rivieren before the gates close. If you break camp shortly a er sunrise, you will get to Nossob by 10h00 and should make Twee Rivieren on time. However, there’s always the chance you’ll come across something worth stopping for, whether it be a puncture or a rare cheetah sighting. We made it back just in time. In hindsight, I’d probably do things differently next time by staying an extra night somewhere in the park.
This would slow things down and prevent a big rush after the tour’s done. All in all, the Nossob Eco Trail is an unforgettable experience. It’s also ideal for novice overlanders who aren’t quite ready for the likes of Mabuasehube, but who still want the unique experience of the Kgalagadi. Personally, I wish we had booked again this year, next time I won’t leave it so late.
Province: Northern Cape
Nearest town: Upington (260 km)
Terrain: Tweespoor tracks with lots of sand and medium-sized dunes
Distance / duration: 214 km / four days
Guided / unguided: Guided
Bring your: Wife and kids Definitely!
Will I get lost? No
Recovery facilities: – The guide’s vehicle should have recovery equipment, but always bring your own
Onsite: – compressor facilities
No Onsite high-pressure wash facilities: – No
Min / max number of vehicles: – 1 / 5
Trailers: – No
Swimming costume: Yes. For use at Nossob or Twee Rivieren
Quad / Motor bike: Not permitted. Mountain bike Not permitted
Pets: Not permitted
Braai grid: Bring your own
Firewood: Each vehicle must bring one bag in summer and two bags in winter. We bought at Twee Rivieren before the start of the trail.
Time of year
Summer temperatures can reach 45° C while the winter months get as cold as -11° C at night. The best time of year may be spring or autumn. The trail departs every Monday morning, except for two weeks over Christmas and New Years when the route is closed. The starting point changes on a monthly basis; one month it departs from Twee Rivieren, the next it leaves from Nossob.
Difficulty Grade 2 with a possible 3 in summer on the bigger dunes. Rating guide 1 Suitable for complete novices. Softroader friendly, no low-range required 2 Low-range required, but suitable for novices 3 Low-range and some off-road experience required 4 Technical trail for the experienced 5 Extremely technical, for experienced drivers only. Vehicle damage a distinct possibility
Upington to Twee Rivieren: 260 km via R360
Kimberley to Twee Rivieren: 621 km via N10, N14 and R360
Cape Town to Twee Rivieren: 1 076 km via N7, R27, N14 and R360
Johannesburg to Twee Rivieren: 1 090 km via N14 and R360
GPS – Twee Rivieren entrance: S26° 28.436 E20° 36.792 Nearest fuel stop
You’ll find fuel at Twee Rivieren and Nossob. We also topped up in Askham, approximately 70 km south of Twee Rivieren.
Low-range Mandatory Diff-lock Not a requirement Minimum ground clearance 220 mm Tyres Low-profile HT tyres are not recommended.
Recovery points You shouldn’t need them but they’re always good to have. Underbody protection Not necessary Softroader friendly? No What vehicle were we driving? Toyota Prado KZ-TE with OME suspension. It handled the trail with ease.
However, this is lion country so keep a close watch on your children at all times! Food and supplies Each vehicle must be totally self-sufficient, bring everything including extra water for you evening shower.
Also in the area
There’s lots to see in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Alternatively, you can continue with the Gemsbok Wilderness Trail in Botswana starting at Polentswa. Bookings for this trail can be made at the Botswana Parks and Reserve Reservations office on +267 318 0774
Accommodation The cost of camping is included in the trail’s fee but you need to factor in the additional accommodation cost before the start of the trail and possibly at the end.
Jan Kriel at the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park offices on 054 561 2000.
COSTS: Trail R2 340 per vehicle with up to five occupants. Excluding daily conservation fee.