Great Game Reserves in South Africa- Kgalagadi
A first visit to a great South African game reserve
The mindset in South Africa is to visit the Kruger National Park, a world class game reserve that is user friendly and not too far from the main population areas in Gauteng (Pretoria/Johannesburg and Soweto).
South Africa probably has the biggest choice of game reserves in the world for its area and so we are really spoiled for choice. In Natal we find the St Lucia Wetlands, Ndumo and Hluhluwe and the many Drankensberg Parks just to mention a few. The rest of the country is dotted with "green" areas such as the Golden Gate Park in the Orange Free State, the Table Mountain and Cape Point nature reserve in Cape Town. Along the Garden Route we find the Tsitsikama Coastal Reserve, the Wlderness National Park and the Bontebok Park. In the interior is the Mountain Zebra National Park and the Addo Elephant Park and then the Karoo National Park and the Kgalagadi Game reserve; the list continues! We are indeed spoiled for choices and the variety is simply amazing.
Because South Africa is a relatively small country you can travel to anywhere in a day and a half. This makes all the different National Parks and Nature Reserves reasonably accessible. Roads are generally good and on the National Roads a speed limit of 120 km per hour is the norm. You can visit all the National Reserves with a normal motor car but in some instances a high clearance vehicle is recommended. Our Toyota Condor can go almost anywhere.
A first visit to the West Coast to see the annual wild flower display opened the door for a visit to Kgalagadi. So we managed to book four nights in what was previously known as the Khalahari National Park and is now known as the Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park bordering on Namibia and Botswana. This is unspoiled Africa at its best! It is semi-desert and the land of the Bushmen tribes. Some still live in this area and a stop at one of the roadside stalls to buy a Springbok thigh-bone with traditional Bushman paintings was a must.
The road to Kgalagadi passes through Upington and interesting town on the banks of the largest river in South Africa, the Orange. The entrance to the Island Camp Ground in Upington passes through what is claimed to be the longest roadway of Palm Trees in the Southern Hemisphere The Orange river has its source in the Drakensberg Mountains of Lesotho to the east. We were amazed to see the hundred of kilometers of grape vines along the riverbanks and this otherwise arid region. They are irrigated with water from this great river.The area produces most of the raisins in South Africa. The grapes are dried on huge outdoors trays in the hot sun with temperatures of over 40 degrees the norm in summer. A quick visit to the Augrabies waterfalls in another National Park, was impressive. This is the largest waterfall in South Africa even if the Tugela in Kwa-zulu Natal is the highest (second highest in the world). Our "Wild Card" gives us admission to all the National Parks in South Africa and so it was earning its way.
But then on to the entrance gate and the rest camp nearby called Twee Rivieren "Two rivers", to pitch our tent.Yes we camp, partly because of economic necessity and partly because it offers in my opinion a real wilderness experience. Semi- luxury hutted accommodation is also available in the camp and a swimming pool to cool down in the heat of the day. This is semi-desert and so it gets very hot with temperatures over 100 degrees the norm in summer.The ablution block has showers, with hot water and toilets. They are spotlessly clean as are all the facilities in the National Parks. Food can be cooked in the designated braai (barbecue) places but a cafeteria in the camp is available, as is a small shop providing essentials. As South African citizens and pensioners we get a 40% reduction in accommodation fees out of season and during the week.
Because this is an arid part of the country game either congregate near the waterholes or at least come to drink every day and so game viewing is relatively easy. Most of the roads run along the usually dry river beds. During our four days we saw Lion, Leopard, Jackal, Hyena and many kinds of buck including the majestic Gemsbuck and the elegant Springbok. The emblem of our National Rugby team is the graceful Springbok and it is a pleasure to watch them doing their "pronking" typical jump and float in the air as they run.
Birding is however our real interest and we added to our 'life list' such rarities as the Namaqualand Sand-grouse, the small but interesting Karoo Warbler and beautiful tiny Pygmy Falcon. The Pygmy Falcon as the smallest Raptor in Southern Africa often has a nest in a tree next to the huge Sociable Weaver nests. This means that it has food available. The camp itself is a great birding place and sitting on a deck chair near one of the birdbaths will excite even the most experienced birder as birds that are not seen in the more tropical areas to the east come to drink.Here the Purple-cheeked Wax bill will be a certain find in a camp like Twee-Rivieren.
A highlight of the visit was the horizon to horizon starry sky, the best I have seen in my 50 plus years of camping and travelling. This really is Africa as the early explorers must have experienced it, sitting in our deck chairs under a brilliant African night sky, with our meat grilling on the open fire. In the past we have been fortunate enough to often visit the other great Game Reserves in South Africa, the Kruger National Park and the Addo Elephant Park, but Kgalagadi in the Kalahari Desert has a beauty of its own and we fell in love. Book your visit now, it is an experience no one should miss!