The bush is a magical place. This time of year, tourists, local and international alike, flock to the Kruger National Park in droves with caffeinated thermoses and baskets filled with tasty treats to spend days travelling at low-low speeds to spot the wonders of wildlife camouflaged by the bush. The mere experience is the reason why people rarely leave the park at the end of the holiday without booking a spot for the following year. But there is only so much availability and most people leave their computers with slumped shoulders when the park is fully booked.
The Northern Cape has a secret, and a brilliant alternative to the bushy grasslands of Mpumalanga. Once you leave Upington to go north, you will meet a 250km stretch of tar road leading you straight to an incredible wildlife experience. The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is a wildlife conservation area in Southern Africa, straddling the border between South Africa and Botswana.
Located largely within the Kalahari Desert, it is no surprise that the word Kgalagadi is translated as “place of thirst”. The terrain differs vastly form that of the Kruger National Park, with red sand dunes, sparse vegetation, occasional trees, and dry riverbeds of the Nossob and Auob Rivers, said to only flow once every century although they may flow briefly after severe thunderstorms. Water, however flows underground and gives life to grass and Camelthorn trees that grow in these river beds.
The park’s wildlife is abundant and varied, and inhabited by large predators like Kalahari Lions, Namibian Cheetahs, Leopards and Hyenas and herbivores like Springbok, Eland, Blue Wildebeest, Gemsbok and Red Hartebeest. The birdlife is something to behold as well, including more than 200 species of bird including Vultures, Eagles, Buzzards and Secretary Birds.
There are three fully serviced rest camps in the park as well as six wilderness camps, and whilst there are shops and amenities at the rest camps, the wilderness camps provide little more than shelter and water. Temperatures in the Kalahari can reach extremes. Midsummer (January) daytime temperatures are often in excess of 40°C, whilst on winter nights the mercury dips to below freezing, so if you fancy yourself a diehard camper, be sure to take the necessary precautions.
Twee Rivieren, situated on the banks of the dry Nossob riverbed, is the largest camp in the park offering guests a wide range of accommodation options to suit almost all tastes, including family cottages, chalets and camp sites. It is also the only camp with 24 hour electricity and cellphone reception. Mata-Mata, 2.5 hours from Twee Rivieren, is situated on the banks of the Auob River on the western boundary of the park bordering Namibia. Nossob, famous for predator sightings, is situated on the eastern border of the camp and surrounded by tree savannah, about 3.5 hours from Twee Rivieren. A generator provides electricity for 16 hours per day for Mata-Mata and Nossob rest camps and there is no telephone or cellphone reception at either.
It is incredible to discover just how endless and diverse South Africa’s beauty is. Although both are wildlife reserves dedicated to conservation, the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and the Kruger National Park could not be more different. The only thing that is certain is that you are guaranteed an experience you will want to share again and again.
And brush up on your photography skills before you go. Yes, a cellphone picture is also worth a thousand words, but the beautiful contrasts in scenery, the majestic red dunes and bright blue skies you experience in the Kgalagadi (not to mention the animals) are definitely worthy more than an Instagram post or a Facebook update – beauty like that should be stretched on canvas.