The Kalahari is an elemental thirstland inhabited by unusual, desert-adapted vegetation and animals. It’s the type of place that attracts you again time and again. On this street journey, we hunt down the very best that the South African Kalahari has to supply.
Don’t let the brittle grass brush your trouser legs. The telemetry is telling us to climb the dune. So we do. However even my respiration appears too loud. Immediately, there he’s! The pangolin shuffles out from below a bush and pauses, simply metres away. He emits a low purring, virtually like an elephant’s rumble.
We stand in silence, spell- certain. A prehistoric marvel – a terrestrial crustacean seemingly pulled from the underside of the ocean … or one other planet. He strikes on with a waddling gait, scales clicking, tongue probing at ant holes. We stroll beside him for some time till he picks up pace and totters noisily into the evening. It is a Kalahari scene that has hardly modified in 40-million years.
It was to be a 10-day street journey for 2. Tracey Younghusband had packed the padkos and was sitting beside me with a map open on her lap. Desk Mountain was shrinking within the rear-view mirror of our Ford Kuga and the N7 unspooled forward of us. It was spring time, we have been freed from metropolis grind eventually and Kalahari certain. Johnny Clegg sang about African skies from our road-trip playlist as we handed Piketberg, then Clanwilliam and Garies, the land rising drier and Namaqualand daisies lining the street in swathes of incandescent color.
We spent the evening on the Kamieskroon Lodge, an outdated favorite with generations of Getaway journalists. Then we swung east on the N14 and right into a panorama of infinite wastes and pink mountains, previous Pofadder and Kakamas to the thundering waters of Augrabies Falls.
From our national-park chalet, we might hear the Orange River squeezing by way of a slender groove and hurling itself into the gorge. The identify derives from the Nama phrase !oukurubes (‘place of nice noise’) and was a sacred spot. It introduced appreciable bounty to the inhabitants: hippos have been swept over the falls, breaking their spines and offering monumental feasts; the underside finish of the gorge additionally supplied good fishing the place Khoikhoi forged their bone-hooked traces or set karee-wood fish traps.
We walked to the lip of a easy rock that tipped into the abyss. The river turned from inexperienced to white because it shuffled by way of upstream rapids, poured by way of a spout, hit a ledge, and rocketed into the gorge. You may really feel its wind and spray 300 metres away on the cliffs. My eye adopted the water’s surgical procedure under the falls because it carved an 18-kilometre canyon from pure granite. Across the edges, boulders the scale of vans have been balanced on smaller ones, seemingly able to topple at any second.
East of the falls, the N14 follows the listless sweeping of the Orange and is lined with vineyards. Upington offered the final likelihood for a correct stock-up of meals provides earlier than we struck north on the R360, the land turning itself slowly right into a dune sea – actual Kalahari. Reaching Twee Rivieren, we signed in on the principal gate of Kgalagadi, Africa’s first transfrontier park. At 3,8-million hectares (twice the scale of Kruger), this is among the largest conservancies on the planet. It has three principal, fenced camps and 6 unfenced, wilderness camps. We headed straight for Kieliekrankie, my favorite of the latter. It has 4 ochre chalets on the crest of a dune overlooking a waterhole.
From there, our days have been spent exploring the dry Auob riverbed whose waterholes present for herds of springbok, wildebeest and gemsbok. All over the place have been meerkats, floor squirrels and yellow mongooses going about their bustling burrow enterprise. Crimson-breasted shrikes regarded like drops of blood within the camel thorn bushes, whereas pale chanting goshawks and tawny eagles scanned the bottom from lofty perches. Our mornings began at first gentle. It was freezing out – under zero – and we bundled up in layers.
We’d discover a waterhole, out would come the espresso flask and rusks, and there we’d sit to await the motion. Gusts of red-billed queleas and sandgrouse, turtle and Namaqua doves would descend to drink. There’d be traces of antelope, ostrich and the occasional, skittish giraffe. A herd of wildebeest would arrive at tempo, their hooves creating explosions of gold mud towards the rising solar. On one event, Tracey seen scuffling beside the automotive and we peered right down to discover a Cape fox making renovations to its dwelling.
Every night we’d braai, as a result of it’s the factor to do within the Kgalagadi and since it’s one in all humankind’s biggest innovations. Two chops, a coil of wors, a workmanlike crimson wine and the celebrities for firm. And oh my, these Kalahari stars. The brightness of them. The majesty. A jackal would cry, an owl would reply, barking geckoes chorused from their burrows. The evening spoke on in deliciously unknowable tongues.
Our subsequent cease was Nossob, the place we stayed in one of many new, ‘river-front’ chalets. Like Twee Rivieren and Mata-Mata, Nossob is a much bigger, fenced camp with a swimming pool, store and beautiful cover beside a busy waterhole. At nightfall, the jackals arrived, tripping across the chalets looking for morsels. All by way of the evening, creatures got here and went like ghosts within the waterhole’s spotlights.
!Xaus lies on the park’s south-western fringe, a concession granted to 2 native communities (the Mier and the ‡Khomani San). In 2002, after a protracted land-claim settlement, 50,000 hectares was given again to those communities. We arrived on the lodge, which sits on the finish of a 30-kilometre driveway by way of the dunes, and have been met by supervisor Anthony Manley. Over a welcome drink, he informed us how the lodge had stood empty for 3 years. ‘Authorities constructed this place, however no-one wished to run it,’ he stated. ‘It’s so distant and logistics are a nightmare. Transfrontier Parks Locations (TFPD) stepped in and took it over.
This sort of problem is our speciality. !Xaus has been an incredible success. The communities receives a commission hire and there’s first rate revenue share. What’s extra, we’ve simply been declared a Darkish Sky Sanctuary, the second in Africa.’ The lodge contains a sequence of chalets linked by raised walkways on the ridge of a dune. Stepping onto the deck, I used to be struck by the scene under. On the base of a sandy amphitheatre lay a good looking saltpan within the form of a coronary heart. Its floor glowed pink within the late afternoon gentle.
‘The spirit of the good coronary heart,’ whispered Tracey. Within the morning, tracker Corne Witbooi led us on a stroll, single file, into the dunes. Someplace to the south, a lion set free a reverberating roar. We veered north. Corne identified burrows, spoor and the dung of myriad creatures. ‘We learn the sand prefer it’s a newspaper,’ he stated. ‘With such sizzling summers and such chilly winter nights, greater than 80 per cent of the biomass is underground. We should search for the indicators.’ Right here the silk-lined lure of a buckspoor spider, there the paw prints of an aardwolf.
Corne informed us the medicinal makes use of of vegetation we encountered – boil the leaves of the flu bush; use the three-thorn for abdomen troubles. We got here to a San encampment, arrange by the neighborhood to provide friends a style of conventional ‡Khomani life. A small group clad in loincloths was busy crafting leather- and ostrich-eggshell jewelry. Usually I’m uncomfortable with such ersatz encounters, however realizing that the neighborhood had possession of this venture did make a distinction. Corne led us again to the lodge by way of the pan. Its salty crust crunched underfoot.
Crows squawked overhead; clouds scudded by casting unusual dapples; a lone gemsbok bisected the pan. This pink coronary heart on the centre of Mier and ‡Khomani San territory was a spot of magical enchantment. Subsequent, we headed east to finish our journey with a spot of desert luxurious. We took the lengthy, white-sand R31 from the Kgalagadi by way of Van Zylsrus to Tswalu Kalahari, the most important personal recreation reserve in South Africa.
Owned by the Oppenheimer household and made up of former farms now ‘rewilded’, Tswalu is about in a stark panorama of crimson dunes, purple mountains and undulating grasslands. The primary lodge, The Motse, lies on the foot of the Korannaberg mountains, dealing with west. The decor and design are a number of the finest you’ll see in any lodge. Every group of friends has their very own automobile, making for a really unique expertise. Our recreation drives have been led by ranger Chris Erasmus and tracker William Gaotsenwe. From the outset, we have been rewarded with good sightings of black rhino, roan and sable antelope, crimson hartebeest and African wild cat up shut. And there was the blessing of that night-time pangolin encounter. We additionally visited a meerkat colony.
Researchers have habituated two teams and we have been capable of stroll amongst them, listening to their noisy chatter and watch their frenetic interplay. One morning, we stumbled on three lionesses of the southern delight slaking their thirst at a waterhole after a kill. The cats ambled previous our automobile with out giving us a look. Close by, we stumbled on their two black-maned companions – monstrous males, all muscle and vanity – snoozing within the shade. On our final recreation drive, we tracked a pack of untamed canines that had been seen close to camp. William quickly discovered their spoor.
The canines have been shifting by way of thick bush and we struggled to maintain up, our 4×4 driving over bushes and bouncing by way of burrows within the course of. Two kudu on a ridge noticed bother and made off at tempo. The canines swung south, fanning out, then vanished. Chris drew to a halt and switched off the engine. Simply then, there was a snort and a squeal. ‘They’ve denned a warthog!’ he shouted. ‘Do you wish to see it? We don’t at all times go. Might be gory.’ I nodded and we took off in that course.
Rounding a bend, we discovered the painted hounds encircling a burrow, yipping excitedly because the pig tried to make use of its tusks in self defence. Mud and desperation. First blood. The battle lasted a dozen minutes, with the canines taking turns to assault. Ultimately the hog was dragged from its gap and the hounds tore at it, ripping flesh and tearing out intestines to a bloodcurdling scream that sounded human. Tracey and William regarded away. I stored my finger on the Nikon’s set off however felt the nausea and horror, and closed my eyes. Quickly, there was nothing left of the pig.
We retreated to a waterhole, received out to stretch our legs and have a espresso. Nobody spoke. The photographs have been too vivid, too furious. Later, driving the lengthy street again to the Cape, I considered each the horror and the privilege of that kill. It was nature’s claws at their reddest. But it surely was pure Kalahari. Though I knew I’d by no means take a look at canines in fairly the identical means, not even a granny’s Pekinese.
About The Journey
We divided our 10-day street journey into comparatively snug day drives:
Cape City to Kamieskroon – 596km (6½ hrs)
Kamieskroon to Augrabies – 383km (4 hrs)
Augrabies to Kieliekrankie – 414km (6 hrs)
Kieliekrankie to Nossob – 118km (3½ hrs)
Nossob to !Xaus – 125km (3½ hrs)
!Xaus to Tswalu – 371km (6½ hrs)
Tswalu to Calvinia – 668km (8 hrs)
Calvinia to Cape City – 381km (4½ hrs)
About The Automobile
The Kalahari might be an unforgiving surroundings for automobiles. For our journey, I selected a Ford Kuga Titanium TDCi AWD. This trendy, agile automobile carried out effectively each on and off the blacktop. Its supple suspension, a trademark of Fords, is augmented by steering that’s tight however responsive. For larger management in difficult situations, the All-Wheel Drive system is designed to observe the Kuga’s efficiency and regularly adjusts the supply of torque to every wheel. Our blended route returned lower than 8L to 100km – ok for a spread of greater than 800km from its 60L tank. Ranging from R384 900, the Kuga vary is actually good worth for cash for its class. ford.co.za
– Kalahari Dreaming by Bernd Wasiolka
– Kgalagadi Self-Drive by Jaco Powell and Ingrid van den Berg
– A Pure Historical past Information to the Arid Kalahari by Gus and Margie Mills