Central Kalahari situated in the hart of Botswana is one of the world’s largest game reserve. This is Africa at its most remote with game being scarce and even viewer who travel through it. Distances are huge, along sandy bush tracks where speed limit can go down to not more than 10km an hour and campsites are an easy day’s drive. South Kalahari is even more remote as most of the game stay around the north parts of the Kalahari where water is more abundant, and you will find more open plains to grass. One of the most famous areas is Deception Valley where Mark and Delia Owens lived from 1974 until 1980. They wrote a book about their lives in the Kalahari called Cry of the Kalahari.
After a smooth border crossing into Botswana we stayed in Kanye for a couple of days to prepare for the Kalahari. With our fridge full and after a tank stop we drove to Khutse, the south west gate of the reserve. As we were late in arriving, we wild camped just before the gate. The next day we woke up early, booked our campsites and the plan was to exit the park al the way in the north west of the park at the Matswere Gate in 4 days’ time. This would be the best exit to enter the salt pans, also one of the highlight Botswana has to offer. The distances we would need to drive everyday was between 150 – 200 km a day. Nothing much when you drive on tar roads whereas the roads in the game park limited us to a max speed of 40km’s an hour and with game viewing in mind it would take us a whole day.
Full of excitement to see game we drove to our first stop, Bape camp, 150 km’s from Khutse gate. We followed the sandy track which was accompanied with waist-high golden grasses to a few open areas where we saw a few Springbok, Kudu and Gemsbok ((Game is quite scarce in the south of the Kalahari because surface water is found only in small, widely scattered waterholes. Nearly all the rain that falls disappears immediately into the deep sand). The big game (elephants, lions, bison’s) wasn’t in sight yet, but along the track we found first clues of the presence of elephants.
Elephants are a sight to behold with its majestic size which they can silently move through the bush in search of water or food. It’s also one of the most dangerous animals to encounter as its mighty strength can topple any car in its path. When you do encounter an elephant, keep your distance and if the elephant approaches you, drive back slowly.
We followed its trial all the way up to our first campsite, but the only thing we encountered along the way where humans, more correctly the SAN people. Although there are nomads, The Kalahari was served as a place of sanctuary to them so that they could keep their ‘hunter-gatherer’ way of life. Their way of life nowadays is different of their ancestor, although they still gather, especially clothes from foreigners. Take some (old) clothes with you if you have go into the Kalahari, they would be very thankful.
An hour later we arrived at our campsite, all alone in the middle of the wilderness which was nothing more than a pitch of sand with a few trees which provided shade. The evening was already setting in, so we prepared our campfire to make our dinner and enjoy the sunset. The evening set while the moon was illuminating the whole area accompanied with thousands and thousands of stars dominating the land. Jackals and birds where finishing this beautiful scenery with their serenade. While I was already fast asleep, Inge enjoyed the sounds of the wild for a while before even she couldn’t keep her eyes open.
Waking up by sunlight and after breakfast the hunt to see an elephant on our way to our next camp continued. Again, we found its trial and while we looked around for other wildlife, nothing was to be seen, only thorny bushes along the side of the road. Inge surfed through the sand with 40 km’s an hour and we made great progress until we encountered deep sand, just barely 30 km before our next camp. I was behind the wheel and I was working hard to get through it with speed not more than 10 km’s an hour.
Almost at the end of the deep sand, Inge suddenly shouted STOP. I was taken aback but stopped the car in deep sand, which is normally a no go. The only reason I would normally do that is when I get stuck or when I see an elephant in the distance. And finally, 400m in front of us was a big elephant on the road, all by himself (It’s a male as female elephants walk in groups). Looking more closely with our binoculars we were fortunate that it didn’t walk towards us. It was ripping branches of trees in search of water. We closed in and after a few km’s we turned right to our second campsite. We were ecstatic of our first encounter with the big five, hopefully this would be a sign for more game to come.
The next day, on our way to our third campsite, we finally encountered some travellers near Xade Gate. They told us that game was surely to be found in the direction we would go to, especially on the pans.
The entire area from Xade gate is characterized by long chains of dunes which eventually ends up in the pans or dry lakes. Many are remnant features from an earlier period of greater rain. The pans can be described as flat surfaces empty of vegetation that have a white surface when dry due to the hardening of the minerals.
While Inge Verstappen was making good speed, we needed to push the brakes hard as wild dogs where blocking our path. Wild dogs are very hard to find in the wild as they an endangered species and now we were up and close with 6 of them. They were lying in the middle of the road and even coming towards us as to tell us, “what do you want!?” After 10 minutes or so they moved on, probably to hunt for prey as we were too big.
An hour passed by with nothing than big sand dunes covered with grass, until we arrived at Piper Pan. Oryxes, Blue Wildebeests, lions (also a white/brown one!) and smaller game where grassing and chilling. We stopped on the pan between Springbok while having lunch. They didn’t budge and continued what they were busy with. Another two hours later, with nobody on the road, we met a group of giraffes who where chilling in the shade of a group of trees. We only saw them when we were very close to the group of trees. You may wonder how they can blend in with their surrounding very easily despite their length.
When we arrived at our campsite we found out that one of the bags (with wood and braai equipment), which are tightly strapped on the spare wheels, was missing. Plans where already made to retrieve the bag. Luckily fellow travellers found it along the way and they just so happened to be our neighbours (what a coincidence). A big campfire was in order to celebrate the retravel of our bag and our final night in the Kalahari.
People say that the Kalahari isn’t for everybody and we can agree to that. But if you love being by yourself, like being depended only on yourself and are well equipped take a chance and see what the Kalahari has to offer you.
Best, Chris & Inge