Glamping in the Kgalagadi Trans Frontier Park
Butch and I have never camped in a SANParks campsite. We prefer to stay off the grid or do wild camping as one does in Botswana and Zimbabwe. Without a doubt, our favourite camps being Polentswa and Rooiputs on the Botswana side. This time we were putting SANParks to the test.
The corrugated dirt roads of the Kgalagadi are notorious. With our fuel tanks brimming, our tyres deflated to 1.6b we set off from Twee Rivieren making our way to Nossob.
Ready for action, our cameras set up and my Winpro straddling the open windowpane. We couldn’t quite make up our minds whether to go slow or pick up speed, being mindful to stick to the 50kmph speed limit. Butch thought it wise to keep below 1000 revs and grind on regardless.
Park management has been busy while in lockdown. On most roads, the grader driver was at it, slowly but surely he made his way north up to Union’s End. The only problem was that he was only covering the corrugations with Kalahari sand. His blades were not flattening the ruts. The result was that no sooner had he smoothed the road and it was back to “normal”. My suggestion – lower your blades, Buddy.
We arrived at Nossob at midday. Checked in and followed all the necessary Covid19 protocols before selecting our campsite. We were horribly late; seasoned Kgalagadi campers had arrived much earlier. All the shady areas had been taken up. A tree in the Kalahari is like gold, to be treasured. Chris and Marie stood with shoulders slumped despondently surveying the two available spaces. Marie was not impressed but had to knuckle down and set up their caravan. Willem and Elmien, old friends, spotted us and came over before we’d pulled up the handbrake. We parked, unpacked our table and chairs, and knocked in our ground cover.
It was my turn to prepare supper that evening. But before anything further could be achieved, we needed to get into the pool.
The pool was the IN place to be. After a few strokes, dunks, paddles and gentle dives, we’d find a spot along the edge, hook our arms over the curbs, settle and chat. At the “waterhole” we exchanged information. Where the best sightings were, what to expect, which lioness had cubs, how many cheetah, lion, leopard were seen that day and who had survived the night. No animal in the Park was safe; we’d interrogate until we knew their every move. We heard about the Spotted Eagle owls nesting, the cheetah orphans, we knew exactly where the Bateleurs would be at noon. We identified the Kalahari Scrub-Robin, a pretty daily visitor, and we recounted the movements of the snakes. The sand shoveler and Cape Cobra I saw were the largest.
Every day we’d return to catch up with our new best friends. Because we all shared similar interests, were campers and enjoyed the outdoors we soon found common ground with most people cooling down. We’d see the Van Heerden’s from Triggerfish Brewing in Somerset West. Our neighbour, Melissa, could identify a bird high in the sky, she’d point out Lanner falcons on the hunt and searched high and low for the Red-necked Falcon.
While spotting and spending time with the animals was our intention, I believe the people we met and spent time with were one of my highlights. I would deliberately seek out Callie Calitz while I waited in the queue for our daily pass; his route suggestion would always be spot on.
Rikus Visser, a guide, based in Cape Town, would accurately tell us where he’d spotted a Leopard or Cheetah. Seeing his vehicle’s red brake lights was an excellent tip-off and we’d never be disappointed with a sighting.
Alet is a most accomplished photographer from the Bethal photographic club, from her we were inspired to look more closely, drive out earlier to catch the golden hour, to stay out later to see a true Kalahari sunset and then to linger for the blue hour.
Our stay at Nossob campsite couldn’t be better. On the second day Marie found a better campsite with a magnificent tree, and we all moved and set ourselves up for 10 days of sheer bliss. On most days we’d have a Honey Badger “open house” so that interested overlanders could come and browse our living quarters. Annette and Gerhard, also overlanders, with their troupe of children delighted us as they explored every inch of our camper. The crawl through fascinated them, “imagine going from your house to the driver’s seat Mom. That’s so cool!” The littlest one said. Later, with more confidence, he was the first one to sail up the ladder onto the roof where we had a bird’s eye view.
From the mouth of babes, I was told about a Projector app and, that the movie Holiday in the Wild comes highly recommended. I promised it would be the first one we show when we’ve set ourselves up to watch movies on the truck’s side panel!
Butch braaied when it was our turn to prepare supper, flipping perfectly rare steaks, mutton chops with crispy rinds, juicy sausages and chicken Espatadas that ticked every flavour box. His pork belly crackled and crunched with every bite. And then…. Butch offered to do the dishes.
In the scullery, he became a raconteur to a lively audience who hung on his every word. It was during one of these manversations that he mentioned our desire to extend our stay at Nossob rather then back and forthing to Mata Mata. A beautiful young woman, hands plunged into hot suds, immediately came up with a solution. Their party had an extra unutilised campsite, paid up, and we could use it. Butch returned with a swagger, a grin and good news.
Two days later, my turn to produce supper for four, we were missing two sets of cutlery and four enamel plates. Not only that, I’d not recovered from the loss of my iconic, favourite, old, floppy, straw hat.
Travelling in the Honey Badger is fun, especially because we adhere to the saying “He who travels light, travels far.” In a frenzy I started unpacking drawers and cupboards searching for my lost belongings, thinking I’d misplaced them. I couldn’t afford to lose a single item; we had mouths to feed, and only two sets of cutlery in the drawer and no plates.
On my high horse, I hot-footed it to the ablutions to check, nada. Butch had momentary amnesia and couldn’t for the life of him remember anything except the gorgeous, friendly, young, lady. I swallowed, counted to ten. I kept schtum rolling my eyes. That evening, I was back on scullery duty, and at sunset, Butch was hanging his laundry to dry.
The scullery is a favourite meeting place for sociable campers to discuss daily events. After thoroughly scanning the room, I plucked up the courage to ask whether anyone had seen my missing cutlery and plates. The housekeeper, Erica, announced that she had and everything was in safe-keeping in the storeroom. My hat was there too!
Butch and I wake up long before the sun rises, which is perfect while camping in a park. When the gates open, we’re ready to roll. Every morning I’d take a brisk walk to the reception area, and Butch would follow once he’s checked that all the hatches, drawers and doors were secured. On day 5, he mentioned that the truck wasn’t firing up as she should. But soon pushed the thought aside. Next day he cranked her, and all she did was whine. After a few ignitions and pumping fuel, she fired up but, spluttered to death when he stopped to pick me up. Help was needed.
Fortunately, the maintenance crews in the Park are tip-top, soon Pieter and his assistant were there to diagnose and fix the problem. “She’d swallowed a wind” in the fuel line (wind gesluk). They got to work and tightened what needed to be done, and we were on our way. On his way home later, Pieter found us near a waterhole, stopped, and asked if we were ok. He predicted that the lions would be back that night, they were. Things happen in threes. Shortly afterwards we discovered that our radio didn't work and then our GPS flatlined. It wasn't the fuses, Butch checked, but a complicated relay system situated somewhere inside the dashboard. He didn't fiddle.
The management of the Nossob camp is first-class. The campsites are well maintained, and every day we saw crews hard at work. In the ablutions the highest standards are being kept, all in line with the Government’s Covid19 guidelines. Shower cubicles, lavatories and washbasins were equipped with sanitisers. There was never a shortage of paper towel, toilet paper or feminine hygiene bins.
The housekeepers, like Erica, were always masked, they serviced the ablutions regularly and not a pin was out of place. Although I’m sure guests can be troublesome and demanding at times, I never saw an unwilling or unfriendly member of staff. I know Erica went out of her way to see to it that I got my hat back.
All the Park’s rest camps have been upgraded, restored and refurbished. New ablutions, shopping and administrative complexes have been provided and upgraded. Basic groceries are available, ice, a good selection of cold drinks, and alcohol are available. There are books, maps, cuddly toys, a clothing range and jewellery to satisfy all our shopping withdrawals.
All the camps have Wifi access, but it’s SLOW and not worth it unless one is desperate to contact family or upload a photograph on WhatsApp. I found it frustrating. The lady who bakes the delicious fresh bread and makes Askoek also provides a very reasonable laundry service. Guests are permitted to store and plug their travel refrigerators in at the scullery.
We only spent two nights at Mata-Mata, also very enjoyable, but, the campsites are a tad disorganised, with no clear demarcations visible. We probably missed them unless the braai stand is the indicator!
Once again, our stay was marked by the people we met there, and of course, seeing Heike and Clint was a highlight. I did meet an NBF in the pool, but we didn’t stay long enough to introduce ourselves. I was nearing the end of my book, and that was more interesting. Sorry.
Mark, we’d met in Nossob, a very-easy going sociable guy, who was very generous with his sightings. Meeting Lisa, Mark’s American wife, was an unexpected bonus. Lisa’s Mom, an avid reader, instilled a love of Africa in her, and as a small child made a pact to immigrate to Africa the day she left school, and did. The tales she could tell of all her adventures was intriguing. Lisa, an educator and NGO works tirelessly educating women in many SADC countries and spins a mesmerising story.
As the year rolls relentlessly towards 2021, we're determined to see all our new friends. Like-minded, clever, interesting and accomplished in their field we’re sure we’ll all get along like a house on fire.
Twee Rivieren, in my opinion, is just a transit camp. After two weeks in the bush, it felt like we’d returned to the bustle of city life. Too crowded, too commercial, too busy. But, we did get reacquainted with a long lost friend Gina and Corius and their delightful son Christian. How happy it made me catching up with them again, and I hope it will not be the last time.
The internet is flooded with beautiful photographs of the Kgalagadi, the animals, birds, and small things and large. We had the pleasure of seeing almost all the cats, and we listed 45 bird species. Giraffe grazed lazily while we had coffee and wildebeest kicked up a cloud of dust while skittish Springbok kept watch, never letting their guard down. We didn’t see a Honey Badger but, we did see snakes and the cutest Southern African Black-tailed Tree Rat Thallomys paedulcus. We enjoyed many hours watching Meerkat, Ground Squirrels and Ostrich. One night my patience was rewarded, and for one hour, I watched 12 lions interact at the Nossob waterhole.
A Western Barn Owl teased and vexed a young male lion egging him on, she was too fast for him and would escape his vicious paws and leaps. Once again we’re unanimous about who’s at the top of the food chain. It’s not the Homo sapiens.
We frequented all the waterholes; sometimes we’d just stop and check, have a coffee and rusks before moving on, sometimes we’d stay and enjoy our brunch/lunch with the animals quenching their thirst. We watched eagles on the hunt and scavengers on the prowl. Our binoculars and cameras always ready. On a few occasions, we’d even siesta during the hottest hours. Our picnic basket produced scrumptious meals and treats galore. We saw Secretary birds and Vultures fighting for territory, and then interacting and courting all the while oblivious to the antics of the black-backed Jackal hunting.
The veld stood tall with dried grasses and while we watched Acacias came into leaf. On a hot afternoon, we saw storm clouds build up and crash as thunder and lightning filled the skies. Gale force winds whipped up dust which swept across the ochre plains. A refreshing cloud burst followed, cooling the scorched earth.
My mind runs amok while we sit at waterholes, on one occasion, I vividly recalled our picnics in the Kruger Park as children. We called it Padkos (travel food). My mother took great pains in the preparation of the picnic basket and hours were spent in the kitchen toiling away in front of the hot, Aga stove getting our hard-boiled eggs just right, the frikkedel perfectly brown and the chicken drumsticks had to be sticky. She’d bake Sourdough bread, and churn thick cream into butter. In the huge copper saucepan, Mulberry jam bubbled away until the right consistency was reached. She would drip a teaspoon of hot jelly into Methylated spirits for the pectin test.
Our picnics were always special but, when my father, on a rare occasion, produced two tubes of sweeties, one a line of Fruit Gums and the other a tube of Fruit Pastilles, we’d think it was Christmas. The rule was that my brothers and I could choose three sweets from each tube. Six sweeties. I’d always go for the green, black and, to be charitable, a yellow one. We’d suck all the sugar off and see how translucent we could get the gums before they disintegrated on the tip of our tongues. We clutched the sweets in our sweaty palms savouring each one until our hands were sugar-coated and sticky.
Butch was reminded of their special treat, a trip to a nearby town in Northern Rhodesia (as he insists on calling Zambia) to have ice cream cones at the Dairy Queen.
My conclusion. As adults we lose our sense of wonderment and cease being excited or inspired simply because we are flooded with everything our heart’s desire, we have an overload of information and our material desires are instantly gratified, we become complacent. During our Covid19 lockdown, we were brought down to earth unexpectedly; we were deprived of our freedom to move, to socialise and all of a sudden we had to be responsible for the health of others while keeping ourselves safe. Wearing masks make us anonymous.
Being in the Kalahari, where extreme heat, a lack of palatable water, a landscape deprived of exotic vegetation, where only the strongest survive brought home the reality of simplicity. How we become better and nicer people when we are stripped of our luxuries. The surprise of six sweeties was joyous; a whole packet makes me gluttonous. We all realised three things: we missed being in nature, we missed human contact and nature didn’t miss us at all. We did well and returned to the coalface refreshed.
Tragedy struck when I tried to download my last San Disk memory card. My hard drive decided to give up the ghost, and I lost two years’ worth of photographs. I was devastated, in shock and speechless. Thankfully Butch always comes to my rescue. The hard drive is currently with an IT person who believes he can retrieve my photographs.