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Into the Wild at South Africa’s Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

Oryx in the Kgalagadi
Oryx in the Kgalagadi | © Tim Gould
The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is nestled in the north of South Africa; bordering Namibia and crossing over into Botswana, it is well worth a visit.

Where there is no water

The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park officially opened on 12 May 2000, after South Africa’s Kalahari Gemsbok National Park and Botswana’s Gemsbok Park were united, and is the first formally declared transfrontier park on the African continent. The park covers approximately 38,000 square kilometres (14,672 square miles) of vast landscape that is known for its dry riverbeds and red sand dunes, emblematic of the Kalahari desert.

The word Kalahari, derived from the Setswana word Kgalagadi, in a nutshell alludes to “where there is no water”. Two dry river beds, those of the Nossob and the Auob, extend through the park, and boreholes in these riverbeds supply water to the animals. And, although water is scarce, the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is surprisingly rich in fauna and flora.

Black-backed jackal on the hunt © Arab / Shutterstock

Experience true wilderness

The park is abundant with wildlife, and it’s not too difficult to spot. Predators such as cheetahs flourish here, while herds of gemsbok (oryx), springbok and wildebeest are also seen. Then there are, of course, smaller birds and animals to keep an eye out for. Sociable weavers build nests that envelop trees – and any other structures, for that matter – while ground squirrels use their bushy tails as shade from the harsh sun. Bateleur eagles with velvet-like feathers are often seen quenching their thirst at water holes, while lappet-faced and white-backed vultures can be spotted in trees and soaring high in the sky.

Cheetahs drinking at a waterhole © Rudi van den Heever / Shutterstock

At dusk, when you’re wondering what that loud clicking sound is, just keep your eyes on the ground and you might spot a barking gecko. No larger than a human thumb, these white geckos make an unbelievable noise considering their size, and it’s all for love: the last man standing (or barking in this case) gets the girl.

There’s no shortage of wildlife in this seemingly arid part of the world, but the most appealing thing about the Kgalagadi has to be the unexpected experiences. From lions exploring wilderness camps in the dead of night (which many visitors are lucky enough to see), to honey badgers and meerkats popping out of their burrows as you drive past, this is the African wilderness at its best.

Lions often stay close to watering holes © Yvan Musy / Unsplash

Getting to the park

Accessing the park from major cities takes some doing. It’s a long drive, but there’s quite a lot to see along the way, such as the quaint town of Askham. The main entrance to the park is situated in the most northerly part of the Northern Cape province, approximately 255 kilometres (158 miles) from Upington, a town known for its wine, grape and raisin exports. While you’re there, stop by Orange River Cellars to pick up a bottle or two of locally produced wine.

The Kalahari desert in all its glory © Rudi van den Heever / Shutterstock

From traditional to wilderness camps

On South Africa’s side of the park, visitors can choose between three traditional camps, six wilderness camps and the exclusive !Xaus Lodge.

The three traditional camps (Twee-Rivieren, Mata-Mata and Nossob) are fenced off, meaning animals are deterred from entering. Nonetheless, keep an eye on your belongings, as black-backed jackals and yellow mongooses love scavenging within the camps. These camps have small shops selling water, ice, firewood and other essentials, so if you’re travelling through, make sure to stock up.

Gharagab wilderness camp © Carina Claassens

The wilderness camps (Kieliekrankie, Urikaruus, Kalahari Tented Camp, Bitterpan, Gharagab and Grootkolk) are unfenced, meaning you’ll be completely immersed in the wild. They consist of only a few chalets and are in most cases only accessible by a 4×4 vehicle. Take a strong flashlight; the African bushveld gets dark at night!