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29 December, 2009

Tarred Road Between Askham and Twee Riviere

The first time I visited the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park the road between Askham and Twee Riviere was still notorious. Reports of vehicles breaking down, corrugations shaking your teeth loose and tires being towed behind vehicles were in the order of the day. To meant excitement.

Bad road conditions led to few people venturing to that part of our beautiful country and those are the places I love. Nature tends to be unspoiled when fewer human footprints litter the area - a sad state of affairs, but unfortunately all too true. So, we packed the car, at that stage a Pajero and the off-road Explorer caravan (bad choice, but that is a story for another day) and set off in the middle of the night to reach Molopo Lodge at Askham where we would overnight before embarking on THE ROAD.

We reached the lodge just before sundown and thanked our lucky stars that we reserved a chalet for the night. THE ROAD had to be embarked upon well before first light if you wanted any chance of arriving at the gate at Twee Riviere by eight when it opened. So, by five 'o clock we were on our way. The road proved to be everything it was reported to be - and then some.

After ten kilometers (and more than half an hour later) I thought the Pajero would lose at least some of the wheel nuts. Anything that could shake loose, did and I shuddered at the thought of the mahem I would find inside the caravan. We drove on every possible side of the road and sometimes even next to the road, but regardless of how fast or slow or where you drove, the corrugations hammered away at the car and your body. (I suspect the idea for the Vibro Shape belt originated on this road) Dust whirled around the cars and we had to keep a substantial following distance from our companions to be able to see the road ahead.  

Just before eight we arrived at the gate of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and watched the sun rise over the huts of the Botswana Twee Rivieren camp. The sixty-odd kilometers took nearly 3 hours to negotiate. What a wonderful start to a holiday in the bush!

During 2008 we entered the Kgalagadi again from Askham, and despite rumors of the road being tarred, I still held some hope that parts would be gravel. The freshly tarred surface continued to the gate of the park and we traversed the same stretch of road in less than an hour.

Now, I may be completely wrong about this and it is purely my own opinion, but I wonder if the tarring of the road didn't contribute to the influx of tourists to the park. During the time when access to the park was still limited to a few people who didn't mind "roughing" it a bit, we experienced no traffic congestion on the main roads, no motorists driving at excessive speeds and virtually all the people we met, were there solely for the purpose of experiencing nature and drink in the unique ambience of the Kalahari Desert.

A quiet appreciation of the animals and vegetation ruled the campsites at Twee Riviere - this changed to traffic jams, tour groups and noice-filled nights. While I am all for making our national parks more accessible to everyone and wouldn't dream to shun progress, I can't help but feel a little sad that the park is following in the footsteps of the Kruger National Park and is now well on the way to becoming a more commercial enterprise. With the road between Twee Riviere and Nossob being fixed (rumour has it that it will eventually also be tarred) it feels like the last vestiges of the quiet beauty will be lost for future generations. I hope the management of the park would be able to find a balance between commercial viability and preserving the park and its riches.

That said, I continue to visit the park despite these factors and during every visit the Kalahari reveals a little more about itself. You just can't help yourself - you need to go back again and again to experience the sometimes barren and dry soil of the Kalahari Desert.

The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park should be on every tourist itinerary.

04 December, 2009

Wildlife Photography - 2 Must See Web Sites

Being an amateur photographer and only dreaming of taking beautiful photo's, I stand amazed at the quality of photo's these two photographers take. The photo's on the blog of Gerry van der Walt at Photo Africa took my breath away.

He recently had a guest, Morkel Erasmus,  posting an article about HDR (High Dynamic Range) photo's with an explanation of the software and how to do it.  This is amazing article with so much information, I bet you will read it at least twice and keep returning to make the information your own. (I know I will.)

The photo's alone will have you itching to pick up your camera and head for the wilderness of Africa. Please look at these sites and tell me what you think.

Tips for Camping in Africa - Why Campers Must Wear Shoes

Whether you camp in places with (Kruger National Park) or without fences (Mabuasehube and most of Africa), the animals always have right of way. And not just the Big Five, all animals. That is why you should always wear proper shoes.

Africa is no place for sissies. You probably heard this statement before, but didn't quite know what is meant by it. Let me illustrate by way of a few short tales.

As you know, I am an avid camper and the wilder it gets, the happier I am...well mostly. This means that although I enjoy the Kruger Park, Pilanesberg and other game reserves as much as the next person, the places I feel most relaxed are where nothing but canvas stands between me and the animals of the veld. If you have to traverse a few 4x4 obstacles along the way, I really enjoy myself as this means less human traffic.

Camping Tip 1 for Africa: Wear Shoes While Camping in the Wild
  • Prevent Insect Bites While Camping in Africa
We've been visiting Balule camp in the Kruger National Park for several years now. Our holidays in the Kruger were mostly during the summer months. So besides taking prophylactics against the dreaded malaria mosquito, we also had to deal with a myriad of other six and eight legged creatures. Balule and we found this also at Shingwedzi camp, is notorious for its huge spiders running around at night. (I still can't figure out if they chase the shadows or the light.)

Although this afforded us hours of entertainment when middle aged ladies and large muscled men jump onto camping tables barely equipped to handle the loads of food on them, it stops being funny when these spiders start to target you. I'm sure they are perfectly harmless,but I have never stood still long enough to have a proper look and try and identify one. Why take the chance of stepping onto one and finding out they are as menacing as they look? Solution? Wear proper shoes.

  • Wearing Shoes Helps Prevent Snake Bites While Camping
Snakes are also rife in the Kruger Park as well as the national parks and parts of Africa with a warmer climate. One afternoon while enjoying lunch under the tree you see on the photo, hubby and children suddenly jumped a mile high and broke several speed records trying to get away from the tree. A snake was busy making its way silently down the trunk of the tree, only a few feet from where we sat.

Imagine this at night: It is dark, with only the stars shining down on you. Somewhere in the distance a lion roars and the veld goes quiet. You absolutely have to go to the bathroom. No time to put on shoes. And then you meet one of those unfriendly creatures that zaps you on the ankle. Besides being painful and possibly lethal, your holiday will surely be ruined.
  • Shoes Protect Against Scorpion Stings While Camping
 Scorpions tend to hide in shady places during the day only to roam around at night, early morning and late afternoon. Although few scorpion bites are lethal, they pack a nasty punch and could cause a lot of discomfort if you are far from any medical facilities or medical help.
  • Shoes Protects Against Thorns While Camping in Africa

You may laugh at this, but have you seen the thorn of a Camel Thorn Tree? Imagine that long thorn sticking through the soft part of your foot. Besides delivering a painful sting, these thorns tend to break off inside your foot, causing infection and a slow healing process.

So don't be a baboon - wear shoes while camping and everyone will enjoy walking around in the bush so much more.

26 November, 2009

Kgalagadi in Botswana - 5 Camping Tips for Mabuasehube

A visit to Mabuasehube Game Reserve really is worth -while if you are a nature lover who enjoys an amount of solitude and don't mind to be cut off from civilization. To re-cap the previously stated reasons for visiting Mabuasehube:

  1. No telephone reception (not even a land line is available) so unless you have a sattelite phone, you have no way to communicate with the outside world. This translates to total peace and quiet for the duration of your stay. No news, whether good or bad, no worrying about the world economy (and probably your own) - why? Because you won't know about it.
  2. The most beautiful landscapes and animals ready to pose for your camera - all of this from the front of your tent. Spotting an animal on a game drive usually means you have the sighting to yourself for an extended period of time.
  3. No busses with tourists occupying the next campsite (which is mostly about 500 meters away) and robbing you of sleep and getting on your nerves.

All right, enough of this. Unfortunatly I enjoy the rugged outdoors and the more remote the better.

Camping Tips When Pitching a Tent at Mabuasehube Game Reserve

1.Take enough drinking water.
  • The water at the campsites of Mabuasehube is brackish and not suitable for human consumption. Even with nearly a whole bottle of Oros added, the salty taste is unpalatable. 
  • Budget for at least three liters of water per person per day and extra water for at least one more day.
    2. Have a good map or GPS with reliable charts. 
    • I cannot stress this point enough. The kalahari desert is a vast place and once you leave the park through the entrance gate at Mabuasehube, you find yourself on roads with very little markings. 
    • Here a GPS is a necessity. Getting lost on roads where a vehicle passes maybe once a day or once a week is no joke and can have serious consequences. 
       3. Use a suitable vehicle.

      • If you think your sedan (hired or otherwise) will be able to negotiate the roads at Mabuasehube - think again - A SEDAN WILL NOT DRIVE FURTHER THAN A FEW METERS INSIDE THE PARK. 
      • The roads are sandy, rutted and at times the center of the two spoor track is high enough to hide the preverbial kalahari lion. 
      • You need a vehicle with enough ground clearance to negotiate the deep sand tracks. Although it is possible to visit Mabuasehube in one vehicle with no other vehicle to assist, this should preferably not be attempted by people with no or little off-road driving skills. 
      • I've seen people driving in the South African side of the Kgalagadi in a Volkswagen Golf and managing quite well, but please do not attempt this at Mabuasehube. I have family members who firmly believe their Mazda will drive anywhere - it won't!
        4. Try to prepare food before dark.

        • This may sound silly, but watching the surrounding bush while you attempt to barbecue (braai) your dinner, often leads to burnt food and heightened tension.  
        • When you camp in a large group this is not so important as when you are alone or only two people. If dinner is served while still dusk, you can relax around the fire and just enjoy the nightlife at your campsite. 
        • We had jackal trying to steal our meat from the braai just because it was too dark to see him outside the small circle of light around the fire. (Don't know yet what I would have done if he turned out to be a lion!)
        5. Be Vigilant When Using the Ablutions at Mabuasehube

        • Take a good look at the picture above. The toilet is of the non - machanical kind (a hole in the cemented ground with a plastic seat and cover.) On the toilet here at Mabuasehube Campsite no 2, deep scratches confirm that lions enjoy roaming the small enclosure. 
        • The shower and toilet have no roof and no door. There is a reason you can partially see underneath the wooden slats - CHECK FOR OCCUPANTS before you enter - and not just the human kind. 
        • Notice the bush is close the structures? What if you came out of the shower only to meet the king of the jungle right outside the opening? Solution: Always have someone else watching the surroundings before you exit the cubicle. Sounds silly? Wait until you meet the local residents face to face with just a towel around your butt and you will agree.
        Keeping these 5 tips in mind, you will have a blast camping at Mabuasehube Game Reserve in the Botswana side of the Kgalagadi.

        09 November, 2009

        Where to Find Owls in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

        With the December holidays approaching, many people will flock to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Bird watchers will be delighted to know that there are several spots in the park where different species of owls reside on a regular basis.

        Twee Riviere and Vicinity

        Exit the gate at Twee Riviere in the direction of Nossob. The Nossob River bed is on your right and dunes on your left. Small trees line the road on the left. Practically within a kilometer from the gate and well before you reach the Confluence lookout point, a small tree on the left plays host to at least two Spotted Eagle Owls.

        Further along the road, just before the Melkvlei picnic area there is a fallen tree on the right hand side of the road. Despite the road works during December 2008, the Spotted Eagle Owls were not disturbed and rested during the heat of the day both on the thick branch of the fallen tree and in the foliage of the tree above.

        Owls in the Nossob Area

         At the gate of the Nossob camp where your exit towards Twee Riviere, an unassuming smallish tree on your right hand side usually yields a threesome of Southern White-faced Scops-Owl. These owls rest in the precious little shade of the tree during the day and at night you can hear their calls echo through the camp.

        Mata Mata and Vicinity

        Inside the Mata Mata camp, right in front of the small tuck shop, a huge tree provides shade to humans and animals alike.  At least two Southern White -faced Scops-Owls will stare at you from the branches of the tree. Keep checking for them as they sometimes settle down on the lower branches of the tree and affords tourists wonderful photo opportunities.

        After the turn-off to the Kalahari tented camp, the road turns to the left from Mata Mata side. On the left hand side of the road, tree partially overhangs the road. A pair of Spotted Eagle Owls resides inside the tree during the day and they are easy to spot. You will have a shady spot to stand in as well, which is a bargain during the hot summer months in the Kgalagadi.

        These are only a few of the locations inside the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park where owls are seen at regular intervals. You will mostly hear the African Scops- Owl, but find it difficult to see one as they are small birds and very well camouflaged.

        Also, look for Barn Owls inside Sociable Weaver nests as they utilize these huge nests to raise their own young.

        30 October, 2009

        Campsties Where You Can Flyfish for Trout

        Do a search on the internet and you will find few places that cater for fly fishermen (especially trout anglers) who wish to camp. Lodges are in abundance and you fill find thousands of hits in the Cape Province and Mpumalanga with places offering self- catering to fully catered accommodation. So why are the campers left out in the cold?
        One reason might be that fly fishing for trout in South Africa is predominantly a winter sport and that most establishments probably feel campsite wouldn't generate enough income to make it economically viable. I don't agree and here is why:

      1. The world-wide recession is pinching at everyone's purses. Self-catering accommodation at trout lodges tend to be expensive for the average man in the street.

      2. More tourists are visiting Africa on a shoestring budget and plan their whole holiday around campsites that offers them a unique experience of Africa.

      3. Lodge owners will dramatically increase their bookings when implementing one or two exclusive campsites close to the trout dams with adequate facilities - if the lodge has a restaurant even better - the turnover will definitely improve.

      4. So all the lodge owners out there - make some campsites or tell me why you are not doing it.

        24 October, 2009

        Carnivorous Animals at Mabuasehube/Kgalagadi

        As stated in the previous post, carnivores in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and Mabuasehube Reserve are not just limited to lion, leopard, cheetah and hyena. Smaller carnivores include the caracal, wildcat, bat eared fox, aardwolf, banded mongoose, black-footed cat, small-spotted cat, small-spotted genet, honey badger, black backed jackal, cape fox, striped polecat, suricate, slender mongoose, African wildcat and yellow mongoose. All of the above belong to the genus of Carnivora.

        An interesting fact about the Black backed Jackal is that it can smell carrion, which it is not above eating, from a distance of 11 kilometers down wind. These jackals will also accost brown hyenas in an attempt to rob them of their prey, but not the cheetah, as they seem to fear the speed of the cheetah.

        The Aardwolf eats up to 300 000 termites per night. As termites make out their whole diet they need to stay in areas where there are at least 3000 termite mounts to survive. In die winter, when termites are active during the day, the Aardwolf adapts its habits from nocturnal to diurnal.

        One way to find a honey badger in the Kgalagadi is to look for two or more Southern Pale Chanting Goshawks (Bleeksingvalke) resting in the lower branches of the trees as you will often find the honey badger in the vicinity.


        15 October, 2009

        What Animals Will You Find in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park?

        People visit the Kgalagadi to see animals in their natural habitat and enjoy the solitude and beauty of the landscape.

        Before I start to give you some insight into the variety of animals one would see while visiting the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and Mabuasehube Game Reserve, I have to warn all readers... I am an avid birder who would sit and stare at an owl for hours on end rather than wait for a lazy lion to lift his or her butt just so that I can get a photograph. So if I concentrate more on birds, please forgive me as it is not intentional.

        Being semi desert country and an arid region, some of the animals found here - and we can take a bet on this - will amaze you. During the summer months the temperature can soar to above 40⁰ Celsius while winter nights can have you shivering in your tent at well below zero. The animals that inhabit this are must therefore be well adjusted to survive in minimal rainfall and extreme temperatures.

        Carnivorous Mammals found in the Kgalagadi (Kalahari Desert)

        Most people visit the park hoping to see at least some of the Big Five. Most of the time, this is no problem. Due to the heat during the summer months, the best time to view lions, leopard (yes they are there) and cheetah are early morning and late afternoon. Once you spot a lion in the morning, the chances are good that you will find the lion in the same vicinity later during the day as well. They are lazy critters and only move to drink (so check out the water points and bore holes carefully) or to crawl into another shady spot. After dark chances are that you will see them quenching their thirst at the water holes of Mata Mata or Nossob before they embark on the hunt.

        If you stay at Twee Riviere or Rooiputs, look for the leopard early in the day and late afternoon around the Confluence water point (photo on the right). From Twee Riviere side, a fallen tree on the right side of the road, just before you reach the waterhole is a popular hideout for the leopard. If you are lucky, you might find a female with her cubs, like we did last December. Nothing prepares you for the feeling of "aaww shame" when you see the small leopard cub cheekily peeking out from the grass.

        We found cheetahs all along the Nossob River as well as at Mata Mata ( where we viewed them from the campsite). Hyenas frequent the Nossob River and you should keep an eye out for them from Twee Riviere right up to Unie End in the north. We were lucky enough to see a hyena cooling off in one of the drinking troughs, which made me extremely happy that I had my own drinking water.

        Besides the obvious carnivores, smaller carnivorous mammals also inhabit the park. In the next post I will reveal more about them. If anyone can think of some , please comment and we'll see whose list is closest to mine.

        Until next time...

        03 September, 2009

        Why Travel to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and Mabuasehube

        Many of you will ask: "What on earth do you want to visit a place so inhospitable as the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and even worse, Mabuasehube?" The answer is simple and at the same time, complex.

        The simple version:

        You will seldom find a better place for your soul to truly rest from the everyday rat race. There are no cell phone reception and unless you can afford a satellite phone, you will be cut off from 'civilization' for the duration of your stay. Nobody can contact you with day-to-day problems, you have limited radio reception so the problems of the world remain the world's problems until you return from holiday.

        The pitting of your wits against nature to stay on top of the food chain provides enough distraction to occupy your mind - there is nothing like the roar of a lion at night reminding you that there is a mere piece of canvas between yourself and the deadly jaws of the king of the jungle. (Adrenaline will provide the rest of the distraction.)

        Sitting around a campfire with a nice hot cup of coffee (in winter) or a cold beer ( in summer) and craning your neck to the heavens will remind you that you are but a small creature in the whole of the universe. This indeed provides perspective on any insurmountable problem you might think you have. (Freezing your backside off during winter will also assist in this process.)

        The complex answer is ....

        too complex to explain here as few men would understand and most woman would think I am crazy to enjoy living simple, without modern comforts, cooking on an open fire, walking barefoot in the sand (and praying the scorpions went to bed already), showering in cold water in a shower without a door or roof and crouching in the same Kalahari sand to watch the smallest of bugs carry their meager findings into the tiny hole in the ground.

        To get some idea what I am talking about, see the slide show next to the post.

        Well, next time I will report again on the progress of planning the trip in December.

        12 August, 2009

        Trip to Kgalagadi, Mabuasehube and Botswana

        Over the weekend hubby informed me he wants to go to the Kgalagadi again in December. Do I hear you scream 'December!'? Yes, you heard right. He wants to tour the Kalahari Desert in the hottest months when temperatures easily reach 40 - 50 degrees Celsius. Well, I thought it would be all right. We've done this before - no sweat. I actually took to the idea of traversing the wilderness again.

        We grabbed the map of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and planned a route to the wildest places in the park where we haven't been before. Places like Sizatswe, Swartpan, Gnus Gnus, Polentswa and naturally, the Mabuasehube side of the park. No visit to the Kgalagadi is complete (for us anyway) without a visit to the A-frames and clay pans of Mabuasehube Game Reserve.

        Without really knowing what facilities are available at Sizatswe, Swartpan and Gnus Gnus, I phoned the Botswana Department of Wildlife and National Parks reservations office on 00267 318 0774 and proceeded to make a booking. The accommodation at Polentswa and Nossob was limited so I extended our stay in the far north of the park - a total of 8 nights. Fine, if it is just me and hubby there is no worries regardless of the facilities offered. With the provisional booking made, I enquired about the facilities in the northern part (Botswana side) of the Kgalagadi and was told...there is nothing. Not even a toilet, no water and no ablutions. You have to carry everything with you. This didn't bother me as we have plenty of space in the Cruiser and off - road trailer.

        Then hubby dropped the bomb... he is taking his parents with. Suddenly I have to plan for 6 people, arrange drinking and wash water for 8 days and the Cruiser looked smaller every time I tried to fit everything in. I am still trying so do come back next week to check the progress.

        The full trip is 18 nights and is as follows:

        Day 1-3 at Rooiputs (Botswana side about 23 kilometers from Twee Riviere. Apparently, the bore hole hasn't been fixed so there is no water available, but at least there is a toilet and shower shelter.

        Day 4-5 at Mata Mata (South African side - full ablutions and fences)

        Day 6 - Nossob (South Africa side - full ablutions and fences)

        Day 7 - Polentswa (Botswana - no fences, apparently no water, but toilet and shower shelter and A-frame)

        Day 8-9 Sizatswe (Botswana - no fences, no water, no ablutions)

        Day 10-11 Swartpan (Botswana - no fences, no water, no ablutions)

        Day 12-13 Sizatswe (Botswana - no fences, no water, no ablutions)

        Day 14 - Polentswa

        Day 15 - Matopi (Botswana - no fences, no water, no ablutions)

        Day 16-18 Mabuasehube ( Botswana - no fences, A-frame, ablutions and hopefully water)

        Now the problem facing us is to carry enough water for drinking and washing for 6 people for 8 days. According to the information I could find, the gate at KAA seldom has water to provide so we can't count on getting some water there.

        Next week I'll let you know how the planning comes along. For more information about the Kgalagadi Camps check out these articles:


        Camping at Mabuasehube

        Campsite names of Mabuasehube

        Kgalagadi (SA side:)


        Twee Riviere

        Mata Mata

        Until next week.

        28 July, 2009

        Where is the Best Place to See Lions Mate?

        Tourists often visit Africa with the ultimate purpose to see African Lions in the wild. Observing lions hunting or mating must be the most rewarding experience for any wildlife enthusiast - although the smaller creatures tend to offer even more pleasure to the astute observer. The question every tourist inevitably asks: "Where is the best place to see lions hunt/mate?"
        Africa is riddled with nature reserves, both private and government owned, where African lions may be seen in their natural habitat. One of the reserves renowned for its sightings of the Big Five is the Mala Mala Game Reserve, which borders the Greater Kruger National Park. Several wildlife documentaries were filmed there, including some for National Geographic. The price range for this exclusive game reserve might however be out of most casual tourist's league.

        One of the places I had the most success in observing lions mate, is the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Close to Nossob Rest Camp, on the Botswana side and on the access road to Mabuasehube Game Reserve, tourists often find lions either hunting, resting or mating. Even the main road between Nossob and Twee Rivieren regularly deliver lions resting in the shade of the trees along the road. Due to the sparse vegetation in the semi - desert Kalahari landscape, spotting these magnificent creatures are easy.

        The Kruger National Park is another nature reserve where lions are seen on a daily basis. In the middle of the Kruger National Park, the small camp of Balule regularly shakes with the roar of lions at night.

        SAN Parks administer both the Kgalagadi and Kruger National Parks and their fees are reasonable by anyone's standards. Whether camping or staying in the other accommodation these parks offer, make sure you keep an eye - and an ear - out for the roar of the African Lions.

        17 July, 2009

        Shipwrecks Around Swakopmund, Namibia

        Skeletons of ships (ie shipwrecks) litter the Namibian coastline. This one is close to Swakopmund between Swakopmund and Hentiesbaai. Well worth a visit - even if it is just to walk on the beach and explore these old relics. See also the article on Swakopmund.
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        16 July, 2009

        Cheap Namibia Travel

        It is no secret that going on holiday costs money. Well, Africa still is one of the places where tourists may experience deserts, ocean, rolling hills and much more without breaking open the piggy bank. Let's take a look at what you can do in Namibia without spending a lot of money:

        20 May, 2009

        Budget Holidays To Africa - Kgalagadi

        A holiday to Africa, more specifically Southern Africa, shouldn't cost you your life savings. Nature lovers seeking the wide open spaces and tranquility of the African bush, can have the holiday of their lives making use of the thousands of campsites available on the continent.