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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.

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