It was not the weekend I was expecting, but it was an adventure I won’t forget. The Kgalagadi received over half its annual rainfall in the two days we were there and the red-dune landscape was utterly transformed, suddenly adorned in rushing rivers traversing the formerly barren land. Flashes of lightning illuminated the incandescent purple sky, dramatically highlighting the rich red of the undulating dunes. Sorrowful animals took shelter in the trees and the presiding silence was broken only by the persistent puttering of the rain, with intermittent rumbles of thunder testifying to the raw power of our planet. Our tent leaked, I was terrified I was going to be struck by lightning attracted by the tent poles and we had to cook soggy bacon in the rain – all in all it was wonderful.
The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (one of our 10 of the best places to view wildlife in Africa this winter) spans an impressive 3.6 million hectares, making it one of the most extensive conservation areas in the world (Kruger is only two million hectares). The land that the park encompasses is captivating, predominantly because of its uniqueness. Desolate and sparse, red-gold dunes extend as far as the eye can see, dotted with shrubbery, wispy white grasses and frequent pockets of thorn trees, providing welcome shelter for the various fauna and flora living within the park’s confines. It is a harsh place, where survival is an art leading to fascinating adaptations in the area’s animal residents. Before we arrived, the Kgalagadi was experiencing a devastating drought and the cracked, barren riverbeds seemed to gasp for water under the sun’s unrelenting rays. When the storm broke, the desert was transformed, but this metamorphoses will be short-lived – when the sun shines the rivers will dry up within a few days.
The black-maned desert kings
Sleek, imposing and fearless, the desert’s lions lie lazily under obliging camel thorn trees by day, while at night their rasping moans betray their hunting ambitions. A herd of 7 000 eland had migrated to the South African side of the park before we arrived, providing easy prey for the lions who simply waited by the waterholes to pounce on the unsuspecting and slow-moving buck. Eland carcasses littered every corner of the reserve, as the playful lions were not killing them for food but rather for sport, choosing to leave many carcasses uneaten in pursuit of new victims.
Witness the spectacular seasonal migrations of the park’s herbivorous residents, including flighty herds of blue wildebeest, pronking springbok and majestic red hartebeest.
On this trip I discovered that I have a gift for spotting owls – I seemed to find them in every tree, although sadly the tiny Skops owl and pearl-spotted owlet continue to allude me. Perhaps the most exciting species we saw was the Verreaux’s eagle owl, which is identifiable by its massive wing span, whitish oval-disk face and pink eyelids. We also saw the pygmy falcon, martial eagle, bateleur, pale chanting goshawk, swallowtail bee-eater and Kori bustard. My bird nerd boyfriend was in heaven.
Because we had limited time, we were only able to camp in Twee Rivieren Rest Camp on this trip, but I would love to go back and stay in some of the smaller and more secluded camps. Twee Rivieren is lovely, but it can be quite congested so if you have time and money, I would suggest venturing further within the park, perhaps to Bitterpan, Kieliekrankie, Urikaruus or the Gharagab Wilderness Camp.
Visit Getaway Accommodation – Twee Rivieren Rest Camp for more information and to book a stay at Twee Rivieren in the Kgalagadi.