Waaay back in the good 'ol days of mid-2019, Alex and I planned a very special vacation with my mom and brother for August 2020: Nine nights camping in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Apart from the obvious draw of the park, with its beautiful red dunes, giant camel thorn trees, collection of big cats and fantastic raptors, we were also planning on finally scattering my late dad's ashes. After all, his heart lay in the Kalahari...
Our hopes were dashed when big, bad Covid knocked on our doors, and then continued to huff and puff and blow down our homes... With South Africa's regional borders still closed for travel by August 2020, we had to reschedule our booking for August 2021.
Fast-forward a year, and SA is smack bang in the middle of its third and most severe wave of infections... We held our breaths (quite literally, at times) in anticipation. It wasn't until we were packing our last supplies the day before our departure, that I allowed myself to hope, "Oh wow, we might actually be able to go!".
On 9 August, Alex and I drove the eight hours from Somerset West to the gorgeous Oranjerus Resort, just outside Upington. My mom and brother met us there, travelling from Kimberley.
The next day, we collected our 4x4 rental bakkie. We were met with an unexpected surprise: Instead of a roof rack (which would be super handy for packing a lot of our bigger, heavier supplies), we had two roof tents! Cue a hasty (and slightly panicked!) shuffle of mindsets, sleeping arrangements and supplies, and off we went!
That evening, we stayed at the charming Rooiduin Guestfarm in Ashkam. This is also where we had arranged to scatter my dad's ashes. We walked up and along the picturesque red dunes behind the little homestead. With breathtaking views and a silence that has a presence of its own, it seemed the perfect place...
The next day, we headed into the park, first setting up camp in Twee Rivieren for two nights. Thereafter, we spent two nights in Mata-Mata and crossed the dunes to spend five more nights in Nossob. Finally, we trekked through the vast length of the park to the lovely Kgalagadi Lodge, in Ashkam.
We chatted about our incredible experiences on our last evening. No one was really able to say what their absolute favourite moment was, as everything really exceeded our expectations. The area had had nearly four years worth of their usual annual rainfall this season, which meant an abundance of grass. This of course meant an abundance of small mammals such as mice (we saw groups of them hanging precariously from every second bush!), which in turn lured hundreds of raptors.
My mom was lucky enough to visit the park last year (at around the same time that we would have gone), as she didn't have to cross any regional borders to get there. Her experience then was vastly different. In fact, she was worried that we might be bored, as there was so little game and birds to see!
In contrast, the feeling that I got from the park now, was that it was just teeming with life! We could hardly drive twenty metres without spotting something. I must also just add - we're avid birders (all except my poor brother, who kindly humoured us...!), so we are easily entertained, even by yet another LBJ (little brown job). We also just loved the scenery: every grassy, red-topped dune, the soft, pastel colours of the golden hour, the never-ending vistas in every direction, all ensconced in an almost tangible silence... It was all just so incredibly beautiful! Multiple times a day, you could hear me gasping, yet again, "That trrrree!".
So yes... Magical, right down to the tiniest mouse (which is called a Desert Pygmy Mouse, by the way. Measuring about 10cm from nose to tail and weighing only six grams! One of the many late-night visitors we had in our camp sites...), and absolutely worth the two year wait!
Just a few of the fantastic highlights:
- 90 bird species (amazing, since it was the wrong season for all the summer visitors and vagrants!), of which 23 were raptors and 15 were brand new sightings for us!
- A glimpse of the rare and elusive African Wild Cat!
- We counted 184 Kori Bustards (the heaviest flying bird in the world!) throughout the trip. Usually solitary, in pairs or small groups, this number of sightings is just staggering!
- At least 15 Barn Owls hunting at the Nossob hide one evening. I cannot put this experience into words... It was surreal, watching them swooping jussst past the hide, moving from shadow to shadow, perching in the big camel thorn tree above the watering hole. All completely and utterly soundless, like beautiful, pale ghosts. No wonder they are such adept apex predators... This sensational display was shortly followed by a group of hunting Bat-eared Foxes, and later, a lioness coming for a drink!
- Another evening at the Nossob hide, a solitary Spotted Hyena had a run-in with a pack of Black-backed Jackal. After fighting off his sly adversaries, he chewed on a log in the shallow waterhole (why???). To our great delight, it kept dropping the log in the water, giving itself a huge fright and lolloping away! Repeat, repeat, repeat. What a loon!
- Multiple sightings of big cats: Lions, cheetah and our first ever sighting of a leopard!
- Perhaps "highlight" isn't the right word, but it was unforgettable, nonetheless: Woke up with a layer of ice on the ceiling of our roof tent on our third morning in the park. Brrr!
- Watching flocks of sandgrouse drinking at a waterhole. I could have done that all day!
- A sneaky Black-backed Jackal stole Alex's shoe during the night (after the staff warned us that this sneaky visitor has developed an unusual taste for footgear, and we shouldn't leave anything lying around!). Thankfully, a good samaritan found it (or caught the culprit red-handed?) and left it in the bathroom where I later found it. The same thief later stole one of our braai (barbecue) gloves too...!
- After days of traipsing around in the dark, desperately looking for them, we finally saw a Pearl-spotted Owlet in Nossob camp! Ever since I painted one, it's been right at the top of my wish list to see this tiny owl in the wild. I had given up hope by the time our last morning in Nossob arrived. We were packing up to leave the park, and I had just stumbled out of the ablutions, still wearing my pajamas. And there it was, perched in a giant tree in the camp site, mournfully calling for a mate... We were elated!
Twee Rivieren Camp
GThe enormous Kori Bustard.
Yup, it was cold... However, we had a few days that the maximum temperature rose to nearly 40 degrees celcius!
Sensational sunset at Nossob camp.
Ever see a gemsbok poop like a fox terrier? Wel..........
Living the dream.
Our fabulous leopard, lying in a real leopard tree!
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