Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
Top Attractions in Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park also known as Peace Park is a mouthful of a name with more than 3 syllables, hence it’s a hard one to pronounce. To hack it and to not bite one’s tongue! Kgalagadi is pronounced as Ka-la-hari, a name it gets from the Tswana word Kgala meaning a place of thirst and aptly so. For this handsome, remote, pristine Kalahari Desert safari destination is characterized by miles upon miles of dry red sand dunes tinted with random trees, thin vegetation and the two dry river beds of Nossob (meaning dark clay) and Auob (meaning bitter water). These two dry river beds are the lifeline of the park despite the allegation of some geologists that they flow only once in a century. Regardless of the allegation, the dry river beds fill up occasionally and summarily after heavy downpours. They as well have underground springs that sustain camelthorn trees and lush grass growing in the seemingly dry riverbeds.
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is remotely located in the south western border of Botswana on a staggering land mass of over 38,000 square kilometers bordering Namibia on its western flank, with three quarters of it lying on the Botswana side and the other quarter overlapping into north western South Africa. This exploit makes it a transfrontier since it is a single park in two countries, a first in Africa with such an arrangement. Kgalagadi is approximately twice as big as Kruger National Park, making it one of the world’s largest conservation areas.
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park was established by a merger of South Africa’s Kalahari Gemsbok National Park established in 1931 and Botswana’s Gemsbok National Park established as a game reserve in 1932 and later pronounced a national park in 1971. The park was established to protect the ancient migratory wildlife routes that animals used and still use to move across borders without any barriers that country borders normally create. The merger began as a gentleman’s agreement in 1948 between the then Bechuanaland Protectorate and the Union of South Africa to set up a conservation area in the bordering areas of the two countries. Years later in 1992 representatives from the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) of Botswana and their counterparts from the South African National Parks Board (now SANParks) established a collaborative management agency to operate the wildlife area as a solo ecological entity.
Overtime management plans, inclusive of park entry revenue shares, conservation, infrastructure etc. were drafted, reviewed and approved in 1997. Two years later on the 7th of April 1999 a historic bilateral agreement to cement the earlier wildlife conservation and management efforts were endorsed by authorities from these two countries. The icing on the cake was on the 12th of May 2000 when the then presidents of Botswana and South Africa, Hon. Festus Mogae and Hon. Thabo Mbeki respectively formally launched southern Africa’s first peace park, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Later on in October 2002 both governments set aside 580 km² for the use of the native communities (Mier and San) and named it Ae!Hai Heritage Park. The land was divided between 301.34 km² of Mier Heritage Land and 277.69 km² of San Heritage Land. The land was inducted as the first International Dark Sky Sanctuary in Africa by the International Dark Sky Association to preserve and protect the night time environment and the heritage of dark skies through quality outdoor lighting. The South African National Parks (SANParks) manages the land under contract and the contract proceeds provided funds that constructed a lodge called Xaus (meaning heart in the native language). This facility is being managed by Transfontier Destinations on behalf of the two communities.
In September 2014 a setback of sorts happened when the government of Botswana silently unloaded the rights to frack for shale gas in Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. It permitted prospecting block licenses for 23,980 Km2, 29,291 Km2 and 34,435 Km2 more than half of the Botswanan part of the park to a United Kingdom listed company called Nodding Donkey that later morphed into Karoo Energy in November 2015. However, despite the setback we give thanks to this two-pronged visionary conservation effort that began many years ago, for it has aided free movement of wildlife and tourists in this zone (no passport required unless one plans on a departure through another country).
Owing to the parks geolocation and desert conditions! big mammals like elephants, rhinos and buffalos are not present here. However, irrespective of the frequent famines and extremes of climate, Kgalagadi National park rears life in great abundance with its species of acacia budding in the riverbeds, quick grass, gemsbok cucumber and shrubs such as raisinbush and driedoring. This vegetation is the much needed food for the large herds of herbivores like blue wildebeests, springboks, Burchell’s zebras, red hartebeests, giraffes, gemsboks, elands and many other more herbivores that teem these plains.
Of course these herbivores attract Predators and plenty of them are in town, no wonder Kgalagadi is hailed far and beyond its precincts for its healthy predator population and viewing of the famed black maned Kalahari lions, cheetahs, leopards and small cats such as caracals, wild dogs and black-backed jackals. And because of its healthy lion population, the park was declared a lion conservation unit and a lion strong hold in southern Africa in 2005 and it is equally hailed for its seasonal movement of large herbivores. All the above coupled with the thin vegetation of the plains and concentration of animals in the dry riverbeds of the Auob and Nossob Rivers make Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park a perfect safari destination of choice for rustic game drive lovers. Kgalagadi is a birders haven as well, especially those fond of birds of prey. The park boasts of well over 280 bird species registered in its precinct, 92 of which are residential. It is famed for its raptors like the most common black-chested snake eagle, owls, bateleur, tawny and non-raptors like the big kori bustard, weavers and many more other birds.
Kgalagadi is a classic self-drive game park owing to its remoteness, size and terrain, however precaution ought to be practiced for its remoteness, self-drive, vastness and lack of network imply that should something go wrong one would be stuck out there in the untamed wilderness for several hours without assistance. That said, the park management takes precaution as well. It does so by keeping track of its visitors using a permit system to make sure its visitors return safely into camp each night. The visitors turn in their permits every evening when they enter camp and they pick them up again when they go for their morning drives after informing camp staff members which directions they intend to drive to. Meaning if a visitor fails to turn up at their chosen camp it becomes a distress call issue necessitating a search and rescue team that is dispatched immediately. That said! once Kalahari sand gets into your shoes, legend has it that most assuredly you’ll be drawn back here over and over again. Aptly so, for the plain’s untamed virgin beauty, loud silence, extreme elements of weather, vast open space and unchained blue sky draping the tremendous wildlife of the plains are overly luring.
Things To Do in Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
Visit The Pans
Visit the two most beautiful and largest pans of Kgagaladi Transfrontier Park Mabuasehube and Mpayathutlwa. They all have 4WD trails that make circumventing the pans a walk in the park, plus they are surrounded by low hills that privilege visitors with heavenly close views of wildlife congregating at these wildlife magnetic waterholes. Mpayathutlwa Pan is located 12km west of the park gate, laden with a waterhole at the northern sector and two charming campsites on the western side. Mabuasehube Pan located 10km north of Mpayathutlwa is used as a salt lick by migrating herds in late winter and early spring. Other smaller pans like Bosobogolo, Monamodi and Lesholoago are equally worth exploring and on the northern side of Khiding Pan, 11km west of Mabuasehube Pan, Meerkat are all traversible and remarkable if one sneaks in on them.
The Khoisan of The Kalahari
Do you remember “the Gods must be crazy” movie? Oh yeah!! the Kalahari is the ancestral homeland of these charming desert warriors the San (Bushmen) who featured in the movie. In the harsh Kgalagadi area of the Kalahari Desert you will meet the traditional hunter-gatherers whose ancient cashless way of life is rich with indigenous survival knowledge of this unforgiving desert. A sizeable population of these beautiful people still inhabit the arid Kalahari Desert and an encounter with these timeless desert warriors is a rich delightful experience that will leave the visitors wanting more.
The Kalahari Desert
Visit the Kalahari Desert and assuredly your troubles will melt in the sweltering day heat and burdens will freeze in the morning biting cold. This beautiful desert lounges mostly in Botswana stretching as well to neighboring Namibia and South Africa. The northern fringes of the Kalahari Basin extend as far north as Angola and Zambia. This makes it one of the world’s most extensive sand basins. It occupies 70% of Botswana most of it lying in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve the largest game reserve in the world. The Kalahari is not classified as a true desert, with large areas of the semi-desert terrain receiving annual rainfall supporting grasses, scrub bushes and some trees. The Kalahari Desert is 900 meters above sea level and is characterized by a featureless, gently undulating, sand-covered plain dotted with occasional dried up riverbeds that act as oasis and sustain the wildlife of the region.
Melkvlei Picnic Area
A drive to the Melkvlei picnic area on the Nossob riverbed up to Urikaruus on the Auob riverbed is a stunning one, considering the drive in this part of the park is laced with an ebb and flow of beautiful greenery tint and a concentration of wildlife that one encounters up-close in their natural habitat. The park has two short-lived rivers namely the Nossob in the east and the Auob in the west of the park and its believed a portion of the Aoub River flows once every 10 years and the Nossob river twice in 100 years. That said! They do carry rain water and they have springs beneath their beds a precious resource that sustains life in the Kalahari. The Nossob and Auob meet in the south at a rest camp named “twee riveren” two rivers rest camp.
The park has several watering holes that are artificially pumped with water to sustain the wildlife in this area that is rather devoid of water. Some are as deep as 100 meters and the robust beautiful wind pumps are presently being replaced with solar pumps.
The Twee-rivieren Camp
Also called the two river camp is the main camp and the administrative center of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. It is located south of the park. The camp consists of chalets, camping facilities, restaurant, a swimming pool, information center along with a shop and a fuel station.
It is a border control point situated in the far north west on the Namibian Border, an entry and exit point from and to Namibia. The camp offers chalets, camping facilities, a swimming pool, information center, shops and filling station.
It is centrally located in the park towards the eastern border, its facilities include an information center, chalets, camping facilities, shops and filling station. It as well boasts of a hideout next to a watering hole at the entrance of the gate. This hideout affords visitors an up-close view of the wildlife visiting the watering hole.
Self Game Drives
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is a paradise for self-drive safari enthusiasts. Its titanic area is traversed by a network of gravel and sand roads, some of which are designated for four-wheel-drive vehicles only. The most revered of these is the four-day Nossob 4×4 Eco Trail, which runs through the dunes between Twee Rivieren and Nossob rest camps. This route demands a minimum of two vehicles, requires visitors to be completely self-sufficient, and must be booked well in advance. The three main rest camps and Kalahari Tented Camp also offer guided morning and sunset game drives, subject to interest and the availability of staff members.
Hakskeenpan Mountain Biking
Hakskeenpan is a huge salt & mud pan in the Mier region of Kalahari Desert in South Africa. It is a beautiful part of this park that offers activities like sand boarding, MTB trails as well as 4×4 trails. The trail for Mountain Biking can start anywhere on the Pan as the Pan is absolutely flat with no hills whatsoever. People can also visit Eierdop Koppies, known as the Lost City of the Kalahari, that is situated quite close.
The Auchterlonie Museum
Take a walk through history by visiting Auchterlonie museum to have an idea about the lifestyle of people that have lived here for well over 100 years ago. This museum is essentially a small restored stone & thatch cottage with two shuttered windows. The cottage is only enough to accommodate a table, a bed, and a few chairs. The Auchterlonie museum thus gives a great insight into the history of the people living here as well as the history of the park.
Bird-watchers sure will have a ball in this part of town especially those fond of prey birds. The park boasts of well over 260 bird species registered in its precinct, 92 of which are residential. It is famed for its over 34 species of raptors like the most common black-chested snake eagle, owls, bateleur, tawny, pygmy falcons, lappet-faced vultures and non-raptors like the big kori bustard, other birds like Ostriches (of which it is estimated there are over 16 000 of them), Lilac-breasted Roller, Crimson-breasted Shrike and Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill. This makes kgalagadi an ultimate birders safari destination, so visitors must come equipped with good binoculars and their must see bird list to tick off.
Guided Game Drives
Night game drives are organized by the three main camps. Nossob, Mata – Mata and Twee rivieren. The open game drive vehicles are guided by well-informed rangers. The dry, arid landscape of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park means that visitors to the game park can look forward to exceptional sightings of African game animals. At first glance the semi-arid Kalahari may look like an abandoned place that can’t support life, far from it, it is filled with a remarkably multifaceted maze of wildlife. Of course one won’t find the same diversity like in Kruger National Park (probably the highest wildlife diversity in all of Africa), but this shouldn’t be unexpected considering there hasn’t been a permanent water source here for ages! and yet thousands of species from geckos to lions have adapted to survive in this unsympathetic environment. The game park boasts of a large population of Lions, Cheetahs and Leopards and other smaller cats like caracals and wild dogs hence offering the best worldwide predator viewings. Sightings.
The park is also home to over 600 Brown Hyenas and roughly 400 Spotted Hyenas. There are a number of other smaller predators of which the most frequently seen are Bat-eared Fox, Suricate and Yellow Mongoose. In abundance of predators, prey is bountiful hence the park has an unprecedented large populations of giraffes, antelopes like Gemsbok, Red Hartebeest and Springbok, worthy writing about is that giraffes have been recently reintroduced into the park and are frequently spotted close to Mata-Mata camp. The park is also one of Africa’s best safari parks for cheetah viewing, where they thrive by hunting in its fossil river valleys and the surrounding Kalahari dunes.
Kgalagadi Wilderness Camps
Kgalagadi wilderness camps are all unfenced with some having waterholes that attract wildlife to their precincts. There are no facilities like fuel, information centers, shops, restaurants available. For one to have a decent stay over at the wilderness camps one needs to prepare for self-catering and make sure they have enough fuel and provisions for the length of their stay. Wilderness camps outfitted with kitchens, bathrooms, fridges/freezers, cooking and eating utensils. Solar panels to provide lighting and hot water for showers. Some of them are:
Small and exclusive, only 20km from unions end and accessible with a two-wheel drive vehicle. a visible waterhole at camp and a really great option for the northern part after nossob.
Situated in the North of the park close to unions end as well. They offer 4 x 2 bedroom units surrounded by savannah and camelthorn trees. This is known as a higher rainfall region and is home to larger concentrations of wildlife. Only accessible with 4 x 4 Vehicles
This camp is on a dunebelt and offers inconsists out of dune vegetation and offers a 360 degree view ot the area and waterhole. This Camp offers 4 x 2 bedroom units and is deal for crossing the dune belt between the Nossob and Auob Rivers finite views over the kalahari dunes.
Kalahari Tented Camp
This is a larger camp that is close to Mata – Mata and offers 15 x 2 bedroom Tented Camps sleeping two to four people. It boasts of a swimming pool and spectacular views over the Auob River and watering hole.
Urakuruus: This lofted camp is between Mata – Mata and Twee Rivieren and is surrounded by Camelthorn tress and overlooks the Auob River Bed and watering hole. It offers accommodation 4 x 2 people units.
It is only accessible by 4 x 4 vehicles and links the camps Nossob and Mata – Mata. The area overlooks a large pan, but has few trees and offer an exclusive experience to the visitors. It has four x 2 people units and is surrounded by the great silence of the Kalahari
Xaus Lodge, Xaus (meaning heart in the native language) is facility is being managed by Transfontier Destinations on behalf of the meir and san communities. It is a luxury retreat overlooking a large pan and wateringhole half way between Twee Rivieren and Mata – Mata. Run by a priavte concessionaire on the Kalahari Heritage Park Land. The lodge offers a 24 bedded thatched lodge with spectacular views and interaction with the Komani san Bushmen.
The Nossob 4×4 Eco Trail
The trail runs through the dunes between Twee Rivieren and Nossob camps, with its starting point at Twee Rivieren or Nossob changing on a monthly basis Twee Rivieren on even months, and Nossob on uneven months. The trail starts every Monday and finishes on Thursdays except for the two weeks over Christmas and New Year, when it closes. Departure time is 09:00 am but may change according to the season- ascertain with reception upon arrival. The duration of the trail is three nights and four days. Minimum two vehicles. Maximum of five guest vehicles and one guide vehicle with no trailers. Participation is totally self-catered including food, water for drinking, showers and vehicle, firewood, tents and vehicles. Campsites consist of a “long drop”, shower bag and fireplace without grids. From the starting point to the next refueling point is approximately 300km. Tourists will be expected to help repair ruts they’ve made in the road, spades will be provided. Hand-held radios will be provided for all vehicles for the duration of the trail. No children under the age of 12 years are allowed on the trail.
Best Time To Go
How to get Here
Entering from South Africa. There is no airport in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park so you have to drive in. The main entrance gate is at Twee Rivieren at the southern end of the park in South Africa. The closest airport to Twee Rivieren is in Upington, South Africa, about a 2.5 hour drive south of the park. However, if you are flying from another part of the world, the cheapest flights are always to Johannesburg, South Africa. If you’re traveling from the east, you can choose to take the R31 from Kuruman via Van Zylsrus. This route takes 4.5 hours on a badly corrugated gravel road, but saves you approximately 30 minutes versus traveling via Upington Access to the Park can be gained through five gates in three different countries:
– South Africa access is through the Twee Rivieren gate (immigration control gate)
– Namibia through the Mata-Mata gate
– Botswana through the Two Rivers, Mabuasehube and Kaa gates.
Tourists are required to stay over for two nights in one or more of the overnight facilities of the Kgalagadi if the intention is to travel from one country to another.
Where To Stay
Customizable Safari Packages