So we had booked 5 nights camping at various sites in Kgalagadi, but we had a few days to kill before we entered the National Park, so we thought we would try Molopo Kalahari Lodge for a few reasons, it had private ablutions, it was on the way to the park, but most importantly it had a swimming pool!!! En-route to the lodge we stopped at the tiny town of Askham, and incredibly it had a great little coffee shop (where we had the usual conversations about where we’ve come from, and what we’ve done for the last 2 years etc), and we even got the “offer” to stay at a property on the Isle of Man for the week of the TT races…….. Its a strange world.
While in Askham we walked along to the liquor store, imaginatively named Askham & Tellham, where in true rural African style we had to push our faces up against the wire mesh to view the offerings on show, stocked up with cheap plonk and tonics for Jac’s gin, we headed on to Molopo Lodge.
We stayed here for three nights, and arriving on 14th February we decided to eat in the restaurant as they had a sign up saying they had a special Valentines Night Menu. The very friendly waitress showed us the detailed Menu with all the choices for each of the 3 courses, the only trouble is it was in Afrikaans, and bless her she tried to translate it, but although she spoke good English and seemingly good Afrikaans the translation really didn’t work, she just kept saying the Afrikaans words. In the end the chef came out and had a go which was a little better, ok we thought lets go for it, at 185 Rand each (£11.50 each) we thought it looked good value.
We had a couple of drinks in the bar, together with the barbers/dentist chair and old fuel pump before heading into the restaurant.
Just before we walked through to the restaurant the chef appeared with a “sample” of Malva Pudding (I think he had taken a bit of a shine to Jac), as Jac enquired earlier what it actually was. This sample was a huge portion of a dessert complete with custard, not too dissimilar to our treacle pudding…… oh well maybe the portions of the 3 course meal will be quite small.
For starter’s we both ordered pizza with a tzatziki dip, obviously expecting either narrow strips of pizza, or maybe one tiny round baby pizza, we were wide eyed when the waitress bought us both a full sized pizza covered in cheese, and this was the starter!!!
The food was very good actually but the quantity was a little too much for us. Incredibly we were the only ones that had the Valentines Menu, and indeed there were only about 4 or 5 other guest eating here that night. Soul destroying for the chef and staff I’d think.
In the three nights we stayed here we were the only campers, and the only guests that stayed more than 1 night, so we really didn’t need the private ablutions, but we did have the pool completely to ourselves.
Molopo is a really nice lodge and money is currently being spent on it, but the pool was really quite dirty, you couldn’t see more than 100mm into the water, and the bottom was very slimy in places not that you could see it, but of course that didn’t stop us jumping in to cool off, though I did notice that here Jac didn’t put her head under.
But the great thing about lazing around the pool here was the enormous amount of Masked Weaver birds that were nesting above us.
And check out this old Apple computer that was in the lounge.
We even had a complimentary freshly baked loaf bought to our campsite by the chef, it was lovely too.
At last it was time to leave Molopo Lodge, and hit the tarmac into the red dunes of Kgalagadi National Park.
Arriving at the gate, we were surprised to find that Twee Rivieren (Two Rivers), was not only the entrance gate into the park but was also the South African Border Post and all your exit stamps had to be carried out here. So although we would still be in South Africa for another 6 days we had to do our immigration and customs documents here, you then do the same at another gate when leaving into Botswana or Namibia for immigration into that particular country. I guess thats why its now called the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.
The other large bird that was always on its own, but in large numbers was the Kori Bustard, and we did spot a few of the elegant snake eating Secretary Bird’s.
But we came here for big cats, and amazingly within an hour we came across a male Cheetah, he had obviously only just had a kill as his stomach was very extended, and infact we were convinced it was a heavily pregnant female until Jac zoomed in on the photos later and spotted his “bits” at the back, but wow what a great start to our time here.
Sitting there on our own, we watched from Colonel K this beautiful animal wander off into the grass and flop down under a tree about 20 metres from the track for a well earned kip. Now we were worried if we had peaked too early, would we see any more cats while here?
With our alarm set for 5.15am (every morning that we were there), we were ready to depart in Colonel K for a game drive by 6.00am (this is the earliest you can leave the campsite, and you must return by 7.30pm each evening), this is the best time to view the game and of course the early morning light makes for great photo opportunities, especially with the backdrop of the red sand dunes.
Another first for us was this lovely Cape Fox that was asleep on the gravel track until our old Daf woke him up.
And then there was this young Black Backed Jackal.
The Kalahari at the moment is indeed a beautiful place, every where is so lush and green, but it does make spotting animals quite difficult, but we had an advantage over other vehicles, our secret weapon Colonel K! From our elevated position we could see over the top of the long grass, this was especially advantageous when the gravel tracks disappeared after about 50km north of Twee Rivieren and the tracks became sandy and sunken below the surrounding grass land sometimes by over 2 feet.
It wasn’t long on that first early morning drive that we spotted a huge pride of Lions, 2 fully grown males, 2 fully grown females, 1 slightly younger female and 4 youngsters, and best of all they were hungry and hunting!
We sat there and watched as the lead female very slowly and stealthily crept up to the crest of the sand dune, and we could just make out a small herd of Gemsbok (approx 8-10 of them), and she gradually started to position herself to get the other side of them. All this time the other females and the males watched her, and knew instinctively to stay back out of the way, the young cubs just stayed nearer to us playing/fighting and sunning themselves in the early morning sun. Unbelievable, and a real privilege to watch.
But even the very playful cubs constantly kept a close eye on what Mum and Dad was up too.
We watched the lead female (from a distance) until she disappeared over the crest of the dune, and of course the other adult Lions and the youngsters eventually followed, we hoped that they would drive the Gemsbok over towards us on the track, but we figured that was not going to happen and so after edging along trying to spot them again for a while we gave up and moved on.
To our surprise about a kilometre along the track we spotted the head female of the pride coming over the dunes towards us, we know it was the same one as she was fitted with a collar for monitoring the pride for conservation purposes. Wow she came right up to the truck, sniffing the air, and still looking very hungry. She was truly a beauty, and had very few marks on her head or body, it was a shame that she had the collar on but if it helps protect them then I guess it’s a good thing.
There may be lots of grazing animals in Kgalagadi, such as Gemsbok, Springbok, and Red Hartebeest, but she still has to produce the goods or the whole pride suffers.
We had a cracking first full day in the park, and it was topped off with a swim in the swimming pool a Twee Riveiren, but next day was a long game drive, the 166km drive to Nossob camp. Now that doesn’t sound much but on the official map it suggests that in a normal 4×4 vehicle (not a 10 tonne Daf) and not stopping, in other words not game viewing it WILL take a minimum of 4.5 hours.
So leaving Twee Riveiren at 6.00am we set off for Nossob, the track soon loses its gravel and becomes very sandy, but not too deep. Just before the sand appeared though we saw this fella making his way across the track, not sure what type of snake he is but it didn’t look too friendly to me!
I also spotted a huge black scorpion but wasn’t quick enough with our trusty Lumix. Then guess what we spotted this little lady in the long grass just to the side of the track.
Then Jac realised that not far behind her were two youngsters, yes 3 Cheetahs together! This was getting better and better.
After a few minutes the mother started to move off and they were obviously in full hunting mode, I really wouldn’t want to be a young Springbok with this lot nearby.
What a place! And then we spotted our first true black maned Lion, a real beauty.
Our two nights at Nossob went far too quickly, but the campsite is always full (its not very big, and that makes it far more special), and as usual we met some really nice people (and some strange ones).
Once again we saw Lions including a group of three lioness’s that Jac spotted from miles away, we just sat there and they crossed our track right behind Colonel K.
And more Black Maned Lions.
This really is predator spotting heaven, but there were also many other animals about such as this Yellow Mongoose that seemed to like sheltering under the truck in the campsite. He might look nice and sweet but apparently they do bite and do carry rabies………
Also at Nossob, there was a huge number of Abdim’s Stork present, mostly roosting in the trees, but occasionally doing a good impression of a flock of vultures circling high in the sky.
Near to the storks were a huge number of Tawny Eagles cooling off in the trees in the midday sun.
Our last night in Nossob was met with a huge down pour complete with a massive thunderstorm, not too much of a problem for us in the truck but a bit of a nightmare for those South Africans that were either in roof tents or those that were mostly in ground tents, but hey it is the rainy season.
Next morning we were a little surprised that there wasn’t the usual rush for the gates at 6.00am, but we had the journey back to Twee Rivieren to do again and it took us 8 hours to get up here with all the stops and slow game viewing. I have to say I was not ready for what was in front of us, the lovely sand track that we had on the way up had turned literally into a river, in some places it even had a flow to it. No wonder no one was in a hurry to leave!!!
As always water finds its own level, in places it was only a few inches deep, in other low lying stretches the water was at least 2 foot deep (600mm), below is a photo Jac took out of the window as we were driving along, check out the spray way above the bottom of the window, it was relentless!
The worst section was the first 80km or so, after that I think the water was draining away, and obviously it was evaporating in the African sun, but during that first 80km for most of the time we could feel the water hitting the underside of the cab, that meant that the engine was being completely covered by spray and water rushing over it. The warning buzzer was blaring (this signifies that either the air brakes have failed or oil pressure has been lost) but with all the gauges showing good pressure we carried on ploughing through the flood. Then the rev counter packed up! Still the deafening buzzer was blaring. Eventually the rev counter started to work again and things started to return to normal, but I was so glad that we were in a four wheel drive high clearance truck on that day!!!
After one night at Twee Riveiren we set off at 6.00am the next morning for our final camp at Mata Mata. The game in this part of the park is prolific, and it was here we had another first of this trip, we sat and watched a large colony of Meerkats, disappearing into their burrows and then coming back out and standing on their rear legs for ages at a time.
It was here in this area that we saw even more Cheetah, and the sightings were exceptional including watching one family hunt, an amazing time.
Apart from the big cats in Kgalagadi, the other surprise for me was the number and variety of birds of prey, there must be so much food for these raptors, and it was great to sit and watch them, sometimes at very close hand. Like this magnificent Bateleur Eagle (or Short tailed Eagle).
There really were so many fantastic raptors here……..
And this huge Martial Eagle….
A Black-chested Snake Eagle…
Or this Black-winged (Black-shouldered) Kite with its amazing ruby red eyes….
We were sat watching a huge Lappet-faced Vulture that was sat resting on a branch, when all of a sudden a Tawny Eagle landed next to it, they just sat and stared at each other in seemingly disbelief that this could possibly have happened!!!
Then we watched this Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk very tentatively trying to extract something from the undergrowth, it was very wary of what ever it was trying to catch, perhaps a small snake?
Then there was this African Harrier Hawk (or Gymnogene) watching closely a Tawny Eagle slightly lower down, all of this being watched by a pair of Starlings, and of course Me and Jac’s.
Thats the great thing about self driving safari’s, you can always stop and look and watch something. But for me a really special moment was watching a Snake Eagle scoop up a live snake and fly off with it to a nearby tree, unfortunately we didn’t have the camera ready and we were moving when we first spotted the snake dangling from the eagles talons, but it was an unforgettable sight.
Mata Mata is a much larger camp than the others that we stayed at in the NP, and that means that there really is a rush to get out of the gate at 6.00am, but the game viewing more than makes up for it, and again we saw some fantastic Lions and Cheetah.
Mata Mata was the only place that we saw Giraffe in the Transfrontier Park, but they were in quite large numbers here.
There is history in this massive place too, in 1908 a German force of over 500 soldiers entered (from what is now Namibia) into what is now the Transfrontier Park with over 700 camels brought over from North Africa (they soon realised that horses were useless in the dry Kalahari) in pursuit of a Nama leader by the name of Simon Kooper, armed with machine guns the locals didn’t stand a chance, but Mr Kooper escaped and took refuge in what is now Botswana under the protection of the British. We also met an ex soldier that served with the South African army in the war with Angola, and he explained that the reason that the water holes in the park are at such regular intervals (approx 20km apart) was that it was set up as another supply route, just incase the main route north was cut off, it was never used but the water holes still to this day supply fresh water along these dry river beds.
On our last day we saw this massive Eagle Owl hiding in the dense tree by the side of the track, and in complete contrast a stunning Hoopoe.
You can probably tell that we loved Kgalagadi, and the obvious comparison is with Kruger NP in the east of South Africa. In my opinion there really is no comparison, yes at Kruger you can see the fabled “Big 5” (there are no Elephants, Rhino or Buffalo in Kgalagadi), but for us Kruger is like a huge zoo, with tarmac roads, large numbers of visitors and massive rest camps. For the most part if you are on an organised tour to SA you will most probably visit Kruger NP, its just easier to stay and travel around. Whereas Kgalagadi has very limited accommodation (there are chalets at the rest camps, but its mostly camping for self driving guests), and narrow sand tracks between camps, and long may that last, its an amazing place, we bloody loved it!!!! So much so we stayed an extra day at Mata Mata before heading across the border into Namibia.
Thanks for reading, sorry for all the wildlife snaps (actually I’m not apologising for them ha)