The captivating Kalahari!

Talk about a journey of contrasts!  From the watery north, we ventured south to the Kalahari desert, to Kgalagadi National Park.  This park, which borders Namibia, was one of the first transfrontier parks in the world – it’s an amalgamation of the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park in South Africa, and the Gemsbok National Park in Botswana, and comprises over 3.6 million hectares!

The awesome red dunes of the Kalahari, Kgalagadi NP, 2016.

The awesome red dunes of the Kalahari, Kgalagadi NP, 2016.

The landscape was simply stunning!  Beautiful, sweeping red dunes, intersected by dry river beds: the Nossob, which only flows approximately once every hundred years, and the Auob, which flows approximately once every thirty to fifty years!  The only evidence of the course of these ‘rivers’ was a sliver of green grass in the river bed.  Visiting during the ‘wet season’, we were treated to the emergence of a range of desert flowers – tiny vibrant flowers which provided a visual treat for us and a welcome edible treat for the animals!  (One of the flowers in bloom, Devil’s Claw, is an ancient remedy which is now an internationally recognised supplement, to treat muscular, skeletal and joint conditions.)

The beautiful Devil's Claw flower, Kgalagadi NP, 2016.

The beautiful Devil’s Claw flower, Kgalagadi NP, 2016.

 

The iconic Gemsbok in the flowering dunes of the post-rain Kalahari Desert, Kgalagadi NP, 2016.

The iconic Gemsbok in the flowering dunes of the post-rain Kalahari Desert, Kgalagadi NP, 2016.

Advocates of Kgalagadi love the open vistas of the dunes and river beds, as when you do see animals, your views are unencumbered by the dense bush of other national parks.  And this is indeed true.  Game viewing is tough here, however…  You can spend a whole day in the car and be rewarded with no sightings of any note.  However, when the big cats are out, then they are mostly clearly visible – and a visual treat indeed!  (And the little cats are very cute too!)

Lithe, powerful and elegant: the Cheetah on the lookout for a meal. Kgalagadi NP, 2016

Lithe, powerful and elegant: the Cheetah on the lookout for a meal. Kgalagadi NP, 2016

 

Too cute but still very wary of the bigger cats. They hide away in the trees in the day. African Wild Cat, Kgalagadi NP, 2016.

Too cute but still very wary of the bigger cats. They hide away in the trees in the day. African Wild Cat, Kgalagadi NP, 2016.

Luckily, our interest in birds and the little critters helped with the less productive days.  We saw heaps of tortoises – of all sizes; Sided-striped Mice and Whistling Rats; three stunning bright orange-yellow Cape Cobras, including one invading a Sociable Weavers’ nest; some gorgeous eagle owls; and dozens of elegant Kori Bustards and Northern Black Korhaans.

Whistling Rat pretending he is invisible! Kgalagadi NP, 2016.

Whistling Rat pretending he is invisible! Kgalagadi NP, 2016.

 

Gorgeous, but deadly Cape Cobra. If bitten, we would be dead before admission to the nearest hospital 250kms away! Fascinating. Kgalagadi NP, 2016.

Gorgeous, but deadly Cape Cobra. If bitten, we would be dead before admission to the nearest hospital 250kms away! Fascinating. Kgalagadi NP, 2016.

 

A melee of Springbok. Beautiful, fast and tasty to Cheetah! Kgalagadi NP, 2016.

A melee of Springbok. Beautiful, fast and tasty to Cheetah! Kgalagadi NP, 2016.

And finally, for a more tranquil end to our sojourn in the desert, we spent a wonderful three days camping at Kalahari Trails, just south of the park…  It was here that we experienced the peace, vast open spaces, solitude and beauty of the desert.  Professor Anne Rasa established Kalahari Trails as a sanctuary for Meerkats (or Suricates, of the Mongoose family) and to allow people to explore the desert on foot.  With the freedom to walk across the desert dunes and the vast openness of the night skies, it was indeed a magical way in which to end our desert experience.

Meerkat magic in the early morning sun! Kalahari Desert, 2016.

Meerkat magic in the early morning sun! Kalahari Desert, 2016.

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Namibia’s Watery North

From the dry heat of Etosha National Park we travelled to the north-east ‘strip’ of Namibia (previously known as the Caprivi Strip).  This section of the country juts into Botswana and Zambia, bordering those two countries as well as Zimbabwe.  It’s known as the ‘Four Rivers Route’: the Kavango (which becomes the Okavango in Botswana), Zambezi, Kwando and Chobe rivers all flow through here.

African sunset on the Okavango River in the Caprivi Strip, Namibia, 2016.

African sunset on the Okavango River in the Caprivi Strip, Namibia, 2016.

It was a treat to actually camp next to the Kavango River, and to have a fast-flowing watery world to experience after the absence of water for the previous few months.  We had sundowners each evening (as our throats were still dry from the dust of Etosha!) accompanied by the sounds of hippos cavorting.  The water is at the heart of the community – and changes (height, breadth and flow) with the seasons.  The local people seemed relatively more affluent too, with water to irrigate their crops; using mokoros to fish, for a free food source; and, a real treat, with access to running water for washing, drinking and swimming!  Yes, in spite of the prevalence of crocodiles in the Kavango River, young children delighted in swimming in the river, shrieking with pleasure as they splashed and played.  According to local beliefs, crocodiles are not interested in eating during the summer months when they breed, so it’s safe to swim in the river then!  This belief persists, in spite of evidence to the contrary when so-called ‘rogue crocodiles’ inevitably seize an unsuspecting swimmer each year…

The national parks in the Caprivi Strip are ‘mixed use’…  That means that the local people live on the outskirts of the parks, and are able to use the local resources such as wood, to sell firewood to tourists (beautiful, strong hardwood, which takes ages to burn, making wonderful coals for evening braais – or barbecues) or to craft wooden trinkets to sell (hand-carved souvenir mokoros or wild animals).  With revenue from tourism being directed back into the local communities, the idea is for local people to value the wildlife within the parks, rather than seeing the animals as just another food source.

These parks (Mahango and Buffalo national parks, within the Bwabwato National Park and conservation area) were relatively empty of visitors, so game viewing was a real treat, with undisturbed sightings.  We saw several highlights that were new to us, including Carmine Bee-eaters, Wattled Cranes and Red Lechwe, as well as previous favourites such as majestic Fish Eagles with their haunting cries which are so evocative of the African bush.  We spent hours trying to catch the bee-eaters in flight – with varying degrees of success!  It was fascinating seeing how the game adapted to the presence of water as the river flooded its banks.

Carmine Bee-eater landing after a hunting sortie, Mahango Game Reserve, Namibia, 2016.

Carmine Bee-eater landing after a hunting sortie, Mahango Game Reserve, Namibia, 2016.

 

Elegant and the largest but most endangered of all African Cranes: the Wattled Crane, Mahango, Namibia, 2016.

Elegant and the largest but most endangered of all African Cranes: the Wattled Crane, Mahango, Namibia, 2016.

 

An African icon:  the Fish Eagle, Mahango, Namibia, 2016.

An African icon: the Fish Eagle, Mahango, Namibia, 2016.

 

The real king of the beasts in Mahango, Namibia, 2016.

The real king of the beasts in Mahango, Namibia, 2016.

Buffalo national park had previously been home to 32nd Battalion – a South African Defence Force battalion that had been stationed in Namibia when it was still ‘South West Africa’.  Stories abound of how the soldiers shot plenty game, treating the area as a hunting playground…  Wandering through the ruined remains of their base was an eerie experience, not helped by the fact that we almost became completely mired in deep sand – causing us to face up to a few ghosts of our own as we wondered how long it would be before the next travellers drove past, to help rescue us!  Luckily our bakkie proved more resilient than we had given it credit for, and we managed to extract ourselves without having to call on or wait for help!

Leopard Tortoise at Buffalo Game Reserve, Caprivi, Namibia, 2016.

Leopard Tortoise at Buffalo Game Reserve, Caprivi, Namibia, 2016.

The watery green northeast corner of Namibia was a revelation – and a complete change to the landscape we’d experienced previously.  Apart from the ubiquitous and ever-annoying mosquitoes, we loved it!

Gloriosa superba!

Gloriosa superba!

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