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 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.)
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!)
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.
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.