Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park 2011

    • Gemsbok
    • Gemsbok & springbok
    • Black-shouldered Kite
    • Grootkolk Unfenced Camp
    • Hyaena & two cubs
    • Hyaenas at their den
    • Hyaenas in scrap & cubs
    • Kieliekrankie Unfenced Camp
    • Lappet-faced Vulture on nest
    • Lizard Buzzard
    • Lizard
    • Ostrich & springbok
    • Polentswa
    • Puffadder
    • Springbok & bat-eared fox
    • Springbok and Kalahari dune
    • Springbok & Fork-tailed Drongo
    • Springbok grazing
    • Tsamma melon & mouse
    • Urikaruus Unfenced Camp
    • Wildebeest & farmhouse in Auob river bed
    • Springbok
    • Pygmy Falcon
    • Monitor lizard
    • Gemsbok closeup
    • Streaks of pink, Kalahari sunset
    • Urikaruus Unfenced Camp
  • The first night I was woken by the whoop…whoop of the hyaenas. The second night, jackals wailed to make your heart ache, right outside the tent. The third night, it was a lion’s low, rumbling growl that roused me. I couldn’t be happier. I was in the Kalahari.

    In the unfenced wilderness camps in Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, surrounded by space and silence, you become part of the veld. Driving from the very south to the remote north of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, the habitat often proved a more moving experience than the animal sightings themselves. There is no guarantee that the looked-for species will be seen. Day after day, I remained hopeful that a cheetah would cross our path. Everyone I spoke to had seen several, often cubs too. Such are the frustrating pleasures of wildlife tourism – intangible, based on a mere promise, often unfulfilled. With unexpected compensations, too.

    For me this was the trip of the spotted hyaenas. Nocturnal and a low-density species, I never expected to see one, let alone several, on various occasions. What a wonderful surprise to stumble upon a den, watch a mother suckling her still-black cubs. Even more thrilling to witness an altercation between two adults sunning themselves against a limestone ridge. One of the sunbathers rolled onto its back, half-asleep, and by doing so invaded the personal space of its mate. A moment later, hair was flying in all directions and another offspring, a fluffy juvenile, scrambled to get away from the scrap.

    Shortly after sunrise the next morning, a lone hyaena approached our vehicle from the riverbed, coming steadily nearer and nearer, until eventually I could photograph the grains of sand on its nose and inside the rims of its eyes. Then I lowered the camera, and saw the intense face barely three metres from mine. In a state of stunned shock, it was a huge relief to find that I still had it in me to press the button that made the window screen me from a possible lurch.

    Such deeply felt involvement with a place becomes almost spiritual. No better way to experience the Kalahari, one of earth’s true wilderness places, than overnighting in the open, in the unfenced camps of the Kgalagadi. The setting in each instance is textbook perfect.

    Above all it was Gharagab that stole our hearts. A long trek north took us to Union’s End where the road proper also ends. The 4×4 track leads you deeper and deeper into the duneveld, a vast savannah dotted with large camelthorns, their size testament to the higher rainfall that the area enjoys. It comes as a total surprise when you eventually chance upon the hideaway camp.

    The tranquility of nature, the silence of the night, the animals sounds are addictive. The Kgalagadi is empty land yet home to an astonishing animal kingdom. One of the world’s great wilderness areas, the scale of its beauty reaches deep. When the sky lights up pink, gold and red, anything more would be too much.

    Unabridged version published in Wild magazine Spring 2011.