And we’re back! I don’t think we’ll ever tire of visiting wild Africa, namely national parks in Namibia, Botswana, and now South Africa. Someday, I hope we’ll get to other parts of the continent, but I’m nowhere near finished with these. Our first stop this year was the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in the Kalahari Desert, a new place for us.
A Bit of History
The “transfrontier” part of the name refers to the fact that the park extends across the border of Botswana and South Africa, combining two adjoining parks: the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park in South Africa and the Gemsbok National Park in Botswana.
Can you guess what antelope is prevalent here? Go ahead, guess.
Locals pushed to designate the area as a park to conserve the wildlife. The wildlife is here because of man-made boreholes put in to sustain troops during WWI when South Africa was expected to invade South West Africa (now Namibia) in this region. The invasion did not take place here, and after the war, authorities subdivided the land and gave it to farmers in exchange for keeping the boreholes in good repair.
Unfortunately, it turns out the Kalahari Desert doesn’t make great farmland. On the other hand, the boreholes are a boon to wildlife.
Camping in the Park
South Africa and Botswana enacted this joint venture in 1999, but different campgrounds continue to be regulated and run by the different countries. In general, South Africa tends their campgrounds, providing power and functioning ablution blocks, gas, wi-fi, and a store with essentials. The campgrounds are fenced to keep predators out. Botswana campgrounds, on the other hand, are not tended, have no power, wi-fi, or other services; although, most have showers and sinks with running water, a wonderful thing in this parched environment. Oh . . . and Botswana’s campgrounds are not fenced. Lions are free to share your tent if they choose to do so. Of course, you’re free to tell them “no,” but good luck with that.
You can stay in Botswana campgrounds and purchase gas and sundries from the South African facilities. And if you stay in the more remote Botswana campgrounds, you’re supposed to check in and out at the South African campground office so someone knows you’re out there.
We spent 10 nights in the park at Botswana campgrounds. (It was supposed to be 11 nights, but we were delayed in Windhoek because of British Airways’ abominable customer service in Johannesburg. This is our first and last flight with British Airways.)
The Daily Dozen – Day 01
Twelve photos carefully curated from the day, which was really just a half day. We signed out of Namibia and entered the Transfrontier Park at Mata-Mata. We lowered the air pressure in our tires as requested, got gas and our handy-dandy Official Information Guide, and drove the sandy road to Botswana’s Polentswa campground.
High temp: 104°F (we have a thermometer in the truck this year)
9 PM: 86°F
The two main roads in this park follow dry river beds, aka ephemeral rivers. The Auob River extends along the route from Mata-Mata to Twee Rivieren. Rumor has it the river floods every 100 years; although, part of it runs every 11 years or so. The Nossob River, which stretches from Union’s End to Two Rivers, floods every 50 years. You can see the path of the river beds by the green trees that grow there, and perhaps by the grazing and browsing herd animals that somehow nibble a living off the patchy, dry, barely there vegetation.
Between and around these river beds are fossilized sand dunes. They’re old sand dunes that don’t shift and change anymore, and because they are stable, shrubs and grasses have taken hold, creating what is called the “duneveld.” Few animals spend time in the duneveld, but some wander through it.
We journeyed today from Mata-Mata, to Kamqua, to Dikbaardskolk, to Polentswa campground, rolling into the campground just before curfew and dark. This is what took us so long:
How fun to be greeted by one of my favorite colorful birds, the lilac-breasted roller. We see these quite often here, but that doesn’t make them less special or spectacular.
Giraffe and Springbok
Multi-species mingling. Mixed herds. Savanna smorgasbord. Whatever we call it, this epitomizes Africa for me; it neatly demonstrates the abundance and variety of wildlife. Plus, these are two of my favorite animals. (Yes, I have many favorites.)
Name that Antelope!
“I’d recognize that silhouette anywhere!” (Say “silly-ow-et.”)
Can you name that antelope? I sure can. That is a red hartebeest.
Now, can you identify that quote?
The King and His Entourage
There’s no welcome like a royal welcome . . . from the King of beasts.
This guy enjoyed a loooooong, leisurely drink at a waterhole. Unlike other animals, he didn’t stop every so often to look around. He just lapped, and lapped, and lapped to his thirst’s content. He looked nicely healthy, but then we noticed a slight limp as he walked.
Following a short but safe distance behind was the King’s entourage.
We often see jackals trailing lions. Bold ones might dash in and steal morsels if the lions are busy or distracted, but mostly they seem to wait patiently for the crumbs left behind. I’ve come to think of them as mascots, hoping their lion team will make a successful kill, always optimistic and enthusiastic, but generally disdained by those they cheer for.
Unlike the lion, this jackal frequently stopped drinking to have a look around.
And then . . .
So, we were driving along our pleasant sand road—a road that likely would have made me and Mike nervous on our first trip to Africa—starting to calculate how far we had to go and how much time we had to get there. You’re not supposed to drive in the park after sunset, and here the period between sunset and full-on dark is the length of a sneeze. We’d never been here before, and we didn’t exactly know where the campground was. Also, we were to check in at the South African campground office at Nossob, and we didn’t know how late someone would be there.
But it was still fairly early, so we figured we had some watching/dawdling time.
Good thing, because we saw several cars parked just ahead. You know what that means.
Surprise, surprise, they were at a waterhole. We pulled in to join them.
Two lionesses and three cubs snoozed, stretched out in the shade, as they tend to do all day long, rendering that waterhole useless to other animals. These were the youngest cubs I had ever seen.
One ornery cub gnawed on and tugged at a sibling that ignored the nuisance. The runt of the three nuzzled mama and tried to nurse.
All of them panted heavily. It was hot.
After a while, Auntie got up and moved out to a different shady spot on the road, literally lying in the vehicle tracks on the road. Mama followed soon after, leaving just the three cubs there where we continued to watch them.
Time ticked on and away, and we thought we should make tracks ourselves.
Easier said than done. Auntie, Mama, and a third lioness had the road good and blocked.
Mike squeaked around with two tires up on the sandy berm along the road and the other two mere inches from paws and tails. “Am I good?” he asked, as I hung my head out the window to see. “Good.”
The lions didn’t even open their eyes. As we crawled past, I noticed a hartebeest carcass dragged into the shade under a tree.
We checked in at Nossob, got Rand (South African money) and gas, and continued north, the road noticeably less traveled.
The Highlight of the Day: Bat-eared Foxes
To date, Mike and I have only seen bat-eared foxes in truck headlights during night drives. The views were relatively brief; the foxes were hunting and thus moving; and some of the views were rather distant.
Here it was daylight, and this guy/gal stood relatively still. See the beautiful, fluffy fox tail.
And not just one, but a pair. Check out those bat ears. Sometimes they’re up, looking fairly normal, and sometimes they’re flat like comical Yoda ears.
Are you noting the superhero eye masks?
Oh, and not just a pair, but a whole family! In all, three adults and five kits.
Wouldn’t you love to see inside that den?
What a view, eh? And such a pretty, seldom-heard-of animal.
The First Night
As I said, we rolled into the campground just before curfew and dark, slightly anxious about ever finding it, given the poor signage. Sure, we had our map and GPS. They didn’t help. We still weren’t sure we were where we were supposed to be until we saw the A-frames at the campsites. That meant setting up camp and making dinner in the very brief twilight and dark. Three campsites at the Polentswa Campground. No other campers. No fences.
Shine that light around, will you? See any eyes shining back at you?