In the Kgalagadi

November 13, 2013 - Sossusvlei, Namibia

7 and 8 November (Thursday and Friday)

Firstly, an apology.  One or two mistakes crept into the last posting.
Firstly, Kirri is a meerkat (a suricate), not a mongoose.  And secondly, Nossop is, of course on the Eastern side of the S African section of the Kalahari Transfrontier Park, so we travelled up the Eastern side of the Park.

Now we were about to depart on the most beautiful and exciting drive of our trip.  We were to cross the dunes from East to West across the open arms of the ‘V’, stopping in the middle at Bitterpan Camp, a small bush camp accessible only in 4x4 vehicles.
The Kalahari is one of the youngest deserts on earth, and was formed by sand blowing from the Namib Desert, one of the oldest deserts in the world.  Because there is so little vegetation in the Namib, the dunes there move, but the dunes in the Kalahari all have plants growing on them, so they are static and do not move.  All the dunes in the Kalahari run from NE to SW, and are steeper on the SW side, so we were going to cross these rolling red dunes more or less from NE to the West. 
The ride was like a roller coaster going up the gentler slope and then down the steep side of the dunes.  We drove  through very soft sand and spectacular landscapes.  There was not much game to be seen, but all that we saw looked wonderful against the colours of the Kalahari.  This is a harsh land, but still full of life.  There are birds everywhere, and the air is filled with the calls of cicadas and other insects and tiny creatures.
We arrived at Bitterpan, most desolate and beautiful of all the camps we visited.  We had the camp to ourselves as there are only 4 chalets there and we were 3 couples and one single person.  Bitterpan is unfenced, but the chalets and showers and toilets are on a kind of  a walkway which is fenced.  There had been lion around the camp the day before, but we saw none.  However, we did see the footprints in the sand just outside our chalets.
We had a wonderful braai under the stars - Colin made one of his famous braai breads and we had some of our home made boerewors (a kind of sausage speciality unique to S Africa).  The evenings in the Kalahari are particularly special.  As the sun sets, the sand grouse come in to the waterholes and one hears their distinctive ’kelkiewyn’ call as they  arrive in large numbers.  Then the barking gekkoa (a kind of lizzard) start up a cacophony of loud clicking and grating noises as they pop their heads out of their holes in the ground for a split second and then disappear again.  They make this huge racket but no-one ever sees them.  And then the stars come out.  What a sight they are with no ambient light to spoil their glory.
The next morning we had to complete the dune crossing to reach Mata Mata, the most northerly camp on the Auob River (the river forming the Western side of the Park).  The Auob flows about once every 20 years, but it is still evident that there is water underground as the camel thorns grow in the dry river bed, and there are little green plants everywhere.  The game in the riverbed is prolific - lots of springbok, gemsbok (oryx) and wildebees, as well as jakkal, bat eared foxes, meerkats (suricates) and ground squirrels.
Anyhow, this part of the dune crossing proved to be far more taxing than the previous day’s.  Deep, deep sand and steep, steep dunes.  One dune had us trying 4 times in various gears and with longer and longer run-ups.  But we made it!  The other 2 vehicles had the benefit of watching us, and battled up the dune.  Great jubilation when we were all safely over the top!
When we had completed the crossing we stopped at a waterhole where 2 lion were lounging in the shade right next to the carpark. While watching them, we noticed a little pearl spotted owl in his/her nest in a hole in the tree.  Terry got a lovely picture of the little head peeping out of the hole.  At this waterhole there is also a resident jakkal who feeds on the many doves who come there to drink.  We watched him make a few passes at the doves, but without success.  We were told that his/her success rate is about one in five.
When we arrived at Mata Mata in the heat of the midday sun, we found a camp site which had some shade, parked our cars, changed and leapt into the pool.  What bliss these pools are at this time of year!

9 and 10 November (Saturday and Sunday)
Our last 2 days in the Kgalagadi were spent at Mata Mata which the authorities seem to be in the process of renovating.  They are building new chalets and safari tents as well as upgrading the little shop which sells all the necessities.  The pool is clean and very inviting.  We went on drives early in the morning and in the late afternoon.  The gates of the camp open at 5.30 am and close at 7.30 pm.  The middle of the day is very hot, so we spent those times around the pool or resting at our camp site.  The evenings together with friends were very special.
On the game drives, we saw big herds of springbok as well as gemsbok, but also large herds of giraffe are to be found around Mata Mata.  On a drive with Colin and Sue, we came across a pair of ostrich with a brood of about 16 very young chicks  moving across the plains.  Suddenly, the female started running across the veld, her head down and wings waving.  Then we noticed another ostrich couple with their (rather larger) chicks a bit further up the road on the opposite side.  The second female then saw the first female charging across the veld towards her.  She then took off towards the first ‘mommy’ ostrich.  The two mothers then met and a stupendous fight took place.  Both females were desparately protecting their chicks.  In the meanwhile the two dads kept their broods herded together.  Anyhow, it wasn’t long before the first Mrs Ostrich decided to rush off back to her chicks. Then we noticed that the second couple were in even more danger of losing one of their brood as a jakkal appeared out of the bush.  Both parents now chased the jakkal off, but the chicks now had no protective Dad around and they wandered off in all directions.  Jakkal danger averted, the parents now had a job collecting up their scattered brood.

We went back to the water hole where the dove-catching jakkal hung out and saw him/her catch a dove and take off into the dunes with his/her catch. Also saw brown hyena at the same water hole and many vultures.  Every second tree seemed to have a vulture’s nest on top of it.  We didn’t see it, but others in our party saw the jakkal actually nip the hyena’s tail and then dash off around the water hole.

Our last night a Mata Mata was our last night together.  We had a slap up meal with champagne,, Liz’s chilli con carne, with crème caramel to follow, and  then a long evening with Sambucca brought by Ruth. 

On Sunday morning we all packed up and bid each other a fond farewll.  The Joneses, Beards and Ruth set off South to Twee Rivieren Camp  and home while we went through the border post at Mata Mata and left S Africa for Namibia.

The road from Mata Mata into Namibia follows the course of the dry Auob River bed.  There are a few very remote farms dotted in among the scrub and dunes,  Some look quite prosperous, but it must be a very lonely life.  The farms are, of necessity, enormous, and the main livestock seem to be sheep and goats.  Game is also farmed as well as cattle.  Crops are minimal, as it is so dry.  Added to this, they are in the middle of a drought, which followed several very good years a couple of years ago.  Our destination was Red Dunes Camp which we had read about.  It is a camp high up on the top of  dune on a farm bordering the Kgalagadi.  However, when we got there it was scorching hot and we knew only too well that a camp on top of a dune would be very exposed.  So we elected to camp at the farm.  The farmer, Piet Liebenberg, had been a teacher and lecturer at the local teachers’ college, but had been disillusioned after Namibian independence and had started farming.  A delightful fellow, and we had a grassy camp site all to ourselves with excellent ablutions, and everything we needed. There was a garden full of butterflies that appeared to be sucking on the moisture in the soil left after the sprinklers had been turned off.   After snoozing through he heat of the day, we had a lovely evening under the stars and then early to bed.


At Bitterpan


Paul and lesley:
November 15, 2013
Hello Terry and Mary, all sounds like a big adventure.
Terry how is the fridge working and the new dual battery system? i hope my cooler box is doing its job and keeping the beers cold, remember its the important things like beer that keep you cool in the desert :-)
Mary and Terry:
November 15, 2013
Don't ask. We'll tell you the story when we get back!
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