KGALIGADI TRIP REPORT ROOIPUTS, POLENTSWA Part 1, FEB2013




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    Default KGALIGADI TRIP REPORT ROOIPUTS, POLENTSWA Part 1, FEB2013

    KGALIGADI TRANSFRONTIER PARK

    PART 1: Rooiputs and Polentswa.

    Trip report: February 2013.

    INTRODUCTION:

    Camping in the Botswana side of the Kgaligadi Transfrontier Park (KTP) has been on my wish list for ages. We camped here for the first week of this holiday–Part 1 of the report.

    We then stayed in some of the wilderness camps on the SA side for the second week-Part 2.

    It is surprising how long it has taken us to get around to camping at Rooiputs and Polentswa and I think this applies to many other enthusiasts. Why we have spent time exploring many more distant wild places before visiting here is inexplicable. Hopefully this report will persuade those of you in the same position to remedy this and perhaps make your planning a little easier. Many people camp regularly in the main camps at KTP. May I suggest extending your wilderness experience a step further by rather camping here. There are no problems with road access and even towing an off-road caravan would be fine. I do note that access is limited to 4x4s, however it is not really apparent why this is the case.

    Camping at Rooiputs or Polentswa is definitely an ideal choice for first time bush campers. Not that the camps are not wild and not that the facilities are much, but there is always the bail-out option of the relatively large S.A. camps nearby, with their shops and fuel stations. Other than the occasional jackal, there appear to be no nuisance animals in the camps such as those found at Moremi and other reserves. No aggressive baboons, hyenas, elephants or honey badgers. These 2 camps provide a soft landing for first timers.

    There are no border crossings and customs to worry about as KTP is managed as a true transfrontier park. In the newish admin building at Twee Rivieren/Two Rivers (TR), the SA and Botswana officials are across the entrance hall from each other and all that needs to be produced are your booking confirmation documents. No passports or visas are needed. The only time these formalities are needed is if you intend exiting the park on the Botswana side, for instance via Mabuasehube or Kaa gates. Then the border post formalities must be completed here at TR.

    Make no mistake this is lion country and the chances are very good that they will be passing through your camp at some stage, so one needs to be on one’s toes especially during the dark hours. It really feels like a privilege to spend time right in amongst all these animals, knowing that mere km away, most other visitors to the park are behind locked gates and fences. The early mornings, evenings and nights in the wild provide my favourite memories. It is always a very special experience to sit and relax around a campfire at night with a cold beer in the hand and listen to the sounds of the African night, with no man-made restrictions between yourself and whatever else may be out there. The predominant sounds here are the clinking calls of the hundreds of barking geckos, Mike’s “laughing” geckos. His other beaut was “laughing” goshawks. As long as there is lots of laughing it is fine by me. Yet another pearler from Mike was “Polenta”. You are totally relaxed on the one hand, but with all your senses hyper-alert on the other. Without a regular dose of this type of bush camping my inner flame begins to flicker and dim.

    We have visited this park on 4 previous occasions, including a trip starting in Mabuasehube some years ago. Our last visit was in Feb 2010 on the way to Namibia. Because the park had been so beautifully decked out in green that Feb, after good rainfalls, we resolved to try and emulate this experience at the same time of year. There had been good rains in 2011 and also last year, but this preconception of ours was dashed by an exceptionally dry and very hot Feb this year. According to the camp manager Willem Philander at Bitterpan, he had measured a bare 10mm of rain, compared to the average 100mm in Feb. We occasionally witnessed distant lightning and thunderstorms, mainly to the north in Botswana, but we only had a few drops of rain. Unfortunately unless March/ April brings exceptional rain, the park is going to suffer, hopefully not to the extent that prompted the mass eland migrations and deaths at the end of last year. Perhaps next time we should look at a booking in late March or early April when it might be greener and also definitely cooler.

    Part of my reason for choosing these exact dates for the trip was the fact that the moon would be waxing to become a full moon towards the middle of our trip. The very bright full moon was great for the camping section of the trip, enabling us to use minimal artificial light in camp at night and thus preserving our night vision. It also allowed for good moonlit game viewing during the second week at the S.A. chalets with their nearby waterholes, although most of them are now floodlit. The nights were mainly cloudless but unfortunately the bright moon does tend to obscure the brilliance of the stars in the night sky, which was the only disadvantage.

    We gathered that conditions would be much the same at Rooiputs and Polentswa as we had experienced in Mabua and Central Kalahari Game Reserve in the past. Everything turned out to be much as anticipated and we were very happy both at Rooiputs and Polentswa. I think there is far more animal activity in these camps, close to the river beds, than is found in the Mabua and Kaa sections in Botswana. On the other hand one does miss the isolation of the pan campsites, where one sees far fewer other vehicles and fellow campers.

    Our trip-mates could unfortunately only join us for the first week or so. One week in the Kalahari is not enough for me, so I extended our trip with a further week in the chalets of the wilderness camps on the South African side, including 2 camps that we had not visited before. It definitely makes sense to camp first before the relative luxury of the chalets with their en-suite showers and flush toilets. We were accompanied by my younger sister Safron and her husband Mike Gluckman. More enthusiastic and helpful travelling companions you could not wish for.

    LOGISTICS:

    Bookings were made in early April 2012 in order to ensure we obtained the camps we wanted. Booking on the S.A. side is very easily done via the National Parks online booking facility as most of us know. The popular camps such as Grootkolk, Urikaruus and to a slightly lesser extent, Kieliekrankie and Gharabab, fill up rapidly once bookings open 11 months ahead of time. However new policies are due to be announced soon, I suggest keeping an eye on the SA National Parks website.

    Botswana is a different story altogether. After repeated attempts over a few days, I was eventually able to get through to the Botswana Dept. of Wildlife and National Park’s (DWNP) office in Gaberone and make a telephonic booking for Rooiputs and Polentswa, followed by an email. Payment was made via the credit card form they sent us and the confirmatory documents were emailed to us within a few days.

    Rooiputs is only about 25km from Twee Rivieren (TR) and it is relatively simple to include the very handy shop there on a game drive every second day or so. This was not for food supplies but for bags of ice and 5l plastic bottles of still water for drinking. The ice is brought in from outside and is fine for drinks. Even with a vehicle freezer it was very difficult to maintain a sufficient supply of cold drinking water and cold beers in the extreme heat. With the long evenings around the camp, cold beers slipped down like liquid silk! There is of course no water available at either of the Botswana campsites and in the heat we were drinking up to about 3l of water per person a day. Even on the S.A. side the water in the camps is too full of minerals to drink. We would buy a few bags of ice cubes, two in the freezer and the rest into cooler boxes to keep the beers, soft drinks and water cold. At Polentswa, we similarly used Nossob for re-supply, although it is further away from camp at about 60km. We were able to shower adequately with 5l per person per day using the 5l water bottles to measure the volume allowance. Fortunately my vehicle has an 85l water tank and we also had two 20l plastic jerry-can type containers with taps, all filled with palatable drinking water. The salty water obtainable at the S.A. camps is only suitable for washing up and showering. Altogether we were using 8 to 10l of water per person per day. My vehicle freezer worked excellently despite the heat, probably because we tried not to open it more than twice per day.

    Later as the freezer became a little emptier, we were able to freeze small bottles of water which were then placed in the veggie and perishables cooler box to make them last longer in the heat. If mixed with squash cold drink mix, these can be drunk later. Tomatoes lasted a full week but other green salad ingredients had no chance. Carrots, onions, potatoes and even pineapples lasted very well. As you can surmise, good food makes up an important ingredient of an enjoyable trip for us.

    The S.A. camps all have efficient gas fridges and small freezers which helped particularly with the drinks. The days were very hot indeed and car thermometers were reaching towards 50 degrees. Fortunately a dry heat, nothing that wet towels and masterly inactivity during the midday heat could not solve. On the SA side we were showering 3 or 4 times a day just to keep cool. At Bitterpan a young (by my standards) German lady insisted on walking around the communal facilities in her rather sheer bra and panties in the heat of the day. It required all my willpower to ensure continual eye to eye contact and not to allow my gaze to wander. I was not only sweating from the heat, much to Anne’s disapproval. They are a little different are they not?

    We slept in our very easy to erect Turbotent (ground tent). My sister had only previously slept in the wild in a hired trailer rooftop tent on a Moremi visit. Thus it was with some trepidation that they collected a spare ground tent from us when they visited over Christmas. Unfortunately when we attempted to erect their tent at Rooiputs we then discovered that this was the tent with a separate bag for its tent poles, still lying at home. After just a few “I told you we should have tested the tent”, Mike organised a very satisfactory sleeping arrangement for them in the back of their Prado. This involved amongst other things, folding up the back seat, a number of ammo and cooler boxes to level out the sleeping surface and a double air mattress. Eventually I think Safron was happier with this arrangement, especially when it became apparent that lions were prone to come calling in the dark of night!

    Fuel is available at TR, Nossob and Mata Mata in the park. They have 50ppm diesel and it is about 50c a litre more expensive than outside the park at R12.95. There are prominent notices at the fuel stations that tyres are to be deflated to 1.6 bar and the petrol station attendants will do this for you and they have decent pressure gauges. These low pressures are essential for the very corrugated main routes and also when one uses the very sandy minor dune roads to places like Bitterpan.

    The other “essential” I always take with me is wild birdseed which we used to good effect to attract birds in the various camps. The birds are great entertainment when whiling away the very hot middle of the day in camp. I sincerely hope no avid conservationists regard this as a poor conservation practice.

    As a camera rest on the vehicle window, instead of a sandbag, I used one of those foam pool noodles, with a slot I cut along its length to fit onto the window and this worked very well. One can close the window with the sponge in place, keeping out the dust and keeping in the cool aircon air. I really enjoyed my photography on this trip but am a little frustrated with the quality of the photos from my Canon SX30 IS “superzoom” camera, especially when zooming in. It is convenient, light and quick to deploy but with more time on my hands for lessons in the near future, I am going to have to invest in a SLR camera and some lenses.

    I had fitted a seed net to the front of my vehicle, particularly for the track to Bitterpan, but this proved totally unnecessary because of the unusually dry conditions. Neither of us suffered any punctures and I don’t think any major recovery gear other than a spade, compressor and puncture repair kit is needed. My Land Cruiser, a 4,2l diesel 76 series station wagon, has now served us well on a number of trips. Mods include a 185l long range fuel tank, Old Man Emu suspension, aux. battery and Engel freezer, 85l water tank etc. The whole trip could be carried out with any 4x4 SUV, as not much clearance is required, except perhaps for the tracks to and from Bitterpan. A sedan car would however rattle to pieces on the severely corrugated roads. I see that the parks personnel now drag a pyramidal frame behind a tractor with 3 large tractor tyres underneath, to try and smooth out the corrugations. The newly repaired road from TR towards Nossob is now open and improves matters somewhat as well.

    A good practice in the S.A. side of the park is the regulation whereby one is required to leave your entry permit document at the office in each camp every time you go out for a drive. If you do not return within a couple of hours after gate closing time, a vehicle will go out searching for you. On your return you then pick the permit up again, enabling them to monitor your movements. They also confirm with your next camp by radio when to expect you when changing camps.
    Landcruiser 76SW.

    “Great journeys are memorable not so much for what you saw, but for where you camped”.

    At least "Once a year go someplace you have never been before" Delai Lama.

    TransAfrica 2015/2016 blog www.slowdonkey.com

  2. #2
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    Some photographic "tasters" as an introduction.
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    Landcruiser 76SW.

    “Great journeys are memorable not so much for what you saw, but for where you camped”.

    At least "Once a year go someplace you have never been before" Delai Lama.

    TransAfrica 2015/2016 blog www.slowdonkey.com

  3. #3
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    TRAVELLING SCHEDULE:

    PART 1.

    16/2/2013 East London - Molopo Lodge. 1195km 11hr 30min.
    17/2 Molopo - Rooiputs. 80km

    ROOIPUTS: Nights of 17, 18, and 19/2/2013.

    20/2 Rooiputs to Nossob (1 night).
    21/2 Nossob to Polentswa.

    POLENTSWA: Nights of 21, 22, and 23/2/2013.

    Note Distances.
    # Upington to Molopo 193km 1hr45min.
    # Ashkam to Molopo 13km
    # Molopo to Twee Rivieren (T.R.) 60km 25min
    #T.R. to Rooiputs 20km
    #Rooiputs to Nossob 140km
    #Nossob to Polentswa 62km
    #Polentswa to Unions End 72km


    PART 2.

    24/2 and 25/2 Grootkolk.
    26/2 and 27/2 Bitterpan.
    28/2 Urikaruus.
    01/3 Uri. to Hanover 615km 10hr.
    02/3 Hanover to E.L. 500km 5hr30min.

    GETTING THERE:

    16/02:

    Up at 04H00 and on the road by 6H00.

    I still had to load the Engel vehicle freezer and secure it in the vehicle. It had been running on maximum overnight on 220v, freezing some plastic water bottles for the perishables cooler box. I also still needed to pack the perishables from the home fridge into the cooler box. We use 3 thickly insulated Safari cooler boxes of differing sizes and find them very effective and tough. I also had to unplug and roll up the electrical lead and disconnect the Ctek battery charger from the auxiliary battery. This had been charging overnight and is the best way to ensure that you start your trip with a fully charged aux. battery. I always stow the lead and the battery charger within the vehicle in case needed on the trip. Finally some ice into the other 2 cooler boxes, the smaller for drinks on the road, the larger to chill the beers and drinks for that night. This is my routine before setting off on this sort of camping trip.

    Anne was busy making fresh sandwiches for the road. We traditionally have crispy bacon, stirred fried egg and mayonnaise sandwiches for padkos.

    We were booked into a luxury tent at Molopo Lodge between Upington and the KTP, a very long day indeed. It would take us 11hr 30min to cover the 1195km trip that day. Good going in my donkey, fairly heavily loaded, with the back seat folded up for more packing space nearer to the center of the vehicle. On the roof we carry 2 ammo boxes in a waterproof cover. One containing spares for the vehicle and the other, my larger comprehensive medical kit. The day to day medical kit was stowed within the vehicle. The only other items on the roof rack were 2 gas bottles, spade and highlift jack. No jerry cans needed. I try to load as little on the roof as possible. The 80l water tank in the vehicle and the two 20l plastic jerry-can type water containers with built in taps, had been filled the evening before. No palatable drinking water is available anywhere in the park because their borehole water is so salty, but you can obtain water suitable for showering or washing up. Bottled still water to drink can be bought from the shops in the largest 3 camps.

    Anne and I share the driving and if I feel dozy she will take over for a stint.

    The route we followed was our tried and tested one via Queenstown, turning off the N6 to Sterkstroom, Molteno, Steynsburg to Middelburg on the R56. The R56 is reasonable, albeit fairly narrow with some potholes in places. At Middelburg we joined the superb N10 and drove on to Upington via Hanover, De Aar, Britstown, Prieska, Marydale and Groblershoop. There were about 3 stop/goes as we approached Upington. This section to Upington took us 9hr for the 995km. From Upington we took the R360 to Molopo Lodge where we were to spend the night in chalets after meeting up with Safron and Mike who had driven up from Cape Town over 2 days. Travelling through the Karroo it was gratifying to see significant numbers of the endangered blue crane, our national bird. The first pale chanting goshawk was seen at De Aar and the first sociable weaver’s nests on the telephone poles near Prieska.

    With my retirement due in about 4 months I sincerely hope that we never have to submit ourselves to these long and exhausting driving days again. By the time we arrived at Molopo I was feeling like a zombie.

    MOLOPO LODGE:

    Many forum members will have stayed here in the past, but this was our first stay and we were very happy with it. I would definitely stay here again. It is a better option than Upington as it is 190km closer to KTP, TR being only 60km and half an hour away. We had originally booked the luxury tents but because of the severe heat the proprietors suggested the rondavel chalets instead, a very good idea. The prices were the same.

    We had a good look around the lodge. It has an atmospheric pub and restaurant with a nearby swimming pool that we made full use of in the heat. The grounds are well kept and every effort is made to keep the greenery and lawns in good nick. Most of the numerous campsites had good shade and grass and each has its own electrical point and good ablutions. The luxury tents were spread around the periphery and I must agree that they looked very hot with many not having much shade. The chalets were comfortable and functional with en-suite bathrooms and aircon. They do not have their own kitchenettes although they are stocked with crockery and cutlery. Each has its own braai facility. We used an adjacent camping A-frame for our meal that night. We had spaghetti with Safron’s delicious Bolognaise sauce. Precooked and frozen to minimise the hassle factor after an exhausting days travel.

    Costs here were R250 pppn in a chalet and the wholesome English breakfast the next morning was good value at R65 pp. Camping was advertised at R300 for 2 people, plus R100 per person extra to a maximum of 6 persons per campsite. Buy your wood for the park here, but take along a large bag for storage as it is sold in bundles at R15 each. It is drier and better quality camel-thorn than that sold in the park. They also sell ice and frozen meat, I noticed some Karan steaks which looked good. They have a fully equipped fuel station here and I think I am correct in saying that it is cheaper than in the park.

    Nearby accommodation includes the Kalahari Sands Lodge and campsite, a little closer to Askam and some other lodges closer to KTP. A new addition is the Kgaligadi Lodge, perched high up on a dune overlooking the tar road into the park. The chalets look smart, if not a little exposed, as the trees have not grown sufficiently yet. They advertise camping and a restaurant as well.
    Landcruiser 76SW.

    “Great journeys are memorable not so much for what you saw, but for where you camped”.

    At least "Once a year go someplace you have never been before" Delai Lama.

    TransAfrica 2015/2016 blog www.slowdonkey.com

  4. #4
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    CAMPING AT ROOIPUTS AND POLENTSWA.

    COSTS:

    Fuel: Low sulphur diesel in the park costs R 12.96/l, 50c/l more expensive than outside the park.

    Rooiputs and Polentswa are still run by DWNP and have not been privatised so costs are reasonable. The park fees match those of the South African side so are lower than the rest of Botswana.

    Total costs for park entry, vehicle entry and camping at the 2 camps for 3 nights each, came to Pula 624.00 in total per person. The initial deposit was half of the final fee and is payable within 2 weeks of making the booking. The payment of the second half of the bill is due about 6 weeks later.

    Breaking down the fees-
    Park entry fees: Pula 40.00 per person per day x 6 days P240.00.
    Camping: P60.00 per person per day. X6 days P360.00.
    Vehicle entry: twice? At P12.00 x2 P24.00.


    ROOIPUTS:

    CODES KTROI 01 to 06

    This very basic campsite is situated on the Botswana side of the KTP, just across the Nossob River, which here forms the unfenced border between SA and Botswana. It lies about 400m east of the Rooiputs waterhole which is in the bed of the Nossob River. This river very seldom has any surface water but is a rich source of underground water. The turnoff to the campsite, 25km north on the TR-Nossob road, is well signposted and is also the turnoff to the Mabuasehube route which passes through the campsite.

    There are 6 campsites in all, 1, 2 and 3 have great views to the west and face away from the new private lodge which lies to the east. The construction of this lodge appears to be almost complete. Campsites 4, 5 and 6 face to the east. The new lodge buildings intrude considerably on the previously great views from sites 5 and 6. The sites are arranged in a large circle and are about 100 to 200m apart. This is sufficient for reasonable privacy.

    We stayed in 1, which shared ablutions with 2. Camp no 1 is closest to the Nossob River and the Rooiputs waterhole is probably about 400m from it as the crow flies. This waterhole is not visible from the campsite itself. This site had 4 fairly large camel-thorns for shade but only 3 of them are level enough for ground tents. The shared ablutions are about 30m away, between the 2 campsites. This is quite some distance in the dark. As in Mabua and CKGR these consist of sturdy wooden poles pallisaded in a circle, surrounding the separate shower area and pit lavatory. Equidistant from the tents and the ablutions is a fairly substantial A-frame structure on a large concrete slab which provides very welcome shade and a place to set up your chairs and tables and to prepare your meals. We did pack nearly everything into the vehicles before retiring, because come nightfall there were jackals sniffing around the camp. We did not appear to be visited by any hyenas or honey badgers and animals were really not much of a nuisance in camp, but we did not want to tempt them. We did not notice any of the scorpions that we were warned about. The A-frame is large enough to pitch a bow tent underneath its roof, but we felt that this would impinge too much on our living space. It was in the shade of the A-frame that we would take refuge in the heat of the day and in the evenings. There is a concrete block just in front of the A-frame for braais. There are no rubbish bins and you are expected to cart all your rubbish out yourselves. Just to emphasise again there is no water at all and of course no electrical points.

    At Rooiputs water was originally laid on and the plumbing is still present in places, including 2 large washbasins with empty taps. Apparently the water supply came to a sad end some years ago when the water stand collapsed and the camp water tank was destroyed. The shower has an overhead pipe originally carrying the shower rose and we used this to suspend our “canvas” shower bucket. We used a nylon rope as a pulley so that it was simple to fill the bucket shower and then adjust it to the desired height. The long drop toilet was in a rather unsavoury condition and we rather dug our own hole in the soft sand behind some scrub, screening us from the neighbouring camp. We used our fold-up toilet seat on a metal frame and all seemed to enjoy their open air contemplations. We kept the spade there and after burning the toilet paper in the hole, would just shovel in a little sand leaving it fresh for the next visitor. Whilst on the subject it is also a good idea to bury all the ash from your fires before vacating camp.

    There is apparently a waterhole for the new lodge in the inter-dune valley between the lodge and the eastern campsites but I was not able to physically make out its exact location. Certainly it seemed to attract a lot of game and they appeared to graze their way along the side of camp no 1 before they went down into the valley to the presumed site of the waterhole. This added considerably to the entertainment around no 1 and in the evenings there were usually fairly large herds of wildebeest and some springbok grazing within 20 to 50m from our camp. For some this campsite may have the disadvantage of providing a route for lions attracted by the nearby prey. This waterhole is still new but I think it is going to change the pattern of animal movements around Rooiputs camp for the better. This is about the only advantage the new lodge will offer campers in my opinion.

    I think campsite no 2 is just as attractive as 1 and the view downwards from its higher location is perhaps even better than campsite 1. From both, one has a view down into a bit of an inter-dune valley with grassland and acacia trees. No 2 has two large, shady camel-thorns adjacent to each other and there seemed to be enough shade for 3, perhaps 4 tents, although they would all be right next to each other, not great if snorers are present. In no. 1 the tents could be pitched a reasonable distance apart. Ultimately I think there is very little difference between sites 1 and 2 and would be very happy with either. One would just shade 2, as it is on the periphery and a little closer to the action.

    Site 3 has a single large shade tree and is probably not suitable for larger groups. It also has a good view from its more elevated position.

    On the opposite side of the circle, to the east, are the other 3 sites. Site 4 is the best with a good view down another inter-dune valley to the east. The new lodge buildings are also not directly in your line of sight from 4. Sites 5 and 6 have very little in the way of shade trees and are clearly smaller sites and here one would probably need to pitch your tent under the A-frame. They would be most suitable for single-tented groups. They look directly up to the lodge buildings about 300m away. The lodge buildings are on the crest of a fossil dune and the main building and about 6 of the chalets are in your direct line of sight from sites 5 and 6. Apparently there are 12 chalets in all. They are wood and thatch structures and I must concede look appropriate for this area. Being an expensive private lodge I would imagine about 5 or 6 game driving vehicles, which would have a considerable impact on game viewing in the area. With their inter-vehicle radio coms can you imagine the crowding and jostling around a predator sighting? This would negate one of the prime attractions of KTP, which had always been the lack of game viewing crowds. Having stated all of the above, I would not turn up my nose at any of these 6 campsites.

    The 2 waterholes on either side of Rooiputs, Leeuwdril and Kij Kij have always provided good predator sightings along the Nossob. In short, drives both to the north or south can be rewarding.

    At Rooiputs we first ran into Basie van Wyk, photographer. He specialises in astral photography and the arid parks. He drew our attention to a book containing a few photographs of his. This was for sale at the camp receptions and is well worth buying for its outstanding photographs selected from many photographers. It is titled The Arid Parks, Captured Experiences and is compiled by Stave Newbould and Henriette Engelbrecht. I think it can be ordered from www.capturedexperiences.com

    DIARY.

    Sun. 17/2:

    After checking through the admin buildings we entered TR camp to let down our tyres to 1.6 bar at the fuel station and visited the shop to buy ice and bottled water. Our first predator sighting was our one and only cheetah, 500m before Leeudril waterhole. We had been in the park for barely 30min. This was a fairly distant sighting of a cheetah lying in the shade. Although other visitors saw plenty more cheetahs we had no such luck. The most immediate feature was how dry everything was for Feb and there were only very isolated patches of very short green grass in the bed of the Nossob. Consequently there was much less game in the river bed than usual for Feb, although we saw some fairly decent herds of springbok, wildebeest and red hartebeest coming down to the waterholes to drink. This was to be the pattern through much of our visit.

    During our stay at Rooiputs, only 3 or 4 of the campsites were occupied. After setting up camp and discovering that the tent poles were missing, we waited for the heat of day to settle before we set off on a game drive to the north. At the very next waterhole, Kij Kij, we found 2 magnificent male lions lying right next to the road sleeping in the shade. Later on our return we were able to witness them coming down to the waterhole together for a drink, with only 1 other car present. This was the first of 12 lion encounters we were to have over the next 12 days.

    That evening there was spectacular thunder and lightning to the north, but we only had a small amount of rain, merely enough to cool things down a little. The rain actually woke me as it was coming in via the windows and I had to get up to close the widow flaps. Before I had drifted off I heard something sniffing loudly close to our tent and heard it briefly chewing at my vehicle tyres before it thankfully moved off. The Kgaligadi lions are well known for chewing and even puncturing vehicle tyres. Fortunately Anne slept on, blissfully unaware. She has been a little skrikkerig of lions, (myself too), since our prolonged encounter with them at CKGR in 2011. For the sake of peaceful camping I said nothing about this the next morning, but the tracks of a single lion through our camp were there to be seen and were remarked on by everyone. This is the usual pattern with lions, just moving through camp rather than hanging about and scaring the hell out of one.
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    Landcruiser 76SW.

    “Great journeys are memorable not so much for what you saw, but for where you camped”.

    At least "Once a year go someplace you have never been before" Delai Lama.

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    Stan look like you guys had a great time thnk you for the report and the nice pics.

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    Mon. 18/2:

    On our morning game drive saw 3 lions lying on the crest of the sand dune just south of Kij Kij waterhole, keeping it under observation, a classic Kalahari image. We took the dune road around to TR and bought some more water and ice as befitted the extremely hot, dry weather. Had a good sighting of a leopard lying in the shade not 5km from TR, apparently this leopard is seen here very regularly. If we had known how scarce leopards were to be for us on this trip, I am sure we would have spent more time with it.

    In the afternoon at Kij Kij there were now 2 lionesses lying sleeping in the shade.
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    Landcruiser 76SW.

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    Nice report thanks

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    Tues. 19/2:

    Had an excellent undisturbed nights sleep, very light drizzle during the night, relatively cool overcast morning.

    On our early morning game drive there were now 4 new lions at Kij Kij, these appeared to be sub-adult males with scrappy manes starting to appear. They appeared quite thin and hungry as occurs with young males when they are first expelled from the pride. The big advantage with staying at Rooiputs is that one can spend time at these sightings and be alone there, before the vehicles from the larger camps have arrived. On the way home we had a great close-up sighting of an African wild cat and also a hare frozen in position next to the road as if it felt immobility would render it completely invisible.

    Decent sized herds of wildebeest and springbok were passing by right next to the camp presumably towards the nearby new waterhole at the lodge. By afternoon it was hot, with temperatures well into the 40s and the only way to cool down was with a cold shower. The nights were appreciably cooler and we sometimes even had to pull up a sleeping bag. On our drive the lions were still inert, looking like my offspring after a night out. We had a second excellent wild cat sighting. KTP must surely be the best place to see these elusive felines, so similar to a domestic cat.
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    NOSSOB:

    Weds. 20/2:

    I chose to spend a transition night at Nossob. In retrospect we could easily have driven straight through to Polentswa. On the drive through we remarked again how dry the Nossob bed was for Feb and how it had affected the animal densities adversely. There were scattered herds of wildebeest, springbok and red hartebeest to be seen with small groups of gemsbok. A single large black-maned lion was selfishly lying right next to Kameelsleep waterhole. We saw reasonable numbers of raptors including a pair of magnificent martial eagles, some tawny eagles, vultures and the usual secretary birds. Overall the raptor presence was less than what we had previously experienced. The sighting of the morning was a very handsome young jackal dressed in his smartest outfit, completely unperturbed at the close proximity of the vehicle.

    We were booked into chalets 10b and c, nicely situated close to the game hide and tucked away in a quiet corner of the camp, facing the bushy area of the internal camp bush walk. These double-bedded chalets were selected by Safron and are to be recommended. After a welcome swim in the lovely pool, we spent some time at the game hide. I noticed a lanner falcon perched on a distant dead tree. My whispered warning to my travel companions to keep an eye on its efforts to capture the many Cape turtle doves coming down to drink, captured the attention of all in the hide. It made multiple unsuccessful sorties to the accompanying frantic flight of the doves, but in the heat they simply had to return to drink. There were a number of spectacular near-misses with a number of dove feathers left floating in the breeze. Watch out for this when there are doves at any Kalahari waterhole, it is most entertaining. Survival is tough out there in the Kalahari! Similar stoops were seen at Urikarus and Cubije Quap waterhole later, some of them successful. This waterhole is floodlit through the night and I later saw a pair of barn owls and a giant eagle owl flitting about on silent wings. Lions were heard roaring all around the camp through the night. In the preceding days others had experienced sightings of mating lions here as well as a cheetah and cubs.

    COSTS: CHALET FOR 2, R476 x 1 night.
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    Landcruiser 76SW.

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    POLENTSWA:

    Codes KTPOL 01 to 03.

    We spent 3 nights here as well. There are only 3 campsites here. We were in campsite no 2 and were very happy with it. These campsites are once again just east of the Nossob bed, in the Botswana section of this trans-frontier park. No 1 is the site that has been recommended most frequently, but I am not so sure. It has the advantage of being right adjacent to the huge pan, whereas 2 and 3 are set behind it, at more of a height up a fossil dune. From this elevation one has a better view of the pan to the east with only a few camel-thorns blocking off small areas. This applies most to camp no 2, no 3 has more of a restricted view because of intervening trees, but more privacy. The campsites are about 200m apart, sufficient for privacy. They have exactly the same type of facilities as at Rooiputs and of course no water at all. The shower enclosure has a high gantry and if you want to use it you have to provide your own shower. We had our own collapsible “canvas” shower bucket and rope which has to be thrown over the high gantry. At this time of the year we did not have to heat the shower water and welcomed the cold showers. It must be remembered that there are regular picnic spots along the Nossob and these all have flush toilets for those not appreciating the arrangements in these 2 camps. In our site there was enough shade for about 3 ground-tents, campsites 1 and 3 are a little smaller and more suitable for 2 tents. Unfortunately the pan was unseasonably bone-dry and on only the one evening was there a large herd of wildebeest present on it. With normal rains I feel it would be very different. Also present was the indispensable A-frame. There are jackals that scrounge around camp and it is wise to pack everything away in your vehicle at night, as the fairly frequent visiting lions and spotted and brown hyenas may also get into some of your stuff.

    About 300m from the camp, right next to the road, there is an unmarked grave on the east side of the road. It consists of a mound of the white stones of the region and a simple cross made from 2 logs wired across each other. This is the grave of Hans Schwabe, a German diamond prospector who mysteriously died here in 1958 after wandering from his vehicle, probably prospecting.

    So what were my preferences? Perhaps 1 if you are on your own, but 2 if a larger group. In fact all 3 campsites are fine but at the end of the day I would book no 2 as my first choice. I do not think that choice of campsite here requires any emphasis. Our domestic arrangements were exactly the same as at Rooiputs.

    There is camping on the SA side of KTP but only within the confines of the fences and gates of the large SA camps. As befits a trans-frontier park there is no restriction on visiting the SA side from the Botswana side. All of the game driving tracks are in SA. However the tracks into the Botswana side are restricted to those who have booked the trails and have reserved campsites in the particular sections such as Mabua and Kaa. They are not for casual game drives and are signposted as such. The beginning of the Wilderness Trail or Polentswa eco-trail starts here at Polentswa and runs right through the camp. This is a one-way circular trail and is booked exclusively to single groups and lasts a few days, striking the Nossob road again on completion of the route, near Unions End.

    COMPARING ROOIPUTS AND POLENTSWA.

    If anything we felt that we preferred Polentswa in comparison to Rooiputs, although there was really not all that much difference. Perhaps the safest answer is that one should actually stay in both, as the 2 campsites seem to compliment each other rather well. Polentswa has the advantage in that it is situated a relatively long distance from the nearest large camp, Nossob. It is 52km away and with a speed limit of 50km/hr it takes at least 2 hours to drive from Nossob at game viewing speeds. There is definitely more privacy here, further away from all the game viewing vehicles of the larger camps. The views from the Polentswa campsites are probably the better of the two, especially should the pan be green.

    Polentswa also provides good access to the end-of-the-road at Unions End, 71km away. The game viewing and waterholes were slightly better here than in the Rooiputs area. Polentswa waterhole itself seems to attract more interest from the animals than did the one at Rooiputs. The one at Rooiputs is closer to the camp. They both have their resident prides of lions who fairly regularly visit both camps.

    Although a lodge is planned on the Botswana side at Polentswa and construction is supposed to have started, it was not evident to us where it would be sited and we witnessed no evidence of any activity. I suppose one will have to wait and see what impact it will make, but it could hardly be worse than the one at Rooiputs. Whereas the lodge at Rooiputs is wood and thatch, this one is supposed to be a tented camp.

    DIARY.

    Thurs. 21/2.

    We made an early start after checking out via the Nossob office and soon passed the second well signposted Mabua turnoff about 8min north of Nossob. We reached Polentswa after about 3hr at game viewing pace. We had seen our first bat-eared foxes of the trip. For some reason both them and Cape foxes were scarce on this trip. Black-backed jackals there were aplenty. There was remarkably little general game in the Nossob. We were becoming weary of all the tree trunks in the river bed with “ears” and having our eyes caught out by the regular concrete border beacons in the Nossob as they broke the bush silhouette.

    On the very dry pan below the camp there was only 1 lonely gemsbok. We will have to visit again in the future when this pan is green with grass from decent rain, as then the view must really be spectacular. I put out some birdseed and water attracting mainly white-browed sparrow weavers, grey headed sparrows but also the odd, very pretty, violet-eared waxbill. The temperatures were well above 40C again, so that after the exertions of putting up camp and the reward of a refreshing cold shower, we were happy to laze in the shade of the A-frame and soak up the tranquillity.

    There were leopard tracks in the loose sand of the nearby road. We spent the afternoon bird watching in camp and spotted amongst others, black-chested prinias, pririt batis, red-eyed bulbul, the iconic crimson-breasted bou bou and the highlight, a juvenile gabar goshawk in its striped brown and white plumage trying to hawk the sparrow weavers. We did not go for much of a game drive as the priority was the lamb knuckle potjie. We really were enjoying the quiet rhythm of this campsite with its expansive views and were blessed with another extravagant sunset. That night there were some lions roaring in the distance, loud enough to wake us, but not close enough to push up the pulse rate. The jackals were vocal probably because of the presence of the lions. The jackal tracks were all over the camp the following morning. Absolutely clear skies with no sign of any badly needed rain.
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  11. #11
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    At Bitterpan a young (by my standards) German lady insisted on walking around the communal facilities in her rather sheer bra and panties in the heat of the day. It required all my willpower to ensure continual eye to eye contact and not to allow my gaze to wander. I was not only sweating from the heat, much to Anne’s disapproval. They are a little different are they not?


    En die man wat 'n mediese dr is se dit


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    Fri. 22/2:

    This was the last full day for Mike and Safron. They had decided to shorten their stay by one day as they needed to be back in Cape Town before Mon 25th. A German couple in their hired camper-van spent two nights in camp no 3 and some people starting the wilderness trail overnighted in 1.

    We set off on our game drive at first light that morning. The game numbers in the Nossob bed had picked up sharply this early in the morning and this was a more rewarding drive which we all enjoyed. One passes a very attractive series of waterholes on this route north along the Nossob to Unions End. The highlight was seeing some lions on a kill a little distance away in the river bed, about 10km from the Unions End waterhole. Present was a large male lion, busy feeding on the partially consumed wildebeest carcass, one lioness with a single large cub and a second lioness with 2 smaller cubs. It appeared that the females had already eaten as their bellies were bulging, but the lion allowed the 2 small cubs to join him on the carcass. We had to watch them through binoculars and they were too distant for decent photography. No matter as this was the same pride, sans cubs, seen at close quarters at the Grootkolk camp waterhole 2 days later. This was a fresh kill and the reality check was the small wildebeest calf wandering to and fro about 200m from its dead mother. I doubt if it lasted the night. This was a touching sight and again brought home the harsh realities of survival in the park.

    Anne and I had never been to Unions End before and this was our objective after a fried breakfast at the Unions End picnic spot. Unions End itself does not have much to see. No sign of the planned new lodge yet. There is really not much to see here and I think that parks could be doing a little more here to add interest to a visit to this landmark. Many will know that this marks the junction between the northwestern boundary of SA with Botswana and Namibia. Only the border with Namibia is fenced, the border between SA and Botswana is only marked with the same intermittent concrete ground beacons in the Nossob bed, as in the rest of the transfrontier park. There is a notice board with some articles of interest about the park, the same as at many of the picnic spots. Then there is a pole with arrowed signs indicating the direction and distances to cities such as Windhoek, Gabs and Johannesburg. Worth visiting, if only just to know that you have been there.

    On the way back we encountered a major driving hazard. A large truck carrying borehole drilling equipment was encountered on the narrow road where there were high banks on either side. The truck and ourselves came to a halt before Mike in front managed to squeeze past. The driver then impatiently moved the truck forward to pass me. Unfortunately he had judged it badly and there was a sturdy tree on the bank on his side of the road that limited the width of the road. Nonetheless on he inched forward until the side of his truck hooked onto the highlift jack bolted to the driver’s side of my roof rack. The air turned blue as I had to delicately manoeuvre away from his vehicle to prevent damage to the body of my vehicle. As it was, my cover for the hilift jack was badly torn. He apologised profusely probably because of my profanities but he would have received further education in old fashioned Anglo-Saxon English if he had scraped the paint and body of my vehicle. I would think this rig was on its way to drill a borehole for the new lodge at Unions End.

    That evening we spent some quiet time at the Polentswa water hole and were impressed by the level of general game activity here and how closely you could park to the waterhole.
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    Sat. 23/2:

    My night’s sleep had been interrupted by a lion roaring ever closer at about 04H00. I have learnt my lessons with lions and got up and had a pee in the dark, placed my torch at the ready and located the pack of firecrackers that sleep in the tent with me. However although the lion was close, it fortunately showed no interest in us or our camp.

    Mike and Safron left on their long journey home and it was a weird feeling being in camp all on our own, our neighbours had also moved out very early. But we had done this often enough before and we were soon enough back into our well established routine as lone campers. We were to miss our companions for their undimmed enthusiasm in the face of extremely hot, dry and dusty conditions. I find it very rewarding to mentor others and to share our enthusiasm for these types of experiences. This will definitely not be our last trip with them!

    We took a drive to the Sandkou waterhole in the direction of Nossob. We were parked in the shade observing some Gemsbok when we were favoured with the best view of a brown hyena I had experienced at that point in time. It passed with its magnificent shaggy brown mane, round shoulders and shuffling gait, not 20m from us. Fantastic, but this was by no means the last we were to see of this elusive creature. There can be no better place to see brown hyenas than Kgaligadi. Later as we drove on, a second brown hyena crossed the road just in front of us.

    On the way back, parked in the shade at Polentswa waterhole we spent some time watching the birds drinking. Seen were the common birds plus chestnut-backed finch-larks, red-headed finches, but also Namaqua sandgrouse and doves. Our patience was rewarded by a few attacks by a lanner falcon on the drinking birds. Spectacular at close quarters and it was with mixed feelings on our part that these were yet again unsuccessful. There were some tawny eagles, a bataleur and even some white-backed vultures perched nearby to further maintain our interest. Our time at the waterhole was crowned by a truly great sighting. A lone brown hyena came traipsing down the river bed to spend some time drinking not 10m from us. I had read about their strange habit of neck-biting rival hyenas and this specimen had a large number of fresh lacerations and blood on both sides of its neck. What a treat!

    We spent a long time at Polentswa water hole and were further rewarded by witnessing really impressive herds of wildebeest, red hartebeest, springbok and gemsbok slaking their thirst. These numbers belied the earlier experience of depleted levels of game. At this time and under these conditions there were clearly more animals present in the upper than the lower reaches of the Nossob. After an absorbing few hours it was back to the welcome shade of the A-frame.

    That night at about 22H00, I was just drifting off to sleep when a lion gave a deafening roar really close to our tent. We had taken the precaution of parking our vehicle just alongside our tent. We could not see the lion despite the bright moonlight but there was no stopping Anne, as it was tent zip down and a short dash to the safety of the car. I followed hot on her heels. After about 30mins with no further sign of the lion, we returned rather sheepishly to the tent and had a sound night’s sleep. The following morning we were able to confirm just how close the lion had been to the tent, with tracks in the side road not 10m from the tent and then a route just as close to the back of the tent and then down the main road towards the waterhole. It would probably been safer to stay put in the tent, but don’t tell Anne that!

    SECTION 2 follows. A much tamer stay in 3 of the wilderness camp chalets on the SA side. The game viewing, against the odds, remained excellent.
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  14. #14
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    Great read , was having a few doubts about the last part of my own trip through Namibia and Botswana later this year but after reading this I don't think I can anything but spend some time in KTP . Thanks and looking forward to next installment.
    Henk

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    PART2:

    GROOTKOLK, BITTERPAN and URIKARUUS:

    This part of the trip was added on as a bit of an afterthought, although reservations needed to be done well in advance to secure bookings in the more popular wilderness camps. Camps we had stayed in previously included Kieliekrankie, Urikaruus and the much larger Kalahari Tented Camp. I particularly wanted to visit Grootkolk because of glowing reports received and we were not disappointed.

    Bitterpan was added because we felt a stay in the dunes would add some variety and the dune 4x4 trail to get there sounded interesting. Although pleased that we included Bitterpan, I would not be in a hurry to visit there again in the near future. I know now that we prefer Kieliekrankie and for a dune camp experience would rather stay there in the future. Certainly the Kieliekrankie chalets are not as close together and there are more game drives in that vicinity. From Kieliekrankie one can visit either the NossobRiver bed or the Aoub, which is even closer. The main dune road on which the camp is situated makes travelling around so much more convenient. At Bitterpan one is severely restricted by the relatively small sandy tracks that make driving about rather slow. Also driving about in the dunes where there are very few waterholes and little game, is not as rewarding. I suspect that most visitors here tend to spend much of their time in camp. The closeness of the wooden chalets to each other at Bitterpan and the communal cooking and dining facilities lend themselves to large groups. I would think that booking the entire camp of 4 double-bedded chalets with a group of friends, would be great fun.

    Next time we visit I would like to include Gharabab camp which also in the dunes. Although we have not visited it the reports I have received have been very favourable. However it is only about 10km from Grootkolk as the crow flies, so possibly doing both on the same trip does not seem a great idea, not that Grootkolk is really in the dunes. Gharabab also has a 4x4 dune drive to get there but I gather this is not as long or tedious. It does mean that going for game drives is not really on the cards but I gather that there is sufficient entertainment at the camp waterhole which appears to attract more game and predators than Bitterpan.

    Urikaruus remains fantastic and its popularity is understandable. Its waterhole is really very busy and most entertaining and the camp facilities are very good. The easy access to the rest of the narrower AoubRiver bed makes a pleasant change from the much wider bed of the Nossob.

    These camps all have a very brak water supply and one has to bring your own drinking water and also firewood. Each camp has its own waterhole at varying distances from the chalets and most of them are floodlit for part of the night. None of them are fully fenced and children under 12 years can only be accommodated in some if the entire camp is booked. I gather this is for peace and quiet in the camp rather than for safety reasons. Walkways and relatively low fences are present but they are not really sufficient to keep a determined predator out, but I suspect are designed more for separating humans from the animals. They are all self catering and have braai places and kitchenettes with basic crockery and cutlery. They are serviced daily by the camp attendant but you are expected to do your own washing up. Each chalet or luxury tent has its own private ablutions, mostly en-suite.

    Although one cannot expect the sort of privacy and closeness to nature of camping, these small wilderness camps are well worthwhile because of their great positions in the park and provide a totally different vibe to the larger camps.

    Grootkolk:

    I think this, with Urikaruus, is the best of the wilderness camps we have visited and certainly will be included when we next visit. It is only a km or 2 from the main road along the Nossob, so that game drives to the north to Unions End and also to the south, provide a wide choice. I particularly like the Unions End section of the park as it is far less busy. The waterholes in this area seemed particularly productive at the time of our visit.

    The 4 double-bedded chalets are constructed from painted sandbags and canvas and are particularly comfortable. They are situated the furthest apart of any of the camps we have visited, providing better privacy than in the other camps. They have a shady front veranda, but as they face west there is no refuge from the hot late afternoon sun. In winter this may be an advantage. They were quite hot as the sandbags seemed to retain the heat, but again are likely to be warm in winter. The small kitchenette is on the front veranda with wash basins, taps, gas cookers and a table and canvas chairs for meals. They are fully equipped with crockery and cutlery. A braai place is present in front in the fenced off area. A communal kitchen/dining area is present for large groups with a chest deep freeze. Each chalet has its own gas fridge with a small but adequate freezer compartment. The flush toilet and shower with a gas geezer are situated en-suite at the back. There is a shaded carport. The productive waterhole here is close at about 30m and is well within photographic distance. Photography is best in the mornings with the sun behind one, the glaring afternoon sunlight right into your face, is obviously less ideal. The waterhole is floodlit from dark until 22H00, as the camp runs on solar power.

    The camp attendant here is Franco Verneel and he fully deserved his tip when we left. These camp attendants live a fairly lonely existence but at least can go home for 1 week in 3. He will call you if he notices any animal of particular interest and has taken the initiative to install plastic containers for bird food and water on the fence in front of the verandas. Remember to take some wild birdseed along with you. Certain species of birds also relished any deteriorating fruit or tomatoes. This arrangement ensures large numbers of feathered visitors to keep you entertained. The most common visitors were sociable weavers but grey-headed and Cape sparrows were also common. Other birds included red-eyed bulbuls, red-headed, scaly-feathered and black-cheeked finches, common waxbills, black-breasted prinias, Cape glossy starlings, yellow and streaky-headed canaries and a particularly tame chat flycatcher. Especially entertaining was a clever fork-tailed drongo which would intermittently come to the water container, not so much to drink, as to devour the drowned bees.

    We were in chalet no 2 which is the next closest to the waterhole. Chalet no 1 is certainly the one to request. Having only 1 neighbour makes it more private and it has a strategically placed camel-thorn for afternoon shade onto the veranda. It is also closer to the waterhole by about 5m. I was not able to inspect 3 and 4 in detail, but they are slightly further from the waterhole, not that this is of any great consequence.

    COSTS: R1076.25 for 2 people per night.

    DIARY.

    Sun 24/2:

    We were very sad to pack up our tent for the last time on this trip. The 42km from Polentswa to Grootkolk took us just over 2hr because of some interesting sightings. At Lijersdraai waterhole we found 4 adult spotted hyenas. They were initially just lying in the shade but intermittently would drink from the waterhole. They were particularly interesting because they had obviously all just finished feeding off a major kill. Their bellies were bulging and their heads and entire necks were covered in fresh blood. Some jackals were scouting around a little distance away in the tree line and this is where I suspect the carcass was. It must have been of substantial size for all 4 hyenas to have such bulging bellies and the carcass had to be big enough to cover there entire necks with blood as they reached into it to feed. We speculated that they had made the kill themselves and wondered if it had been a Gemsbok as these were the most prevalent in the area.

    Further on we found a herd of 8 kudu leaving Kannaguass waterhole, 2 bulls and 6 cows. I had heard tell that it is more common to see a leopard in KTP than a herd of kudu, so we felt this was a special treat.

    On arrival Franco directed us to the waterhole with the news that a lion and 2 lionesses had been there for the last 2 hours. It was evident that these 3 were the same lions we had seen on a kill near Unions End waterhole 2 days previously. The 1 lioness was still obviously lactating but all the cubs appeared to be hidden in the bush somewhere. Lionesses do not have the greatest reputation as mothers but we were shocked to note that these mothers left their cubs unattended and unfed for the 12 hours they spent at the waterhole. This was in stifling heat of more than 40C. The one lioness was obviously in a pre-oestrous state as she behaved in a very flirtatious state towards the male, certainly flashing her backside under his nose at every opportunity. They spent the whole day here sleeping in the shade not 40m from our chalet and arousing themselves occasionally to come down to drink. We spent the day watching the lions and being entertained by the many feeding and drinking birds. A herd of red hartebeest and later some wildebeest came down to drink. No drama though as the lions, although downwind, simply ignored them. A very grand martial eagle perched on a nearby acacia and spent most of the afternoon there. Wow, the king of beasts and the king of birds all within line of sight from the comfortable veranda, cold drinks within reach. During our 2 days at Grootkolk, we were to find it more productive to spend time watching the animals at the camp waterhole than going out on a game drive.

    There was a magnificent sunset in the west that evening, with the added beauty of a full moon rising in the slightly pink sky to the east. We slept exceptionally that night, perhaps being subconsciously more relaxed behind 4 walls.
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    Landcruiser 76SW.

    “Great journeys are memorable not so much for what you saw, but for where you camped”.

    At least "Once a year go someplace you have never been before" Delai Lama.

    TransAfrica 2015/2016 blog www.slowdonkey.com

  16. #16
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    Mon 25/2:

    We set out at 6H30 for a game drive, initially towards Unions End to the Geinab and Unions End waterholes, in the hope of finding the lion pride and especially the cubs. Good general game was also seen as we drove to the south as far as Polentswa waterhole. On the way back the remaining part of our holiday was nearly ruined when we were almost involved in a collision with a white double cab with ARB stickers on the front bumper. Coming around a blind bend, I took the bend tightly on my side of the road. I nearly jumped out of my skin when this vehicle came speeding around the bend substantially on my side. He missed me by a layer of paint! All I could do was feather my brakes and hold my line. How he never struck me or went off the road with his over-correction, goodness only knows.

    I was able to take a close-up photograph of a little banded goshawk as it ate a lizard next to the neighbouring chalet. A large herd of 80-100 wildebeest visited the waterhole raising quite a cloud of dust.

    Franco asked me if I could give him a lift to the pump house to change to a more powerful pump as the wildebeest were emptying the waterhole. He told me to bring my camera and I was able to get a photograph of the pair of barn owls he flushed from their roost in the pump house. We managed to keep cool throughout the day with multiple, short cold showers, a pleasant change from the water restrictions when camping. Wildebeest and red hartebeest came regularly to drink, as well as the occasional springbok and gemsbok.

    When we returned from a short afternoon game drive it was to find that the lactating lioness had returned and taken up station in the shade amongst some low scrub at the edge of the waterhole and it was obvious she was intent on hunting. There was no wind and a herd of wildebeest were slowly and warily approaching the waterhole as the lioness flattened herself behind the insubstantial screening scrub. The scrub was obviously just enough to break her silhouette, although the wary wildebeest were approaching at an abnormally cautious rate. All in the camp were watching this tableau unfold before us, when unfortunately some hartebeest joined the wildebeest. I say unfortunately because I believe the ever-alert hartebeest saved the necks of the wildebeest. The wildebeest had hardly lowered their heads to drink when the lioness charged. The hartebeest were unbelievably quick to react and in a cloud of dust all the animals fled. Despite the alertness of the hartebeest I believe the lioness would have made a successful kill had she waited a minute or so longer. To drink comfortably from the boulder surrounded waterhole the wildebeest usually would sink down onto their knees once they had settled. Electrifying excitement from the comfort of our front veranda! The lioness sauntered disgustedly down to drink and then headed north, presumably to her cubs.

    I thoroughly enjoyed watching the game visiting the floodlit waterhole that night. When the floodlights went out at 22H00 I stayed on the veranda as in the light of the bright full moon, I could still see well, especially if using binoculars. At one stage a red hartebeest approached the waterhole. His attempts to obtain a drink were thwarted for more than an hour. First there was a pair of jackals, next a giant eagle owl alighted for a drink. Next arrived a brown hyena which took off like a scalded cat when a spotted hyena came down. I realised something of interest was about when the jackals later began yowling agitatedly whilst backing off away from the waterhole. This turned out to be a rarely sighted caracul. Next came a series of 3 brown hyenas, one after the other. They must have been watching each other from cover, only moving down once the preceding one had left. I presume this behaviour was to avoid any possible aggression. Following this the hartebeest finally felt happy to have a drink.

    Just before retiring I suddenly observed 3 brown hyenas converge on the waterhole. First they circled each other warily before going through their elaborate greeting and social rituals. Tails curled up they unashamedly sniffed each other out, before all engaging in the complicated pasting routine I had read about. This was really fascinating as they moved closer and closer to where I was sitting.
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    Landcruiser 76SW.

    “Great journeys are memorable not so much for what you saw, but for where you camped”.

    At least "Once a year go someplace you have never been before" Delai Lama.

    TransAfrica 2015/2016 blog www.slowdonkey.com

  17. #17
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    Bitterpan:

    The camp manager on duty here was Willem Philander and we also found him very pleasant and helpful. He advised us not to go for a game drive that afternoon as he expected a visit from the large but immature young male lion that had taken refuge up on the dune crest somewhere behind his chalet.


    The wood and canvas chalets here were the most basic encountered on our trip. They are small with 2 single beds and a small but adequate front balcony, overlooking the waterhole below on the edge of the blindingly dry white pan below. The individual toilets and showers are separate structures behind the walkway running the full length of the back of the chalets. The entire structure is raised on a wooden platform about a meter from the ground on wooden poles with a fence around the edges of the platform to prevent free access by animals. We did not experience much of a problem with the noisy squeaking of the bats, roosting in the eaves, which we had heard about.

    There are 2 chalets on either side with a very nice communal unfenced braai area between them at ground level. The chalets are very close to one another. As our neighbour politely remarked, every cough is audible. Definitely not the place to spend a honeymoon! Behind the communal braai area is a large communal dining area with chairs and table for 8. Here is also the communal kitchen with 2 sets of gas cookers and kitchen sinks. There are 4 separate gas fridges with small freezers. This camp would be best for a group of 8 friends.

    In front of each chalet, at ground level is a fenced off private braai area. There is minimal shade to park your vehicle. The chalets are very hot and sun-beaten and the front balcony is also very hot as it is in direct afternoon sun. The waterhole is within easy view lying down below on the edge of the pan about 60m away. Further away than any of the other 2 wilderness camps we visited and this waterhole is not floodlit. Animal visitors to the waterhole were scarce and little was seen other than a handful of gemsbok and red hartebeest, as well as a single brown hyena one morning. A visit here after heavy rains with the large pan full, would be interesting.

    COSTS: R973.75 for 2 people per night.

    DIARY:

    Tues 26/02:

    This day we drove from Grootkolk to Bitterpan. We first filled up with fuel at Nossob. One has to report to the office at Nossob so that one of the camp officials can drive from the office to unlock the gate to the Bitterpan 4x4 route, which lies at the far end of the camping area. Only 4x4s and those with booked accommodation at Bitterpan are allowed through this gate. Bitterpan lies 54km away and it is a very good idea to take careful note of the odometer, as the turnoff to Bitterpan is poorly signposted with the sign being badly faded. This is a one-way route due to the single track road having many blind rises up the fossil dunes. At the beginning of the route there are some very steep sandy dunes and as can be expected one has to maintain considerable momentum to avoid running out of power near the crest. After the first few I realised that it was not necessary to engage low range. The degree of difficulty is similar to the dunes encountered on the Mabua road. Ensure your tyre pressures are down to 1.6 bar otherwise you are going to have trouble on the sections with deep soft sand. The day after we drove it, a French couple had considerable difficulty doing this route in a Nissan Pathfinder. He seemed to need excessive momentum to make it to the top of the dunes and described having to ramp the crests to his wife’s terror. I think a vehicle with low range is wise in case you get stuck. There are 2 waterholes along this route but we found no game there. One needs to be aware that there are many shortcuts and alternate routes in this dune area with most not being marked on the official map.

    We ended up driving about 20km beyond the turnoff, only realising this when we struck the official dune road and saw signs to Mata Mata and TR. Dare I say it, but my navigator was not keeping her eye on the map and the kilos driven. We had to turn back and redo this part of the road in the wrong direction with some nervousness at the blind rises which are not so bad on this second section of the road. I felt less of an idiot when people arriving the next day made exactly the same mistake. The Bitterpan sign definitely could be more prominently displayed and needs a repaint. Along this road we saw only one gemsbok although there were quite a few steenbokke. On this road the only frequently seen creatures were fawn-coloured and Sabota larks. The occasional northern black korhaan was also seen. I am not sure if there is more life in these dunes at other seasons or if there has been more rain, but we found it frankly disappointing.

    This and the following day were the hottest days of our trip. The car thermometers were reading close to 50. The only way the heat could be controlled was by frequent cold showers, often with ones clothes on. There were 4 yellow mongooses with their white-tipped tails, always present around the chalets. They were pretty habituated and provided some entertainment and I am sure keep snakes away.

    The highlight of our stay at Bitterpan was provided by the large but immature male lion mentioned before. He had apparently fairly recently been expelled from the pride by the dominant male and was still hankering after his mother and the rest of the pride. His mother, with a small cub in tow, had recently rejoined him briefly in the vicinity but he was on his own again and not coping very well. He was lean and did not appear to have eaten very well for some time. His life was in danger as well, because if the pride male found him hanging around in the pride’s territory there would be trouble.

    As predicted by Willem he put in an appearance at the camp later that afternoon and had a long drink of water from the water point Willem has next to his chalet. The cameras were busy as he drank here and then paraded around the front and side of the camp. Later toward evening he began with a long series of plaintive grunts, coughs and roars that appeared to be calls for the lions of his recent pride. He later disappeared down past the waterhole.

    During the late afternoon there had been an impressive build up of thunderclouds all around us and as evening approached there was frequent thunder and lightning in the near distance. One could see that some rain was falling around us and the mix of the purple rain clouds and the orange sunset, punctuated by flashes of lightning, was spectacular. A strong wind sprang up followed by a brief downpour, significant only in that it cooled things down considerably.
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    Landcruiser 76SW.

    “Great journeys are memorable not so much for what you saw, but for where you camped”.

    At least "Once a year go someplace you have never been before" Delai Lama.

    TransAfrica 2015/2016 blog www.slowdonkey.com

  18. #18
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    Weds 27/02:

    We spent a very quiet morning relaxing in camp. Put out some water, seeds and fruit for the birds and allowed them to entertain us. Some sand grouse and doves came to drink at the waterhole but they were repeatedly scattered by unsuccessful raids from, once again, a lanner falcon.

    In the late afternoon we took a drive on an unmapped road to Moravet on the main dune road and back. Although we enjoyed the dune landscape there were not many living creatures to attract interest. Most interesting were all the snake tracks in the road that had not been driven on since the bit of rain the previous evening. That I had not seen a snake, especially the common CapeCobra, was a small disappointment.

    That evening we used the last of my firewood for a companionable braai with the other 3 couples in the camp. Later there was thunder and lightning all around us but none of the desperately needed rain.

    At about 02H00 the whole camp was awakened by the very loud roaring from our young bachelor who had returned. He later disappeared again into the dunes.
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    Landcruiser 76SW.

    “Great journeys are memorable not so much for what you saw, but for where you camped”.

    At least "Once a year go someplace you have never been before" Delai Lama.

    TransAfrica 2015/2016 blog www.slowdonkey.com

  19. #19
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    Urikaruus:

    We had stayed in Urikaruus previously and were again very happy with this very well-appointed camp. The relief camp manager was Jaques Moss, of the same high standard as the others we had met. Unfortunately this lovely and very popular camp was mostly a staging post for our long journey home and we had booked only 1 night here. We will definitely be staying here again in the future as we enjoy the subtle contrasts of the Auob to the NossobRiver camps. This very popular camp has to be booked as early as possible, at least 11 months in advance, as it fills very rapidly. There are also 4 two person chalets here and these entirely wooden structures stand high on wooden platforms and walkways, with the carport being under the bedroom. The kitchen and dining areas are one level lower. Both the bedroom and dining area have balconies overlooking the very productive waterhole about 30m away. This waterhole is now floodlit right through the night. The bedrooms have ceiling fans, a fantastic relief from the heat. The bathroom and toilet are en-suite.

    The one and only flaw in this camp is the loudly creaking wooden floors, the least movement being loudly audible to your neighbours. Fortunately the chalets are better spaced then some of the other wilderness camps, about 20m apart.

    We stayed in chalet no 4, it is good to be in 1 or 4 as they are on either end and you only have neighbours on one side. Chalets 3 and 4 are a little closer to the waterhole, but the view from the bedroom balcony of 4 is obscured a little by a large camel thorn in the river bed. This same tree provides very good afternoon shade for the balcony of no 3. If you want to be choosy, book chalet 3 or 4, but there is not much difference between them.

    COSTS: R1078.25 for 2 people per night.

    DIARY:

    Thurs 28/02:

    It was overcast and cooler that morning and our drive to Urikaruus via Moravet, the upper dune road and the AoubRiver bed, was very comfortable. The checking in times in the camps is now 14H00 so we spent our time exploring the Aoub route on both sides of Urikaruus, stopping off at Kamqua picnic spot for brunch.

    Game viewing was good and we enjoyed seeing a number of giraffe, which since they were re-introduced a number of years ago, are only found along the Aoub. This area was also just as unseasonably dry but we had good general game viewing and the springbok herds were larger and more frequent. Once again we were lucky with lions and had an impressive sighting of a very large, surprisingly blonde male. After drinking at Veertiende Boorgat waterhole, he crossed the road right in front of our vehicle.

    That afternoon and evening in camp were spent observing the waterhole and watching the impressive numbers of animals visiting. We were particularly enamoured by 3 giraffe that came to drink, as only giraffe can drink, with their complicated manoeuvres to bend and spread-eagle their legs to reach the water.
    Then more lions arrived as darkness fell. The first warning that something was about was a solitary wildebeest calf that came hurtling down the river bed, followed by a very skittish herd. A little later a solitary lioness came to drink, followed about 30min later by 2 more lionesses and a proud pride male. At this stage we would have been quite happy to exchange a few lion sightings for a leopard or cheetah. I was also disappointed still to have seen no snakes. Later we saw our first Cape fox foraging around the water hole.
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    Landcruiser 76SW.

    “Great journeys are memorable not so much for what you saw, but for where you camped”.

    At least "Once a year go someplace you have never been before" Delai Lama.

    TransAfrica 2015/2016 blog www.slowdonkey.com

  20. #20
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    GOING HOME:

    Fri 1/03:

    We planned to drive only as far as Hanover on the way home and could leave camp at leisure as checkout time is only 10H00. That morning I actually witnessed a lanner falcon capture and devour a dove at the waterhole, this game of life and death is very impressive and I remind all visitors to be alert for this at all water holes with doves or sand grouse present. On the drive out, one of my wishes was fulfilled and we saw a leopard lying in the shade and grooming itself, about 30km south of Urikaruus. This was a fairly distant sighting but beggars can’t be choosers.

    We arrived at Hanover at about 18H30 after about 10hr and 740km on the road. We had phoned ahead and booked at a B+B here named Three Darling Street Guesthouse owned and run by Dave and Heather Pons (ex Port Elizabeth). They have a nice pub and restaurant and Dave’s claim that they made the best pizzas in the country was no idle boast. There was a very nice small country pub with various locals calling in for a few Friday evening drinks. The bedrooms are in 3 or 4 typical old karoo houses adjoining each other. Rather eclectically furnished with country antique furniture but very comfortable. Definitely one to remember for the future as a halfway stop on the way to Namibia or the Kalahari. The same applies for people travelling up from PE. I suggest you book ahead as it can get busy, situated as it is halfway between Cape Town and Johannesburg and also where the N10 crosses the N1.

    COSTS: Bed for 2 R560.00

    Phone/fax 053 643 0254
    Email darlingst3@icon.co.za

    On Sat 2/03 we were in East London by lunchtime. GREAT TRIP! Thank you for your time and thanks to my sister Safron and my long-suffering brother in law Mike, for joining us.
    Landcruiser 76SW.

    “Great journeys are memorable not so much for what you saw, but for where you camped”.

    At least "Once a year go someplace you have never been before" Delai Lama.

    TransAfrica 2015/2016 blog www.slowdonkey.com

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