Central kalahari game reserve:April 2011:trip report.




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  1. #1
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    Default Central kalahari game reserve:April 2011:trip report.

    TRIP REPORT: CENTRAL KALAHARI GAME RESERVE : 16 TO 30/APRIL/2011
    Stan Weakley.
    In writing this report I ask everyone to bear in mind that this was my first visit to CKGR and that as a novice to this area I had a lot to learn. I am learning and sharing things that experts have already forgotten. I always do extensive research on an area before visiting it and if this helps to lessen the learning curve for others, well and good. I have been utilizing and benefiting from the extensive experience of members of this forum for some time now. After all the help I have received, I regard writing a report as fulfilling an obligation, repaying a debt. I urge those that milk the forum and members for information before embarking on a trip, to give some feedback, no matter how brief. If you have some knowledge on a topic never hesitate to add your two cents worth.
    The detail contained in this report may not be every member’s cup of tea but will hopefully assist novices in planning a similar trip. Those that are veterans of the CKGR will find some discrepancies in this report, so please feel free to comment and correct where required. I have not hesitated to express my personal opinions.
    To novices to this reserve, like we were, do not hesitate to visit CKGR. It is a great experience provided you are well prepared and suitably equipped. Any fool can go blundering into the bush with a destructive influence on his surroundings and fellow travelers. This is happening far too often and unfortunately South Africans are often implicated!

    *LOGISTICS AND PLANNING:
    Stan and Anne Weakley travelling alone.
    Vehicle: 2009 Toyota Land cruiser 76 series Station Wagon.
    Ground tent
    120 liters of water- too little and if it was not for rain water we would have showered very little.
    220 liters of diesel - had about 90 liters to spare on exiting the park. Did not skimp on game drives.
    BF Goodrich All terrain tires. 2 spares. Deflated to 1,8 front, 2,0 back.
    Full recovery kit including: Winch and extension strap, Hi-level jack, Kinetic snatch strap, Compressor, Spade, Shackles etc.
    Meat and dairy products bought at Riverside Center (Riverwalk shopping center) , Gaberone. This large shopping center lies at the entrance to Gabs, on the road from the Kopfontein/ Tlokweng border post. You can’t miss it on your left just after you cross the new bridge. Woolworths Food Hall as well as Pick n’ Pay used. Large Spar in same complex. We were under the impression that because of the Foot and Mouth outbreak in KZN a couple of months ago, there would be searches for and confiscation of red meat and dairy products at the border and at the Foot and Mouth gates on the way up to CKGR. We were neither asked if we had meat, or searched anywhere. When we asked other travellers, their experience was the same at other border posts.
    The problem was we were travelling through Gabs on a Sunday and would not be able to buy from a good butcher. The fillet, boerewors and sirloin steak were fine but the rump was very tough. Mutton in the form of chops and neck (for stew) were below our usual standard. Dairy products were a lot more expensive than in SA, probably because of the Foot and Mouth. I accept that supporting the local economy is the right thing to do BUT I certainly missed my local butcher’s specially aged, marinated and vacuum-packed meat. The other advantage is that buying at home enables you to load the Engel with meat pre-frozen rock-hard, taking a load off your hard working deep cycle auxiliary battery.
    I have a sliding drawer system and could easily carry the 2 weeks supplies.
    Roofrack: I try very hard to carry as little as possible on the rack for safety reasons. On the roof we carried 2 ammo boxes with spares and repair materials, 2 jerry cans of diesel, 2 gas cylinders, wood and our garbage. The wood we bought at Khama Rhino Sanctuary as advised on the forum. Excellent dry Mopani at Pula 17 per bag. Each bag big enough for a braai for 2. Many people seem to collect wood on their game drives. Apparently this is legal, but I think it is an ecologically unsound practice in an arid area not exactly overflowing with trees. The sad thing is that the park is extremely poorly policed, we never saw one official in the park and people seem to do exactly as they please. Let your conscience be your guide!!!!
    Bookings: This was a bit of a saga. Now that some of the camps are privatized I have found it a bit of a pain marrying the various bookings with the different agents and decided to outsource this to Jambo safaris, based in Somerset West, as recommended previously by others on this forum. I had researched the trip carefully and had decided exactly which campsites I wanted. I did my bookings 11 months beforehand to ensure I obtained what I wanted. Unfortunately we originally booked for 8 people and 3 vehicles but had to sacrifice considerable deposits when others were unable to make it. Our cost for 2 people and 1 vehicle for 6 days in Bigfoot camps and 5 days in DWNP (parks board) camps was R 11,000 all inclusive. It later transpired that Jambo had subcontracted the bookings entirely to Bigfoot, with further commission implications. I think that I would prefer to do my own bookings again in the future. I found it a huge coincidence that the sacrificed deposits EXACTLY covered our outstanding fees for entrance and vehicle charges. I was not able to obtain a detailed invoice from Jambo.
    The other thing I discovered is that there has been a very recent change in the payment procedures. DWNP at CKGR has now reverted back to their old system of allowing payment of entrance and vehicle fees at the entrance gate. One no longer has to pay these at the nearest regional DWNP office. These entrance and vehicle fees can now also be paid in advance with the camping fees. I tried my best to confirm the veracity of the above at Matswere gate and all the staff were unanimous that this was now the case. I am uncertain if this applies to all the reserves or only CKGR. I will be interested to see if others can independently confirm this.
    Malaria Prophalaxis: We decided to take this in the form of Malanil. Many would not take for CKGR, but I was concerned as we would be there in the rainy season and all our northern neighbors have had exceptional rains for the last few years.
    Travelling Alone: Many have advised against this in CKGR but I figured that there would be lots of people in the park over Easter and the public holiday period and so it proved. I had no real choice and was as careful as reasonable. I do not have a satellite phone but we are fully equipped to be totally self-sufficient for a number of days should we be stuck in an isolated area. I think one is safe if stuck on one of the main routes, but some of the game drives take one onto seldom-driven roads. With the number of Lions around it is probably quite hazardous to wander around on foot. It is probably sensible to travel with at least one other vehicle. The sandy areas of the park are safe even through deep pools of water, as the water compacts the sand. Around the pans and on the road to Matswere it is a different story. Here one finds “black cotton-soil”. A tenacious , slippery form of mud, which if deep enough will bog down any vehicle. Fortunately when dry it is rock hard but very bumpy from the ruts. Deception and Piper pans are particularly badly affected in parts. Even if the mud is not very deep it is very slippery and one needs to drive slowly to prevent uncontrolled skidding and fish-tailing.
    The Tracks 4 Africa GPS application works superbly here and their predictions of time taken to cover a route are pretty accurate, although their time for a route is often slightly longer than we took; probably better that they overestimate.
    Weather: The last 2 weeks in April are supposed to be near the end of the rainy season but we had lots of cloudy skies and plenty of rain, but fortunately only 2 real downpours. But if you want to visit the park to see lots of animals this is the price you pay. The days were comfortably warm even if overcast, but the nights could become a little nippy needing a light sweater and a reasonably warm sleeping bag. Apparently in winter the temperature can descend below freezing. Early summer before the rains, conversely can be uncomfortably hot.
    Camera: I am technically inept with gadgets and too impatient to fiddle with a SLR camera with all the lenses. I therefore use a so-called super-zoom camera, ensuring as far as possible that I have a steady platform to take photos from. I use a Cannon SX30 IS with a 35X optical zoom. I find it simple to use and it fulfills my purpose just fine. I have a small 100W inverter connected up in my vehicle to charge my camera, laptop and other batteries.


    *CAMP-SITE NAMES AND NEW PARK CAMP CODES(incomplete)
    Deception 1, 2, 3 and 4-----CKDEC 1, 2, 3 or 4
    K(g)ori 1,2,3 or 4----CKKOR1,2,3 or 4
    Leopard pan-----CKSUN1
    Sunday pan 1, 2 or 3-----CKSUN2, 3 or 4
    Tau pan----closed because of lodge
    CKTAU2 ??
    Phokoje pan-----CKTAU3
    Piper pan 1 and 2-----CKPIP1 and 2
    Passarge pan 1, 2 and 3----CKPAS1, 2 and 3
    Letiahau 1, 2?-----CKLET1, 2 ?

    *ROUTES AND TIME TAKEN:

    16/4/2011 SAT East London to Lichtenburg 942km 11hr 30min
    17/4 SUN Lichtenburgto Khama Rhino Sanc. 612km 7hr 50
    18 MON Khama to CKSUN2 424km 9hr
    19 TUES CKSUN2
    20 WEDS CKSUN2
    21 THURS CKSUN2 to CKTAU3 171km 7hr 30
    22 FRI CKTAU3
    23/4/2011 SAT CKTAU3 to CKPIP1 57km 1hr 5min
    24 SUN CKPIP1
    25 MON CKPIP1
    26 TUES CKPIP1 to CKKOR3 95km 4hr
    27 WEDS CKKOR3
    26 THURS CKKOR3
    27 FRI CKKOR3 to Lichtenburg 946km 14hr30
    28/4/2011 SAT Lichtenburg to East London 949km 12hr

    *SOME SUB-ROUTES:
    # Lichtenburg thru Tlokweng border----2hr 15min
    #Tlokweng to Khama----5hr (plus 1 hr shopping at Riverside Mall Gabs)
    #Khama to Letlhakane----2hr 166km (including refueling)
    #Letlhakane to Rakops----1hr40min 150km
    #Turnoff to CKGR----8km from Rakops fuel station (well sign-posted)
    #Turnoff to Matswere gate----42km 1hr 20min
    #Matswere gate to CKSUN2----58km 3hr 50min (including more than 1hr stuck and also drive around Deception Pan)
    #CKKOR3 to Rakops-----3hr
    Last edited by Stan Weakley; 2011/05/22 at 09:22 PM. Reason: Correction

  2. #2
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    Default Central kalahari game reserve:April 2011:trip report.

    *GENERAL IMPRESSIONS CKGR
    This is a fantastic game reserve and wilderness area to visit. It is very isolated with relatively low numbers of tourists and widely spread, very private camps. The sense of heightened awareness when camping in an unfenced camp is once again appreciated, there is an impression of living right in amongst the animals. One does not see any parks board staff in the reserve at all, which has its pros and cons. Pro is the fact that one does not feel over-regulated, con is the way some people are abusing this freedom. They drive around late at night, long after the sunset curfew, leave their rubbish bags in camps for someone with a conscience to cart out for them, leave pieces of toilet paper dotting the landscape around the camps and leave their ash in the fireplaces. This happens in spite of notices regulating the above unsavory practices. The worst is the practice of dumping black rubbish bags down the long-drop toilets. These appalling habits will result in stricter supervision in the reserve to the detriment of the overall wilderness experience.
    I expected CKGR to be similar to Mabuasehube and the Botswana side of Kgadigadi Park but it is very different in many ways. It is very much larger (52,000 square km) and is reputed to be the second largest game reserve in the world. The campsites are more spread-out with a lower density of visitors and (during the rains) a higher density of animals on the pans. At none of the camps we stayed at were our neighbors visible and only at Kori could you vaguely hear them in the distance at times. In the Piper pan area there are only 2 campsites almost 4 km apart. In this area one would only see 2 or 3 passing vehicles daily, despite the fact that this was over the Easter weekend and the cluster of public holidays in late April. The area around Deception valley is the most crowded as it has the most campsites and as the closest camps to Matswere gate, have the most visitors. On the other hand it appeared to have the highest game density. In the rest of the park it would be most unusual to have to share any game sighting with others. I would suggest starting your trip at one of the camps in the Deception area (Kori or Deception camps), whilst you are still feeling your way around, as the relative crowds may irritate you after having first staying in more isolated areas.
    Our plan was to explore in depth, as much of the reserve as possible over almost 2 weeks, without having to set up camp too often by moving every couple of days. In my opinion, spending 2 nights in a camp, leaves only 1 full day for exploring an area and certainly a shortage of time to return to places one finds particularly attractive. Unfortunately the booking system requires that one is on a fixed schedule and cannot just move along as the mood takes you. We decided to only spend time in the north of the reserve after many reports of the relatively boring south, with thick bush, long sandy roads and little game. We thus did the circuit from east to west and then south as far as Piper pan, before returning from west to east and finally north to Matswere gate again. I chose the time of the year very carefully to be there towards the end of the rainy season, to avoid the worst of the road conditions if possible, but also before the animals migrated off the pans. As it turns out, speaking to those that had been at other times of the year, the time of the year does not appear to be as critical as I thought, except for the road conditions. In the dry winter you swop dry roads for tricky sand, cold weather and lower animal concentrations
    During our visit the game concentration in the areas around the various pans was very impressive indeed, with accompanying high concentrations of predators. One needs to realize that there are no Elephants (see later), or Buffalo here. Spotted Hyenas are seldom seen or heard and the variety of animals is limited compared to the reserves further north. The scenery and vegetation show only slight variations through the reserve. The most impressive pans in descending order were Deception (valley), Piper, Tau, Sunday, Phokoje, Passarge, San and Phukwe pan, but other travelers may have different experiences. We certainly felt it was worthwhile exploring the whole north of the reserve as each area has subtle differences to be enjoyed. In the drier months the borehole waterholes at Sunday, Passarge, Piper and Letliahau pans may well play a more important role. With lots of surface water the animals were hardly using the rather brak (salty) water at these waterholes. In any case Gemsbok and Springbok are adapted to be mostly independent of water. The grass on most of the pans is of a shorter variety than the coarser grass of the valleys and dunes and the animals seem to find this more nutritious. Thus game viewing is mostly centered around the various pans. I was quite frankly surprised at the long grass and dense vegetation in the reserve and the absence of the red sand dunes I had seen in other parts of the Kalahari. Some of the pans are about 3-4 kms or longer and about a km wide. The most common animals were herds of up to a couple of hundred Gemsbok and Springbok. Blue Wildebeest were present in impressive numbers, but apparently not in the multitudes present before the Kuke foot and mouth fence was erected in the 1980’s. Anyone visiting this reserve should read Mark and Delia Owens book CRY OF THE KALAHARI.
    Other game seen included some smallish herds of Red Hartebeest, many Steenbok and occasional Kudu. We saw 3 Giraffe, an impressive sight on the open plains of Deception pan. We did not see any Eland which are present. No Zebra are present. We were very excited to see fresh signs of an Elephant presence through much of the north of the reserve, but never had a sighting. Apparently they are migrating into the reserve because of the excellent rains of the last few years.
    Predators are seen aplenty, numerous Black-backed Jackal visible on the pans, their calls a prominent part of the night sounds. This is one of the best reserves to see Lions. Each of the large pans appears to have its resident pride of Lions and their roaring will be heard on most nights, sometimes too close for comfort! We saw representatives of 5 different prides. The camps are mostly located close to the pans and therefore close to the Lions. The male Lions of the Kalahari always seem larger than those elsewhere, perhaps because of their large manes. Brown Hyenas are plentiful, but seldom seen because of their shy and nocturnal habits. We did not see any, they are not vocal at all. We also did not see any Leopards which are apparently plentiful. Cheetah should be seen on most trips and we had a fantastic viewing at Piper pan. Others reported sightings on Deception and Tau pans while we were there.
    The camps themselves are totally unfenced, which, whilst being a major attraction for us, means one has to be a little circumspect after nightfall. They are merely clearings in the bush with some trees for shade. The facilities are absolutely minimal and one needs to be totally self-sufficient especially with regard to water. The camps have no water and the water in the park is too salty to be palatable. We took 120l for the 11 days, which was too little and if it was not for the rain water we managed to catch, would have had very few showers indeed. You seem to need at least 10l per person per day if you want to shower daily. The long-drop pit toilets were surprisingly odorless and acceptable. Bucket showers with a pulley system are present and very user friendly. The toilets and showers are located on the perimeter of the camp-sites and are therefore not so easy to visit after dark. They are each contained within a wooden pole stockade and are open air. A round concrete braai place is provided. The camps and the reserve in general, are reasonably well sign-posted. Some of the camps have excellent views of the nearby pan, in particular Kori 3 and 4 (CKKOR 3+4) and Sunday 2 and 3 (CKSUN 3+4). I don’t think the particular campsites are critical but feel that Deception, Sunday and Piper areas are the ones to try and obtain bookings for. We found the surroundings and game concentrations, to be best at Deception(valley), Piper, Tau, Sunday and Phokoje pans. Deception, Passarge and Letiahau valleys are very scenic routes on the circuit around the north of the park, although animal concentrations are lower than in the pans themselves.
    Camps we viewed and liked in order of preference were Kori 3 +4, Sunday 2 +3(CKSUN3+4), Piper 1, Sunday 1(CKSUN2), Phokoje, Deception, Passarge camps, Piper 2 , Letiahau camps and Leopard pan(CKSUN1). I must say though, that Sunday pan camps are attractive because they are away from the hustle and bustle of Deception, but close enough to drive over for a visit. Leopard pan may be more highly rated by some but seemed a little tucked away in thick bush some distance from Sunday pan. It however falls under DWNP and is half the price of the Sunday camps and is also within easy distance of Deception pan. Don’t forget though that Leopard pan is CKSUN1 and Sunday 1 is CKSUN2 etc. This is the mistake I made in my booking, ending up at Sunday 1(CKSUN2) instead of Sunday 2 (CKSUN3), fortuitous as it turned out to be! Phokoje is a very convenient stopover between Deception/Sunday pans and Piper pan. It is very private with not bad game viewing. It is a great pity that Tau pan campsite is now closed to the public as it was in a magnificent setting right on the edge of the fantastic Tau pan. The Passarge valley area just seemed more attractive than Letiahau. These are my opinions formed when we were there and others may well disagree. I must qualify this by stating that none of the camps and areas appeared to be write- offs. One other consideration is the double price of the Bigfoot “privatised”camps which include: Deception. Sunday 1, 2 and3, Piper 1 and 2, Letiahau and Motopi. I think Bigfoot are a disgrace as they provide no extras at their camps at all despite the double price. They seem to act only as booking agents and appear to have no visible presence in the reserve. Sunday pan waterhole was not working and as this falls entirely in their area you would think they would exert some influence to have it functioning.
    The topography of the reserve consists of pans with shorter nutritious grass, valleys (fossilized river beds) and fossilized dunes covered in long coarse grass and scrubby Acacia trees and thickets. Some Bushwillows, Shepherd trees and Camel thorns are present too. When driving from east to west or vice versa the roads are fairly flat as the dunes run roughly in an east to west direction. When travelling north to south the roads in contrast are very undulating as one has to cross the dunes instead of riding parallel to them.
    In general the dune veld is sandy so that wet weather travel is not a major problem. The soil around the pans is more clay (“black cotton soil”) and can turn into a quagmire if very wet. The road from Rakops through Matswere gate to Deception pan is mainly a clay surface. The sandy soil is in fact firmer to drive on when wet. The clay soil when dry, is bone hard and very bumpy (from tire tracks made when wet). We had some slipping and sliding in the clay areas after a few downpours. I was surprised at the amount of rain we experienced, but fortunately it was often at night and usually short and sharp. We only had 1 day where our game drives were disrupted by the rain. I feel that particularly when travelling alone, one has to be careful when game viewing off the beaten tracks, especially in some of the areas a little further south. I refer particularly to some side roads around the smaller pans in the Piper area. Some of these roads are not on the main through routes and if truly bogged down it could be a good few days before someone else drives that route. I always made sure that I repacked the spade before venturing out of camp.
    I made certain that I had plenty of fuel when refilling at Rakops, carrying 180l diesel in my long range tank plus 40l in jerry cans, which was more than enough. I calculated that we used about 130l and drove around freely. There does not seem to be any sort of alerting system at the gate, should your check out time have passed. My vehicle was fairly heavily loaded and deflating my tires to 200 back and 180 front, helped smooth the ride. I locked my hubs and drove with my center diff lock on. I was a little annoyed when discussing the road conditions ahead with a fellow South African in a Cruiser bakkie, to hear him boast that although muddy, he had managed to get through without engaging 4 wheel drive. He had in his ignorance really badly churned up the road ahead of us. When approaching rutted muddy sections I never hesitated to engage low range even if it meant travelling in 5th gear. One had to keep the speed down through the clay sections because of the slippery surface. On one or two occasions I fish tailed quite dramatically and was grateful I was not pulling a trailer. The speed limit in the reserve is 40km/hr but game viewing was done a lot slower than this. When travelling longer distances 40 was a comfortable speed to travel in good road conditions. The deepest water we had to traverse was at about at the upper level of the tires.

    The water hole at Piper pan, never any animals.
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    Stan, thanks for a very descriptive and entertaining report. Definately one I will save as the CKGR is on our bucket list.
    "If you don't care where you are, you ain't lost"

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    Default Central kalahari game reserve:April 2011:trip report.

    *DAILY DIARY:
    Sat. 16 April: (Lichtenburg)
    Left East London just after 6am, having packed the previous day. Route via Bloemfontein, Bultfontein, Hoopstad, Bloemhof, Wolmaransstad, Ottosdal to Lichtenburg. I prefer to get to my chosen destination as soon as possible and am quite prepared to put in the hard yards at the start and end of a trip. There were about 10 stop/goes on this route between Bultfontein and Wolmaransstad, with extensive road repairs and rebuilding taking place. Some sections of the road were shocking, with the section near Bloemhof being the worst tar road I have ever traveled in South Africa. These repairs probably delayed us by more than an hour. It was also raining most of the way and near the end of the day’s travel we were actually aquaplaning at times and had to slow down accordingly. When finished in a couple of years, this route will be great.
    Arrived at 17H45 after 11hr 30min and 950km of travelling. In Lichtenburg stayed at a very nice B+B with off street parking for our loaded vehicle. Lakeside B+B cost a very reasonable R540 double without breakfast. I would recommend this modern and well- furnished establishment unreservedly.
    Sun. 17 April: (Khama Rhino Sanctuary)
    Left early again and were through customs at the Kopfontein/Tlokweng border post by 9H30. Rapid transit through both sides. No sign of the threatened strike on the Botswana side. Apparently no strike at the border posts by Botswana officials occurred at all. Payments: Pula 110 for Road fund, Road Permit and Motor vehicle insurance (single entry). On the SA side we had produced our pre-typed list and serial numbers of possible dutiable items at Customs and had this stamped and stapled to the new DA 331 form for declared items. This has saved me hassles with threatened import duties in the past.
    To my surprise there were no checks, enquiries or searches for meat and dairy products, despite being expected because of the recent Foot and Mouth outbreak in KZN. If I had known this I would have bought all my meat from my favorite butcher at home. After buying our meat in Gabs, at Riverside Center (Riverwalk shopping center), we kept all our cash slips in case we were threatened with confiscation further down the line. No inspections took place at the Foot and Mouth Vet. barriers along the way.
    We arrived at Khama Rhino Sanctuary after 7hr 50min and 612km on the road. We had booked a campsite as the chalets were full. There appeared to be plenty of empty campsites and I don’t really think booking is necessary. A booking involves prepayment via Bank forex transfer and this costs R220 in bank charges, on top of the camping and vehicle entry costs of P260. No credit card facilities are available at Khama for prepayment so a bank transfer is the only way to secure a booking. I thus advise against pre-booking. We bought 10 bags of good Mopani wood here at P17 per medium sized bag, enough for a 2 person braai. Wood is scarce in CKGR and in this environment it is sounder to take in your own wood.
    We stayed at campsite 7, nice enough, though 8 was closer to the ablution block, which was clean with solar heated hot showers. After setting up camp we went for a game drive around the pan. We saw 6 White Rhino, Eland, Zebra, Wildebeest, Gemsbok, Impala and Springbok. We braaied that night, as on a previous visit we had found the restaurant food to be poor.

    Mon 18 April: ( Sunday pan camp no 1)
    A steady drizzle had started during the night, so it was a bit of a pain packing up slightly damp camping equipment and so it was to be for much of the trip, not surprising in the rainy season. We were approaching the crux of our trip, having put the long daily routes behind us in an effort to get to the CKGR as soon as possible. It was with a keen sense of anticipation that we set out for the reserve. Despite all my planning and research I was entering uncharted territory and was a little unsure what to expect. We had driven past the sign after Rakops, indicating the turnoff to CKGR, often enough when travelling to the north. After this visit I do not hesitate advising others to stop off in CKGR as part of a trip to Moremi and Chobe. The contrast with the delta and Chobe River would add real spice to a trip. It would be easy to stay in the Kori and Deception camps and even around Sunday pan. It would take about 3 to 4hrs to get to your camp and is really not such a major detour.
    With all the reports about unreliable fuel supplies in the area we turned off to Letlhakane and filled up at Taipiwa filling station, they also have a typical garage mini-shop. They do sell 5l blocks of ice as well, which would have been handy if we had cooler-box space. This is a detour of 4km altogether and, as we discovered, there is reliable fuel at the Co –operative Shell fuel station, easily visible from the road when passing through Mopipi. We topped up our tank at Rakops where the fuel station is under new management and the pump attendant assured us ALWAYS? Has fuel. There are now electric and not manual pumps and there was definitely diesel, leaded and unleaded petrol available but I don’t think it is open after office hours. I would rather fill up at either of these 2 than at Letlhakane. Diesel prices P6.92/l at Letlhane and P6.82/l at Rakops.
    At Rakops I discovered that one of the jerry cans on the roof-rack was leaking over the back of the vehicle. We had filled them at Letlhane and not noticed any problem. I emptied in into my main tank but the damage was done and this mess was a bit of a nuisance for the rest of the trip despite efforts to clean it up. Some damage was done to the rubber of the rear windscreen wiper blade and to the rear door seal. I did not realize that diesel would affect rubber in this way.
    Just beyond Mopipi the Boteti River was flowing fairly strongly and was about 20m wide.
    The turnoff to Matswere gate and CKGR is just beyond Rakops to the left (south) and is reasonably well sign-posted and accurately directed on T4A. It is exactly 7,6km from the Rakops fuel station. This single track road is simple to follow to Matswere entrance gate. Going in, it was dry with some sandy areas and rock-hard slightly rutted areas of dried mud. In contrast on the way out there had been very recent rain with fairly deep pools of water in the dips and some slippery sections, but no real chance of getting stuck in a decent vehicle. Throughout the reserve, even in fairly muddy conditions, there were quite a few trailers and even some off-road caravans, which all seemed to be managing well. They sensibly seemed to travel in groups. We were able to maintain a steady 40km/hr. I was very excited to see fresh evidence of the presence of elephants along this road, even outside the reserve and this was the case in a few more areas in the very north of the reserve.
    As mentioned above, the booking in and payments are now all done at the gate and not at the game scout offices further into the reserve. These are in disrepair and appear to be abandoned. The staff on duty were friendly and helpful enough but had a pretty casual attitude. They informed us that the waterhole at Sunday pan was not functioning apparently because of problems with the solar power, but that those at Passarge, Letliahau and Piper were fine. Minimal game was seen on the road into the reserve.
    Nearer the Deception area there was evidence of a recent downpour. The main track disappeared into a fairly deep pool of water with a high middle-mannetjie. I reversed and took one of the detours to the west. This was also very wet and slippery and after slipping, sliding and fish-tailing and heading in the wrong direction according to T4A, I decided to turn around and tackle the main track. I tried this section with the passenger tires on the middle-mannetjie and the driver side on a steep bank, but very quickly came to grief, the slippery mud made it impossible for me to hold this line and within 10m I had slipped into the mud in the deep ruts and was well and truly stuck. I was unable to obtain any traction at all even in low range with both diff-locks engaged. We had so little traction that we had not even dug ourselves in, the tires were spinning fruitlessly on the surface of the mud. The diff. was gently resting on the middle-mannetjie, but was by no means jammed. I then had the bright idea of trying to “jump” the vehicle out by starting in in low range first or reverse gear without engaging the clutch. This was to no avail as the engine started effortlessly without the clutch in, there was not the slightest movement and the engine continued to run with no discernable rotation of the wheels from inside the vehicle. I went cold when the thought that the clutch was shot took root. Was this the end of our trip? On climbing out the vehicle one could in fact see that with the gear engaged the slippery surface was allowing the wheels to turn effortlessly at the slow revolutions of low range. The clutch was fine!
    I then looked for a suitable winch anchor but realized that the track forward was in fact worse and completely impassable and the only way out was backwards and then onto the most westerly of the detours through the bush. I was just preparing for a messy attempt to dig ourselves out and was scouting around for some branches and logs when Anne called out that she could see a car in the distance. I walked the 600m to the vehicle, which turned out to be on the northern edge of Deception valley. The man and his wife informed me that I was off my head to walk around in the vicinity where they had recently seen Lions. I pointed out that I had very little choice and was very grateful when they willingly braved the detour and easily snatched me out backwards using my recovery kit that I had prepared in the hope of just such an eventuality. Our gratitude is expressed to our rescuers whose names I did not catch. They were in a bronze colored Fortuna registration TVK 501 GP. If you happen to read this, thanks again.
    We then were comfortably able to make our way via the bush detour onto the valley. Apparently this is the most notorious section of road in the entire reserve and the dictum to follow here is to ALLWAYS take the FURTHEREST detour to the west. I subsequently adopted the attitude that recently used detours were present for a good reason and we did not get stuck again. At least I was saved the ignominy of being towed out by a Land Rover! Of course we laugh about this now, but this start to our trip was very stressful at the time.
    The first sight of Deception valley, brimful of game, was a never to be forgotten impression and certainly served to mollify Anne who was wondering what she had let herself into with her idiotic husband and his deficient 4X4 driving skills. It was still very early and we were able to drive around Deception valley. People had been bogged down on the road through the center of the pan and with my credibility at stake, I made sure that I was not embarrassed again. Our first sighting of Lions was very distant on the tree-line of the northern edge of the pan. Our attention was drawn to the area by flocks of Vultures perched on the ground in the distance and by the Jackals hanging around. We could just make out a pride of Lions intermittently visible on a kill.
    After this auspicious start we set off for our first camp at Sunday pan, CKSUN2 or Sunday pan campsite no 1. The drive was along the undulating cutline (or western link) road, with deep pools of water in the dips and valleys. Fortunately this road is almost entirely on a sandy surface and we had no problems even though the water depth was up to the top of the tires in many sections.
    Sunday pan did not boast quite the game concentrations present on Deception but has its own charm and advantages. It is off the beaten track and has a fraction of the number of visitors. There are respectable numbers of Gemsbok, Springbok, Wildebeest and even Red Hartebeest present. It is a much smaller pan, estimated to be 4X2kms in size. The resident Lion pride is omnipresent and at night are really in your face. It is also easy to visit nearby Leopard pan. A comfortable game drive for 2 or more hours is to be recommended along the loop roads around the 2 pans.
    Sunday pan sites 2 and 3 are more popular than 1, because they are set on a fossilized dune with an excellent view of the pan. But they are only about 500m apart and I am sure you will be aware of your neighbors. They are sited on the western edge of Sunday pan whereas No 1 is about 3 to 4km away on the south-eastern part of the pan. This south-eastern area of the pan had remarkably more game on it for some reason and this meant that the Lion pride were usually in this vicinity. The site does not have a clear view of the pan because of some intervening Acacias. It lies about 400m from the pan in a 50m clearing surrounded by moderately dense Acacia bush and long grass( at this time of the year). It has about 6 fairly tall Acacia trees and is shady and could comfortably accommodate 3 separate tents/vehicles. It has the standard long-drop toilet (clean and odorless here) and bucket shower, enclosed in a wooden pole stockade. Just to reiterate, the camps have absolutely no water. Do not think that any of the more expensive camps run by the private operator Bigfoot Safaris have any extra facilities. There is also a ground level circular concrete slab for fires. These camps are booked for exclusive use. Anne and I were alone in this camp and for the first night or two there was no-one in the other 2 Sunday camps. We were very isolated indeed.
    Soon after dark the Lions began roaring in the distance moving slightly closer as the night progressed probably as close as 500 to 800m from the camp. The obligatory middle of the night pee was a rather rushed affair. It was an enchanting scene in the light of the full moon. We had chosen our time to visit with the full moon in mind.

    Tues 19 April: (Sunday pan camp no 1)
    The curfew times allowed for driving around are between sunrise (6.30 am) and sunset (6.30 pm) in April. Early the next morning we set off to see if we could find the Lions northwest of the camp, to no avail. I suspect that during the day they lie up in the long grass and thickets just off the pan and are difficult to track down. We went for a slow drive around Sunday and Leopard pans and enjoyed seeing the game on the pans. We were particularly entertained by the ground squirrels and also saw many Black-backed Jackals. A group of 5 Bat-eared foxes also put up a bit of a show for us with their incessant hunting for insects. No Cheetahs or Leopard spotted although they are regularly seen here. Popped in at Sunday pan camps 2 and 3 and at the now dry waterhole situated on the loop road. During our drives on this day we saw only 3 other vehicles. Brunch in camp was followed by a snooze and then a similar game drive that evening. Showers were taken in the middle of the day, when not too cool. We found that a full kettle of boiling water in the bucket shower, then filled with cold water, was warm enough and enough volume for a shower for the 2 of us.
    Temperatures were very moderate, warm but not hot during the day, cooler in the evenings and early mornings, needing a light sweater. A fairly warm sleeping bag is appropriate.
    This proved to be a night that will be etched into our memories forever. It is a characteristic of human nature that we tend to laugh at the misfortune of others. Probably because we are only too grateful that is not ourselves on the receiving end. Picture the reaction of commentators, team members, spectators and even umpires when a batsman is struck in the groin by a cricket ball. Likewise, please enjoy your laugh at our night of terror during our second night at Sunday pan. Anne and I also laugh about it now.
    On this night the Lion pride started calling at dusk, even closer to our camp. There also appeared to be more of them. Later in the evening it started raining which seemed to shut them up. I had decided to forgo a few beers as a precaution and we retired at about 22h00. The rain must have stopped during the night and the Lions began roaring again adjacent to the camp, waking me. At about 2h30 I quickly nipped out of the tent for a leak, thank goodness! Although it was full moon the cloud cover made the night fairly dark. I had hardly dozed off when the tent poles holding the front awning of the tent fell over with a clang awaking me, followed by the snarl of a startled lion right at the front door. LIONS IN THE CAMP!!!!
    This was followed by a bout of simultaneous roaring from all the lions around our tent, absolutely deafening. Neither of us made a sound although my blood had turned to ice in my veins and my guts to jelly. A primeval fear alike to that of a caveman in his cave, cowering away from the Sabre-tooth Tigers, overcame me. I was getting heart palpitations. I thought my heart was going to pound right out of my chest when this was again followed by a sustained bout of roaring from all sides right next to our tent. As I described to Anne, the noise was like sitting inside a church organ at full volume. My whole inner being quaked in terror. I defy anyone else to have felt any differently. The roars seemed to be coming from at least 4 adult Lions, with the very deep tones suggesting 2 of them were males. Have you ever seen how big the Kalahari males are?
    We lay as quiet as mice trying to hide on our stretchers in our sleeping bags. It was all I could do to stop hyperventilating.
    The collapsed awning was partially covering the front, zipped up awning, but we could dimly see the lions moving about the front of the tent. I did not realize that Anne had earlier dropped the canvas covers over the side windows when it had started raining and nearly had a coronary when a huge dim shadow fell across my window accompanied by a prolonged loud snuffling as one of the adult Lions was sniffing at our scent from the window. It sounded like a gigantic Bull-mastiff. It then moved to Anne’s side and did the same even leaning against the side wall of the tent, causing Anne to shoot away from the tent side as if scalded. It was then evident that some large cubs were present when they roughly and noisily started playing with each other and running round and round the tent bumping into the guy-ropes repeatedly, causing the tent to sway alarmingly. I have the good camp habit of packing everything away into the vehicle before retiring and was pleased we obey the dictum of never storing food in the tent. I, however, had left our spare braai-grid stored in one of those plastic “hessian” type bags, jammed in the fork of one of the trees. The cubs got hold of this and then followed a tug of war over it, with blood curdling sound effects of the bag being torn and ripped. We later searched but could find no sign of the bag or grid in or around the camp. I had also left a small bottle of liquid hand soap on a table and they chewed this up. They then started gnawing very audibly on the collapsed tent poles and the following morning found that they had chewed the plastic off the bottom of one of these poles. All these sound effects in such close proximity were quite frankly terrifying. The cubs would intermittently stop their boisterous play and peer under the collapsed front awning as if trying to see us through the gauze front entrance. With their rough play I was worried that they would inadvertently tear the tent and then who knows? We are well aware of the fact/myth that no-one has ever been harmed by lions when zipped up securely in a tent. I did not want to prove to be the exception to the rule. Conventional wisdom has it that lions see the tent to be a solid structure. They are unable to perceive how easy it would be for them to get into a tent. I think we thoroughly tested this theory that night. We had the lions roaring in unison on about 9 occasions altogether. Our vehicle was not accessible about 20m away.
    We of course could not sleep a wink through all this. Poor Anne had an even more miserable time as her bladder was bursting. This may seem like a long story but the Lions fiddled around our tent until 06h30 when they eventually moved off as daylight arrived. The siege lasted 3 and a half hours! The tracks around our tent and camp bear testimony to the circus that went on.
    My real question is why these Lions felt so secure in our camp? Conventionally Lions are expected to fear and avoid human scent, whereas this pride was aggressively curious and mischievous. They seem to be semi-habituated which I think is a dangerous situation. I hope they are not being drawn to camps by people purposely or inadvertently leaving food lying around camp. There are stories of people doing this in Kgadigadi leading to lions being a nuisance in camp.
    What is a solution then? I have always been a dyed in the wool ground tent supporter, but there is no doubt we would have felt safer in a rooftop tent. Banging metal together and making a noise to scare off the Lions has been suggested. I think this would have had the opposite effect in this instance. This pride was really hyped up. Pepper spray or Taser guns have been suggested but it would take real balls to deploy these effectively. By the time one could make this sort of close contact with this many Lions I think it would be too late. In Canada campers employ explosives known as Bear bombs very effectively. The next time I am in an unfenced camp in Lion country I will have a pack of the biggest firecrackers money can buy. Many of us have had Lions pass through or close to our camps, but I hope we never have to experience such a brazen siege again.
    Anne and I now of course laugh about this experience and you can imagine the relish with which Anne relates this saga to her coffee shop and book club friends. Experiences like this really add spice to a trip but make one realize what a small insignificant speck of life you are. We were left wiser but definitely not sadder.

    Weds 20 April: (Sunday pan camp no 1)
    A little later that morning a German couple, Roland and Marion Merkl, popped into the camp to say hi. They had been just in time to see some of the pride disappearing into thick bush a short distance away. After listening to our tale and looking at the churned up sand looking like a race track, they asked if they could share our camp that night in the hope of a repeat performance. Easy for them in a rooftop tent! (Un)fortunately that night, although the pride roared next to our camp, there was no encore. The bottom line is that I would not have missed this experience for all the world!
    We took a slow and leisurely game drive down the cutline road and explored the Deception pan and valley area. This is a very special area and the wide open vistas of the very large pan full of herds of game were worth spending time at and enjoying. The afternoon was spent catching up on lost sleep.
    Last edited by Stan Weakley; 2011/05/22 at 09:22 PM. Reason: Correction

  6. #5
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    Default CKGR report

    Thanks Stan for the report,wish you could attach more thumbnails of the roads inside the park so that we can see how they are..

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    Default Central kalahari game reserve:April 2011:trip report.

    Some photographs.
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    Default Central kalahari game reserve:April 2011:trip report.

    I was too sh.. (sorry) scared to fetch my camera from my vehicle, during the visit from the Lions. They were all around our tent for over 3 hours and not just in the camp.

    I hope these pictures of the aftermath will convey something of the excitement we enjoyed/endured.
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  9. #8
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    Default Central kalahari game reserve:April 2011:trip report.

    Thurs 21 April: (Phokojee pan camp)
    We really enjoyed our stay at CKSUN1 and don’t think we missed out at all by not staying at the more highly rated CKSUN2 or 3. It is all very well to have preferences when booking but don’t get too anal about it. To misquote, “nature compensates”.
    We had a long trip ahead of us so we left Sunday pan relatively early at 8h00. After packing up camp we had to travel to Phokoje pan (CKTAU3) via the highly rated Tau pan. This was a distance of only 171km but would take us 7hr 30min, allowing for the detour and generous game viewing time. For much of the route this would be our only visit. We decided to take the longer route via Passarge valley rather than the cut-line road, because it is said to be more scenic. Phokoje pan is not a very popular or highly rated camp, but I felt a trip directly to Piper pan would be too much of a rush and would cut down on our time spent at Tau pan, which I felt needed special attention. Phokoje is also close enough to return to Tau the following day on a game drive. Ideally we would have liked to stay at the now defunct Tau campsite, closed for the use of Tau private Lodge as a fly camp. The pan itself remains open for visitors.
    We were a little surprised at how much we enjoyed this camp and its surrounds, but 2 nights were probably just right. The camp itself has certain short-comings, it is set in a bit of a depression with no view to speak of and only has 1 tree for shade. It is only suitable for 1 maybe 2 tents. The shower enclosure has been broken down, the shower is now part of the toilet enclosure. The long-drop toilet seat and plastic base have been broken into fragments and are not usable. I had a good look at it and was disgusted to find the toilet pit half filled with black rubbish bags, presumably dumped there by lazy campers. My theory is that the toilet had been chewed up by Hyenas trying to get at the rubbish. We reported this state of affairs at the exit gate on departure and they undertook to look into it??? The camp is situated on the northern edge of the center of Phokoje pan, a few hundred meters from the road to Letiahau valley and Piper pan. The turnoff is well signposted as CKTAU3. I know that Tau camp itself used to be numbered CKTAU1, but could find no sign of CKTAU2. Does it exist, if so where is it and what is it like? Phokoje pan itself is attractive, about 4x1km in size and had a fair amount of game on and around it.
    On the way in, we passed a couple who had just spent the night there and had been very happy. The local Lion pride had been very prominent in the area and the previous evening they had seen the entire pride in the road setting out for a hunt. We were not so fortunate and although we heard them roaring in the distance the first night, they seemed to have moved away from the area of the camp. What one sees and experiences can be very variable. There were other encounters which more than compensated and I don’t want to give the impression that we are fixated about Lions.
    We travelled in a slight drizzle, enough to firm up the sandy sections without affecting the cotton-soil too much. Passarge valley is a beautiful long valley covered in long grass, which had already turned silvery-brown as it had already seeded. There were occasional herds of Gemsbok and Springbok. We had an excellent close view of a Jackal and a group of Bat-eared Foxes, both of which kept us entertained for a few minutes. Passarge pan itself is fairly small and had less game than the pans explored earlier. We stopped for a cooked brunch at the empty CKPAS1 campsite which was very nice. It was unusual in that the shade trees were Bushwillows and it seemed to have more bird life. It had a decent view of the empty valley to the north. The game numbers appeared to increase as we proceeded further west and perhaps staying at Passarge camps 2 and 3 might be a better option than 1, but we did not visit these camps. Along the valley, most of the road appeared to be on black-cotton soil but we saw no deep ruts to indicate others had any trouble recently. However just after the intersection with the cutline road, at the start of Passarge pan, we saw the telltale signs of deep ruts, branches and logs in the road indicating that others had been stuck under wetter conditions. The road from Passarge pan southwards to Tau pan is sandy, undulating and windy because one is now travelling perpendicularly across the dunes. In areas here, the grass in the center of the single track road is rather high and I was pleased we had fitted the seed-net. The track then passes along Phukuwe pan with shortish grass and scattered herds of game. Here we saw our first Warthog.
    One km from the turnoff to Tau pan we nearly collided with 2 very large male Lions, one of which was collared, lying next to a bush right next to the road. They got such a fright that they shot off before we could take any decent photographs. It was a reality check to note their size at close quarters with our recent experience in camp in mind. It needs to be noted that the turnoff to Phokoje pan and further south to Piper pan and Letliahau is sign-posted San pan, a potential point of confusion. Once again T4A had it spot-on. San pan is a long narrow pan with occasional herds of the usual animals.
    We decided to turn off and have a look at Tau pan situated about 10km down its own approach road and were glad we did so. This is a most beautiful compact 3X2 km pan, more about it later.
    We arrived at Phokoje pan campsite at about 15h30, plenty of time to set up camp at our leisure. This was probably the most isolated camp we stayed at, with only 1 or 2 passing cars per day on the road to Piper or Letiahau areas. It is almost 40km from Tau lodge towards the north and about the same distance from the Letiahau camps to the east.

    Fri 22 April: (Phokojee pan camp)
    Easter Friday and missing the family. We were up at 06h00 as we had decided on an early morning drive to Tau. First up and down Phokoje pan to see if we could find the lions we heard roaring the previous night, but no luck. On the way saw 2 Kudu in the dune veld, including a nicely horned bull. At Tau pan a lodge vehicle informed us they had seen a Cheetah on the pan, but that it had moved off. We could not find it.
    I was very surprised to see people camping at the lovely Tau camp site. When asked, one of the lodge game guides said that they had been involved in a collision with a lodge vehicle the previous afternoon in slippery rainy conditions and out of sympathy the lodge had granted them permission to camp there, until their vehicle was sorted out. After circling the pan we went to visit our fellow campers at the old Tau camp-site. What a fantastic camp, situated right on the edge of Tau pan under a grove of tall thorn trees. It had an unobstructed view over the grassy pan which was teeming with Gemsbok and Springbok. The gentleman’s name was Lourens from Pretoria, recently from Maun. We asked if they needed any help but all was fine. The bonnet of their Isuzu bakkie was a little buckled but there was no radiator or other significant damage. According to Lourens there was no fault involved in the relatively low velocity head-on collision. Both vehicles had seen the other too late and on braking, just slid into one another. He said that the lodge had been very pleasant about it and I advised him to tell them he needed to spend one more night in this camp in order to completely sort out his bakkie. This I think he did. They had booked very late and were booked into CKTAU2 for I think 10 days. They were not sure where this camp was and I could not help them either. They had assumed that it was Phokoje as occupied by us. I pointed out that a double booking was very unlikely and the camp was too small to cater for 2 separate groups. I do not know what transpired later. They had spent the previous night with a very active pride of Lions all around their camp but not actually entering into the camp. They had very little sleep because of the roaring, arising in the morning to find the pride on a Springbok kill about 100m away. There were only Jackal on it by now, with some vultures nearby. The lions had all moved off into the surrounding bush soon after daybreak. His wife, mother-in-law and 2 teenage daughters looked a little shattered after their sleepless night, also in ground tents.
    Tau lodge is run by Kwando safaris and is very carefully and tastefully tucked away on a hill to the north east of the pan. Its visual impact is minimal with the stone walls and thatched roofs of the chalets. They seem to be doing well judging by the number of guests in game viewing vehicles we came across in the area.
    After an afternoon snooze we went for a drive along the length of Phokoje pan as far as the fork in the road between Piper pan and Letiahau. Good game viewing on the pan with a healthy population of Gemsbok, Springbok and Wildebeest. We saw our second lot of Warthog. What had surprised me so far was the relative paucity of raptors as compared to Kgadigadi. Letiahau valley to Piper turnoff was very scenic with long, green grass, but very little game. The Passarge valley definitely has much more game at this time of year than Letiahau. If I needed to choose between the two, I would rather stay in one of the Passarge camps. Stopped on the road and spoke to a couple who reported a female Cheetah with 2 cubs and a very active pride of Lions at Piper pan, our next destination.
    In camp that night heard no Lions for the first time at night in the reserve. Instead we had a much more benign visitor that kept us entertained until we hit the sack. This was a Spotted Eagle-owl that arrived to take up station in the only tree in the camp. It was completely unfazed by our presence and had obviously done this often before. It used our camp to hunt down the large locusts attracted by the lights, often nabbing them right next to where we were sitting. It even managed to capture a mouse or two for variety. I was able to approach within 2m of it before it showed any distress.
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    Default

    Stan, such a pity that you did not have your camera in the tent. We had something similar with a hippo visit one night on our Caprivi trip. Had the camera with us the following night - no visit!!! Could learn a lesson from this, don't you agree?
    "If you don't care where you are, you ain't lost"

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    Default Central kalahari game reserve:April 2011:trip report.

    Sat 23 April: (Piper pan no 1)

    Our stay at Piper pan was another highlight of our visit to CKGR, there were so many! I would urge everyone to include Piper if they are visiting the reserve for more than a few days. It is probably too long a day to drive directly from Matswere gate, but it is reachable in 8hrs or less from the Deception area. The longer route via Passarge will take this long, but the cut-line (western bypass) road will be quite a bit quicker, according to T4A also 8hrs, but I think quite a lot quicker under reasonable conditions. If one takes the most direct route from Deception via Letiahau, it is very much quicker, it took us 4hrs on the way back. Piper could be your first stop if entering from the Xade gate 80km away.
    The attraction of Piper is threefold; firstly its isolation; second the beautiful pan itself; thirdly the large concentrations of game and predators in the area.
    We packed up camp at leisure and only left for Piper at about 9h00. The Letiahau road was in relatively good condition, sandy almost all the way and 40km/hr was comfortable. The occasional clay sections were hard, but not rutted, so I don’t think will be too troublesome in the wet. Letiahau valley is beautiful and the grass was much greener here, with scattered thorn scrub. It was almost completely devoid of visible animals, probably because there are no pans. The T-junction was reached after about 35min and 25km, it is well sign-posted. Left (north) is to Letiahau waterhole (22km) and Matswere (102km). Right (south) is to Piper pan (26km) and Xade (99km). After this it is a fairly monotonous drive to Piper across dune veld, the road was very sandy, but firm because of the rain. This looks as if it would be a little more challenging at a drier time when the sand is soft. The 57km drive between camps took only 2hrs.
    There are only 2 small camps here. Piper 1 is far nicer because of its location close to the pan. Piper 2 is down the road to the Xade gate, about 4 km from the pan, on a dune but has no view. Piper 1 camp has about 4 trees and is probably suitable for up to 3 tents. It is screened from the nearby road by a stand of scrubby Acacias. It is not possible to pitch a tent to obtain late afternoon shade, once the sun sinks in the west. Previous visitors left a mess of ash on the braai concrete block which I buried with our own when we left. There is no view at all. The facilities are as found in the other camps but the long drop was in a filthy state. We dug a hole and used our mobile toilet seat on a metal frame. Always be sure to carefully burn all toilet paper, placing the hole on the camp periphery and covering it up with soil before moving on. The main pan lies north of 2 smaller pans. We found far less animals in the smaller pan areas and had to be very careful as there were some deep mud holes in the road. If you get stuck here it might be a walk of a km or two to wait on the main Xade road, in the hope of finding some passing traffic, which is not very frequent. The main pan is large at 5X3kms and the ring road around it about 7km long. It probably had the highest game and predator concentration barring Deception valley. However any game sightings here are likely to be yours alone for the day. The solar powered water hole lies between the 2 camps on the Xade road. In the rainy season it is not frequented by game at all as it is so salty (brak).
    After lunch and an afternoon snooze, we went for a drive around the main pan. We saw the cheetah that others had reported, briefly at about 600m, but it soon lay down in an area of long grass not to be seen again that day. There was a lot of general game on the pan with many herds of Gemsbok and Springbok and the largest herds of Blue Wildebeest seen thus far. The area seemed to be very promising for predators, but no sign of the resident Lion pride. Also saw some Bat eared Foxes (always fun to watch), Jackals, Warthogs, Secretary birds and 2 Tawny Eagles, our first large raptors. Visited the waterhole, devoid of game and drove on to Piper 2 camp and had a chat to a couple from Gauteng who reported a long, boring, sandy drive in from Xade gate through the thickly bushed terrain, with minimal game. They felt that there was less water around and the roads were drier than when they visited at the same time the previous year. This was soon to change!
    Certainly the roads around the pans were dry at this stage, but in the many areas of black clay there were very deep ruts, indicating that fairly recently vehicles had experienced some difficulties. On returning to camp we were very pleasantly surprised to find a small group of Kudu emerge onto the small pan just behind our camp. Two large bulls and 3 cows. We were to see them each evening. The number of animals was impressive.

    Sun 24 April: Piper pan

    We planned to be out and about at first light so had a relatively early night. There were no roaring Lions for the second night in a row, but in the early hours a stiff wind sprang up and we had a short sharp downpour, not enough to be disruptive.
    On the northern section of the main pan we found the Cheetah again. Unfortunately it was about 400m away. With binoculars I was able to see that she was panting and when we noticed that Jackals were gathering, realized she was on a fresh kill. We had just missed the chase and kill. A little while later, when they stood up, it was evident that the 2 near-adult cubs had been feeding. The kill was not visible in the fairly long grass. It was now the mothers turn to eat and the cubs amused us by repeatedly chasing after the enlarging crowd of Jackals. We spent almost 2 hours watching this and there was no other vehicle in sight. The family then moved off into the long grass and the Jackals moved in and ran off with the remains which appeared to have been a Springbok. What a privilege to watch to have watched this at our leisure, in absolute privacy. On our way south we saw a flock of about 10 to 15 domestic goats on the pan. What the hell!!
    We then drove around the 2 smaller adjacent pans to the south. Deeply rutted mud traps prevented us going completely around them. I was in no mood to be stuck in such isolation. There were scattered animals in much lower numbers. I spent the early afternoon in camp trying to take some bird photographs.
    On our afternoon drive we had the most amazing sighting of the same mother Cheetah and her 2 cubs and enjoyed spending about 2 hours with them again. They were still at the north eastern side of the pan, but had moved off it to lie across the road under some shady bushes. They were only some 10m from us. My camera was very busy, trying to take advantage of this brilliant photographic opportunity. We were able to witness the playfulness of the cubs at close quarters. We left when they moved onto the pan, presumably to sleep for the night. It was interesting to see how every Springbok stared at them in morbid fascination, some even moving slightly nearer for a closer look.

    Mon 25 April: Piper pan (Easter Monday)

    So much for our planned game drive at day break. No Lions heard during the night, instead an even greater disturbance descended from the heavens. I woke at midnight to a howling gale and a deluge of rain. I crawled out of my warm sleeping bag and made sure all the car windows were closed and moved our chairs inside. Since Sunday pan we had been sleeping with the tent window flaps down but I now had to close the flap over the gauze front door as the rain was even gusting in here.
    The only really shady spot for the tent had been between the 2 largest trees. In knocking in the tent pegs I had noticed evidence of recent standing water. This part of the camp under the trees, was in a bit of a depression, but not as marked as at Phokojee pan. After the rain had been lashing down for an hour or so I could clearly hear the sound of water flowing around our tent and realized we were in trouble. Fortunately modern tents have a built-in ground sheet, but when I got up to check on our situation it was to find that walking on the ground sheet was like walking on a waterbed. Like most ground sheets this had a few small holes from thorns and water was starting to wet the floor. We were also fortunate to be sleeping on stretchers or we would have had to spend a very uncomfortable night in the car. Anne was also awake and our bags, torches and her much prized Kindle were rapidly loaded onto the stretchers. Thank goodness the tent was securely pegged down. The very heavy rain and accompanying pyrotechnics continued for another 2 hours, but we were at least able to snatch some brief moments of sleep. It was still dark when the storm abated but I immediately took stock of our predicament. We were camped in the center of a 20X20m pool of water, deeper than ankle depth. I could not resist the opportunity to take some photos for the memory bank. I also took the opportunity to scoop up 20l of water into one of our containers for our shower later that day. I felt it a little unreasonable that Anne complained of sand in her hair after the shower!
    When dawn broke we pulled up the tent pegs and dragged the tent through the water to higher ground and used our dirty clothes and towels to mop the tent floor. The rain started again and we spent the morning snug in our tent reading, talking and sleeping. Everything was slightly damp. I had taken a look at the road and it was a quagmire. We heard a group of 3 vehicles which were a long time approaching and passing our camp. They were making very slow progress indeed in labored low range and from the sound effects frequently getting bogged down and pulling each other out. Rather them than us! Anne and I decided that if the rain continued, we would stay on at Piper despite the fact that we were due to move to Kori 3 the next day. By 15H00 the sun was shining and we took the opportunity to put our damp possessions out into the sun to dry. I spent the rest of the afternoon bird watching and trying to take some bird photographs. Anyone else camping at this camp in the rainy season would be well advised to take heed of the predicament we landed in and be aware of the danger of flooding. Another strong case for a roof top tent. Once again things could have been worse.
    Experiences such as this downpour, lions in the camp and getting stuck, all give a holiday flavor and in retrospect turn out to be highlights and treasured memories. It is human nature to find the positives in adversity.
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  12. #11
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    Default Central kalahari game reserve:April 2011:trip report.

    Tues 26 April: Kori pan 3
    The trip from Piper to Kori took only 4hrs for the 90km, compared to T4A’s predicted time of 5hrs. This was despite long muddy and slippery sections, requiring much of the road to be covered in low range. I found it best to travel in low range 4th or 5th over the better sections, rather than having to stop to change in and out of low range. Always drove with hubs locked and center diff-lock on. Often the road would suddenly and unexpectedly deteriorate and I did not want to be caught short of revs and traction. There was a steady drizzle on top of all the rain from the previous night. We passed quite a few groups towing trailers and even off-road caravans. I was pleased not to be towing as I had lost control momentarily in a few really slippery areas and realized why those towing were traveling so slowly and carefully.
    The first excitement for the day occurred just 7km from Piper 1 camp when we almost collided with a large black maned Lion in the road. This huge impressive beast was moving towards the pan with purpose. He moved off the road on suddenly encountering us and as he was moving quickly through the bush, it was impossible to get a decent photograph of him. Although we kept a sharp look out there was no sign of the rest of the pride. We had been a little unlucky at Piper as the pride seemed to have moved out of the vicinity for the 3 days we had been there. Perhaps those people following us in the camp would have more luck seeing where this Monarch was headed. Certainly hearing Lions roaring in the vicinity adds an edge to staying in an open camp.
    Letiahau valley seemed to have low game densities at this time. Only once we reached Deception pan and valley did we begin to see respectable numbers of Gemsbok, Springbok and Wildebeest again. We passed the tree island where Mark and Delia Owens had their camp in the days before visitors were allowed into the reserve.
    On arrival at Kori 3 we found the site occupied by a couple in a Gauteng Pajero. The man introduced himself as Luigi, apparently he owns an engine chipping concern in Johannesburg. He complained that there had been a “double booking” the previous night as well. When I asked for his booking confirmation, so that I could make a formal complaint to DWNP, he was unable to find it. He later informed me that he had stayed at Kori 3 camp about 4 times in the last few years and that double bookings were very common. I cannot be sure that he actually had a booking for this camp or if he pulls the same ruse each year, accepting a booking at one of the less popular camps and then claiming a double booking at 3. They had their tent pitched in the most attractive site in lovely shade in the center of the camp. Fortunately Kori 3 is one of the largest campsites and there was plenty of room. We chose a site at the front of the camp, right on the edge of the pan, with an excellent view of the game moving unconcernedly 100 to 200m from us. Anne and I had been spoilt with our privacy in our previous camps and did resent, to some extent, sharing the camp. The previous group had the gall to have left their black rubbish bags in tree forks around our camp. We were a little mollified when Luigi moved them and said he would cart them to the gate when he left a day before us.
    Kori 3 camp certainly had the nicest site and setting of all the camps we visited in CKGR. It is large enough to easily accommodate the largest of groups. It was right on the edge of the pan-like Deception valley, with a clear and commanding view of the herds of Springbok, Gemsbok and Wildebeest a 100m or more away. The Springbok rams were starting to rut as some of the ewes were starting to come into season again. The grunting of the rams and their pursuit of each other provided constant background entertainment. We arrived in slight drizzle but the sun shone brightly for the next 3 days resulting in a rapid improvement in the muddy roads around Deception valley and allowed us to dry out our damp kit. Multiple families of Ground Squirrels occupied the campsite. They ate the bird food I habitually scatter in camp to attract birds, before the birds could get to it.
    As in the other areas visited the game appears to move onto the pans with daylight and moves back into the bush off the pan towards sunset. Although we heard the local Lion pride calling each night, at times fairly close, we never saw them, although others did see them. The game concentrations in Deception valley were the highest in the entire reserve. However our pleasure at this was slightly offset by the large no of 4x4’s around. Our drive that first afternoon was around Deception valley and pan. Deception valley is very open and appears like a very large pan and is often referred to by visitors as the pan. The true Deception pan is smaller and lies to the south along the road to Letiahau. This is well illustrated by the official map of CKGR handed out at Matswere gate, which we found very handy. We also had a look at the other camp sites. Kori 1 and 2 lie further south than 3 and then 4. They are set back from the valley in fairly thick bush and have no view to speak of. They had nice shade trees and were good enough in their own right. All the Kori camps are set near the edge of the open terrain of the valley, spread over a distance of about 2km, with 1 and 2 being the closest together. Kori 4 camp was also on the edge of the valley and this was easily the second best of the Kori camps. Its view of the pan was relatively restricted by some thorn trees. Later we were to bump into Michael and Sylvia Exel from Amsterdam, at this camp, also forum members (Maexel). We were able to live up to our promise to share a few Heinekens around our fire one evening. They were excellent company as are all our friends from Nederland.
    The Deception campsites are a little way from the valley, on the first part of the cutline road to Sunday pan. We did not visit any of them as they were occupied, but they were set in fairly thick bush and appeared to have limited views. They are also more expensive, being administered by Bigfoot.
    Luigi reported that the Deception Lion pride had been regularly seen in the area and that night we were serenaded by their distant roaring again. He also reported a Cheetah on the valley, which we were destined not to see.

    Weds 27 April: CKKOR3
    Rather a quiet day as far as excitement was concerned and I was a little worried that the gloss was wearing off our trip after so many days, but this was to be proven false the next day. We went out on 2 sets of drives around the Deception area exploring it thoroughly, including the loop around Deception pan itself. The area was absolutely teeming with game but we had become a little blaze. I was surprised at the scarcity of large raptors although we did have an excellent sighting of a Black-breasted Snake Eagle.
    The highlight of the day was a large herd of about 200 Springbok passing within spitting distance as we relaxed in camp.

    Thurs 28 April: Kori 3
    Four remarkable events today
    --very exciting repeat meeting with the Sunday pan Lion pride.
    --fresh elephant tracks.
    -- watching the birth of a Springbok foal and the whole labour and birthing process.
    -- seeing 3 Giraffes sailing along on Deception valley.
    We left early for our game drive in the morning. First around Deception valley looking for the Lions heard roaring through the night, about 1 to 2km away to the south east of our camp. No luck.
    We then decided to take the cutline road (western link road) to Sunday pan to see if we could find our friends, the Sunday pan Lions. This would be our last chance to renew our acquaintance as we were leaving the reserve the next day. We needed photographic mug shots of the bandits for the memory bank. What we had experienced that night was beginning to seem like a distant nightmare. We met up with our new friends Michael and Sylvia on the road. They had turned back earlier on the cutline, before Sunday pan, because of the scarce game. Such are the vagaries of game viewing.
    Imagine our excitement, when about 3km from the Sunday turnoff, we saw the same Lion pride sauntering brazenly down the road. We were able to get within 10m from them and they enthralled us for about 30min before moving into the bush to lie up for the day. What incredible luck! We had hoped to see them, if at all, near the pan. What had we done right to deserve such an intimate reunion? Present were 2 adult females and 4 almost fully grown cubs. The 2 male cubs were already starting to sprout a mane. No wonder they had been able to wreak such chaos in our camp in the dead of night. Everything seemed so much more benign in the light of day. No males were with them, so we were unable to definitely confirm our conviction that 2 males had been present in our camp as well. The cubs were rough and boisterous in their play and it was easy to envisage what we had heard, but not actually seen, taking place in our camp only 9 days previously. They were pulling exposed roots in the road apart, in contests of strength. Once again it sunk in how lucky we were not to have had to face the consequences of damage to our tent. I don’t think they would have played with us. I managed to take a whole series of photos whilst Anne watched their antics with a morbid fascination.
    At Sunday pan waterhole we were impressed to find clear, very fresh Elephant prints in the mud. After what we had experienced it was probably asking too much to see an Elephant in the Kalahari as well.
    Returning via Deception valley we had another exceptional treat awaiting us. I noticed one of the many Springbok behaving in a strange manner. We then noticed it was discharging some mucus from its rear. When a dark shape started appearing we realized she was in the early stages of labor. The ewe was less than 10m from us so we had a grand stand view of the entire birth process, which was completed in only an hour. We had both witnessed many human births but this was a unique experience and I was recording it as best I could on camera. When the visible contractions of labor became intense she would lie down for a short while. The head and then the front limbs appeared and remained protruding for some time without any visible progress. The ewe proceeded to orally remove the birth membranes and mucus. She would even nibble on some grass between contractions, all the time keeping a wary eye open for any danger.
    She lay down for one last time and a sudden heave produced the foal. She licked and nuzzled it and then stood up and began nudging the foal to stand up. Within an amazing 2 or 3min the foal began with determined but unsteady attempts to stand. Once standing on wobbly legs it immediately sought out the ewe’s udder. After feeding it appeared stronger and soon was walking about seemingly ready to take on the world. What an amazing cameo of nature.
    I now realize that Giraffe are fairly regular visitors to the area, but was truly amazed to see 3 bulls sailing along on the wide expanse of Deception valley. How things impact on the eyes of the beholder are all a matter of perspective and context. To see 3 Giraffe in Moremi is hardly worth a second glance but here on the wide open spaces of the Kalahari pans they had considerable visual impact. So ended the proceedings of a most eventful day. What you see and witness in the wild is directly proportional to time invested and I think we had invested wisely.

    Fri 29 April: The journey home.
    There was still a lot of standing water on the road to Matswere gate and in the muddy conditions we travelled slowly and carefully. To prove that I learn quickly I made sure I took the westernmost detour around the muddy mess at the entrance to Deception valley. My credibility was at stake and I wanted Anne to be left with the most positive memories possible in anticipation of many more trips in the future. There were 5 vehicles towing trailers ahead of us which helped to ensure I was not tempted to drive too fast, despite the long journey ahead.
    A couple driving into the reserve stopped to tell us there were Lions ahead in the road. Indeed there were 3 fully grown males which had moved just off the road, about 10km from the exit gate. This sighting was spoilt by the behavior of the group ahead of us. In their excitement to obtain better photos they climbed onto the roofs of their vehicles and the noise they made frightened the Lions further into the surrounding bush. Two of the Lions began roaring which had them piling back into their vehicles post haste. We had really seen a lot of Lions, this was our sixth sighting in 11 days. It took us 2hrs to cover the 40km to Maswere gate. We offloaded our black garbage bags into the trailer provided at the gate and reported the broken toilet at Phokoje camp, which they promised to replace. They denied that double bookings were possible but they have no record of who stays where. I strongly doubt that if one were stranded for days, that they would pick up that you were overdue and come looking for you. We easily made the checkout deadline of 11H00. As is the case in other DWNP reserves, checking out after 11 makes you liable for an extra day’s fees. Thus one can only really sleep at Deception, Kori or perhaps Sunday camps on your last night.
    I had a half a tank of diesel left and we were able to drive a further 500km to Serowe to fill up. I was pleased to see that there was a Toyota dealer here, Dennis Service station.
    We really overdid the distance covered on this day. Passing through heavy traffic in the dark in Gaberone was not fun. The traffic jams on the road to Tlokweng border post were due to extensive road works. This road will be a boon when completed. We arrived at Scott’s Manor B+B in Lichtenberg at the late hour of 22h45. We had phoned ahead to try and book a room at Lakeside B+B again but were told thet were full. Scott’s manor was very upmarket and pricey at over R500 each without breakfast.
    Sat 30 April 2011: Final day on the road.
    Left early at 5h30, taking the same route as incoming and arrived in East London 12hrs later. Mum was pleased to be home as our son had arrived back after a year in Canada.
    NEXT TRIP: ZAMBIA, SEPTEMBER/ OCTOBER 2012
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  13. #12
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    Awesome report!!!, I love this place!, I really hope I can make it there one day!!!.
    I like anything with 4 or more wheels...

  14. #13
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    Default Central kalahari game reserve:April 2011:trip report

    Stan, thank you for all the effort you put into this trip report. Really one of the most comprehensive trip reports that I have read in a long time. Looking forward to any future reports!

  15. #14
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    Default

    Stan, thank you, nice report. Nice photo's. Must said, we stay at Kori 3 and Sun01, was beuatifull,, lions at our camp but we only see their prints. But, thanks for your report.
    Elize

    en ry saam met SarelF in
    VW AMAROK MET BLINKGATCAMPER:
    My Platkar:- Peugeot 208

    Kyk gerus by www.blinkgatproducts.com
    Vir enige aluminium produkte,canopy's, campers kontak gerus
    Sarel 0828209413

  16. #15
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    Well Done Stan, exceptional trip report, worthwhile read!

    One question: If you had to pick just one campsite for a 5 night stay, what would your order of preference be from the campsites that you stayed at, given that the main requirement would be to have privacy and that longish game drives would not be objectionable?
    Peet Schultz

  17. #16
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    Nice stan. Same experience with Bigfood they did not pay me back my R1000 deposit after I cancel my trip due to unforeseen circumstances 4 months prior to the trip.

  18. #17
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    Default Preferred camp for 5 days

    Hello Peet,
    Very good question. Very much a matter of opinion. With privacy a priority I would exclude Kori and Deception camps.

    The Sunday camps are only about 3 or 4 hours from Rakops and for ease of access, privacy and game-viewing potential, I would choose one of these. Which one? I don't think this is critical. As you know we stayed at Sunday pan no 1 camp (CKSUN2). There is no doubt that you will be aware of noisy neighbors at camps 2 and 3 (CKSUN 3 and 4), being only about 4 to 500m apart. They definately have a better view of Sunday pan and would be most people's first choice here. Game drives from here and around the nearby Deception area will be the most productive in the whole reserve BUT not very private. Otherwise the loops around Sunday and Leopard pans will only take a couple of hours. A long drive to Passarge valley would be an outing of about 6 to 8 hours there and back. If Lions are a priority Sunday pan has the reputation of producing the goods.

    Piper pan no 1 camp is the most private of the camps we stayed at. There are only the 2 camps in the whole vicinity and you should have the pan all to yourselves as Piper 2 is not very popular and is often just a stopover to or from Xade gate. Game drives to the fantastic Tau pan are easily done. One can also drive to the Letiahau waterhole or Phokojee area for half a day or more. I think you will cover the teritories of 4 Lion prides from here if Lions are a priority. You will also have easy access to 2 pans with Cheetahs. However when you note that it would take you about 7 to 8 hours from Rakops to Piper, via the Letiahau route, it may mean having to camp at Matswere gate the night before. I understand you don't have to book or pay for Matswere.

    FIRST CHOICE: CKSUN2
    SECOND CHOICE: CKPIP1 ( depending on travelling restrictions)

    Stan

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    Hi Stan

    The bird in the picture following that of the Kalahari Scrub-robin is a Marico Flyctacher.
    2006 Defender KE 300 TDi (aka Hari), previously 2003 TD5 90 (aka Steri) and 1994 TDi HiLine 200 TDi (aka Big Blue).
    Afrispoor Serval off-road caravan (aka ORC).

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    Stan another fantastic trip report-i must say i read cry of the kalahari and then their subsequent two follow on books of their work in Zambia and have been keen to visit deception valley-so your wonderful report has got me thinking of what to do for my next trip into africa.However in five weeks time we leave again for Manna pools for a 19 day break so maybe i could look at deception valley for either September or December.As we both from EL i would appreciate it if we could meet some time to go over your recomendations and maps/camp-sites etc.My contact no is 0825576761 and i look forward to speaking to you-thanks Kerry Skidmore

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    Hi Stan,

    From us in Botswana and part of the 4x4community, a great, detailed trip report!!
    For other readers ref, it's Riverwalk Shopping centre not River Side..?

    I can understand that your booking expersience was a night mare..!! For some of us living here, it is sometimes just as a mission?

    All the best with our next journey..!!

    Sam
    Gaborone

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