Report by Sally and Paul Bartho
5 to 27 April 2018
Sally and I were invited by our friends, Arthur and Rose Douglas to join them for 3 weeks in the Kgalagadi. Also with us was another couple, Bernard and Lynda Kriel.
Our first night was spent at the River of Joy campsite close to Bloemfontein. A 528 km journey from Howick taking around 6 hours. A pleasant enough spot to overnight. We went down to the river but did not see much. Our best birding was up the entrance road .
Here we managed to do a little birding and our best sighting was that of a pair of Spotted Thick-knees.
The next day we took it easy and headed for Kheis Riverside Lodge. This time a 445 km journey taking about 5 hours. That left us with a shortish drive the following day to reach Twee Rivieren (a 379 Km journey taking about 4 hours) with time to do any last minute shopping in Uppington.
Kheis Riverside Lodge campsite is very pleasant – shady and green and right next to the Orange River.
Birding was quiet but we did see some nice birds – Orange River White-eye and Black-chested Prinias.
At last we arrived in the Kgalagadi. After checking into the Transfrontier Park at Twee Riv1eren we headed for Rooiputs. Because we were leaving the Park into Botswana at the eastern gate of Mabuasuhube at the end of our trip, we remembered to get our passports stamped as entering Botswana (easily forgotten).
We shared campsite number 2. A large site with an A-frame, cold water and a loo and shower a tad far away to walk comfortably to at night especially as there were lions about.
Early to bed and early to rise – typical of enjoying the bush.
Then it happened – the first of three nights worth at Rooiputs. Big thunderstorm and loads of rain. Each night the same. Wake up and find the river bed was surprisingly full of water. However by evening it had gone.
The rain covered most of the Park each night.
As well as down to Twee Rivieren and across to Mata Mata.
Over the four days in Rooiputs we had some lovely bird sightings. Great raptor sightings – Black Harrier in particular.
Amongst the non-raptors there were
Of course it was not just about birds. In the Sociable Weavers’ nest we found a Cape Cobra.
And Black-backed Jacal, Brown Hyena, Lions on a kill, Bat-eared Foxes, Cheetah and cubs on a kill, a Honey Badger with opportunistic friends, Oryx (aka Gemsbok), numerous Springbok and Mongooses to name a few.
We even came across a randy tortoise. He did his best to mate with a somewhat larger female. Very persistent. Eventually after mounting her and perhaps doing his business he was summarily tossed over backwards behind her.
Each evening we sat around a campfire watching the flames and occasionally putting the torch behind us to check for sneaky dangerous animals. However we were not always as alert as we should have been. Sitting around the campfire one night, chin wagging as one does, we suddenly notice this animal under Sally’s chair – an uninterested Cape Fox fortunately. This was not the only time we had such an experience. It happened again in Polentswa with another Cape Fox.
After four nights in Rooiputs we headed for Mata Mata – taking the crossing at Kij Kij rather than going via Twee Rivieren. The campsite was full but fortunately Sally and I arrived early enough to secure two reasonably comfortable campsites side by side for tall of us to share.
On the way there we came across a pride of thoroughly lazy lions – not willing to shift off the road to let us past. Not a flinch as our wheels came close.
The Mata Mata campsite has a hide overlooking a wetland area. And wet it was yet again – more nightly thunderstorms and deluge of rain.
Game viewing and birding in Mata Mata involves driving back towards Twee Rivieren for 20 kms (one hour) before you have a chance to get off the main road onto a loop road. Then it is the same again for the second and third loops.
Normally we would expect to see some owls but we were not lucky during our three night stay there. Much of our birding was in the campsite. In fact we were serenaded very sweetly every morning at dawn by White-browed Sparrow-Weavers – from inside their nests above us.
Some of the other birds we photographed:
After three nights in Mata Mata we headed for Polentswa via the cross road to Dikbaardskolk picnic site and then Nossob. A long 200 km drive cross country. Fortunately the roads were not too corrugated and the sand was compacted due to the rain. Having seen few interesting animals during our time in Mata Mata we were hopeful but also realised that if we saw anything interesting that we could not afford to stop for long.
Of course that is when it all started to happen. Early start and not far out of Mata Mata and we encounted our first pride of lions – about 10 if memory serves me well. Quick photos and then we are moving on while everyone else stops. Then the next group of lions, then more lions (we saw 19 in all over the 60 kms to the cross road to Nossob) and Bat-eared Foxes. Then to cap it all a young Leopard walks towards us and right alongside the driver’s side of the car. Everyone else was probably still ensconsed round the first group of lions that we saw!!
Just before we started the crossing to Nossob we had a salute Good-bye from a lone Giraffe perched on the top of a hill.
On the crossing to Nossob we had several sightings of butterflies in the road and a Gabar Goshawk having a bath.
At Nossob Arthur and Rose’s son Brad and friend joined us.
So now we were eight in all with three off-road campervans and one roof-top bakkie (Bernard and Lynda’s). Once filled up with diesel and water we headed for five nights at Polentswa – campsite number 2.
On arrival we noticed that someone had changed the numbering of the campsites so we rectified that and settled in. It was a tight squeeze around the A-frame but we managed quite well – one couple on each side.
Polentswa has no water nor electricity – just a shower (with your own water) and a long drop. We each had solar panels which kept the freezers and fridges running without issue. To have a warm water for our showers, we used the sun to heat up our 5 lt bottles of water. All rubbish had to be collected to take back out with us.
Being an hour and a half’s drive from Nossob we hardly had anyone else about. Just those of us in the three separate campsites.
Both birding and animal sightings were interesting. The Kudu sighting was most unexpected.
Most of the looped viewing points were inundated as well as the roads in places.
Birds too were special.
Then on one of our drives north we came across a large road puddle – full of Ostriches (about 20) bathing together.
Then on another escapade we were truly rewarded. Again we had to avoid one of the larger road puddles and as we drove along the roadside track we spotted this beautiful Bateleur.
Eventually it flew off and we continued round the track to get back on the main road. We had not gone far when we observed what we thought was a Jackal in the distance. As we got closer we realised we had made a serious mistake – see photos.
Not to be outdone a Wildcat at one of the viewing sights gave us a special treat. We had been watching hundreds of Namaqua Doves drinking from one of the larger puddles at the Kousant side road and after some time decided to move off. As we did so Sally exclaimed “Wildcat”. It took me ages to see it as it was so well camouflaged. We spent another hour there watching its antics. Fortunately it made several appearances there during our time at Polentswa and we were able to watch it several times more along with the rest of our group.
In doing so, we drove quite close to the action with the water lapping at our running boards. There it was, camougflaged beneath a bush at the water’s edge preying on the Namaqua Doves. The birds would spot the Wildcat and fly off but always returned. Many ended as prey to the cat. We saw over a dozen instances where the Wildcat leapt for its prey with about a 50% success rate in the first hour we were there. Amazing agility and speed.
As mentioned earlier we had nightly visitors round our campsite fire- in particular a friendly Cape Fox and the occasional Black-backed Jackal.
Our plan after leaving Polentswa was to enter Mabuasehube from Nossob. First we needed to get back to Nossob to re-fuel, take on water and buy wood. By 09h30 we left Nossob to head for the halfway stop at Matopi campsite.
The following day we were to be in Mpaya campsite for three nights then four more at Lesholoago before departing the Park via the Mabuasehube Gate into Botswana. At this point Bernard and Lynda left us so it was just the three campervans in tow.
Off we set – 200kms to cross. We expected the dunes to be a real trial – soft sand and hugely uneven tracks. As it turned out this was not the case because of the rains.
We had not gone more than two kms on the crossing road when we came across our first dune challenge – a long steepish and rough climb. Arthur and Rose were in the lead with Brad and friend behind – then came tail-end Charlie who was most likely to need a hand.
Sally and I lagged behind to watch the lead vehicle and campervan go up the hill. All going well but a lot of speed and heavy bouncing about. Then we hear on the radio “Hey dad, is that your wheel coming towards me?” A joke I thought. But a joke it was not. The back right wheel of their trailer had broken off and the axle was caput too. Fortunately this happened near the start of the crossing and not midway.
So what to do. The back of their trailer was well dug in on the right side of the narrow track. Arthur and Brad summed up the situation and set out to fix the problem themselves. First, clear the bush either side for manoeverability of their vehicles. Then they dug out the axle so that they could turn the trailer round without digging it further into the sand.
Meanwhile Sally and I took Rose back to camp to order a new axle and get accommodation for all of us for the next few days. The camp manager was very helpful with the former but the accommodation was a problem as the site was full. Eventually they realised they had no choice but to let us stay. “One night that is all that is allowed for emergencies” we were told.
That sorted and a new axle from Cape Town ordered to be collected from the dealer in Upington the next day, we returned to the helpless trailer. On arrival we were surprised to find that the trailer had been turned around and was now being organised to limp back to camp somehow. Both vehicles had winches at the front to make this manoevre possible. Sally and I returned to camp to await their hopeful arrival.
What an amazing sight greeted us when eventually the trailer was brought back into camp. Arthur and Brad had somehow not only got the trailer turned around but hooked its front onto Arthur’s Fortuner while Brad’s Land Cruiser had winched the back right of the trailer off the ground. Arthur then towed both the trailer and Brad’s Land Cruiser the 6 kms back to camp.
The whole camp came out to greet them in total amazement. The trailer was quickly put on bricks and the axle removed.
The following day Arthur and Rose headed for Upington with the broken axle on their roof to make sure they had the correct one to return with.
On arrival in Upington the replacement had arrived from Cape Town and they headed back to the Park. Too late to reach Nossob they camped just outside the Park. The next day after a hideous drive from Nossob in muddy conditions they arrived mid-day. The axle was installed and we were ready for the long journey the following day.
Sally and managed to do some birding near-by but mainly round the camp.
In the meantime the diesel truck had broken down and never arrived in Nossob the three nights we were there. Diesel was limited to 30 litres the first 2 days and not at all on the third day. We took a chance with spare Jerrycans we had filled up earlier and they proved well more than we needed.
Now it was time to try the cross over into Mabuasehube again. This time it was taken a lot easier and we reached Mpaya in good time. The crossing was easy once over the first few dunes. In fact, because of the rains, we never needed low range throughout the five nights we were there.
On the way over Steenbok were plentiful.
Unfortunately we lost several days camping in Mapaya due to the broken axle. It is a good spot overlooking a wetland area. The next morning as we prepared to leave we saw a large male lion approaching our campsite. It eventually disappeared into the bush near us never to be seen again. Creepy.
From Mpaya we headed to Lesholoago. A short hour and a bit away. The campsite is very private and overlooks the Lesholoago Pan very nicely. There is also a man-made water hole nearby which was well used by animals and birds while we were there. Again an A-frame, a long drop and separate cold water shower area. Even a double washup basin with cold water.
Driving round the Pan we saw many interesting creatures – Sun Squirrels, Meercats with their antics, Steenbok, Black-backed Jackal, Springbok as well as other antelope from time to time.
At night even the insects made for good viewing too.
As always the birds were special. In particular at the waterholes there were a huge variety of birds coming and going. Constantly flying in as a group and then scampering when one decides it is a bit nervous and flies off – the others following.
Some campsite birds:
Then there are the waterhole birds:
Some other birds seen around and about the area:
And not to be outdone here are some photos of the flora Sally caught on camera;
On our last evening there was a Leopard seen at the waterhole. We raced down to see it as it was starting to get dark. However our campsite Jackals (seen in camp each evening as we sat by the fire) decided that we might be in trouble. They hollered and chased the Leopard away before most of us had a chance to see it. We did try!!
Finally it was time to leave. Our plan was to drive out the Mabuasehube gate and drive down the fenceline to Tsabong. We were expecting thick sand but on the whole the road was very wide and more gravelly in nature especially after the first 40 kms along the fenceline.
Tsabong is very close to the RSA border. Should we consider going back to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park we would choose to either visit Mabuasehube (via Tsabong and McCarthy’s Rest border post) or alternatively to visit the West side of the Park entering at Twee Rivieren. That avoids the unpredictable nature of the 200 km crossing from Nossob to Mabuasehube and back.
At Tsabong we all went in different directions. Arthur and Rose back to Twee Rivieren for another week in the Park. They travelled along the RSA/Botswana tarred road all the way. Brad and friend went back home via McCarthy’s Rest border post. While Sally and I headed for the Trans-Kalahari Highway at Sekoma to continue on to Namibia for a few more weeks.
Look out for the next installment of our time in Namibia.
Altogether we all had a great time together. The company was excellent with numerous tales each night round the campfire – of things seen or experienced during the day and past trials in the bush.
We all did our own thing daily depending on our interests – sometimes together, sometimes not. The food arrangements were well organised with a communal braai every third night – each couple assigned with a part of the meal for the night. Other days we all did our own thing for dinner but sat around the fire together to finish our meal.
Animal sightings were good and our bird list of 106 species included some very special sightings. If you would like to see our list then click here.
Of the 106 birds we identified I managed to get photos of about 80 – most shown above.
Sally and Paul Bartho