17 – 29 October 2020
Let me start off by saying that Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (KTP) is an experience like no other and a destination that should be on every birder’s and nature lover’s bucket list.
There are a few things one should mention at the outset:
The roads are rough, very sandy and corrugated. While the roads between the main camps may be accessible by ordinary sedan and the smaller, luxury SUVs, we feel a high-clearance bakkie or four-wheel drive would be preferable. The roads to the wilderness camps are only accessible by high-clearance 4×4. And if you want to camp and have a trailer or caravan there is no question that you need a stronger vehicle. We came across one chap who had a small SUV with a small trailer and he got stuck on just about every other dune. And when we say corrugated we suggest you book appointments with your dentist and chiropractor for your return before you leave home.
You need to take your own drinking water with. The water in the taps at all the camps are salty. Brack-ish is an understatement. It is fine for cooking and washing but not for drinking and coffee. We initially tried to use it for coffee and called it ‘salted mocha’ but we doubt it is a flavour that will gain wide popularity. And take more water than you think you will need. We were there twelve days and took 54L from Durban and had to buy another 20L in the park. You need to drink a lot of water to stay hydrated in the dry heat.
There are no cell phone reception or Internet available outside of the main camps. The last camp where you have reliable reception is at Twee Rivieren. You can buy time/data at Nossob and Mata-Mata, but the links are unreliable and expire within minutes even though they say it doesn’t – that is the only conclusion the crowd on the stoep outside the shop at Nossob, who had to keep running back into the shop to buy more, could come to. You only have reception on the stoep.
It is such a long drive there from Durban we suggest you book enough time when you get the chance. Be aware that KTP is very popular (with good reason) and finding accommodation for consecutive nights can be difficult. The wilderness camps are especially popular and fill up quickly because they have very limited accommodation, generally about four units per camp and no camping facilities as you cannot tow a caravan or trailer on the roads to the bush camps. But a night at one of these bush camps is an exceptional experience – they are unfenced, it is wild, it is remote and you can be the only eight people plus the camp manager in a radius of 50km. Staying in one of these camps is an experience that fills your very soul.
There are three main camps: Twee Rivieren (entrance/exit), Nossob in the north and Mata-Mata in the west. We suggest you book enough nights at each of these three camps to allow you time to explore the, very different, environment around each camp. Even if you cannot find accommodation in one of the bush camps, the three main camps and their environs will give you a wonderful overview of the park with amazing sightings no matter what time of the year you go. Mind you, I should qualify that: As we entered at Twee Rivieren a very dissatisfied guy from Cape Town was leaving and bent my ear complaining how the entire 160km from Nossob to Twee Rivieren they had only seen two lions. NOTHING else! Really? Fortunately, birders don’t only count lion sightings as worthwhile and if you look around, you will be amazed at what you find. Expect the unexpected. And be willing to spend time at the waterholes. They may be dead quiet or they may turn up amazing sightings. Look out for interactions among species.
The main camps do have shops where you can buy water, ice, cool drinks, curios and VERY basic supplies but it is best to take all your groceries with you from home or buy fresh foods at your last big stop in Upington. There is also fuel at the camps, but supply can run low and then they limit the litres per vehicle until the next delivery.
All three main camps have hides near a waterhole. The one at Twee Rivieren is brand new and very well done for viewing during the day and night. The hides are very popular and when there are lions in the vicinity the tourists become crazy and all pack into the hide regardless of social distancing and no masks. That’s when we left the hides to have supper or relax in our chalet. Lions tend to scare off other animals at the waterholes, anyway.
The lovely book, Kgalagadi Self-drive by Powell and Van den Bergh, I received from BLPN is very useful. It contains information about the camps, various routes, waterholes, animals and plants. My only gripe with the book is that it has no index apart from a brief mammals list with miles of page numbers. So if you want to find out more about the Camel Thorn (you can’t imagine Kgalagadi without its Camel Thorns) you’re stuck to find out where the information is hidden. The authors would do well to enhance the value and user-friendliness of their book by paying a professional indexer to do a proper index for the book.
I wondered if the species mentioned in the book had read the book and would know where they were supposed to be found but I had to swallow my scepticism as we were surprised to discover how many of the sightings were to be found where the authors suggested we look. The book also contains lots of interesting snippets about the history of the park and the origins of some of the names. And then there are the wonderful photographs – a feast for the eyes. It definitely enhances your trip.
We have to mention that we were impressed with the professional Park staff and how well-managed all the camps were. All niggles came from visitors not respecting park rules – what a pity that such people also disgrace our parks. And do go on an evening drive. It is costly but so well worth it for finding the elusive species you are unlikely to see during the day.
But on to the sightings – I’m mentioning primarily the iconic species and special sightings rather than all the species we saw:
Wild, remote, free!
Trip report and photographs by Arnia van Vuuren