Safaridude

Kgalagadi and Londolozi: The Living Desert and Desserts to Die For

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Ok, let’s first deal with the pitfalls of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. It is a major pain in the arse to get to; the process of booking the camps actually initiates the pain (in the arse); there is heavy vehicle traffic in certain parts of the park where some self-drivers seem to be motivated more by the desire to travel at top speeds rather than viewing game; there are overgrown driedoring bushes impeding visibility on some parts of the Nossob Road; and the dearth of game loops limits your ability to control distances to sightings.

 

 

All that said, Kgalagadi just might be the most addictive place I have been to in Africa. If you are keen on seeing the “small stuff” and learning about how everything fits together in nature, Kgalagadi is the place. Said another way, it’s the kind of place where the first-time, student of nature-type visitor would be blown away. And why so addictive? Kgalagadi never gives you 100% satisfaction. It’s like leaving a couple of makeable putts out there to shoot 91: you are hell bent on teeing it up again.

 

100% satisfaction is not a problem at Londolozi. Predators not only abound, but also, so accustomed to human gawkers, they let you into their lives. Nighttime game viewing at Londolozi simply cannot be matched. And all this comes with unapologetically opulent accommodations, inspiring rapture in some guests and sheepishness in others and awe in all. Oh, and the food… more on that later.

 

 

Kgalagadi and Londolozi. They are the two ends of the safari spectrum, but they are both fitting representations of the way they do it in South Africa. The following is an account of my recent trip in April 2016.

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Posted (edited)

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

 

I am fast perfecting the art of visiting Kgalagadi. Natasha Iles from AfriFriends is the trip planner/driver/guide and her trusty Nissan Pathfinder the workhorse. We are to visit a combination of SANParks’ self-service accommodations and two relatively new, full-service lodges on the Botswanan side of Kgalagadi. Natasha’s business partner Andre Ballot, who happens to be visiting the park anyway, will do most of the cooking while we are at SANParks camps. The final touch, of course, is the incomparable Benson Siyawareva. I laugh whenever I hear that Kgalagadi is a low game-density park. It certainly is not so if you have with you this eagle-eyed guide with a sixth sense from Zim. Time and again, vehicles would whiz past interesting sightings (even big cats) that so well blend into the desert environment, while Benson would call them out practically in his sleep. This, my third trip to Kgalagadi and my second with Natasha and Benson, would be the best amongst the three by some margin.

 

A good map of the park is found here and will aid in following this report: https://www.sanparks.org/images/parks/kgalagadi/maps/full_parkmap08.jpg

 

I have covered a lot of information on the park in my previous Kgalagadi trip report: http://safaritalk.net/topic/10888-an-authentic-south-african-safari-kgalagadi-nylsvley-northern-kruger-and-ezemvelo/?p=98114 This report will be more of a pictorial one.

 

 

 

Day 1

 

It is an uncharacteristically cool, dull, grey day. A nearly three-hour drive from the Upington Airport lands us at the park headquarters at Twee Rivieren. Our first night accommodation is at Rooiputs Lodge, which is one of the two lodges owned and operated by Botswana’s Ta Shebube. The main Nossob Road follows the meandering Nossob riverbed, and just east of the Nossob riverbed is Botswana. Rooiputs Lodge, lying just east of the eponymous waterhole, is situated only a few paces into Botswana, though the guests conduct their game drives on the main Nossob road.

 

4:06pm - A huge storm has flooded parts of the Nossob Road. The Nossob riverbed is clay-based in parts and, thus, tends to hold water longer. A herd of springboks rests near a temporary pool. That’s Rooiputs Lodge in the background.

 

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4:22pm – An African darter, a water-loving bird, on the Nossob Road. This is an unusual sight in Kgalagadi.

 

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4:36pm – Black-backed jackals are very common.

 

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4:51pm and 4:55pm – A gemsbok walking on water. Prior to the renaming of the park as a transfrontier park, the South African portion of what is now Kgalagadi was called, “Kalahari Gemsbok National Park”. Gemsboks are indeed a deity here and deserve to walk on water.

 

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5:08pm – The sun struggling to come out. Around the Rooiputs area and north of there, red sand dunes begin to appear.

 

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5:56pm – Near Kij Kij, a prototypical Kalahari male lion (with the typical black-ringed mane) is spotted by Benson. His pride mate is nearby but completely obscured by a bush.

 

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6:04pm – We are able to get a closer look by climbing up the Kielie-Krankie turnoff road.

 

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Edited by Safaridude
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@@Safaridude

 

I have no idea why you have complaints about KTP's booking system - we have been going to ZA for ten years now, with at least one trip a year and nowhere in Africa it is easier to (self)book accomodation than with SanParks. Compare it to trying to get accomodation in Etosha or other state run parks and places in Namibia and you know what I am talking about. I've never tried to self-book places in Botswana or Zimbabwe but from what I read and hear, it's even worse than Namibia.

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Posted (edited)

Day 2

 

Are we sure this is Kgalagadi? It is cloudy, cold and windy. An African jacana, another water-loving bird, is found swimming in a roadside pool. We spend the day exploring Rooiputs, Kij Kij, Melkvlei and Gunong. Some of the most attractive red dunes in the park are found here. Because we are at some distance from Twee Rivieren, vehicle traffic is light.

 

6:30am – At first light, the vehicle is being readied for the day.

 

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6:31am – Benson with Neo, who is temporarily managing Rooiputs Lodge. We would meet Neo later in the trip at Polentswa Lodge, the other Ta Shebube-owned lodge she normally manages.

 

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7:26am – The sun still struggling.

 

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7:29am – An eland bull carcass is worked over by a black-backed jackal.

 

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7:38am – There is not much left of the eland, but the jackal is still hard at it.

 

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8:19am – The prince of Kgalagadi.

 

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8:38am – The two male lions are found not far from where we had seen them last evening.

 

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10:52am – A line-up of springboks.

 

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3:28pm – A herd of springboks in repose on the riverbed. Many of the females appear to be pregnant, and there are some newborns around.

 

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5:23pm – A new springbok lamb, perhaps just hours old.

 

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5:39pm – Gemsboks grazing on a calcrete rise.

 

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5:42pm – A gemsbok sunset.

 

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5:54pm – A pale morph tawny eagle in flight.

 

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5:59pm – A pair of ostriches in back light.

 

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7:07pm – A surreal sunset from the mess area of Rooiputs Lodge.

 

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Edited by Safaridude
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Beautiful photography, as always!

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You describe its addictiveness well and the photos offer further proof.

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@@Safaridude

It looks like the rain was an often visitor to Kgalagadi this year! And yes, Kgalagadi never gives out 100% of what it has on stock

I am really looking forward to see more of your excellent photos; and with an experienced guide, you surely have some great surprises for us!

 

I know we cannot compare each other experiences directly yet I have found the SANParks booking system to be well managed (and light years ahead of NWR in Namibia).

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@@ice @@xelas

 

There isn't anything wrong about the SANParks reservation system, per se.

 

But because some of the smaller "wilderness camps" book up on the first day the reservations are available, I have found it extremely hard to string together an itinerary covering all the parts of the park (each time, my agent had to hope and wait for cancellations). Sure, if one just wants to visit the three large camps (Twee Rivieren, Nossob and Mata-Mata), it's not difficult.

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Yeah, that is a real problem. And in February, there were openings at almost every wilderness camp we have stayed at!! My advice: book whatever is available and adjust if possible.

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it has been our custom to book SanParks camps (not only in KTP but also in KNP) on the very first day bookings are opened

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Fantastic introductory post. God how I want to go to both!
Awesome photography, yet how oddly atypical of Kgalagadi to have Darters and Jacanas!

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I agree with @@Big_Dog about the super fist post. Really draws me in! Having been to and loved Londolozi, I know of what you speak and can't wait to revisit it through your eyes! Having not been to KTP, the reports are always intriguing and making me think of putting it on my list. Cool combo in one trip!

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@@Safaridude - great start and really like your jackals and gemsboks - particularly the silhouette in the sunset where you can see the rings on the horns against the sky.

 

Looking forward to more of that red landscape.

 

kind regards

 

deano.

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Posted (edited)

Day 3

 

 

A long drive to Kalahari Tented Camp on the upper reaches of the Auob riverbed is in order today. It has been most unusual in terms of weather so far, but things may be about to change. Though still mostly cloudy, sunny intervals greet us.

 

 

8:11am - Just a few minutes on the Auob after passing Samevloeiing, two leopards, presumably mother and cub, stand sentinel on a small rise.

 

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8:14am – They nonchalantly pass by our vehicle.

 

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10:12am - The road in the process of drying out.

 

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11:07am – We encounter two young male lions at rest on the riverbed. Apparently, the lion sex ratio in Kgalagadi is unusually skewed toward males. This puts extraordinary pressure on the lives of young nomadic male lions.

 

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11:15am – A crimson-breasted shrike.

 

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12:18pm – Two wildebeest bulls flex their muscles against each other. One of them gets periodically airborne.

 

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12:49pm – The wildebeest found in Kgalagadi belongs to the subspecies, blue wildebeest. Indeed, the coat exudes a bluish tint.

 

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1:28pm – Butterflies seek moisture, now fast evaporating on the Auob.

 

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4:07pm – Four cheetah boys resting between Craig Lockhart and Dalkeith. This is a formidable coalition that likes to use the dune slopes of the Auob riverbed for reconnaissance and concealment in order to pounce on prey on the riverbed itself.

 

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4:59pm – Unfortunately, a jackal’s persistent alarm calls advertise the presence of the cheetahs, and the coalition decides to leave the riverbed. They disappear over the dunes for the evening.

 

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5:44pm – With the cheetahs gone, the tension on the riverbed is relieved. A territorial springbok ram cavorts.

 

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Edited by Safaridude
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Posted (edited)

Day 4

 

 

From our base at Kalahari Tented Camp, we scour the Auob riverbed and the dunes for those four cheetah boys with no luck. Lions were heard all night, and though the tracks are found, we strike out on them too. It turns out to be an African wildcat day, however, as we encounter three different individuals.

 

 

7:37am – Sunrise over the dunes.

 

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8:07am – Our first African wild cat sighting of the day.

 

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8:53am – A martial eagle with what appears to be a steenbok kill.

 

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10:45am – Our second African wildcat of the day.

 

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10:54am – The sky finally clears, and the saturated colors of the dunes and sky return.

 

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11:01am – A black-chested snake eagle with a snake kill. Amazingly, it attempts to feed on the snake during its flight.

 

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11:45am – Our third African wildcat of the day with a kill (acacia rat?).

 

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4:05pm – An African wildcat (one we had seen earlier) resting in a tree.

 

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Speaking of trees, there is a fascinating dynamic amongst the camelthorns in Kgalagadi. The camelthorn (Acacia erioloba) is the most common and conspicuous large tree in the park. The grey camelthorn (Acacia haematoxylon), much less prevalent, is a silvery-leaved version of camelthorn and is endemic to the southwestern Kalahari. Interestingly, a hybrid of A. erioloba and A. haematoxylon occurs in certain areas of Kgalagadi.

 

Camelthorn

 

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Grey camelthorn

 

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Camelthorn/grey camelthorn hybrid

 

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The three trees can be easily identified by the pods. From left to right: pods of camelthorn, grey camelthorn and camelthorn/grey camelthorn hybrid.

 

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Edited by Safaridude
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Leopard cubs, eagles with kills, wildcats with kills...just getting showered in fantastic sightings!

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I can't believe you saw three African Wildcats! That first picture of them is a real stunner, too, as are the pictures of the airborne wildebeest. Who ever thought I'd see a picture of a levitating wildebeest?

 

I also really like the way you set up the trip in your opening post -- very helpful, particularly for a newbie like myself. Thanks!

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@@Safaridude

As always your photos are simply amazing! It is as we are back live in KTP!

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@@Safaridude, bouncing Wildebeest, what fun. That Wildcat with the rodent in its mouth looks so much like the domestic moggy thats just caught a rat.The last photo of the Wildcat is just beautiful, and IANACP (I am not a Cat person, except in Africa and India). The great reports coming out of KTP, and I just learnt how to pronounce Kgalagadi, are proving very tempting indeed. Thanks

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The jackal on eland kill really shows the sheer size on the antelope. Never having been to the Kgalagadi, I find the photos very interesting.

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@@hannahcat

 

I can't believe it either. But there's more wildcat coming!

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Awesome, and such a surprise to see you at two extreme ends of accommodations.

 

Love those AWCs... They are still eluding me.

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What an amazing trip! And your pictures and descriptions bring us there, too. KTP is now high on my list, you are a great ambassador :-)

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Glad you got to my favourite park and enjoyed it so much. Pen

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Posted (edited)

Day 5

 

 

We pick up the four cheetah boys near Sitsas in the morning and then later in the afternoon again. Though prey is available on the riverbed, they don’t appear to be motivated. Benson thinks they are not quite hungry because they are periodically picking up newborn springbok lambs as snacks. It’s cheetah day nonetheless.

 

 

6:05am – My tent unit at Kalahari Tented Camp.

 

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6:43am – Andre in deep thought.

 

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7:32am – The four cheetah males near Sitsas.

 

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7:46am – Frustratingly, they begin heading away to the dunes on the far side again.

 

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7:48am – A springbok ram detects the cheetahs’ presence and bolts.

 

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8:18am – Though multiple bulls are allowed in a gemsbok herd, there is a “master bull”. The master bull harasses a lower-ranking bull in this sequence.

 

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11:00am – A Cape cobra raids a sociable weaver’s nest.

 

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4:00pm – The southern pale chanting goshawk is probably the most common raptor in Kgalagadi.

 

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5:40pm – The cheetahs are found again on the opposite bank of the riverbed.

 

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Edited by Safaridude
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