Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

To be honest we never really planned to go to the Kgalagadi. Our big trip for the year was always Kruger National Park but somehow about a day after I had a brief chat about it to Lauren she had book and paid. And I’m so glad she did.

Lauren doesn’t mess around when it comes to organising and I’m really grateful. I’m terrible at this stuff. I will freely admit that for this trip all I knew was where we were going and for how long. That’s is. It kind of felt like I packed my bags and camping gear and headed off and I loved it. Meanwhile Lauren had planned everything down to the finest details. She really is amazing.

We left Cape Town early on a Saturday morning and headed for our first stop at Augrabies National Park. I had never seen the Augrabies falls and it seemed like a perfect place to stop over for the night. I didn’t know what to expect, and besides the late afternoon heat when we arrived, I was pleasantly surprised at how awesome it was. It kind of takes your breath away when you see it for the first time. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to see it in flood. Probably pretty damn scary.

After a quick walk around the camp and a few photos at the falls, we settled down with a beer and a braai and then early to bed. We had another long drive ahead the next day.

I had heard some horror stories about the road into Kgalagadi but I’m happy to report the road is tarred and prestine all the way to the gate. Once you inside the park however, it’s a gamble. Maybe it’s been graded and maybe is corrugated. After popping in to the shop to get a quick bite to eat we let the type air pressure down and headed to Mata Mata on a surprisingly good road. A pretty good start.

To say I was lost for words at the landscape would be putting it lightly. It was even more beautiful that I could have imagined. It was very similar to the Karoo desert like landscape I was used to, so I immediately felt at home. The only difference was that I felt like I was truly in the wild. The entire way into the camp we saw maybe 10 cars in total. (over many hours of driving)

Now I love the dry desert air and hot conditions as much as any other bush loving guy but by the time we arrived at Mata Mata, it was pushing 40 degrees Celsius. And this was after 5pm. It was crazy fucking hot.

We managed to find a decent spot to camp (This is always my worst part of camping. Can we get a decent site? Will there be shade?) even though the place was packed. I’m pretty sure by the time the gate closed, every space was filled with campers and the place was buzzing, even with the heat. (Yes, I still made a fire in the heat. Dont judge. Some things you just have to do and sitting around the camp fire just makes me feel happy. And in this case very very hot)

I didn’t sleep very well that night, between the lions roaring (which I heard for the first time) and the intense heat, I was praying for the morning to come. And although cooler, it was still ridiculously hot the next day.

We were up early and out the gate as soon as we could and although we missed a lion, cheetah and pretty much all other animals, we did manage to tick off a few really spectacular birds so I wasn’t that disappointed. Seems you have to be up early to see anything in the heat.

Life in bush revolves around the best time to see animals, which will be first thing in the morning and just before dark in the evenings, everything else is sleeping and eating. So yes, pretty much living the dream.

We spent 3 nights and Mata Mata and eventually on our 4th day we woke up to the rain and cool weather. Pretty stoked, I won’t lie. We made breakfast, packed and headed out to the Kalahari Tented Camp which was about 10mins drive from Mata Mata campsite.

Although only for 1 night we really were looking forward to the stay but it turned out to be a really shit night. First a Jackal got into the kitchen area (which is separate from your main bedroom and bathroom) which got Lauren pretty upset and scared. (Ok fine, to be honest, she freaked the fuck out and was super stressed the rest of the night.) Throw in the lizard in the room and the bat flying around when we went to bed, let’s just say we didn’t sleep well that night either.

Overall not our favourite place but we did notice that they were doing a lot of renovations and upgrades so hopefully we can come back and enjoy this highly recommended camp again some time.

We then drove across the park to Nossob rest camp. We had one night at one of the amazing new chalets which look onto the river bed. Trust me, if you can, go spend a night or two here. We nearly saw a cheetah kill right in front of our balcony. (the springbok got away but still pretty spectacular to see while having a beer on our stoep)

Then we spent the next 3 nights in the Nossob campsite under the shade of our little tree, hiding from the sun. This is definitely a more family friendly campsite with a number of visitors with kids running around loving the bush. The ablutions are also spectacular and are as clean as any Virgin Active gym in South Africa. (OK, not quite, but they were amazing.)

When you come up to the Nossob campsite the scenery changes along with the wildlife. No giraffe anymore, but plenty more lion. And holy shit did we get to see lion. The best sighting was a male and female mating in the middle of the road. It was something I will never forget and being that close to both was pretty special. It also made me appreciate how completely shit scared I am of the female lion. The males seem slow and lazy and don’t seem to get phased by much. The females on the other hand are built to kill and you can see it in their eyes. They are sleak and wild and I felt like the only reason we got to be so close was because she allowed it. I will say it again, they are truly fucking scary. (But just as beautiful).

Along with the lion, we ticked off many many big birds of prey. For any birders out there, which I suppose I have become, this was paradise and we had a field day. Every time we got back to camp I had a smile on my face. It was awesome.

As I write this I’m trying to bring across the beauty and the wildness of the Kagalagadi and I just cant seem to explain it properly. From the barking Geckos which seem to rise up like a well timed symphony across the plains in the evenings, to the jackals running around the Nossob campsite at night, you are always reminded that although you are safe in the camps, you are a guest in this place and it’s a privilege.

Leaving was not a pleasant experience. Mentally and emotionally, I did not want to go. All I could think was that I needed a little more time. Just one more night to hear the lions. Just a few more eagle sitings. I needed more. But we had to leave and it made me pretty sad. I realise this is were I was meant to be. The wild.

I will definitely be back. Hopefully sooner that later.

update: (we are going back, and yes I’m a very happy man)

Visual Diary

Fact Sheet:

Kilometer Traveled (total): 2290km (there and back) + many kms in the park.

Map: there and back

Accommodation: Mata Mata, Kgalagadi Tented Camp, Nosso River Front Chalets, Nossob Camp site.

New birds ticked off the list: 28

  • African Pied Wagtail

  • Bateleur Eagle

  • Black Chested Snake Eagle

  • Lanner Falcon

  • Black-shouldered Kite

  • Crimson-breasted Shrike

  • Kori Bustard

  • Lesser Grey Shrike

  • Lilac Breasted Roller

  • Swallow tailed Bee-eater

  • Burchell's Sandgrouse

  • Ludwig's Bustard

  • Marico Flycatcher

  • Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill

  • Scaly-Feathered Finch

  • Verreaux's (Giant) Eagle-Owl

  • Ashy Tit

  • Capped Wheatear

  • Kalahari Scrub Robin

  • Namaqua Sandgrouse

  • Red-headed Finch

  • Greater Kestrel

  • Pigmy Falcon

  • Red-Necked Falcon

  • Shaft-tailed Whydah

  • Striped Kingfisher

  • African Red-eyed Bulbul

  • Orange River White-eye