Tuesday 24th to Thursday 26th July 2012.
Upington, Twee Riveren, Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park.
Entering South Africa was easy. All the border formalities were completed in one building, with different counters for Immigration and Customs. We quickly got stamps for our passport, completed an immigration card, and collected our carnet stamp. The only thing that slowed us down was that the customs officers’ computers kept playing up; sometimes technology doesn’t help after all. They also explained that if we had been given a carnet stamp for Namibia, we wouldn’t have to get a new one for South Africa, Lesoto, Swaziland or Botswana as they all fall under the same agreement. Still, they didn’t mind completing our carnet for us and with that finished we were in South Africa!
The countryside was much like the Namibian side of the border; vast expanses of rocky plains and hills. We saw more of the Sociable Weaver’s fantastic nests. These ones perched on the power poles lining the roadside. In some stretches there was a huge nest on almost every pole. Some of them were enormous and we wondered how they stayed aloft with the weight of all that grass as well as the many birds living inside.
We arrived in Upington just before 5pm. South African time is one hour ahead of Namibia, so it was still warm daylight and felt early to us. We were taken aback with the wide streets and abundant shops. It was like being in a busy Australian town. We have spent so much time out of Western civilization we are completely unacculturated to it and felt quite dazed. We spent much more time than normal wandering around the great fruit and veg market, marvelling at the selection. We stocked up on supplies for the next few days and also managed to find a place that would refill our gas bottles. Feeling rather too lazy to cook, we followed a local’s suggestion and visited the South African favourite ‘Spurs Steakhouse’. Let’s just say, it was another chain restaurant and we won’t be in a hurry to go back. We decided to get an early night and stayed at the Die Eland Holiday Resort in town. It’s a ‘Butlings’ type of affair, with tennis courts, activities, and chalets. The camp site was quite dark and deserted. Still, we made good use of their spacious campground and had one of the best showers we’ve encountered on our travels so far!
We were reluctant to get up the following morning, it was so cold. We had dragon breath and when we packed up we discovered frost on the outside of our tent. We decided to run a few errands in Upington before heading north to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park. High on our list was a new inverter as ours packed up in Namibia. We searched and searched but with no luck. We’ll have to try a bigger town.
It took us about three and a half hours to drive to the National Park. We found they had space in their Twee Riveren Campsite, so we booked ourselves in for the night. We would also be able to explore the park until the end of the following day so decided to stay just one night. In the parking lot we met some lovely people who noticed Bluebelle and said hi. Firstly, we got chatting to Jacques and Ingrid, who have a winery (or ‘wine farm’ as they call them here) in Stellenbosch. They were great people and the winery sounded amazing so we hope to visit when we’re down there next week. As we were chatting, another man came up and asked us if we were Kerrs. He had noticed our ‘Afrikerr’ stickers and explained that he was part of the Kerr clan too. What a small world! Bill and his wife Yvonne live in Cape Town and invited us to visit when we’re there. It was lovely chatting to them too, so we hope to hook up with them when we’re there. Our visit to the park was already very pleasant, and we hadn’t even entered the gates!
The Kgalagadi (pronounced khal-a-hardi, or at least that’s how it sounds to us!) Transfrontier National Park sits across South Africa, Botswana and Namibia. The park is in the heart of the Kalahari thirstlands, an enormous area of desert wilderness. The south-west area has an average of just 150mm of rain a year making it a harsh, semi-arid climate. Though it is so desolate, it has a reasonable population of birds and animals, and especially lions.
Entering the park we set off to explore straight away. We found corrugated gravel tracks wound through the dunes, grasslands, and scrub. We drove towards the Mata-Mata camp, turned east at the Auchterlonie waterhole, then met the road returning south at the Kij Kij waterhole to return to our camp before dark. What we were really hoping for in the park was to see some of the black maned lions that live here. We didn’t spot any today, nor any other cats. Bill had recommended we try heading towards Nossob camp where great numbers of them had been sighted, so we planned to head straight there in the morning. On our drive we did see plenty of gorgeous buck, ostriches, bustards, jackals, and birds of prey though. We even spotted some mongoose and ground squirrels too.
Our favourite buck of all has to be the Oryx. They just look so grand and majestic. In the Kgalagadi they say that the king of the Kalahari is not the lion, but the oryx because they are just so well suited to life in the dry conditions. They get all the water they need from the plants they eat, so they don’t need to drink any water at all. They dine mostly at night when the moisture content of the plants is highest, so they can maximise their hydration. Also, amazingly, they are able to adjust their body temperature so it is always higher than the ambient temperature. That way the air feels cooler to them! They have a large volume of blood flowing through their big nostrils, which means it cools down before it reaches their brains. This way they keep their brains at the right temperature even though their bodies are hot. Marvellous aren’t they?
We set up camp just before the sun set at 6pm and got our braai fired up. We discovered a new treat; camembert coal-roasted with rosemary and garlic. The cheese turns into gooey goodness and tastes divine with crusty bread dipped in!
The next morning we were up early and out of the park hunting for lions. We made our way north, straight for Nossob. The sandy track gave way to terribly corrugated gravel. We felt shaken to the core in parts and wondered if the noise of the cars on the corrugations would scare all the animals away. The sighting of the morning was a shaggy brown hyena. Interestingly, they are the only carnivore that can digest the bones of animals they eat! As soon as he realised we were approaching he fled. We watched his long hairy mane bouncing as he ran away from us, over a rise. We saw several leggy secretary birds strutting in the long grass by the roads. They are quite curious looking with their red eye-shadow, flat tops and spikey feathers streaming from the back of their heads. We were also pleased to spot a honey badger, ziz-zaging as he ran across the road and into the bushes. He was closely tracked by two goshawks. Apparently they love snatching up whatever prey the honey badger misses. We didn’t however spot any lions. This was a shame, as we really had our hopes up that we’d spot some. We later heard from other people that staying in the unfenced ‘wilderness camps’ is the best way to see them, as the nocturnal cats wander through the camps during the night. We enjoyed lunch with a large group of Oryx around a waterhole before we set off south through the park and gradually made our way back to Upington. We arrived shortly after nightfall and camped again at the somewhat gloomy Die Eland Holiday Resort campsite. There were a few more people there this time, but all were tucked up in their tents and caravans early escaping the cold night.