- Created on Wednesday, 11 April 2012 19:12
by Alessandra Di Sarro
Photographs by Claudio Farinelli – Rainbow Media Group
Translation by Francesco Migliore
Until recently the expression “green Kalahari” made little or no sense to me. Every time we travelled the interminable road from Cape Town to the Kgalagadi Park (approximately 1000km) the prevalent colour has always been yellow. Immediately after Clanwilliam and the Cedarberg, the Northern Cape begins a vast flat countryside of semi-desert, populated by rocky plains and savannah like grassy ones, the yellow is so intense as to hurt the eyes. The shortest route, the R364, passes through Calvinia, Brandvlei, Kenhard, a thin strip of tar in the middle of endless spaces.
Be it January, July, spring, summer, winter, the land wedged in between Namibia and Botswana, the Northern tip of South Africa, has always offered us yellow, at most some red on the dunes found on the Namibian side. This year we visited the park in April and finally it became clear; the rocks and sand, thanks to the autumnal rain, are covered in a soft and sensual layer of green, a thousand differing shades of green. It was a wonderful discovery, one of many to which we have become accustomed, possibly spoilt would be more apt, in this country so abundant in its natural beauty, always surprising and inspiring.
It is not by chance that SANPARKS management is pushing the Kgalagadi as an alternative to the world famous Kruger Park to the international markets. There are various works in progress to improve the infrastructure of the camps and the roads whilst still maintaining the “wilderness” factor which separates this park from many others. The classic South African saying, “in the middle of nowhere” is an accurate description of the vast openness of the area, white sand tracks, some open only for 4x4 vehicles, dotted with the occasional picnic site, the only areas one may leave the safety of their vehicle, are the only connection to the urban jungle many consider their homes. Cell phone reception is non-existent beyond the first camp site at the entrance of the park, internet access a foreign concept, and being 250km north of Upington, one is truly immersed in nature at its primitive best, it has its own rhythm in tune with its immense vastness. This is big cat country, lions and leopards are seen regularly but they are but a part of the park, not the sole reason for it, there is much more on offer, the beauty of the small things found in the branch of a tree, on the side of the road or maybe the infinity of the horizon, so all encompassing as to render oneself nothing more than a speck of dust.
What follows is a map of the park, with roads, distances (do trust their approximate travelling times as the speed limit is 50km/h, base your itinerary on the times given) and the location of the camps where one can overnight.
The main entrance is Twee Rivieren, which is also the access point for the parts of the park in Namibia and Botswana if one wishes to explore these areas (a simple procedure which requires little paper work, the site www.sanparks.org offers all necessary explanations). From Upington to the entrance it takes about two and a half hours of driving time. In Twee Rivieren, like the other two main camps in the park, Nossob and Mata Mata, it is possible to camp, stay in caravan or use the various accommodation offered, cottages, chalets or raised permanent tents (all self-catering with all the necessary equipment to cook and do laundry), all camps have a swimming pool. Twee Rivieren has a restaurant while all have the possibility of refuelling and a small shop for basic necessities, it is preferable though to arrive prepared with foodstuffs from one of the city centres as the shops are often without many things, so wood, charcoal, drinking water and fresh food are best bought outside of the park. On the South African side of the park there are 6 unfenced camps: Urikaarus, Bitterpan, Kieliekrankie, Kalahari tented, Grootkolk and Gharagab, all require a 4x4 to access them, none have a camp site nor do they allow children under the age of 12, rendering the chalet or tented camps wonderfully exclusive places where one cannot but be immersed in nature and its nourishing solitude. Recently there has been the inauguration of luxury chalets, fitted with every conceivable necessity, at Mata Mata, which along with Kalahari Tented and Gharagab camps offers the best accommodation in the park, locality and comfort; they are also the most expensive, naturally. On the whole though, the prices are fair and the level of service excellent. The Sanparks website offers the possibility to book online or to send enquiries to the head office in Pretoria, which usually replies promptly with an itinerary which is confirmed upon payment.
The best mode of travel is in one’s own vehicle, taking slow drives which allow the best chances of game sightings, with breakfast and lunch on board, to be enjoyed at the various picnic sites on offer. At the main camps, game drives can be arranged with rangers in their vehicles which leave at dawn or in the afternoon returning after sunset, thus allowing one the chance to experience the park outside of normal hours as the park operates strictly from sunrise to sunset, all private vehicles must be inside the rest areas outside of these times. This is an inflexible rule which must be respected at all costs if one wishes to respect the environment in which they have the privilege to travel. Exiting camp at sunrise is a badge of honour and around the campfire after sunset the exhilaration of the day’s adventure is relived once again.
Leave the city stress behind and enjoy natural beauty of unspoilt wilderness.