This trip was the realisation of a long awaited dream for one of our regular guests and is certainly one of the more unusual Private Guided safaris that we have crafted for our guests.
For those that don't know, the Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park is a spectacular place where the red dunes and scrub fade into infinity and herds of gemsbok, springbok, eland and blue wildebeest follow the seasons, where imposing camel thorn trees provide shade for huge black-mane lions and vantage points for leopard and many raptors.
The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (so named because of the fact that it extends beyond the borders of South Africa and into Botswana) comprises an area of over 3,6 million hectares which is one of very few conservation areas of this magnitude left in the world. Red sand dunes, sparse vegetation and the dry riverbeds of the Nossob and Auob show antelope and predator species off at a premium and provide excellent photographic opportunities.
Usually only visited by local South Africans and the more adventurous self-drive travellers given the limited accommodation options within the National park, I was VERY excited to return to the park to create a memorable experience for our international guest.
Planning this trip was somewhat different to the usual process of enquiring with spaces at lodges as we had to secure accommodation (which usually books out a year in advance), find a rental vehicle (with 2 roof top tents as we were only able to secure camping sites for 3 of our 7 nights), plan (never mind prepare) the meals and shop for supplies before meeting up with the guest in Upington (the closest town and airport to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park.
The full Itinerary saw us spending 3 nights at Twee Rivieren Rest Camp in the South of the Kgalagadi before heading to the stunning Kalahari Tented Camp for 3 nights, returning to Twee Rivieren for one last night before making our way South-East to Tswalu Kalahari Reserve where this Private Guided safari experience would come to a crescendo.
All in all, I covered a total of just over 3 100km in the Toyota Hilux that we had rented for this trip and I can say that this is not only a very feasible itinerary, but one which I would love to create and customise to suite future guests' needs and desires.
I absolutely loved being in control of just about every aspect of the safari experience (even the food!) and enjoyed having the complete flexibility to stay out in the park or sit and wait at sightings for as long as we wanted to. There was never ever any stage where we felt pressed for time, had to worry about how our plans would impact on others or worry about how much time we were investing in following fresh lion tracks.
It was also very special to share what was a large part of my childhood in that I grew up going to our National Parks, braaing a double portion in the evenings so that there would leftovers to snack on in the car the next day, checking the communal sightings boards in camp and chatting to passers by to see what had been seen on the road up ahead. All of these little moments are removed from the typical lodge based safari experience and it was great fun being back in this more informal space and format of safari.
As you can see from the images above the grass was incredibly long given the above average rainfall that the region received earlier this year. This made game viewing pretty challenging in some ways, most especially since it seemed that the lion prides which usually dominate the dry riverbeds had moved out and onto the dunes in what I can only imagine was an attempt to stick with the larger concentrations of game making the most of the abundant and widespread grazing opportunities on offer.
We did see what I can honestly say was without a doubt the most magnificent male lion (yes, even greater than the iconic Scar of the Masai Mara) perched on top of a red sand dune. Even at 400mm he was a spec on the horizon (see image 9 in the gallery) but provided a very special animal in environment shot for us.
The absence of lions seemed to leave a void for cheetah though. We saw 21 different individuals during our 7 night stay including a number of females with cubs and youngsters which was an absolute treat. I have never seen so many different cheetah on a safari before.
The one upside of the long grass was that it provided amazing opportunities to create dramatic backlit scenes - something we took full advantage of.
We enjoyed many other sightings which I haven't shared in the gallery which included herds of Springbok, Oryx, a Honey Badger and the soon to be renamed "Red bellied butcher bird" (inside joke).
Regardless of the sightings, it was the quieter moments spent around the fire at night, driving the seemingly endless road between camps and simply sitting and waiting for that sleeping lion to sit up or stand up that will probably be remembered most from this safari.
Its hard to explain but I've shared a couple of iPhone snaps from behind the scenes to give you an idea of the experience at large.
All I can say is that if you have always dreamed of visiting this part of the world but are not sure how to make it happen, the Wild Eye team and I would love to help make it happen.
I'd suggest that this private safari is booked well in advance (to secure the preferred accommodation types and camps) and for a maximum of 2 guests accommodated in one vehicle and hosted by one of our experienced Wild Eye guides. I'd also suggest a minimum of 7 nights (easily extended to 10) and, if you're only going to visit this part of the world once in your lifetime, would also suggest considering extending your stay to include a visit to the Tswalu Kalahari Reserve.
It was here that our guest ate at the restaurant of a Michelin Star Chef, saw a Pangolin, photographed Brown Hyena, spent the morning on foot with Meerkats and more than made up for the lack of lion sightings in the Kgalagadi.
It really is the ideal place to wrap up and complete the Kalahari experience.
Don't take my words for it though...
"Andrew went above and beyond to make my dream of going to camp in the Kgalagadi come true. The experience was incredible from icy nights in a rooftop car tent to cozy fires and great food on the braai in the Kgalagadi tented camp. I was treated like a queen! The vehicle was great for game viewing, and I’ve come back with some incredible images. Andrew, thanks again for your patience with me, teaching me how to use my camera properly and making me think outside the box. The conditions were challenging as there was so much tall grass. Seeing over twenty cheetah individuals in a week was magic. I will always be thankful for this amazing experience, it’s not your normal lodge safari!"
Start Planning Your Private Safari
Having just returned form the Kgalagadi I would love to help you plan your very own privately guided safari experience to the region. Lets explore options for potential dates and start planning!
View Sample Itinerary
This suggested itinerary will give you an idea of how a private guided safari to the Kgalagadi can be structured but is obviously subject to availability of the camps and accommodation at the time of planning.