Discover Kgalagadi’s desert delights

2012-12-05 09:39

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A stay at the secluded and picturesque !Xaus Lodge (!Xaus means heart in the Nama language), found in the Kgalagadi Transfronteir Park, will leave both park visitors and indigenous local communities alike with a smile on their faces.

The beautiful Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, a vast expanse of the wild, burning red Kalahari Desert crosses borders between South Africa and Botswana. At over 3.5 million hectares, it is almost as large as the Netherlands.  Visitors who manage to find their way to Kgalagadi come for the overpowering desert silence, and for fantastic big cat viewing opportunities. All of Africa’s big cats can be found within the park; there are more than 450 lions, 200 cheetahs and 150 leopards.

The open desert landscape offers almost unrivalled panoramic views of these incredible predators stalking their prey from a distance, primarily the various species of antelope and plains game that seek out their limited sustenance in the park’s semi-arid earth. And in the cool, rich light of the early morning, the silence helps carry the roar of lions across the desert as they patrol their territory. Little else punctuates the stillness. There are few places in the world where visitors will feel further away from everything apart from the unadulterated African bush.

Staying at !Xaus Lodge
!Xaus Lodge , the park’s only fully-catered lodge, certainly doesn’t detract from this feeling. The lodge comprises a main central lodge boasting a restaurant and lounge area with a cozy fireplace, a swimming pool, a gift shop and twelve wooden chalets. All the furniture is made locally in Upington. Each chalet has its own deck for private star-gazing, and the entire lodge blends seamlessly into the red dune belt around it. Even the purified drinking water found in the chalets comes from desert springs.

The Lodge overlooks a waterhole and a great, heart-shaped salt pan. Walking from your chalet to breakfast in the morning through the unfenced lodge, you may stumble upon fresh lion tracks left in the sand under the cover of darkness.  The wildness and tranquillity of the lodge almost gives you the feeling that it has been there as long as the ancient landscape itself.

It certainly doesn’t seem to have disturbed the animals much.

Responsible Tourism
In fact, the lodge has come to play a central and active part in preserving and even restoring the rich natural heritage of this region.  In May 2002 the ‡Khomani San and Mier communities, previously forcefully removed from the land, reached an historic settlement agreement with the government of South Africa and South African National Parks which gave back a large tract of land to these communities, who had roamed or farmed this area for many centuries.

These two communities were granted ownership of 50,000 hectares of land within the boundaries of the park which they then leased back to SANParks. Funding for the construction of !Xaus Lodge also formed part of the agreement, with the two communities again being awarded ownership of the facility, managed on their behalf by Transfrontier Parks Destinations. The communities not only receive a monthly rental payment from the lodge’s turnover, but most of the lodge’s staff are also recruited from the very same local communities, where unemployment is otherwise often rife.

With all this in mind, visitors to !Xaus have the double satisfaction of knowing that their visit not only offers a unique and secluded desert safari experience, but helps the rightful owners of this ancient land to continue to practice their culture in the place where they belong, and be a major part of that experience. The Lodge itself is also adorned with locally-made Bushmen artefacts and paintings, and these are available to buy in the Lodge’s gift shop too, further illustrating and supporting the culture of the indigenous local communities.

Getting off the beaten track

Two dry riverbeds flow through Kgalagadi, the Auob and Nossop, and the main roads and best viewing sites are mostly concentrated along the river banks. These prime spots are relatively easily accessed from the lodge, and the braver visitors can also take guided tours on foot from the lodge down to the pan in search of more wildlife.

Kgalagadi is not the easiest place to get to, but this is, after all, part of the attraction for those seeking to avoid the droves of tourists pouring off planes at Johannesburg and setting off for busy Kruger. The South African gate is deep into the Northern Cape at Twee Rivieran, 265km from Upington, whilst the Mabuasehube Gate in Botswana is 533 km from Gaborone.  

The cool and dry winter between May and August is often considered the best time to visit the park, though each season offers something different in this complex ecosystem. And whatever the weather, !Xaus Lodge will be ready and waiting, paving the way to an ever more responsible and harmonious relationship between the wild region’s rich heritage and the benefits of tourism.  

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