Rookies in a tent in the Kalahari


The last of Cape Town’s winter rains was leaving tear streaks down our bedroom window when the alarm clock went off at 3 am. After a quick breakfast of tea and half a banana we carried the last of the camping equipment to the Land Rover. It was mid-September and the first time my husband and I were going on a long journey in our new (secondhand) 4x4. We were heading for the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park – between South Africa and Botswana and about 1 100 km from Cape Town.

We’d sought advice from magazines and veteran campers and carefully planned our route: we would take the N7 to Vanrhynsdorp, turn off to Nieuwoudtville; then north again to Loeriesfontein. The gravel road to Brandvlei well and truly shook us up but fortunately none of the Landy’s doors fell off, as people had jokingly said they would.

Just short of Upington sociable weavers were making their nests on telephone poles, and the Kalahari’s red sands officially welcomed us to this part of the world. With the last few essentials bought and after a good night’s sleep we completed the last 250 km to Twee Rivieren, doing well after two days of travelling.

Cooking our first meal in the Kgalagadi (in front of the badly pitched tent...).

But then then we made our first blunder – pitching our borrowed tent on the wrong side of a camel thorn tree. The sun’s unrelenting rays cooked us out of the tent during our first siesta. I could hear the other campers giggling and saying, “Rookies!”. It was a mission to move the tent so we decided to endure the mistake for three days.

At Rooiputs, where we spent the next three nights, we studied the sun and pitched out tent in the right corner beneath the A-frame shelter. There was just a long drop and a few solar panels near these few unfenced stands. Slightly nervous about the wild animals that would now, of course, attack us at any moment, I smiled and said to my husband, “Now we’re camping!”

Although the axe slept in the tent with us (I’d previously seen one too many photographs of lions in this campsite) it was the ghostly moon rather than the roar of a lion that chased us to bed early.

My husband, Francois, at our campsite at Rooiputs.

We immediately enjoyed the peace of the Kalahari with the rush of the city and lack of cellphone reception mercifully forgotten. In the mornings we went off into the wilderness with a flask of coffee and a few rusks; at night we sat beside a fire and discussed the day’s sightings. After a day even the repeated stopping to pump the tyres or let them down to the right pressure to allow for travelling across the dunes didn’t bother me. In the Kgalagadi six days feel like two weeks of blissful peace and relaxation, but the wonderful red sand still feels part of your life.

Clockwise from left: There are thousands of springbok in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park; this jackal was stalking some pigeons near a waterhole late one afternoon; we were very lucky to spot two cheetahs cooling off under a tree after a long day.

Kgalagadi camping tips

  • There’s sand everywhere. Take closed shoes or closed towelling slippers with you to get from your campsite to the ablution facilities.
  • Wet Wipes and water-free hand sanitiser are must-haves.
  • A hand broom is a must in the dusty Kgalagadi. It’s the one item no one told us about and we wish we’d packed one.
  • Don’t forget to pack a pair of binoculars.
  • Be prepared to get up early, even though you’re on holiday. The animals arrive to drink from the waterholes early. This is also the best time of the morning to take photographs.
  • When out looking at the area drive slowly and keep your eyes peeled. The landscape is fairly desert-like, which makes it easy to spot the animals.
  • The shop at Twee Rivieren is well stocked. It’s not necessary to carry braai wood or water thousands of kilometres.
  • Take it easy. Pack a picnic basket and relax with a book under a shady tree. You don’t have to race from one waterhole to the next.
  • Don’t rush. The people here enjoy talking and love spontaneously sharing interesting stories. Perhaps you’ll find out where that pride of lions is that you’ve spent two days searching for.

Shané Barnard

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