Expert Reviews – Kgalagadi TP
Philip is an acclaimed travel writer and author of many guidebooks, including the Bradt guides to Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa.
17 people found this review helpful.
This is one of largest and most unusual national parks in southern Africa, and one of my favourites, despite being difficult to incorporate into most itineraries due to its remote location on the border with Botswana and Namibia. The two outstanding features of the park are the stunning landscapes of rolling red dunes, and the wildlife that congregates along the pair of normally dry watercourses – the Auob and Nossob – that demarcate its main game viewing circuits. The environment is harsh and uncompromising, but it is also a place of singular beauty.
I’ve always had great game viewing here, particularly where predators are concerned – not only lion, cheetah and leopard, but also smaller nocturnal species such as bat-eared fox, African wild cat and caracal – while common antelope include gemsbok, springbok and eland. It is a great place to see the ground squirrel, but meerkats (suricates) are not as common as they used to be. The interesting birdlife includes plenty of raptors and dry-country birds, including swallow-tailed bee-eater, pygmy falcon, and the sociable weavers whose labyrinthine communal nests perch precariously on the treetops.
On our most recent visit, we observed that the more westerly of the two main roads, connecting Twee Rivieren and Mata Mata rest camps via the Auob, was by far the most productive for wildlife, yielding daily lion and bat-eared fox sightings, as well as regular encounters with a reintroduced population of giraffes. Unless you are in a very high-clearance vehicle, the Nossob Road is more frustrating, as it is sunk within elevated verges that obstruct the view to the sides.
Mike is an award winning wildlife writer, editor of Travel Zambia magazine and author of the Bradt Guide to Southern African Wildlife.
10 people found this review helpful.
Hunters among the dunes
I’ve always been surprised by how little attention this unique park receives. This may be because its semi-desert habitat lacks certain wildlife – elephant, zebra, hippo and buffalo are all absent – or because there are no famous lodges. Either way, this is good news for the independent visitor, who will find excellent roads and inexpensive accommodation on par with the Kruger’s public camps, but with a fraction of the Kruger’s infrastructure and visitors. Wildlife-wise, the park is a hotspot for predators, from lions and hyenas to cape fox and honey badger, and there are few better places to watch hunting cheetah.
Peak season is February to April, when late rains bring prolific growth to the dry riverbeds and attract large herds of springbok, oryx and other antelope. At any time of year, you will also find such local specialities as meerkat, sociable weaver and barking gecko. Birders can enjoy a feast of raptors, plus bustards, coursers and other dry-country species. Roads are few, so this is a park for staking out waterholes: with time and patience I have enjoyed such treats as a cape cobra coming to drink and an African wildcat hunting doves in broad daylight. The red sand dunes, stricken camelthorns and harsh desert light are tailor-made for photographers.
Lizzie is a reputed guidebook writer and author of the Footprint guides to South Africa, Namibia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
9 people found this review helpful.
A vast desert wilderness with impressive populations of large mammals and birds
The vast Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is a true wilderness in the Kalahari Desert with striking red sand dunes and sparse vegetation dotted with isolated camel thorn trees. Our game-drives were superbly rewarding and the dry riverbeds of the Nossob and Auob showed the animals off to spectacular advantage. We saw cheetah, spotted hyena, bat-eared fox, black-backed jackal, and numerous antelope including the park’s prized gemsbok, a beautiful creature with a dark glossy coat and distinctive horns. Bird-watching was superb; specials included Cape vulture, chanting goshawk, secretary birds strutting along the dry riverbeds, and a Verreaux’s eagle owl in a tree just a metre above our car with an unidentified kill in its talons. The park is remote with uncomfortably high summer temperatures, but I certainly didn’t begrudge the hot dusty roads once I saw my first black-maned lion poised regally on the crest of a dune.
Christopher is a British travel writer and has contributed to various Fodor's guidebooks and a range of travel magazines.
7 people found this review helpful.
Big cat country
The Kgalagadi is South Africa’s biggest and most remote park, and one of my personal favourites. At over 3.5 million hectares, this arid and ancient stretch of land – which crosses the border between South Africa and Botswana – is double the size of Kruger. The first thing that I always notice driving into the park is the total and overpowering silence of the place.
While it may seem an unforgiving and inhospitable landscape at first, the Kgalagadi is actually a rich and complex ecosystem alive with interesting flora and fauna. In particular, the park has developed a reputation for its big cat sightings. There are an estimated 40 lion prides in the park. Leopards and cheetah are also around, though harder to spot. All three of these iconic big cats look particularly striking against the Kgalagadi’s backdrop of red sand dunes and big steely blue skies.
My most memorable visit to this park was spent at !Xaus Lodge, which is wonderfully isolated and offers the chance to interact with the fascinating Kalahari Bushmen who in fact own the lodge. You can organize guided bush walks or star-gazing activities here – the Kalahari night sky has to be experienced at least once in your life. The South African National Parks wilderness camps are also great, but book up months in advance.
Anthony is a photographer and writer for travel magazines and Lonely Planet, including the guides to Kenya and Botswana & Namibia.
6 people found this review helpful.
The best of the Kalahari
Where Botswana meets South Africa and becomes one, Kgalagadi is one of the Kalahari’s most beautiful corners, with wildlife to match. The park’s signature species is the black-maned Kalahari male lion – the park is home to around 450 lions – but there’s a decent chance you’ll also see cheetahs, gemsbok, brown and/or spotted hyenas, bat-eared foxes and more. I have only visited the Botswana side of the park, but the salt pans of the east, encircled as they are by low hills, offer so many fine views and terrific wildlife watching. The prettiest pans are Mpayathutlwa and Mabuasehube – I had luck with cheetah at the latter, and with meerkats over on Khiding Pan, 11km west of Mabuasehube Pan. Birds were also a highlight, including the inquisitive Kalahari scrub robin and the rather lovely violet-eared waxbill. Best of all, the park is reasonably accessible from main-road Botswana but blissfully remote once you’re there.
Lucy is travel writer for a range of publications, including Lonely Planet's guides to Africa, Southern Africa and South Africa.
6 people found this review helpful.
The first time I visited the Kalahari I loved everything about it – the unrivalled big cat sightings, the fiery sunsets, the Lion King-like landscapes and the sandy roads, largely free of vehicles. I thought I might be biased – it was my honeymoon you see – but on my return I found that it lived up to every expectation. This is truly the quintessential African safari experience – the only things missing are elephants and rhinos. Still, it is often the predators that people yearn to see on safari and Kgalagadi boasts an amazing amount of lions, cheetahs, hyenas and leopards. I attempted a solo visit in my compact rental car and while sections of the park are easily accessible, you really need a 4WD to get the best from the Kgalagadi: lions feasting so close that you can smell their kill, a wildebeest herd grazing right outside your safari tent or being woken in the night by a pack of howling hyenas.
Stephen is a travel writer and avid conservationist whose work appears in prestigious magazines such as Africa Geographic and Travel Africa.
6 people found this review helpful.
South Africa’s Premier Desert Safari
The 38,000 km² Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is one of the few conservation areas of this magnitude left in the world and this gigantic protected area allows wild animals to migrate throughout the Kalahari ecosystem in search of food and water as they have done for millennia.
The South African sector of this massive wilderness area lies sandwiched between the perennially dry watercourses of the Nossob and the Auob rivers, and the wildlife tends to focus on the waterholes interspersed along the length of these riverbeds. If you’re after the stereotypical Big Five safari experience, then the Kgalagadi will no doubt prove disappointing. After all, this parched dunescape is a harsh environment devoid of rhino, buffalo and elephant, where the leopard and majestic Kalahari lion are probably the only members of the Big Five you’re likely to encounter while on your desert safari.
The Kgalagadi is, however, famous for its incredible diversity of carnivore species and unbeatable predator-viewing, which is to me – along with its superb raptor viewing – the ultimate attraction of this exceptional safari destination. The black-mane lion tops the safari sightings menu, but I’ve seen cheetah on every one of my ten park visits to date, along with great leopard, caracal, brown hyena, aardwolf and Cape fox sightings. From my experience, safari-goers stand an excellent chance of enjoying quality viewing of a wide array of African predators – both big and small – during their visit.
The Kgalagadi is a special place and one of my absolute favourite parks in Africa.
James is a travel writer and author of many Lonely Planet guides, including senior author of the guide to South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland.
5 people found this review helpful.
An awesome chunk of raw Kalahari
Kgalagadi is one of Africa's most incredible wildlife parks, and one of the world's most pristine wildernesses, covering a chunk of Kalahari roughly the size of the Netherlands. The arid landscape is stunning: red dunes ripple away to the horizon, dotted with thorny acacia trees and, in the wet season (November to April), carpeted with a seasonal blanket of shimmering grasses. Equally amazingly, you can bomb up here from Upington, South Africa and tackle the tracks along the dry river beds in a 2WD car.
I stayed at Twee Rivieren Rest Camp, just inside the main entrance to the South African section of the park (the Botswana section does require a 4WD). Bringing a few creature comforts to the Kalahari, the camp had self-catering cottages, a shop and a restaurant. On a guided sunrise drive, huddling against the desert cold before the heat began for another day, we met a lion purring along the road. Kgalagadi is one of the world's best places to spot big cats, with about 800 lions, cheetahs and leopards among its 2,000 predators. What's more, I savoured every sighting in that extreme setting, and marveled at animals from ostriches to antelopes surviving in the dry and merciless environment.
Emma is an award-winning travel writer for Rough Guides, National Geographic Traveller, Travel Africa magazine and The Independent.
5 people found this review helpful.
A taste of the Kalahari
If you’re not planning to visit Namibia or Botswana during your stay in southern Africa but would like to get a feel for their dramatic desert landscapes, this borderlands park is a good choice. In theory, you can wander through the park into Botswana, but I like most visitors have only experienced the South African side as this is where the camps are located. One cautionary note – I wouldn’t visit Kgalagadi without a 4WD vehicle, as the tracks are sandy.
Deep in the Kalahari desert, it’s a huge park with dizzyingly wide vistas. Copper coloured dunes, dessicated grasslands and plains dotted with camelthorn trees stretch for miles under endless skies. At first glance, wildlife might seem scarce, but with patience you can see meerkats, gemsboks (oryx), birds of prey, cheetahs and dark-maned Kalahari lions.
Brian is an award winning travel writer, author of safari books and regular contributor to magazines such as BBC Wildlife and Travel Africa.
5 people found this review helpful.
Africa’s First Peace Park
The Nossob, a river that flows perhaps once every century, forms the border where South Africa and Botswana meet in the Kalahari Desert. On one side lay South Africa’s Kalahari Gemsbok national park, and on the other side, like a mirror image, was Botswana’s Gemsbok park. But in 1999, inspired by the vision of the South African-based Peace Parks Foundation, the two parks were joined together to form the Kgalakgadi Transfrontier Park – the first natural refuge in Africa where conservation takes precedence over sovereign borders. This means that visitors arriving from South Africa can now also explore the 160-mile Gemsbok Wilderness Trail, winding deep into the park’s Botswana section.
Although this is the most remote park in southern Africa it protects an area bigger than Ireland and is well worth a visit, especially during or just after the winter rains that fall between December and April. This is when the desert blooms, transforming the brick-red dunescapes of the Kgalakgadi as pink-and-white vlei lilies spring up overnight and the sand river valleys of the Nossob and Auob are carpeted with the yellow flowers of devil thorns. Desert it may be, but it’s home to an impressive variety of animals great and small, from meerkats and Cape foxes to gemsbok, cheetah and magnificent Kalahari lions – all of which I saw on my last visit. The same goes for birds, with big flocks of finch larks, doves and Namaqua sandgrouse, and raptors ranging in size from martial eagles to pygmy falcons.
Harriet is a zoologist with more than 20 years’ experience. She has the privilege of working with the world’s top wildlife photographers and photo-guides.
3 people found this review helpful.
This is my favourite national park in all of South Africa, it keeps drawing me back, time and time again. However it can be a very harsh environment, with extremes of temperature, and sometimes feels more like an endurance test rather than a holiday.
Although more and more popular, and pretty much fully booked all year round, it never feels particularly busy and you can have sightings all to yourself. There are no water-dependent species here, so no elephants, buffalo or zebra, but you should see wildebeest, springbok and the beautiful gemsbok. It is one of the best places to see big cats, including black-maned lion, leopard and cheetah. However these can prove hard to find (always remember to check the sightings boards in each camp). It is also possible to see the more unusual desert specialities, such as bat-eared foxes, Cape fox and the shy brown hyena. This is also a great park for birders, with a fantastic variety of raptor species and the iconic sociable weaver nests. The wildlife is sparsely distributed, and you can go for hours and hours, and indeed days, not seeing very much, but when you do finally get lucky, the sightings can be very close to the road and not cluttered by vegetation, which makes for great photographic opportunities. Be warned – the KTP can become addictive!
Ariadne is a renowned African wildlife photographer whose work is featured in many well-known guidebooks and magazines.
3 people found this review helpful.
Desert Adventures for Beginners
I love a road trip to Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. As deserts go, this one is very accessible and you don’t need to prepare for a full-on expedition to head out here. The accommodation in the park is comfortable and very reasonably priced. Camping is a great option too (as long as you come prepared because nights can be very cold). It would be advisable to bring most of your food, but it’s no problem if you’ve forgotten something as there is a well-stocked shop on site. You don’t even need a 4x4 to visit Kgalagadi. If you deflate your tires as recommended at the entrance, a sedan car with adequate clearance can navigate the sandy roads with no problem.
Despite all the excellent facilities, Kgalagadi is a pristine wilderness destination. Game drive roads follow the Auob and Nossob riverbeds flanked by rolling red dunes. Although harsh in the midday sun, this stark scene provides a stunning backdrop for early morning and late afternoon photography. Kgalagadi is perhaps not the best place for a first-time safari – many iconic animals, such as elephant and buffalo, are missing. Predator sightings are usually very good though. On my last trip I spotted lion, cheetah and leopard, but it’s the smaller carnivores that thrive in this arid environment that really excite me. My favorite are the bat-eared foxes. The best time to watch them is when they are denning. This is when you can see a lot of interaction between the mating pairs and the pups. Black-backed jackals are common, and this is the only place I’ve ever seen a Cape fox. Another one to look out for is the brown hyena, rarely seen elsewhere in South Africa. The desert-adapted springbok and gemsbok are the main antelope species, and you’ll see plenty of them coming and going at the waterholes. If wildlife viewing is a bit slow (and it will be sometimes), there are always some birds to look at too – raptors are particularly well-represented here.