Kgalagadi encompasses a slice of the Kalahari Desert on the border of South Africa and Botswana.
The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is amongst Africa's largest and extends over 38 000 km2, a territory almost twice the size of the Kruger National Park. Jointly managed by South Africa and Botswana, the border within the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is unfenced and the wildlife is free to migrate. It is an immense wilderness of grass-covered dunes traversed by two dry, ancient riverbeds. The two major rivers of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, the Nossob and the Auob, flow on very rare occasions. Their beds meet near Twee Rivieren camp and the combined channel continues southward to enter the Molopo River outside the park. Of the three roads open to the public, two follow the courses of the Nossob and the Auob.
The Kalahari is not a true desert, but rather semi-desert savanna. Much of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is covered by low sand ridges best seen from the road between Rooibrak and Dikaardskolk. When the first rains fall, a great variety of annuals burst into flower, bringing color to the arid landscape. Two ground creepers, the tsamma melon and the wild cucumber, are important, as their fruits are eaten by a wide range of animals. Although Twee Rivieren is situated in the most arid region of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, wildlife is surprising plentiful. Kgalagadi does not support the diversity of antelope found in savanna parks, but an astonishing 19 species of carnivore are present, including the black-maned Kalahari lion, cheetah, brown hyena, African wild cat and honey badger. Raptors such as martial, tawny and bateleur eagles as well as the pale chanting goshawk are commonly sighted.
It was in the spirit of conservation that the former Kalahari Gemsbok National Park of South Africa, and neighboring Gemsbok National Park in Botswana decided to merge: to protect the natural migratory patterns of the wildlife. It is a just cause for celebration, as the colossal park is encompassed by never ending splendor and an awe-inspiring animal diversity.
Traveling within the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is a freeing experience as visitors can cross the border between South Africa and Botswana in search of various wildlife and environmental attractions. Visitors can even enter from Namibia at Mata-Mata. This makes the park an ideal destination to combine with parks in any of the three countries.
If you want to see the imposing black-maned Kalahari lions, a trip to Kgalagadi is a must. The contrast between their golden frame and the dark mane is dramatic, and adds to their inherent intensity. It is important to take the park's size into consideration however, and finding these black-maned beauties is an adventure in itself.
Guests to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park will be met at OR Tambo International Airport, where they will be assisted in transferring to a domestic flight to Upington in the Northern Cape. The short flight will take you straight into the Kalahari region so remember to pack something cool, especially if you are arriving in summer.
The Kgalagadi is situated on the border of South Africa and Botswana, approximately 250km from Upington, 960km from Johannesburg and 1100 km from Cape Town. African Sky guests will be driven by an experienced guide from Upington Airport in a private, air-conditioned vehicle through the panoramic Kalahari to the park.
Although animals congregate around the riverbeds after the rains from March to May, wildlife viewing in Kgalagadi is exceptional all-year round. The very hot rainy season from January to February brings with it terrific thunderstorms which are a marvel to observe - if you don’t mind temperatures exceeding 40C.
Similarly, winters do become extremely cold and the temperatures can drop far below 0 degrees at night. Birding is not as good in the winter as in the spring and summer seasons, but the cooler days makes exploring on foot much more comfortable. The park does not get crowded, but might be a bit fuller in the school holidays.
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is a product of South Africa and Botswana working together. It was founded on 12 May 2000 when presidents Thabo Mbeki and Festus Mogae formed Southern Africa’s first peace park. Kalahari Gemsbok National Park of South Africa and Gemsbok National Park of Botswana formed this international reserve. The park’s history dates back to the 31st of July 1931, when the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park was established on the South African side to protect migrating game. Eventually, in 1948, a verbal agreement was made with Botswana (then known as the Bechuanaland Protectorate), to conserve the whole area as one unit.
The park was named after the Kgalagadi people, their language being related to Tswana. They were some of first people to move into this area and stayed alongside Khoe-speaking people relatively peacefully. The Kgalagadi people named the area 'Kgalagadi"', which means 'place of thirst'' and from there the word Kalahari was derived. The Kgalagadi saw some wartime action. Firstly, German troops set up a lookout post on a huge camel thorn tree to transmit massages to South West Africa in the British territory, but many of the Germans were killed in a daybreak raid. Later, with the outbreak of World War I, South Africa drilled a series of boreholes along the Auob River to provide a corridor to invade South West Africa, but this corridor was never used.
The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is an ideal place to view gemsbok (also known as oryx) as the parks' previous names suggest. One of the reasons the conservation area was started was to stop poachers from hunting the gemsbok, as it is also known to have some of the best tasting meat known to man. The large size of the park allows for the migration of wild ungulates and also gives the predators that hunt these ungulates big enough territories to survive in. The migratory ungulates are the red hartebeest, blue wildebeest, springbok and eland. The most common predators in the park would be cheetah, hyena and the famous black-maned Kalahari lion.
Occasionally one might also come across a leopard, and there are even rare sightings of African wild dog. The park's most prominent species are the ground squirrel and meerkat, which will definitively entertain you with their antics. These ground-dwelling species live in burrows in large groups and work together to spot predators and hunt prey. Low density species include honey badger, pangolin and bat-eared fox. To spot these, one must have extreme patience and perspicacity or just a good helping of dumb luck. More than 200 bird species have been documented, including vultures, eagles, buzzards, secretary birds and ostriches.
The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is situated in the southern reaches of the Kalahari Desert in South Africa. The unblemished terrain comprises the renowned red sand dunes of the Kalahari, sparse vegetation in the form of grasslands, scrub bush, desert woodlands occupied by occasional trees, the dry riverbeds of the Nossob and Auob Rivers and superb salt pans. Although it is believed that the rivers only run once every hundred years after a severe storm, underground rivers provide the necessary sustenance for the fauna and flora, as well as the wildlife that call this desert home. Additionally, the salt pans fill-up during the wet seasons, providing much-needed nutrients to the animals.
Apart from the fact that the pans attract a multitude of animals, they are also usually bordered by dunes. These outcrops make for unobstructed views of the area, and campsites and lodges are strategically placed on the ridges ensuring maximum game viewing pleasure for the guests. The pans are like fingerprints, each unique, each with a story to tell. Some, for example, are linked to fossil valleys like the Monamodi. Others are small but extremely rich in nutrients, whilst most in the area are unbelievably large. The nutrient-rich soils mean that various fruits such as the kiwano (horned melon) and tsamma (melon creeper) occur endemically.
The Kgalagadi is known for its mesmerizing landscapes and various activities are offered to best view the majestic scenery and the famous inhabitants, such as the black-maned Kalahari lions. Game drives in the early mornings or late afternoons are available daily. Longer drives on various 4x4 trails, such as the Bitterpan and Mabuasehube, are also available, and serve as a great way to familiarize oneself with the landscape. Along the routes there are also strategically positioned picnic sites with convenient barbecue and ablution facilities. It is important, however ,to remember that there is no water except for the water that you take with on the drive.
A visit to the Predator Centre at Nossob is a wonderful way to intimately acquaint yourself with the habits and lifestyles of animals in the area, and entrance is free. There are also cleverly placed hides at the Nossob watering hole and Mata Mata from which wildlife can be viewed in comfort and safety. The park is also excellent for birding, especially raptors, including the Verreaux's eagle-owl. Swimming pools at Twee Rivieren, Kalahari Tented Camp, Mata Mata and Nossob provide essential reprieves from the heat of day, and are extremely popular amongst the youngsters visiting the park.
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