We spent a wonderful week in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in April 2021. Here is our guide to visiting this incredible place that spans a remote corner of South Africa and Botswana:
There and back again
Joburg to Twee Rivieren (the South African entrance gate to the park) is about 10.5 hours with no stopping, so getting there in one day is quite tough. Stopping in Van Zylsrus en route gives you the opportunity to explore an interesting part of the Northern Cape as part of your journey. We stayed at Tevrede Lekkerus just outside of the teeny town (http://www.tevredelekkerus.co.za/). There is a long dirt road section between Van Zylsrus and Ashkam which is a bit corrugated, although the Disco managed 80 km/h quite comfortably and the birdwatching on this stretch was excellent. Alternatively, you can opt to push straight through to the really excellent Kgalagadi Lodge (https://www.kgalagadi-lodge.co.za/), which is only 4km from the gate and has lovely chalets, camping (some with private ablutions) and a really excellent restaurant (best to book ahead of time, especially over busy periods).
On the way home, we would recommend either Witsand, a small nature reserve with unique white kalahari dunes (https://www.witsandkalahari.co.za/accommodation), or South Africa’s newest national park, Mokala near Kimberley. Mokala is worth a two night stay – the park has buffalo, both kinds of rhino and beautiful Serengeti-like grasslands. If you’re only two people, stay in one of the gloriously isolated (but popular) ‘tree houses’ (https://www.sanparks.org/).
The main camps
The Kgalagadi has three main rest camps, all with camping and chalet style accommodation, fuel and a basic shop stocking mostly non-perishable items and frozen meat. There are no restaurants (so be prepared for self-catering) and only Twee Rivieren has mobile reception, although there is limited wifi available at the other two. None of the tap water in the park is drinkable (there are lots of stories of people trying and getting nasty tummies), so make sure you have enough.
Twee Rivieren, at the entrance to the park, is our least favourite rest camp – it feels like everyone is just passing through on their way to somewhere else. The camp site is particularly cramped and noisy. Kgalagadi Lodge is good alternative, althought this might mean a bit of a queue to get into the park in the morning.
The other two rest camps, Nossop and Mata Mata are both lovely, and much smaller and quainter than Twee Rivieren. Mata Mata has the nicer campsite, but Nossop has wonderful ‘riverfront’ chalets and a small number of campsites with private ablutions, as well as a lovely waterhole and hide. Birds and small mammals are prolific in all the main camps and a walk after dark to look for owls is a must (wear closed shoes for those scorpions!)
Off the beaten track
Although Nossop and Mata Mata are lovely, where you really want to stay are the tiny, remote self-catering bushveld camps run by Sanparks, or the Botswana campsites if you’re a camper. Getting bookings in the bushveld camps can be devilishly difficult (they sometimes book up a year in advance when bookings open) but it’s well worth the effort. All of them are unfenced, off the main roads (4×4 required) and have high chances of nocturnal visits from resident lion prides. Gharagab and Bitterpan are on amazing exclusive 4×4 trails through the grassy dunes, which are a bit short on game but spectacular, while most of the others are closer to the main game viewing areas. Kalahari Tented Camp is a bit bigger than the others and close enough to Mata Mata that night drives are available. We haven’t managed to stay at Kieliekrankie, Urikaruus or Grootkolk, but they also sound amazing.
On the camping front, Polentswa and Rooiputs are closest to the South African part of the park, with much more remote campsites available a long drive further north and east into Botswana. For some of these you need to be completely self-sufficient, with no facilities at all. We haven’t tried any of these, but they are on the bucket list.
What’s on the menu?
The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is situated in the Kalahari desert, which means the the area is primarily made up of arid, red dunes. Most game viewing on the South African side is along the two large dry rivers, and often in the vicinity of the waterholes, situated every 7 – 20km along the main roads. Gemsbok and springbok are numerous, and the park is one of the better places in Southern Africa to find lions, leopards and cheetahs on a self-drive safari. It’s also an excellent place to find some of the smaller, more interesting mammals like foxes and wild cats, but it’s best to book a sunset or night drive to find these. Ground squirrels and mongooses are everywhere, as are plenty of little rodents. If you keep an eye out you should also spot an meerkat or two standing guard for the rest of their group. The diversity of birdlife is on the low side, but the density of raptors in particular is astounding, with every watering hole boasting hunting falcons swooping down on flocks of sandgrouse, doves and finches. Keep an eye out for the Pygmy Falcons – this is one of the best places in South Africa to see them.
The art of the possible
For accommodation on the South African side of the park, bookings are made through Sanparks, either online or by phone (https://www.sanparks.org/). We don’t have experience of making Botswana bookings for the Kgalagadi. If you are fussy about your itinerary, you need to call on the day bookings open (11 calendar months in advance), don’t wait for online bookings to open the next day. If you’re more flexible, you can make bookings at shorter notice and watch out for cancellations but some camps (e.g. Kieliekrankie) are almost impossible to get into. Distances are long and roads can be a bit rough, so have a map in front of you when you make bookings so that you don’t overcommit on disctances between camps. Out itinerary on this latest trip was Twee Rivieren – Nossop – Gharagab – Bitterpan – KTC – Kgalagadi Lodge which was very doable, but still long days in the car. If you have the time, spending two nights in Mata Mata or Nossob gives you time to explore these game-rich areas a bit more.
South Africa’s first Michelin starred chef has opened a restaurant called Klein Jan at Tswalu Kalahari. Tswalu is an ultra high-end reserve but on selected weekend days, Klein Jan is open to the public for lunch, so if you time your visit right, you can visit en route to or from the Kgalagadi (it’s about 3.5 hours from Twee Rivieren). Our visit to Klein Jan was the highlight of our trip and we were blown away by the whole experience, but we don’t want to say too much about it because so much of the joy of the experience comes from the the surprise factor. If you get the chance, don’t hesitate!! https://janonline.com/restaurantkleinjan/