About a year ago, I called the SA National Parks reservations number in Pretoria, confidently expecting I would be able to book several nights in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park several months hence.
My jaw dropped when I found out it was booked solid for nearly 7 months. Never mind Kruger. The Kgalagadi is without a doubt the most popular national park in the country. Getaway magazine has just published a lead article echoing the very same thing.
I’ve just come back from my 2nd trip there, and cannot stop raving about the place.
The park falls within the mystical Kalahari region, and is no more than the southern-most portion of this semi-arid ecosystem that sprawls across Botswana, a large chunk of Namibia, and right up to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The Kalahari is the largest mantle of sand in the world. The sand, which varies in colour from creamy to buff to vivid chilli red, was originally wind-blown, but nobody can really say where it came from.
The Kalahari is the largest mantle of sand in the world. The sand, which varies in colour from creamy to buff to vivid chilli red, was originally wind-blown, but no one can really say where it came from.
Its depth varies from a few metres to 300m in places. Its dune system runs in regular wave-like patterns, but the dunes are fixed in place by vegetation. Climate change may set them free again, warn some scientists.
Never venture into it by vehicle without lowering your tyre pressure to no more than 1.6 bars or you will get stuck somewhere, your wheels spinning hopelessly.
But I digress. The Kalahari is referred to as a semi-desert, although that’s not strictly true. It receives a reasonable amount of rain, but all that moisture sinks away beneath the sands so rapidly that there is no reliable standing water – unlike the Karoo, also a semi-desert, but one which has a clay foundation.
The Kalahari’s magic lies not only in its majestic camelthorns and quiver trees and dunes, but also in the iconic oryx (also called gemsbok), black-maned lions and cheetah.
Yet the afterburn in my memory is of simple dunes and silky grasses, and of the blue skies above with summer thunderheads rising. I’m already plotting my next trip back there.