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IIn South Africa’s Witsand Nature Reserve, the dunes literally roar. At certain times of year, they can be heard from 5km away; much like the roar of the great black-maned Kalahari lions of the nearby Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.
But this vast wilderness is not just about the Big 5 – it is also about the hundreds of desert creatures and their secret world.
Both reserves are part of the Roaring Kalahari Route in Northern Cape province, a meander through many desert attractions that typically starts either in Kuruman or Kimberley (which has an airport).
From Kimberley, head 140km west to Griquatown (or Griekwastad), home to Earth Treasures, a small gemstone factory where you can watch gemstones being polished.
You can also visit the Mary Moffat Museum in the main street. Mary Moffat, who grew up in Griquatown, was the wife of legendary 19th Century British explorer and anti-slavery campaigner David Livingstone.
From here, journey 120km to the 3 500-hectare Witsand Nature Reserve, where you can hike, dune surf, hire mountain bikes or travel the Kalahari Mountain View 4x4 (SUV) Route on a neighbouring farm.
Spend at least two days at Witsand Nature Reserve and book a guided walk with a field guide. This way, your eyes will be opened to animals that few ever see, such as the elusive nocturnal aardwolf and aardvark, and the common barking gecko, source of the characteristic soundtrack of Kalahari evenings.
You can then head the 110km to Groblershoop and visit the Orange River Wine Cellars and a private game ranch, Thuru Lodge, which offers a spa, horse trails and game drives.
In the same area is Kheis Riverside Lodge on the Orange River, which attracts anglers from far and wide. The birdwatching is superb, too.
Head about 120km from there to Upington, take a ferry ride on the Orange River and visit the Augrabies Falls.
The Twee Rivieren camp in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is your next stop, 250km from Upington. The park offers a wondrous variety of desert plants and bird and animal species, including the Kalahari lion.
After visiting the park, head about 200km east to Van Zylsrus, Hotazel and Kathu, where you can enjoy a round of golf on an 18-hole oasis course, shaded by camelthorn trees.
A further 50km takes you to Kuruman.
There are superb game ranches, guest lodges, caves, paintings and iron-ore mines on the Roaring Kalahari Route. But most important of all is the chance to take in the silence of the Kalahari and its desert magic.
TTravel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Witsand Nature Reserve
Tel: +27 (0)53 313 1061
How to get here
Fly or drive to Kimberley, 480km from Johannesburg on the N1 South. Or drive to Kuruman, 530km from Johannesburg on the N14 West. You can then self-drive from Kimberley or Kuruman.
Best time to visit
All year round, but bear in mind that summers (October to March) are particularly hot. It can get very cold in winter (June and July in particular), often dropping to below freezing at night, but the days are usually warm and sunny.
It's best to drive yourself on the Roaring Kalahari Route. Sedans are suitable for most parts of the route, but there are some 4x4 (SUV) routes and dirt roads, so a 4-wheel-drive vehicle would be ideal.
Around the area
Your hosts at each stop will advise on all the activities in the area.
What will it cost?
Activities along the way vary to suit all pockets, and accommodation in the Witsand Nature Reserve likewise ranges from budget caravan and camping sites to luxury self-catering chalets. Further afield, guest houses, BnBs and private lodges are available around the region, so shop around for affordable options.
Length of stay
Block off at least a week to take in the Roaring Kalahari Route.
What to pack
Always carry plenty of drinking water. Also recommended are hats, sunscreen, walking shoes, binoculars, fishing gear, warm and cool clothing and swimming gear.
Where to stay
There is a choice of game reserves, lodges and guest farms along the route, plus camping, caravanning and luxury self-catering chalet options within the Witsand Nature Reserve.
What to eat
Most establishments en route serve food. If you choose a self-catering option, remember to stock up when you pass through towns, and don’t forget a cooler box stocked with ice-bricks for perishables; you may be on the road several hours between the supermarket and your chalet fridge.
Most of the nature or game reserves also offer certain foodstuffs in their stores – this would be a good time to try out local specialities like springbok biltong: spiced, wind-dried meat, and probably South Africa’s most famous snack food.