It was a scorching day in November, typical weather for this time of year. I had put my bags down, grabbed a cold bottle of water and headed straight for my deck chair to take in the sweeping views of the Central Kalahari Desert.
The Kalahari was nothing like I thought it would be, except for the heat. That was exactly how I anticipated but one can never fully prepare for it.
Movement between my tent and the main area was more of a hop, skip and a jump! I had opted to wear open sandals, and these are great on a flat surface, but they sure made for clumsy dance in the red-hot sand.
Standing on the deck outside my tent, I took in the incredible views of the Desert before me. Those who have been to Botswana, know how flat the land is, one can literally see for days! Yet here in the Kalahari; equally as flat, an ancient sand dune exists, and up on this ridge is where Tau Pan Camp is located.
This was to be my temporary home for the next 24 hours and every image I had previously held in my imagination was wiped out by the beauty unfolding before my eyes. The Kalahari is not barren and sandy, as one would expect in most deserts. Even when it is dry enough to ‘qualify’ as a desert, it is not strictly speaking a desert because the ground cover is too dense.
‘Tau’ is the Setswana word for lion and the Kalahari is famed for the impressive compliment of black-maned lions, the very same that frequent the permanent water hole located in front of camp. What I thought was going to be a quiet dreamy night under the stars, turned out to be rather a noisy and interrupted sleep with a choir from the wild; well more like a symphony of roars from one pride to the next that bellowed throughout the night. It was an impressive sound, one that never rings tired with me.
I sat down in my deck chair, dusted the sand from my feet and lifted them up to the small table in front of me. Head back, eyes closed and just about ready to take in my afternoon siesta when something inside me insisted that I look up.
As I opened my eyes, I caught a glimpse of a bushy striped tail hanging from a rafter; and there it was…a beautiful little genet, sleeping peacefully in the shade of the thatch. We both had the same great idea for that hot afternoon in Africa; quiet uninterrupted blissful sleep.
For those wanting to visit the Kalahari, do it on your next planned safari in Botswana. It’s wild and mysterious beauty almost never disappoints!
Interesting facts about the Central Kalahari:
With 52,000 km2 the Central Kalahari Game Reserve is the world‘s second largest protected area and one of the most remote and pristine areas in Africa.
The Central Kalahari Game Reserve is mostly famous for its ancient fossil river beds, which form valleys through the bush of which Deception Valley is the most famous. A highly recommendable read is “The Cry of the Kalahari” by Delia and Mark Owens.
Specialized desert species are found in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve with gemsbok (oryx) and springbok often seen; the famous black-maned Kalahari lions and of course bat-eared foxes. And if you are very lucky, the brown hyena.
Although the Central Kalahari is an all year round destination, an especially magnificent time is during and after the summer rains when the colors of the Kalahari explode and grey turns into fifty shades of green. The rainy starts in mid November and ends in March.
Information on Kwando Tau Pan:
Tau Pan is one of two lodges located within the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, the other being Kalahari Plains.
Activities offered at Tau Pan include game drives, day trips to Deception Valley, Sunday, Piper and Passarge Pans, star gazing and nature walks with Bushman trackers.
Accommodation consists of 9 environment adapted en-suite rooms including 1 family room and a sleepout deck (an absolute treat for the more adventurous!).
100% solar operated
Guide and tracker team
On arrival at Dinaka Camp we were welcomed by a lively song sung by the camp staff, which brought a smile to everyone’s faces and set the mood for a fun and most enjoyable weekend. Dinaka has just recently opened after an extensive refurb following it’s take over by Ker and Downey. This beautifully constructed camp is set on a private conservancy bordering the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. It still had the “new car aroma” one would expect of a newly refurbished camp, so I have to take my hat off to the staff who created such a welcoming and homely atmosphere, that one could be lead to believe that the camp had already been operating this way for a several years.
After a sumptuous lunch we had a little time to enjoy a short siesta in our rooms or a relaxing moment by the crystal clear pool overlooking the water in front of camp before our afternoon game drive.
The Kalahari is truly a kaleidoscope of colours during the green season. The contrast of colours created by the budding flowers from the scrubland and the summer skies is simply amazing. The thick scrubland can make game viewing a little harder during this time of year, but this is compensated for by the landscape and birdlife, not to mention the chance to observe young offspring. The skyline makes for incredibly rich and vivid pictures and when the sun breaks out from the rain cloud formations, spectacular rainbows arch across the landscape. The wildlife also makes for picture perfect conditions as a large male giraffe posed for us against the back drop of the dark rain clouds heading north. The sunsets are spectacular at this time of year and provide the perfect scene at sundowner hour. On our game drive back to camp, we were lucky enough to spot a caracal with its cub and a puff-adder before settling down to an amazing dinner under the stars. Our guide’s knowledge of astrology was really impressive and star gazing and identifying the different constellations around the camp fire after dinner completed what had been an excellent day on safari.
I was lucky enough to be allocated the spacious family room all to myself, with the only disadvantage being that it is quite close to the main area so I was awoken earlier than I had planned by the generator starting up and to the voices of a few of the staff starting off their busy day. We then set off on a safari walk with the Bushmen of the Kalahari and the Ker and Downey Guides. I appreciated having the guides there with us as they were armed for our safety which is paramount in an area renowned for our favourite big cats, the lions. Getting down on the ground and immersing oneself in the surrounding wildlife is always an exhilarating activity, as we were walked through the ancient survival techniques used by the Bushmen in the harsh terrain that is the Kalahari. We returned to camp to say our goodbyes and could not help thinking how this area would be completely different during the winter season as the foliage disappears and the wildlife concentrates around the waterholes on the conservancy.
“Inside tips from your local experts”
- Guests are accommodated in seven spacious twin and double-bedded safari tents on raised decks. Each en-suite bathroom has an indoor and outdoor shower, hot and cold running water and flush toilet. Families are accommodated in a two-bed-roomed tent, sharing a spacious en-suite bathroom.
- The area is a big contrast to the Delta so works well when combining different locations within Botswana.
- In green season, the annual rains transform the arid desert landscape into a lush profusion of Kalahari vegetation, offering guests a unique insight into the lesser known desert experience. It gets very bushy and lush with thick, green vegetation, so spotting game can become very difficult. However, there is still game about and the birding is good, so this would be a great time for birding enthusiasts.
- Dinaka being based in a private concession outside the Central Kalahari Game Reserves offers a different experience to the camps inside the Game Reserve. Our experts recommend it in dry season, ideally combined with camps in the Delta. The camps inside the Game Reserve (namely Tau Pan and Kalahari Plains offer a great experience during our green season when the Kalahari comes to life again).
- Activities include early morning, afternoon and night game drives, birding, guided walks and photographic hides.
- Best suited to your mid-range clientele along with families or honeymooners. People who want to experience something different and are not highly concerned with lots of game but rather quality game viewing opportunities. Such as from the underground bunker, viewing decks, hides, game walks etc.
Having never been to Nxai Pan National Park this was my first chance to discover this somewhat hidden gem in the desert. The landscape was stunning. One could see that the area had experienced some rains prior to our arrival as the flora was slowly coming back to life with bright green shoots and leaves providing a stark contrast to the dry landscape. The majority of trees and shrubs were coming into bloom with a stunning array of multi coloured flowers making for great landscape photography.
We could not have scripted our arrival at Nxai Pan Camp more perfectly. We arrived to a very warm welcome from the Managers, Lets and Thabo. Our camp orientation, however, was delayed for forty five minutes due to the fact that one rather cheeky elephant had decided that the camp pool would make for a better source of drinking water than the waterhole directly located in front of camp. Spectacular to say the least!
After high tea we went out on a short game drive towards the busy waterhole where elephants were dominating the water point to the chagrin of the other wildlife such as buffalos, jackals and other desert species. The inter-action between the elephants themselves and the other wildlife was fascinating, keeping us mesmerized as Chester explained the animals behaviour we were observing.
The next morning we embarked on a short nature walk with Shoes, the resident bushman and our tracker. He provided us with numerous anecdotes and information in the ways of his forefathers during a short walk in the vicinity of the camp. Quite a character if there ever was one, explaining that my failure to start a fire would guarantee that I would never find a wife to marry! The following game drive provided great sightings in the form of three cheetahs, giraffes, zebras, elephants galore and the highlight for us, aardvark out in the open during the day time!
We went through to Baines Baobab’s on our way to the Nxai Pan National Park gate. The baobabs stand out rather majestically as one approaches and the experience is quite humbling as one realises just how long these immortalized baobabs have stood the test of time.
FACTS ABOUT NXAI PAN CAMP
Nxai Pan Camp is run by Kwando Safaris
Activities on offer include game drives, bushman experience and day visits to Baines Baobabs
Camp consists of 8 custom-built rooms (including 1 family room). All rooms are en-suite with thatched roofs and insulation making them cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter
Three of my colleagues and I recently had the pleasure of spending two nights at The Lodge located north of the expansive Central Kalahari Game Reserve. We were picked up at our offices in Maun just after lunch for a comfortable four and a half hour road transfer in their air-conditioned 4×4 to this rather unique product. Although there was not much to see on the way, we kept our spirits up by discussing exactly what we were about to experience as it became apparent that although we were seasoned travellers in regards to camps and lodges in Botswana, we did not quite know what to expect at this property as big game viewing is not the primary focus. This is not to suggest that there is no game in the area (as I realised later on) as we encountered zebras and kudus during our stay there but rather that this property has a completely different ethos as compared to the camps we regularly visit in more predominately game rich areas in the delta.
We arrived to a very warm welcome by Teddy, the lodge manager and his ever smiling staff. The lodge really is beautifully built to match in with the surrounding area and the twenty-five metre lap pool had us all wanting to take a dip right then and there! We freshened up with a welcome cool drink and prepared ourselves to hear the usual camp briefing regarding operations safety pre-cautions and activities. Instead of the usual early morning wake up at 05h30 in the morning for a game drive we were advised we could sleep in until breakfast was served at 07h30! The activities on offer had us all spoilt for choice as one could go on a game drive, walk, fat bike tour of the area or horse riding. Other activities on offer are golfing (desert style!), tennis, an authentic bushman experience (either a walking safari to discover what the desert can provide in terms or nourishment and medicine or a more in-depth fly-camp experience at a bushman village located close to the lodge) or if one is feeling like being pampered, massage treatments are also available at a small supplement. Needless to say we all chose our prepared activities for the following morning with two of my colleagues opting for the horse riding and the third taking in a massage. I opted for fat biking riding with a twist as I was going to follow my colleagues on the horses.
In hindsight, this was probably not the best decision I have made in my life, as the next morning I quickly came to realize one cannot follow horses on a bright orange fat bike through the Kalahari veld. As my colleagues got introduced to their horses and the guides, I took this time to name my fat bike “Bubba” as all the horses had names I did not want my trusted bike to feel out of place. The ride started with a light trot which Bubba and I easily kept pace with, but this was to quickly change. When the horses went into a canter, keeping up with them rapidly become more difficult. Thankfully they stopped when they realised that I had fell from view and waited for me and Bubba to catch up. It was at this point, I made the decision to return back to the lodge with Bubba and let them enjoy the rest of their ride, as I was clearly slowing them down. Again, in hindsight, probably not the best decision as fat biking through tall grass on your own on a bright orange fat bike in a concession that can have wildlife pass through it without a guide would be considered foolhardy at best. I could just imagine the confusion on a leopard’s face seeing me and Bubba huffing and puffing along! Swinging my neck around every two seconds to check for wildlife whilst trying to stay on the “path” we had taken was a challenge to say the least.
My joy at finally seeing the lodge appear on the horizon was that of the desert when it rains. Pure and utter joy and relief!
Departing the next morning, it dawned on us that we had experienced something completely unique in the tourism industry of Botswana. They whole ethos is centred more around the relaxing and varied experiences available rather than big game sightings.
A fitting and relaxing end to any safari.
Arriving at our mobile camp set up between 2nd and 3rd bridge in Moremi Game Reserve after dark was like arriving in fairy land, with all the lanterns down the pathways and throughout the camp. Welcomed with a glass of sparkling wine, we were settled in.
This luxury mobile set up boasts a combination of elegance and a kind of exploration history giving you all the comforts of beds, en-suite bathrooms with bucket showers and flush toilets. This was to be our home for the next 2 nights. A mobile safari gives you a private camp feeling much closer to the bush than the infrastructure of any lodge. Lying in bed at night and listening the bush come alive, as certain curious species of game come to inspect the different smells and activities of our camp.
Our Guides, Ralph Bousfield and Greg certainly did not disappoint with their in depth knowledge and passion for the bush and stories of exploration, history, culture and scientific facts kept us all engaged and entertained the entire time we were with them. The other advantage of a mobile safari is creating a trust and a bond with your guide that will be with you throughout your trip.
Day 3 we boated far into the Okavango Delta, to our Island stop where Devon (our Camp Manager) was waiting for us, fly camp set up, with more food and drinks. Our set up was a roll mat with a mosquito net under the vast stars in the middle of the Okavango Delta. It gave us a feeling of being truly in the wild, in one of the most beautiful places on earth. Here we experienced the water ways of the Delta, whilst competing against each other on the number of Sitatunga and Otters we spotted. Nature walks around the island with Ralph proving to Simona we could still make a pizza from natural plants, mushrooms and shrubs on the island as well as curing malaria at the same time.
Day 4 our Delta experience was over and we flew out to the openness of the Makgadikgadi Pans. Our home here for 2 nights was in the most feminine of all 3 Uncharted Africa camps, San Camp.
You have a choice of 3 camps all meeting 3 different styles and budgets, whilst you can all enjoy the same activities.
Camp Kalahari situated further back in the grasslands is the least expensive of the 3 camps. It is currently raising all the tents, to allow the breeze to blow through and give you more of a view of the Pans.
San Camp being the lady of the 3, situated on the edge of the pans themselves is seasonal and only operational from April to October. Its white tents on the edge of the pans gives you the true feeling of being on the moon.
Jacks Camp, this colonial and historic camp based at the edge of the pans but slightly back into the grasslands is the grande-dame of the three. Packed with history and science with their registered museum, it does look fabulous after the completion of its refurbishment.
One thing to mention on the activities, is all 3 camps run the same activities on a rotational cycle so that guests from 2 different camps don’t do the same activity together. This is the reason that a 3 night stay in the dry season is recommended to be offered the surprise sleep out (weather dependant). Activities include a cultural bushman walk, game drives looking for more adapted desert species, quad biking in the dry season, following and interacting with the very comical habituated meerkats, horse riding as an optional extra and watching the sun set where it is so silent that your ears ring.
A safari to the Salt Pans is such a unique experience, from the Zebra migration in the Green Season to exploring the pans on quad bikes in the dry season, it should not be missed.