Man and beast in the wild Kalahari

Bernie Williams, who manages the 4×4 Mega World Offroad Club, fell in love with all things bush, bundu and wild camping as a young lad. That passion has only grown over the years and has moulded him into a man of the wild, a man with a pure love for the bush and adventure.

I have lived in in Bloemfontein for a very large part of my life. My passion for all things offroad was triggered by a love of riding offroad bikes. My best friend and I spent many weekends and school holidays riding the bike his dad had built up for us to use.

We learnt how to fix and service it and to ride it properly. As things go, life happened, and he and his family relocated to Pretoria. We didn’t stay in touch, but the passion never disappeared. We made contact again years later when I did my national service in Pretoria, but he sadly passed away after a serious superbike accident.

Many years later, I had a working relationship with the local BMW dealership and as Land Rover was owned by the German brand at the time, I was asked to drive a Defender 90 to a farmer’s day in Wesselsbron of all places. My love for 4×4 was officially born that day; this was simply something I had to get into! The Continental Off Road Academy, under the guidance of 4×4 legend Von Krause, was still operational and I approached the local instructor. Oom Jannie du Plessis was a legend in his own right, having owned on of the biggest motorcycle shops in Bloemfontein. I explained to him that this is what I wanted to do. He took me under his wing and so started my journey to becoming a 4×4 instructor and overlanding specialist.

You might be wondering why I’m telling you this. Well, it is to give you the background to a part of my life story. I believe that people cross your path and walk into your life for a reason. My relationships within the industry grew rapidly, as did the experience gained. I was then approached by the owners of a few hunting concessions in Botswana. They had four concession areas around the Kgalagadi National Park as well as Mabuasehube, all the way to the Namibian border on the northern side – four million hectares in total!

This was during the time that the then president of Botswana, Ian Khama, had announced that he was considering stopping hunting in the country. I was asked to visit the area and assist with the layout of a potential route with campsites along the way. It was here that I fell in love with the true Kalahari! It was simply mind-blowing to be able to enter areas where the public were not permitted to go. The hunting concessions were indeed halted and sadly the cost of trying to keep the areas was just not viable and the owners ended up giving them up. Subsequently, it was up to the local communities to manage these areas and it degenerated into a free for all. Under the new president of Botswana, the hunting concessions have once again been allocated and control has returned to these areas again. Should you be found in these concession areas, you will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, so if you are visiting Mabuasehube area stay on the transit roads.

Returning to my wild roots

I hadn’t been to the area for some time and with a long weekend approaching, I thought it a good time to return. Having the privilege of managing 4×4 Mega World’s off-road club, known as #megaXplore, the word was spread amongst our members and a few intrepid adventurers decided to join me. Amongst the group was the owner and CEO of 4×4 Mega World, Deon Venter and his sons Jason and Dylan. By now we all should know that no meat can be taken across the border because of foot and mouth disease and avian flu. In addition, a ban on vegetables serves to protect Botswana’s own producers. South Africa would do well to learn this lesson from its neighbour!

We started our adventure in Jwaneng and camped at the old campsite we used for the Toyota Desert 1000 Race that was held in this area for five years. This camp is very basic, but clean facilities (and hot water, courtesy of an old-style donkey) is all that is needed. Unfortunately, the facilities are not open for general use.

We stocked up on top quality meat from Jwaneng Meat Market. In the same shopping complex, you will find a well-stocked Pick ‘n Pay and a liquor store and across the road is the well-known Choppies for everything else you might need. There is both a Shell and Puma fuel station as you enter Jwaneng (and as an added bonus, fuel is much cheaper in Botswana than in South Africa at the moment!). After filling the fridges and drawers with what we needed for our adventure, it was time to head toward our intended camp for the first night.

Knowing the owners of the concession area very well, we had permission to enter some of their exclusive areas and headed towards the village of Sekoma, direction Kang. It’s around 85km before you turn off to your left and from there you head to Kokotsha for another 90km. This section is all tar. Approximately 15 to 20km further you will find a farm gate on the right where you turn right onto the track that will take you all the way to Mabuasehube.

We stopped just after we turned off to deflate the tyres before taking on the sandy tracks of the Kalahari. Whatever you do keep your speed in check! There are some serious deep pockets that can lead to terminal damage, as one of our friends in his Nissan Navara soon found out. In one of these patches the front end of the Nissan planted itself deep into the sand. The bottom of the radiator had two holes punched into it, leading to a loss of all coolant. We had no choice but to pull the radiator, which required some contortion exercises! I’m convinced engineers hate auto mechanics, but it helps if you have the right equipment and know-how to do a very basic fix. Having put the radiator back, we discovered that it was leaking slowly in the core. Unfortunately, our mate had to turn around and make his way back to civilisation as the road ahead wasn’t going to get easier!

Having had good rains across the whole of Botswana the Kalahari was lush with dense grass cover. It was clear that it was not going to be easy to spot any wildlife, but that is not the only reason you visit this country. You go there for a reprieve from the hustle and bustle (and let’s face it, sometimes struggle) of daily life. You visit to breathe and to find yourself. We finally arrived at our first campsite around 25km from the entrance to Mabuasehube. Set on a rise overlooking a massive pan, the setting was absolutely perfect! The area is known for plenty of wildlife, including lion and leopard. Needless to say, our circle was kept relatively tight!

As we sat around the remnants of the previous night’s warm fire, we decided on a plan of action for the day. We were going to make our way to Mabuasehube for a day visit. Once we had arrived and gotten through the formalities I was hit by a bright idea. Why couldn’t we camp in the park overnight? No harm in asking, right? There just might be a campsite available, as unlikely as it may sound! “Okay,” came the answer, “but you need to pay when you come out.” No problem. On our way to our first night’s camp, we came across fellow adventurers on their way out and they told us about lions in and around their campsite for the time they were there. Now to find that campsite…

Sometimes luck is really on your side – we found it and as luck would have it, it was not booked for the evening. It was time to set up camp, build a fire and wait for the King of the Jungle to appear… Nothing, nada, niks… Not a single peep from a lion whatsoever! We weren’t about to just give up though! After breakfast the game warden arrived and I asked if it would be possible for us to spend another night. His answer: “If you can find an empty campsite, no problem.” Perfect! So, in the meantime we set off on some of the tracks in the park just to take in the scenery. At one of the many pans we found vultures on a kill that was obviously a few days old already, clear evidence that the lions had been there. Eventually we made our way back towards our first campsite and found an empty spot two sites away. Bingo!

The lion (does not) sleep tonight

We went through the usual drill of setting up camp, getting the fire going, prepping dinner, and sitting around talking, trying to find the answer to life’s many questions. With dinner and the dishes done it was time to just sit and relax when the peaceful night atmosphere was pierced by the very distinct roar of a lion – and not too far away either! At first some of us thought that it was our neighbours playing a CD of a lion’s roar, but Dylan decided to move his tent closer, just in case. As he looked up, he stared into the yellow eyes of a massive black-maned Kalahari male lion! For an outsider it must have been hilarious to see everyone scampering for their rooftop tents, even the guys with ground tents! That was us for the night. Good night, peeps!

After sunrise and the first cup of coffee the next morning we went to have a look at the lion tracks, only to see that he had not been alone. There were female tracks and tracks of cubs. Someone noticed movement in the grass and on looking closer, with binoculars, we saw two lion cubs. They wouldn’t be alone, mom should be near as well, right? Right! Again, everyone went scampering! I must admit it was really funny to see! We then discovered that the male had been watching us all this time from the other side of the campsite! Wonder what went through his mind? Not too perturbed by the clambering humans, they got up and made their way across the pan away from us, to everyone’s relief. The employees of the company that manages the campsites came to say their hello’s and we settled our camping bill. None of us were in the mood to break up camp and leave this mystical place. If you have never visited this part of the world it needs to be very high on your bucket list. Rather play it safe and book a campsite but be warned – bookings are almost a year in advance already. The fact that we found campsites without a booking was pure luck!

We headed for the gate. From the gate we drove on some of the “roads” around the park, stopping for a bush lunch in a remote spot. We decided to spend our last night of camping at the same spot as the first night and were entertained by the distant roar of lion. A perfect setting and atmosphere for our last evening in this paradise. We started to make our way back toward Jwaneng and to the border. I made use of the Skilpadsnek border post, travelling via Zeerust and Rustenburg back to Johannesburg, while the other guys exited through the Ramaklabama border post. A great adventure, just long enough to rejuvenate the soul and feed my need for adventure. Bliss.

About #megaXplore

#megaXplore is a free-of-charge 4×4 club, offering weekend excursions as well as longer adventure and cross-border adventures. New members are entitled to one complimentary Level 1 4×4 driving course and there are five branches (or rather chapters) across South Africa:

• Gauteng

• Free State

• KwZulu-Natal

• Eastern Cape

• Western Cape

*Find us on social media: @megaxplore

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