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The wild side of the Kalahari

The word Kalahari brings to mind images of red sand dunes, big old Camelthorn trees, Oryx (also known as the Prince of the Kalahari) and black maned lions… It is a captivating place that calls you back again and again and again. This is a place where you can hear your soul breathe a sigh of relief, and where George van Deventer, of Trans Africa Self Drive Adventures and Tours, goes to have his “human batteries” recharged.

The name Kalahari is derived from the Tswana word “Kgala”, meaning the great thirst, or “Kgalagadi”, meaning the waterless place. It is a large, semi-arid sandy savanna in Southern Africa that extends over 900 000 square kilometres, covering much of Botswana, and parts of Namibia and South Africa.

The Kalahari Desert, as its known, is not as a desert in the strictest sense of the word. It is a semi-desert. The driest areas receive 110 to 200mm of rain per year and the wettest can receive more than 500mm in very wet years.

Traditionally, an area is classified a desert if it receives less than 250mm of rain annually. A more accurate definition of a desert is a region in which the evaporation rate is twice as great as the precipitation. This is true for the southwestern half of the Kalahari. The north-eastern portion, however, receives much more rainfall and, climatically, cannot qualify as a desert. And yet, it is totally lacking in surface water. This is because rain drains instantly through the deep sands here, leaving the substrate completely devoid of moisture.

Let’s go wild

There is so much more to the south-western side of Botswana than Mabuasehube. This is where the cutlines and hidden roads lead you to wonderfull places way off the beaten track. Places where the lions and other wildlife have rarely seen humans. This is the place we call the “Wildside of Mabua”. The area consists mainly of the KD2 and KD12 concessions, which are operated and run by community trusts. It is strictly forbidden to drive or camp in these concessions without a valid permit.

You are allowed to overnight on the cutlines, but only if you have a valid permit for the concessions that you are transiting through. Cutlines are wide open graded roads with three major functions: providing access to certain concessions and villages; acting as fire breaks; and serving as boundaries between wildlife management areas (WMA).

If you do camp on these cutlines it is important to keep the road open for traffic that might pass you. We had a scary experience when graders came past us on a cutline late one night. The cutlines are graded annually and if you are fortunate enough to drive on shoftly after this has been done, you will know what a lekker drive it is. The average driving speed varies between 30 and 60km/h and it is important to deflate your tyres. Not only does it make your drive more comfortable, but it also preserves the road for longer and does not corrugate it as badly. Engage 4×4 high because there are a few spots with thick sand.

We have had some of our best wildlife sightings on these cutlines, including wild dogs close to Mabua, cheetah, leopard and lion. Drive slowly and check the shaded spots under trees and bushes. The predators like to take naps during daytime and that’s where you’ll find them.

KD2 Concession Zutshwa

This concession is owned by the Qhaa Qhing Conservation Trust, based in the nearby village of Zutshwa. The campsites are all around the pans in the area. These are all wild camp sites, with trees for shade, but no other facilities. You need to bring your own water for drinking and washing, and will have to erect your own shelters to use as a shower and toilet.

There are pans with names like Peach Pan, Name Pan, Bush Pan and Kgane Pan to name just a few. Most of the wildlife sightings are around these pans and you can expect to see lion, leopard, brown and spotted hyenas, gemsbok, springbok, hartebeest, wildebeest, eland, steenbok, ostrich and jackal. This part of the Kalahari is a birder’s paradise and one of only two places on earth with a Camelthorn forest. The other is near Kathu in the Northern Cape. The permit for camping is available in Zutshwa, and a “honesty box” is placed near the Qhaa Qing Development Trust Gate, at the junction between the roads leading from Hukuntsi and Ngwatle (GPS waypoint S24 08.516 E21 14.777). Here one can complete the permit and deposit payment for the campsite. The permit is required for travelling in the Qhaa Qing Concession area, and costs P100 per person and P100 per vehicle (as at April 2021). The campsite generates much needed income for the San/Basarwa people living in the Qhaa Qing Concession area. Patrols are regularly done and on a previous visit now in May we came across such a patrol. It consisted of two military vehicles as well as another with police, community rangers and DWNP officials.

There is zero tolerance for people without permits in these areas and you are warned with three different signs at each entry point. The first sign gives you all the info about the concession and where and how to book and it states clearly that you are not allowed beyond the sign without a valid permit. The second sign, about 50m onwards, asks you to please turn around if you don’t have a valid permit. The third signs informs you that it’s your last and final warning to turn around if you don’t have a permit. You absolutely have no excuse if caught without one. You will be arrested for trespassing and have to appear before a judge in a court of law. It’s not worth it, get a permit and pay what’s due.

KD12 Inalegolo WMA

The KD12 concession is known for Jack’s Pan (known locally as Jackie’s Pan) and is managed on behalf of the communities by the Koinaphu Trust on behalf of the local communities. The campsite sits on top of a dune overlooking the pan, which is home to two majestic male lions known to us as Jack and Floppy Ear. These two are the kings of the KD12 area and we have been blessed by their presence in our campsite in the past. The other campsite, Heinies Pan, is just as beautiful and like Jack’s Pan it also sits on top of a dune overlooking a pan. This site does not have the nice shade trees that Jack’s has but it’s just as breathtakingly beautiful and wild, with the same lions visiting there from time to time. There are no facilities at all and you need to be self sufficient. This is a nice stopover en route to Mabua and bookings must be made through the Kokotsha Community trust. Hunting has been opened again in Botswana and unfortunately this concession falls in the hunting area. Because of that it might not be accessible during certain times of the year. Bookings need to be made well in advance and the Kokotsha Community Centre handles all the administration and issuing of permits. The area is patrolled by the Botswana Defense Force and they are very strict on illegal camping. Camping without a permit is simply not worth the trouble you’ll be in if caught. Besides being the right thing to do, by paying your camp and conservation fees you are stimulating local tourism. The fee for camping at Jack’s or Heinies Pan is P40 per person conservation fee and P80 per person for camping (as well as a vehicle fee of P30).

Raw Kalahari

For me the great allure of this area is it remoteness and the sheer beauty of the untouched and unspoiled wilderness. There is no reception of any kind, not even radio. If you book any of the pans you will have the campsite and area to yourself. Your own piece of Kalahari paradise.

It doesn’t get more off the grid than this. It’s here where you’ll experience the true wild Kalahari in its rawest form. If you are a true nature lover and you love the sights, sounds and sheer vastness of mother nature, this is your place. Only those that have sat next to a camelthorn wood fire with the barking geckos calling for mates, the distant howl of a jackal and maybe the roar of a lion in the background will know what complete contention is. This is my idea of paradise, this is where I go to recharge and rest. This is my favourite place on earth.

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