Review: Vivien Horler
Kgalagadi Self-Drive – Routes, roads and ratings, by Ingrid van den Berg and Jaco Powell; with pictures by Philip & Ingrid van den Berg, Heinrich van den Berg & Jaco Powell (HPH Publishing)
In our daily lives we’re rarely less than a couple of metres away from other people. But there are places not all that far from here where you can feel as if you’re the only person in the world.
Or as publisher Heinrich van den Berg says in his preface to this magnificent book, during his first visit to the Kgalagadi aged 14, setting next to a termite mound in the heat of the day, he was struck for the first time in his life by a feeling of huge emptiness.
But it just feels empty, he says. “In the landscape of an unpeopled desert, in a kind of silence unknown elsewhere, and while experiencing deep solitude, if you sit quietly and patiently, amazing sights and sounds will be revealed.”
The old name Kalahari comes from the Setswana word kgalagadi, which refers to salt pans, or the place where the land has dried up, or a place of no water.
The Kgalgadi Transfrontier Park stretches from the north of the Northern Cape province into south-western Botswana. It consists of 3.7 million hectares, and comprises nearly a million hectares of South Africa’s former Kalahari Gemsbok National Park and the 2.8 million hectares of Botswana’s Gemsbok National Park.
The country is semi-arid, but it has two dry river beds, the Auob and the Nossob. These rivers rise in Namibia, where weak rains rarely deliver enough water to flow. But the water is there, deep down, and the beds are lined with deep-rooted trees that tap into the water table. Many of the waterholes are along these rivers.
This volume is a cross between a coffee table book and a practical guide. The pictures are stunning, and their subject matter ranges from a battle-scarred king of the desert to fighting gemsbok wielding their swordlike horns, an astonishing confrontation between a brown eagle snake and a Cape cobra, African wild cats that look like your average domestic tabby, sequences of shots depicting big cat kills, birds for Africa, and even a caterpillar.
But as its title indicates, this is also a guide for visitors making their own way around the park, so there are detailed maps, descriptions of the different camps and game drives that can be taken from them, and lots of generally helpful information.
This includes the gate hours of the different parks, travelling times between different camps, and travelling distances to the park. It’s just over 1 000km from Cape Town to Twee Rivieren, the southernmost gate and the only one that provides access from South Africa. The nearest South African town of any size is Upington, and that’s 265km away.
Twee Rivieren gets its name from the fact that it is at the confluence of the Nossob and Auob fossil rivers.
The section on Twee Rivieren camp tells you there is a shop, an a la carte restaurant (the only one in the park); fuel, cellphone reception, electricity, air-con in all the chalets, an air strip, a swimming pool, and guided morning and night drives.
There are also detailed self-drive routes from the camp, which include info on waterholes, distances and times.
The book warns that that if this is your first visit to Kgalagadi, be careful: “once you get sand in your shoes, you will be hooked for life”.
Interspersed among articles about the various camps, stops and boreholes are brief anecdotes by visitors to the park, like that of Craig Vedders who described sitting in his car at the Kwang waterhole, watching springbok and gemsbok, when a leopard jumped out of a tree on the edge of the waterhole, landed on a springbok and killed it within seconds. The account is accompanied by astonishing pictures.
At the end of the book is an appendix of pictures of plants, birds, reptiles and mammals for identification purposes.
The pictures alone mean this book will delight armchair travellers, but it is also likely to tempt them out of their comfortable urban homes and discover the glories of a wild and lonely world.
- The review also appeared in Weekend Argus on Sunday on April 22