Discover true wilderness at the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana
If you want to venture into true wilderness and be humbled about your place in the food chain, head towards the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana.
Something happens to your psyche when you’re exploring a true wilderness area. I’m talking about a place that will make survivalist Bear Grylls tremble in his hiking boots. Somewhere if you take away your survival resources…the water and fuel cans clanging in the back of your SUV, the shelter of your tent, the cold beer and steaks in the camping refrigerator – you know you’re going to be in some pretty deep trouble if something goes haywire.
The Central Kalahari commands a humbleness from its visitors, an acknowledgement that man’s cushy spot right on the top of the food chain is only made possible by a few fancy gadgets and a GPS. This isn’t Yosemite, with carefully marked roads, ice cream and firewood being sold at the nearest rest camp.
The Central Kalahari is a behemoth of a wilderness area, the second largest nature reserve in the world. Just to put it into perspective, it covers a land area of about 32810 mi², bigger than a few European countries like Denmark or Switzerland.
Your adventure starts immediately when you veer off the main road leading from Rakops – the nearest one donkey town – towards the road to the Matswere gate, the entrance to Central Kalahari.
During the dry season (May to October) it’s a roller coaster ride of thick sand and corrugated roads that will knock the fillings right out of your teeth. The sand has the same consistency as powdered dry cement. It invades every orifice of your face, seeping into your nostrils, scratching at your eyes, settling on your tongue. It also wreaks havoc with expensive camera equipment, so make sure your lenses are properly covered
In the summer, you’re challenged with deep water pools and the scars of mud pits that was left behind by less fortunate visitors who fell victim to the Kalahari’s notorious ‘sucking mud’.
Xanax for the Soul
If you need to clear your head and you’re in dire need of a digital detox, head towards the Central Kalahari. The sky stretches for miles over great African plains, Savannah and ancient river valleys, before it disappears into infinity, over the white salt pans of the Kalahari. Heat waves dances like dervishes over the salt flats and then, out of the void, an oryx appear like a mirage, a mythical beast moving over the surrealistic landscape. I think of them as the unicorns of the desert.
In the Kalahari you are surrounded by minimalist landscapes and vast horizons. You experience the dusty pyrotechnics of a Kalahari sunset, followed by starry nights so bright the Milky Way resembles a scattering of fine stratus clouds.
Deception Pan a massive salt pan is one of the Central Kalahari’s most impressive natural phenomenons. By some weird optical illusion the pan appears grey-blue, insinuating the possibility of water, therefore its name, Deception Pan. Closer inspection reveals a big, dry pan, containing a few turmeric yellow flowers of the umbrella thorns that grow on its edges.
Kori bustards, the world’s heaviest flying bird soar pterodactyl-like over the pan. This must be one of the most hostile, desolate places I’ve ever been in my life.
The Central Kalahari is also a fantastic destination to spot predators such as lion, leopard, cheetah and hyena. Cheetah, the fastest mammal on earth love this park for its wide open plains, perfect for chasing down an antelope. However, I love the Central Kalahari for its more unusual characters, like the tough-as-nails honey badgers and adorable bat ear foxes, critters that you do not get to see that often.
The game reserve has a healthy population of honey badgers and during a game drive you’ll regularly spot these tough guys digging for scorpions, a favorite snack if you’re a honey badger. I like to think of them as the Chuck Norrises of the African Bush—these bad asses sleep off a poisonous snake bite like it’s a bad hangover and they won’t think twice to challenge bigger predators like lions or leopards that’s trespassing their territory.
Seeing a male black-haired Kalahari Lion is also something that will stay with you forever, through natural selection they’ve evolved to become larger than their other African cousins, with dark, ebony manes. They are magnificent, with a thick luscious mane that starts out golden brown on top but gets darker, until it darkens to a rich ebony around their neck, similar to the ombred hairstyles that is all the rage among fashionistas.
Planning your Central Kalahari Game Reserve Trip
DRIVING AND CAMPING
You’ll need a 4×4 with a diff lock to reach the park on a self-drive holiday. You can procure one from a rental agency that specializes in SUV’s, I would recommend Britz who has offices in South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe. We entered the park through the Matswere-gate, in the north-eastern part of the reserve, but there are also entrance gates at Motopi, in the Ghanzi district.
Because the park is so vast and remote, always travel in a convoy of two or more vehicles if you’re doing a self-drive. Rent a satellite phone and make sure you have the newest maps downloaded on your navigation device. I use Tracks4Africa, the Botswana-map costs about $15.
WHAT SHOULD I BRING WITH ME?
If you’re camping, you need to bring all your supplies, including fresh water to drink and wash in, as well as at least 50 gallons of extra gas.
The camping sites in the Central Kalahari is basic with no running water. Here you take a bush shower, by hoisting a bucked shower with a pulley on to a steel frame. When nature calls, you need to find a bush or use the camping site’s pit latrines.
Try booking out the Kori #3- and Kori #4-camps, they have the most beautiful views over Deception Valley, a massive salt pan in the Central Kalahari. Book through Big Foot Tours, who has the sole reservation rights for the Central Kalahari. Park fees are 120 Botswana Pula (approx. $12) per person per day and the camping rates P250 (approx $25) per person. Phone +267 391 0927 or +267 73 5555 73 or send an email to : Reservations@BigFootTours.co.bw.
If you’re looking for a bit more luxury, consider a fly-in safari with Wilderness Safaris, one of my favorite African safari companies. They can tailor-make a Botswana safari for you and include destinations such as the Okavango Delta, Savuti and Linyati and even the Victoria Falls in Zambia into your itinerary.
Although I’m fond of wild places and wilderness areas, I still prefer a bit of luxury, like porcelain under my derrière, soft linen and great food, but without the rococo trimmings and “colonial splendor” the safari brochures always rave on about. “Glamping”, a portmanteau between camping and glamorous comes to mind when staying at Kalahari Plains.
The camp consists of 10 luxury safari tents, each one with a raised platform where bush slumber parties are held. There are also two family safari tents, if you are traveling with kids or teenagers and would like to have them closer to you for piece of mind.
As far as views and locations go, Kalahari Plains has pound seats. The lodge sits right on the edge of the aptly named Big Pan, the vastness punctuated by small islands of umbrella thorns. Sitting on your tent’s veranda and staring over the pan is like Xanax for the soul.
AFRICAN SLUMBER PARTY
One of the best activities that Kalahari Plains offer, are outdoor slumber parties under the stars. Instead of doing a turn-down, housekeeping will make up a bed on the raised platform above the tent at the guest’s request. There is no better (and safer) way to enjoy the starry nights and sounds of the Kalahari.
Forget tropical islands. Forget European cities. If you’re planning a honeymoon or romantic holiday, this is as good as it gets. Few things are as exhilarating and romantic as lying out in the open, under African skies, surrounded by the staccato cries of barking geckos, while lions roar in the distance and the cackling of a spotted hyena sends shivers down your spine. Should an emergency arise, you have an air horn to call out the cavalry.
Rates from $670 per person that includes accommodation, four meals per day, to game viewing activities, soft drinks and house brand alcoholic beverages.
BEST TIME TO GO?
The best time to visit the park is during the rainy season (November to April) when the park is an Eden of sprawling green Savannah that rivals the great plains of the Masai Mara and the Serengeti in East Africa. This is also when the park is at it’s most populous, with terrific game sights around Deception Valley. When winter arrives (June to October) most of the animals migrate towards the Okavango Delta swamps, in search of water and food. Temperatures plummet and it’s no fun going on a game drive when the temperature hovers around 32 F.
If you have any questions about Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana, please leave a comment below and I’ll be happy to answer them.