Kgalagadi – March 2018

For a long time I’ve wanted to visit the Kalahari after the summer rains, so I was very excited to be going on a 12 night trip to the Kgalagadi and Mabuasehube in March this year. On this trip I was joined my parents. The three of us would be in my Land Rover Defender 110. For accommodation I would be in my Bundutop roof top tent. For my parents I had hired an Echo 3 Trailer from Jannie at Kubu 4×4 Trailer Rental.

The itinerary for our trip was:

  1. Van Zylsrus – 1 night
  2. Rooiputs – 3 nights
  3. Polentswa – 3 nights
  4. Bitterpan – 1 night
  5. Nossob – 1 night
  6. Mpayathulwa – 3 nights

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Route

21 March – Johannesburg to Van Zylsrus

We left Joburg at around 7am on an overcast day. Our route took us on the N14 via Ventersdorp (where we stopped for traditional Wimpy breakfast), Vryburg and Kuruman. After Kurman we turned off onto the R31 via Hotazel to our overnight stop in Van Zylsrus. The last 60km or so was decent gravel to Van Zylsrust. The Van Zylsrust Hotel is a very quirky, cool place and I would highly recommend it. The accommodation was great, the steak in the restaurant very good and the bar looked like it would be a great spot to get out of hand.

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Landy outside the Van Zylsrus Hotel

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Courtyard at the Van Zylsrus Hotel

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Bar at the Van Zylsrus Hotel

22 March – Van Zylsrus to Rooitputs

We had brekkie at the hotel and stocked up on wood at the hotel shop before setting off for the Botswana border at Middelputs. Its a decent gravel road to the border where we were the only people there. The border was slow but friendly and once the formalities were completed we joined the fantastic tar road (B211) to Bokspits.

At Bokspits we had 2 alternatives. The first was to cross back into South Africa and take the tar road (R360) to Twee Rivieren. The second was the stay on the Botswana side and take the gravel road. We decided to avoid the hassle of another border crossing and we stuck to the gravel. The gravel road runs exactly parallel to the tar of the R360 and in parts it is EXTREMELY corrugated. We broke a few glass bottles before we arrived at Twee Rivieren and reported to DWNP for check in.

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Arrival at Twee Rivieren

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Two doors – two countries

The short drive to Rooiputs was relatively uneventful with one exception. We saw a vehicle stopped up ahead and avidly watching a Sociable Weaver nest. On closer inspection we saw that two Cape Cobras were in the process of raiding the nest, much to the dismay of the weavers.

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Cape Cobra attacking a Sociable Weaver nest

We arrived at Rooiputs just after lunch and proceeded to set up camp. My parents weren’t familiar with the workings of the Echo 3 so set up took a little while… Rooiputs 1 is a nicely located site and while setting up we got the first of many visits from the local jackals.

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Preparing for our first braai of the trip

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Shower enclosure at Rooiputs 1

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Innovative shower head!

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Our camp at Rooiputs 1

As is standard for most campsites in Botswana the camp is completely unfenced so you need to keep your wits about you. Rooiputs has long-drop toilets and running water for showers and washing.

23 March – Rooiputs

We were all up early for a game drive. While making the coffee my mom spotted a pride of lion walking past not more than 50m away! Not quite sure what to do we carried on making our coffee while keeping a careful eye on the lions who appeared completely disinterested in us.

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Pale Chanting Goshawk

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Rooi Hartebeest

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Tawny Eagle

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Gemsbok

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More gemsbok…

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Tawny Eagle

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Melkvlei picnic site

Still a bit tired from our long drive the day before we kept our morning drive relatively short, driving to Melkvlei picnic site and back. That afternoon we drove back down to Twee Rivieren to go to the shop, refuel and book for the Leeudril trail the following morning.

Back in camp our neighbours came to warn us that the lions were sleeping between Rooiputs 5&6. We jumped in the car and drove up to find a young male lion and two females looking very full and very relaxed.

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Lions in Rooiputs camp

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Lioness in the evening sun

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Young male lion

While preparing dinner we were warned again that the lions were now at Rooiputs 3 and on the move. We gulped down dinner and retreated to the relative safety of our tents. Sure enough just after 10pm we heard a crash coming from the A-frame and shone the torch out to find that the lions were now in our camp. The crash was my tripod falling over as a result of a playful lioness. Fortunately we had anticipated their possible arrival and packed away pretty much everything the lions might find interesting. So after a short while the lions moved off again and we went back to sleep.

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Big male lion relaxing just below my tent!

24 March – Rooiputs

The next morning we set off to do the Leeudril trail which is a short 4×4 trail linking the Nossob Valley with the Auob Valley. Just outside camp we encountered of first brown hyena of the trip.

Brown hyena just outside Rooiputs

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Tawny eagle

View over the Auob Valley at the end of the Leeudril Trail

If you’re considering doing the Leeudril trail a time-lapse of the whole trail is below:

The afternoon was spent chilling in camp. With the lion experience of the previous night we had an early braai, while the sun was still up! But other than a cheeky jackal stealing a piece of wors straight off of a hot fire the evening passed uneventfully.

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Cheeky Black-backed Jackal in camp

25 March – Rooiputs to Polentswa

Our first moving day of the trip went better than I expected and before long we were off to Nossob. The drive to Nossob was loooong and we stopped regularly at the picnic sites to stretch our legs.

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Kalahari roads

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Picnic break

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Gemsbok on the crest of a dune

After stopping off at Melkvlei for breakfast we encountered a cheetah family leaving a fresh kill. The jackals had now moved in on the kill as the cheetahs set off over the dunes. I try not to think about what we could’ve seen if we’d skipped breakfast that morning!

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Cheetah and cub moving off over the dunes

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Jackals fighting over the remains of the kill

At Nossob we popped into the shop and had lunch in the small day visitors section before setting off on the final leg to Polentswa. Along the way we encountered one large male lion walking taking the easy route along the road, marking his territory as he went.

We arrived at Polentswa 1 which is a beautiful site located closest to the pans.  There is no water at all at Polentswa so you need to be completely self-sufficient in that respect. However there are long-drop toilets and shower-shelters in the same style as the camps at Rooiputs.

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Polentswa 1 campsite under the trees

26 March – Polentswa

That morning we took a short drive to Polentswa waterhole. We were at the waterhole shortly after dawn and it wasn’t long before we were joined by a brown hyena.

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Brown hyaena at Polentswa waterhole

Soon after the hyana had left 2 enormous male lions made their way down to the waterhole for a drink.

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Large male lion makes his way down to Polentswa waterhole

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He was soon joined by his brother

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The lions at Polentswa waterhole

The rest of the day was spent relaxing in camp, enjoying the peace and quiet of the Kalahari.

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It’s a hard life!

27 March – Polentswa

Having taken a bit of a break from driving the day before, we decided to do the long drive up to Unions End today.  The drive was rewarding with sightings of lions, honey badger and bat eared foxes.

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Male lion not enjoying the morning breeze

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Just try and take my shady spot…

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Stare between a lioness and a wonky-horned hartebeest

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Morning yawns

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Unions End

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Bat-Eared Foxes

Back in camp and we had all assumed our positions in the hammocks when a convey of cars and trailers approached. The lead driver came over to tell us that they have Polentswa 1 booked for the next 3 nights. Concerned that we have been the victims of a double-booking I took a look at our paperwork only to find that we should have been staying in Polentswa 3 the whole time! I was very embarrassed by my mistake and unfortunately that meant we would have to pack up and move camp for 1 night only. What a hack!

Polentswa 3 had actually been occupied for the last 2 nights so I can only assume that on that occasion the rightful guests at Polentswa 1 must have just not made a fuss. If that was you I am very sorry. My only excuse is that I had specifically requested Polentswa 1 from our booking agent. The agent had duly confirmed Polentswa 1 in an email and our printed itinerary from the agent specified Polentswa 1. It was only the actual DWNP booking form that revealed that we should be been at 3 the whole time. After all of that, 3 is actually a very nice site. Its further away from the pan but positioned higher so you get a great view.

28 March – Polentswa to Bitterpan

We were up early to check the Polentswa waterhole, hoping for a repeat of yesterdays lions. Unfortunately the prints on the ground indicated that the lions may have already visited. Instead of lions today the waterhole was inundated by hundreds of Cape Turtle Doves. With the Cape Turtle Doves came the Lanner Falcon which would swoop in regularly causing the doves to scatter. A Black-backed Jackal also tried his luck at dove hunting without success.

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Lanner Falcon swoops

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Jackal goes dove hunting

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Scene from a Hitchcock movie at Polentswa

Then it was back to camp to pack up and head to Nossob. On the way down we saw one lonely cheetah enjoying the shade, but far from the road.

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Cheetah finding a sliver of shade

Back at Nossob we chose to wait out the heat of the day at the pool before driving the Bitterpan 4×4 Trail to our overnight camp. No trailers are allowed on the Bitterpan Trail so we left the trailer parked at Nossob and set off for Bitterpan.  There were few steepish dunes on the trail but nothing any competent 4×4 couldn’t handle – which of course meant the Defender had no problems!

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Bitterpan 4×4 Trail

Bitterpan camp itself has a spectacular setting overlooking the pan. The camp consists of 4 rooms with 2 single beds in each room. All rooms overlook the pan and are joined by a raised wooden corridor which connects the rooms to a communal kitchen and braai area. I know the communal kitchen aspect puts some people off this camp but if you book the whole place out it really is a fantastic place to spend a few days. I was worried it was going to be hard to convince my parents to go back to their tents after this night of relative luxury!

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Bitterpan Camp

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Bitterpan Camp outside braai area

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Sunset over Bitterpan

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Fire and a glass of red wine

29 March – Bitterpan to Nossob

After all the early mornings we elected to have a bit of a lie in this morning, but I was now used to waking up early so got up to make some coffee at dawn. While making the coffee I spotted 5 lion making their way to the waterhole at the edge of the pan

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Lions at the Bitterpan waterhole

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On the edge of the pan

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Lions making their way across Bitterpan

Our drive back to Nossob was uneventful and back at camp we checked into river view chalet number 11. The chalet is fantastic and has views directly onto the floodlit waterhole at Nossob.

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Nossob Valley

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Double rainbow outside Nossob

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View from river view chalet number 11 at Nossob

30 March – Nossob to Mpayathulwa

I had been dreading the drive from Nossob in the Kgalagadi to Mpaya in the Mabuasehube Game Reserve. It has been described as “the trailer breaker”, “10 hours of hell” and worse so I was more than a little nervous as we set out. I was relieved that we got through the dunes outside Nossob without incident and without meeting any oncoming traffic.

En-route we stopped at Matopi 1 and met up with couple with white landy and Bundutop tent coming in other direction. After complimenting him on his good taste they told us about the great sightings they had at Mpaya 2 (lion and leopard) so we were in good spirits when we set off to tackle the last half of the trail.  While the road was badly corrugated it was no worse than anything else we had encountered on the trip. In fact I was unpleasantly surprised at how badly corrugated most of the roads in the Kgalagadi were. I had a chat to the ranger at Nossob about it. I’ve been told that the major causes of corrugations on a dirt road are vehicles that don’t have 4×4 engaged and / or don’t have their tyres deflated. In the view of the ranger at Nossob the primary cause is people driving too fast. Regardless of the cause we found ourselves bouncing around most of the Kgalagadi!

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Burnt out car on the Mabua Trail

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Taking a break from the bouncing

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Finally there!

We left Nossob at 7:30am and arrived at Mpaya at 12:30 which I think was good going.

The campsite at Mpaya 1 has the same A-Frame set up at the other Botswana Kgalagadi camps with a shower enclosure and long drop toilet. Having spent most of the day driving we spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing in camp.

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View of the pan from Mpaya 1 as the rain approaches

31 March – Mpayathulwa

That morning the pans were shrouded in mist. We did a loop around Mpaya Pan and then made our way to Lesholoago Pan via Mabua Pan. I was hoping to see the meerkat colony I’d seen in 2015 but sadly we had no luck this time.

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Gemsbok in the mist

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Landy in the mist

That afternoon we took a drive to Monamadi Pan and saw absolutely nothing. We returned to the waterhole at Mpaya where a large herd of springbok were enjoying an evening drink.

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Springbok at Mpaya waterhole

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Spotted Eagle Owl watching us braai

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Mpaya 1 lit up by the moonlight

1 April – Mpayathulwa

This morning we slept in and only left camp at 7:30 to do a slow circuit of Mpaya pan. While doing our rounds we stopped to talk to the drivers of 2 white Discos. They told us they had male lion in the their camp (Mabua 1) the night before and had seen 4 spotted hyenas at the Mpaya waterhole at dawn. It was frustrating to miss out on the spotted hyenas as, other than hearing them all night at Bitterpan, we hadn’t seen one on the trip so far. Early bird gets the worm!

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Wildebeest at Mpaya Pan

We headed back to camp for some more chilling and that afternoon a big storm came through with strong winds and driving rain. After the storm abated it was time for our last game drive of the trip. We drove to Mabua Pan where we saw a brown hyena but not much else. Back at camp we heard lions roaring close by just as we were finishing up dinner. We hopped into bed hopeful that we would have our first lion encounter in Mabua but the roaring lions stayed away.

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Lightning over Mabua

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Mabua after the storm

2 April – Mpayathulwa to Johannesburg

To save my leave (for trips later this year) I made the decision that we would do the drive back to Joburg in one day. So we left early via the shortest route – cutline to Kokotsha, Jwaneng, Pioneer border and then N4 home. We left Mpaya at 7:30am and hit the tar road at 10:30am. We made good time on the cutline which, with the exception of the painful detour around the farms, was in a decent condition. The rest of the roads in Botswana were good and quiet but it all went to pieces once we hit the N4. I should have known better – but I will never again attempt to drive back on Easter Monday. After a nightmare drive back we finally got home just before 8pm.

The end of another fantastic trip and I can’t wait for the next one!

4 Comments on “Kgalagadi – March 2018”

  1. Lovely report.Thank you. Who did your bookings for you in Mabua? What does it cost for a site since privatization? I assume the site has not been upgraded!?

    • Thanks. We booked through Botswana Footprints. The new rate at Mpaya is P180 per person per night (6x the old price!) and you are correct, no noticeable upgrades.

  2. As parents we were extremely grateful to you for organising this trip. It was fantastic and this is a great summary. At no stage during the trip did you reveal to us that you had one or two concerns = probably just as well 🙂 Being caught in the easter monday traffic with a heavy 4x4b trailer, crazy drivers and route diversions due to the several accidents they caused was hectic – don’t ask me how but you just seemed to glide through it – much respect.

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