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adamt123

(Phenomenal) First Trip to Kgalagadi

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adamt123

Hello everyone. This short and belated trip report will detail a safari to Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in July 2018. It follows on from another quick report on Namib-Naukluft and Etosha National Parks in Namibia. The trip report is titled 'phenomenal' and I really think for me this is the only way to describe Kgalagadi; although I'm relatively new to safaris, these three days have created a permanent longing to go back. 

 

This trip to Kgalagadi was actually a last-minute addition to our 2018 Safari – the original plan was to spend a week in Kruger (more specifically in the Pafuri/Punda Maria area). I was initially quite reluctant to change itinerary as I wasn’t sure whether it is worth coming out all this way for just three days. Another cause of hesitation was that had only two months to ago and getting a room at Kgalagadi was tough; what swayed the decision eventually was when a room became available at Kalahari Tented Camp and Kieliekrankie for simultaneous nights. And so we booked our mini Kgalagadi trip with one night each at:

 

Kgalagadi Lodge

Kalahari Tented Camp

Kieliekrankie

Twee Rivieren

 

My impression of Kgalagadi prior to visiting was that sightings would be relatively limited, but what we would see would (hopefully) be very impressive and turned out to be pretty much dead on correct. The animal I was most after was brown hyena (though of course I understood the chance of seeing one was slim) – there is something about this animal, which captivates me probably more so than any other creature in the world. Its demonic appearance with a dark pelt, hunched back and giant paws is something almost other worldly, and this only added to by its relatively elusive nature. We didn’t get brown hyena this time round, but despite this, sightings on the whole were better than I expected – the highlight being a caracal (but more on that later). 

 

The Unexpected Highlight

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adamt123

We were coming in to Kgalagadi from a relatively poor few days at Timbavati. Sightings were decent overall and included dwarf mongoose, African green pigeon, African rock python and a pride of lions; however, it was exceptionally windy and cold, and this made the whole experience rather flat. It was enjoyable, but not truly fun or exciting. After this experience, I have concluded that it is only appropriate to travel to these places when it is warmer. I don't think its really justifiable to create whole trip report for Kruger, so I've attached the highlights below. 

 

Lions

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African Green Pigeon

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African Rock Python

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Dwarf Mongoose

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Anyway, back to Kgalagadi. We were connecting from Kruger straight to Upington and by the time we had arrived in the Northern Cape, picked up our car from First and visited a supermarket at the Kalahari Mall it way already coming up to 15.00. Though we were there for a very short time, I quite liked Upington – it reminded me very much of Australia’s Red Centre and I don’t think the town would be much out of place a few hundred kilometres from Alice Springs.

 

The drive from Upington to Kgalagadi was perfect with close to no road traffic, beautiful scenery and the odd sociable weaver nest dotted along the way. Our arrival at Kgalagadi Lodge was timed very well with sunset, with the light fading just as we parked our car next to the chalet. My overall impressions of the lodge were very good; the chalet had a cute outdoor kitchen and was furnished to an excellent standard. We settled in for an early night and I can specifically recall watching Australian My Kitchen Rules on the TV – a last home comfort before entering the great wilderness tomorrow. 

 

Sociable Weavers, R360

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Towlersonsafari

Hurrah! another KTP report and it sounds like another convert!

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Atravelynn

Fabulous and unexpected.  Good thing you were able to compose yourself for a picture!!

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Treepol

@adamt123 KTP is phenomenal, I'm so looking forward to reading your report when you have time.

 

Congrats on the wonderful daytime caracal sighting and photo.

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optig

@adamt123 I am particularly looking forward to seeing a caracal with @Sangeeta.

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adamt123

Day One

 

We left Kgalagadi Lodge early in the morning and drove up to the park gate. It was a cloudy morning, though it wasn’t too cold which was nice. Waiting in line at the queue to enter at Twee Rivieren and filing in forms took a fair bit of time, and it was 08.50 by the time we were out on the Auob river bed. This game drive, from the park entrance to Kalahari Tented Camp, had some good plains game and birds, but was otherwise uneventful – from the mammals the main event was a large group of giraffe (about 20) gathering at the fourteenth borehole. Another interesting sighting was a small family of greater kudu, an antelope which I wasn't really expecting to see here.

 

Gemsbok

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Giraffe

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Greater Kudu

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Birding was good with our sole sighting of red-headed falcon as well as many black winged kites, pale chanting goshawks and kori bustards – I remember my excitement at seeing my first kori bustard ever in Chobe, but after visiting Kgalagadi and Etosha, they now seem as common in my camera role as springbok! (though I believe they are still classified as NT overall).

 

Ostrich

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Kori Bustard

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Northern Black Korhaan

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Black Winged Kite

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Pale Chanting Goshawk

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Red Headed Falcon

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Brown-Crowned Tchgara

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Sociable Weaver

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Kalahari Tented Camp was my favourite of the camps we stayed at and I particularly liked the separate kitchen and veranda. Wildlife sightings at the camp were good with laughing doves, acacia pied barbet and cape glossy starling frequenting the trees around the room. I wouldn’t really describe myself as an avid birder, but I do try to photograph any bird I can and one group which I have particularly come to like are Lamprotornis or glossy starlings. They really have truly gorgeous colourations and are relatively easy to spot (so far I only have two – cape and Burchell’s – but hopefully this can be added to with an upcoming trip to Kenya and Uganda in June).

Kalahari Tented Camp

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Laughing Dove

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Acacia Pied Barbet

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Cape Glossy Starling

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Black backed jackal sightings were also very good at KTC, with one particularly brave jackal coming within touching distance of the tent.

 

Black Backed Jackal

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adamt123

Towards the evening we headed out on another short game drive – and this one was definitely a favourite. Things started off well with a wonderfully clear sighting of an immature gabar goshawk perched high above us on a tree. It was bobbing its head at us and looking rather curious, and I was quite pleased with series of photos taken. (I’m pretty sure this is a young gabar but if anyone feels differently feel free to correct me). 

 

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Other highlights of this game drive were a group of red hartebeest bathed in the warm glow of sunset, some swallow-tailed bee-eaters that perched very close to the car and a pair of secretary birds. 

 

Secretary Birds

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Namaqua Dove

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Swallow Tailed Bee Eater

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Crimson Breasted Shrike

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Red Hartebeest

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Now although I’ve already mentioned the most desirable animal we saw was a caracal (that’ll be tomorrow), equally impressive (I think) was this truly superb African wild cat sighting. As we were heading back to the camp, another car was parked next to a tree about one hundred meters south of the Sitzas waterhole, we pulled up next to them and they kindly told us that an AWC was siting in the tree. We quickly turned the car around and were greeted by the most adorable creature handsomely siting on the camelthorn.. Back home, I have three cats and seeing their ancestor was a real treat; for me it was an exceptional sighting, especially owing to cat’s calm demeanour and stationary position. We stayed with the cat for as long as possible – about fifteen minutes – before heading back to camp, about a minute within the curfew times. 

 

African Wild Cat

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Later that evening we went out on a night game drive which we had booked from Mata Mata. The game viewing vehicle arrived quite full, with the front row left unoccupied for us. Now personally, I wouldn’t say the temperature was cold, but it was certainly cool, though I think our fellow safari-goer who were natives, found it colder, with their fluffy hats, scarfs and gloves. The night drive was decent; we had good viewings of cape fox (a first for me) and springhare, with more distant sightings of bat eared fox and spotted eagle owl. By the time we were heading back to KTC, I was honestly falling asleep – the drive was exciting but after a long day I was utterly shattered… time for bed. 

 

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Cape Fox

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Springhare

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Edited by adamt123

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Towlersonsafari

@adamt123  Kalahari Tented camp is wonderful is it not? i think it is our favourite- and those trees are good places to try to see African Wild cat-although your sighting was doing far more than any of the ones we have seen in those trees! 

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Seniortraveller

@adamt123 this is perfect timing for me. We are hoping to stay at Kalahari Tentsd Camp, Nossob and Urikaruus, May 2020. Very enjoyable read so far, looking forward to the rest.

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kittykat23uk

Very Jealous of your caracal sighting! Kgalagadi is one place I would love to return to :)

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adamt123

@Towlersonsafari Absolutely, KTC really is a special place

 

@Seniortraveller Hope you have nice trip - we were aiming to get a room at Urikaruus for this trip, but they are very sought after. 

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adamt123

Day Two

 

We went out in the morning for a quick game drive and didn’t see too much from the mammalian side other than giraffe, springbok and gemsbok. Birding was still good with a nice number of passerines and raptors.

 

Giraffe

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Black Backed Jackal

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Gemsbok

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Tawny Eagle

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Gabar Goshawk and Cape Turtle Doves

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Red Headed Finch

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After about an hour we returned to camp for breakfast and check out. From here we would drive down the Aoub riverbed and onto the short dune road to Kielekrankie. At around 11.45, just before the Fourteenth Borehole, we found a handsome lanner falcon enjoying its kill (cape turtle dove) and we stayed with it for some time. The waterhole was in the visible in the distance and soon a dark figure was moving towards the water, zooming in with my camera, it became clear that we had a spotted hyena, so we quickly left the falcon and headed to the waterhole.

 

Lanner Falcon

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I think spotted hyena would be towards the top of anyone’s list of animals to see on safari and this was my first sighting of one – the last major African safari animal I had left to see. A SANParks document from 2008 claims that there are around 375 spotted hyena in Kgalagadi, compared with 600 brown ones, so I think this was quite a good sighting.  Now based on other reports and documentaries etc., one has impression that spotted hyenas are lively and spirited animals, though I can say with certainty this hyena sighting was not really what I expected my first encounter with these fascinating creatures to be. By the time we had positioned the car at the waterhole, the lone hyena was pretty much at the water. It was moving very slowly and was quite unbalanced, and when it turned its head, a wound on its neck became visible. I’m not sure exactly what happened to it, but it didn’t really look in a good state at all. 

 

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After about half-an-hour the hyena receded back to the shade under a tree and we too moved on, pleased that we had seen it but also sympathetic to its plight. Now the distance between the Fourteenth and Thirteenth boreholes is about 9km and I would say we were about 6-7km away from the Fourteenth when to the left of the car we spotted a caracal walking silently across the riverbed - the sighting was as straightforward as that! Once the initial surprise had worn off, we hastily moved the car into a better position. The caracal was walking quite quickly and payed no attention to us whatsoever (hence I don’t have a picture of it looking at the camera). There were no other vehicles at the scene for about 3 minutes, until a one other car arrived just to a catch final glimpse of the cat – the whole episode lasted about four minutes or so.

 

Caracal

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Now prior to coming to Kgalagadi, I would never have guessed – ever – that we would see a caracal at 12.30 midday with relatively clear views. Caracal wasn’t even on my unofficial list of animals to see because the chances of actually seeing one in three days were too slim. Together with the aardwolf in Namibia, these were two very unexpected highlights of any trip I have ever taken. Once the caracal had disappeared, we drove down to Kielekrankie in pretty much silence the whole way; I think between the hyena and the caracal all my energy and adrenaline had been completely used up.

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adamt123

Kieilekrankie, in my opinion, can only very loosely be described as a ‘wilderness camp’; I think other than the new chalets at Mata Mata and Nossob, it is probably the most comfortable accommodation in Kgalagadi. I found Kieliekrankie very peaceful, partly because it has only a handful rooms, but more so I think due to its location on the short dune road, away from the main action of the two riverbeds (having said that, tomorrow I would learn that thinking like this and being unprepared even in the dunes is a mistake).

 

Kielekrankie

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After recovering from the afternoon spectacular, went on an evening game drive, again on the Auob riverbed, this time going south towards Twee Rivieren. The highlight was a magnificent martial eagle in its nest, which we were well pleased to see. Although its not in the pictures, there was a little chick in the nest too which was also very nice.. The other main highlight of this drive was a yellow mongoose being chased by ground squirrels – although both are quite common in Kgalagadi, I think it was nice to have a game drive focusing on the little creatures in the knowledge that the "day’s quota" for a big sighting was already filled. 

 

Martial Eagle

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White-browed Sparrow-weaver

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Cape Ground Squirrel

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Yellow Mongoose  

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kittykat23uk

I wonder if we saw the same "friendly" Jackal at KTC. We also did not see any brown hyenas but instead got a spotty like you.  Enjoying your report... :)

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Big_Dog

' The animal I was most after was brown hyena'
Same here...

Fantastic pics though! KTP seems to be a haven for some of the smaller cats, looks like a great trip!

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Peter Connan

Great Hyena and Caracal sightings!

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Hads

Awesome photo of the Martial eagle, well done on the Caracal as well.

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adamt123

Day Three

 

We started our final day at Kgalagadi with a short sunrise drive on the Auob riverbed. Now whilst we were on the short dune road, about five minutes away from Kielekrankie, we saw a honey badger. Unfortunately, I was half asleep this morning and had left camera in the settings I had used for some star-photography the night before. By the time I had gathered myself and readied the camera, the honey badger had disappeared behind the dunes.  This was the only animal I failed to photograph on trip, but honestly, I really wasn’t that bothered – I guess I was still high on the previous days sightings and this makes for a perfect excuse to come back to Kgalagadi. I did, however, photograph a pale chanting goshawk which was tagging along with the honey badger. 

 

Pale Chanting Goshawk

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Once we got off the short dune road, we came across the same martial eagle, once more in its nest. There were also close up sightings of gabar goshawk and and springbok pronking in the riverned. Returning to Kielekrankie, we also saw a pair of grey herons. 

 

Gabar Goshawk

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Springbok

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Sociable Weaver Nest

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Grey Heron

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After brealfast and checkout, we made our way from Kielekrankie to Twee Rivieren via the Nossob riverbed. Speaking to fellow travellers at Kielekrankie, they advised us that bateleurs were now hanging around on the Auob riverbed, but as all our game viewing so far had been on the Auob side, I was keen to explore the Nossob riverbed and so we headed that way – I guess the bateleur can join the honey badger in next time's wishlist.

 

The journey down the short dune road to the Nossob river was mostly uneventful, though we did see steenbok and greater kestrel. As we joined the Nossob riverbed, there were quite a few cars gathered around the Kij Kij waterhole; there were lions sitting on top of the dunes. Although the lions were quite distant, they had certainly attracted quite the crowd; with about 10 cars this was the busiest sighting of the trip. This group were all females and subadults - I have yet to see an adult male, and the trend continues - there wasn't a famous Kalahari black maned male in this trip. We didn’t stay for long but headed further north towards Melkvlei.

 

Melons

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Steenbok

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Lions

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About 6km from the lions at Kij Kij (halfway to Melkvlei) we found two cheetahs sitting high up on the dunes in pretty much the exact same position as the lions. There were fewer cars and we stayed with the cheetahs for a while, but as it was coming up to towards midday, they were pretty inactive. 

 

Cheetah

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From here we headed back down towards Twee Rivieren. At Kij Kij there were still plenty of cars around the lions, but we also found a pair of handsome booted eagles on the riverbed, which weren’t getting much attention. Booted eagle was a new species for me, so that was a really nice sighting. 

 

Booted Eagle

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Further south came another standout sighting: slender mongoose. Something which I haven’t yet mentioned was the usefulness we found in taking the book ‘Kgalagadi Self-Drive’ by van den Berg. As well as having tips for spotting animals, the book was an invaluable aid in understanding more about the Kalahari and its wildlife, especially as first-time visitors. One of the points the author mentions is that Kalahari slender mongooses have exceptionally gorgeous reddish-ochre coats – a feature not found in other slender mongoose populations. I think the specimen we saw was extraordinary beautiful and it looked so adorable running crossing Botswana into South Africa – it was probably the highlight of the day.

 

Slender Mongoose

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By now it was around 2pm, and the rest of the journey to Twee Rivieren was uneventful, except for the very end. We had just passed the camp boundary when we caught the tail end of a meerkat family crossing the road. I quickly took a picture and was well pleased that it came nicely – I guess you could call this the day of the mongoose family.

 

Meerkat

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Towards the evening, we went out on our final game drive. To our surprise, it was raining and so sightings were limited. We saw a large lanner falcon make a kill right on the road, a few tawny eagles, wildebeest and jackal buzzard (although the rain clouds had created quite a dark backdrop, so the photo isn’t great).

 

Lanner Falcon

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Tawny Eagle

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Wildebeest

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Jackal Buzzard

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Clouds Gathering

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We found Twee Rivieren to be just okay. Though the chalet was spacious and the restaurant was decent too, I suppose coming from two fabulous wilderness camps, Twee Rivieren seemed a little average. There was also a bat in living in the thatched roof of our room, but that didn’t bother us too much. The following morning we left the park and drove to Upington, flying home via Johannesburg.

Edited by adamt123

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adamt123

Some Concluding Thoughts

 

To begin with, thank you for looking through this mini trip report, I hope it made for an enjoyable read. Also, a quick thank you everyone to in the ST community for being so welcoming to a newbie like me.

 

I wish to finish off this report with a brief summary of my impressions of Kgalagadi. Please feel free to disagree with the opinions expressed here; this is simply an explanation of why I found Kgalagadi so captivating. 

 

I think a major part of Kgalagadi’s appeal is the lack of plains game; I have nothing against elephants or rhino or buffalo, but I really enjoyed not seeing them (and looking back at the trip, I think the giraffe were the least interesting animals we saw). The park provides different safari experience and part of this is a welcome break from the classic safari. I completely understand that for some, big cats and elephants etc are highlights of going on safari, but personally my interest is really in the small and somewhat strange creatures which Kgalagadi specializes in - for me, the slender mongoose and meerkat, not the lion and cheetah, were the highlights of the final day.

 

Luckily the weather was warm for the most of our stay (except for the very end – it rained all the way from Twee Rivieren to Upington).  Overall, I thought dry season birding was fine and we especially enjoyed the number and variety of raptors. The only flaw with Kgalagadi for me is the lack of antelope diversity with only seven species (as far as I can think), six of which we saw. This isn’t a big deal, and no one really comes here for antelopes, but this is an area where Kruger definitely trumps Kgalagadi. 

 

I feel what makes Kgalagadi so special for me that it is sort of at the boundary between typical safari destinations and something else entirety. It provides an great opportunity for those of us who aren't quite as intrepid enough as the most experienced travellers (for example johnweir and his amazing recent trip to Western Sahara), to get glimpse of unusual and exciting creatures. 

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xelas
31 minutes ago, adamt123 said:

Please feel free to disagree with the opinions expressed here;

 

As much as I have tried to find a reason to do so, all your words mimics our personal experiences, and love towards Kgalagadi! Thank you very much for taking us back to this lovely, and indeed, a very different safari destination.

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