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Kgalagadi Summer: Self-Drive and Self-Catering (!) in South Africa, January 2015


Tdgraves
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This trip to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (KTP) was longer in the contemplation than the planning. We had been put off by the need to self-cater and hence shop for every meal of the trip. It is supposed to be a holiday after all! Last year we had considered going to the newly opened private lodge, Ta Shebube, on the Botswana side, but were put off by their lack of engagement with inquiries and a bizarre change of pricing structure, so we went to the Kruger instead. Whilst we were there and having been forced to self-cater for 3 days after an abrupt cessation of the restaurant service in Satara, earlier than advertised, we felt that cooking could be part of the holiday vibe and decided that the next January trip could be to the KTP. After our September trip, we finally decided to bite the bullet and make pans. The long drive was not so much an issue, as we often drive about 3-4000km in a two week trip to RSA, although going to KTP does really require an overnight rest stop en route (most people stop in Upington) and therefore eats into the actual game viewing days (10 days rather than 12 from a 14 day trip). Although it is possible to fly to Upington and hire a car from there, this is really just an additional expense and does not really buy much time. As we have friends in Joburg, it made sense to see them first and borrow their coolboxes, solar lights, GPS, mobile phone etc. Therefore we did all of our supplies shopping in Joburg and froze things down in their freezer before setting off on the 9 hour drive to Upington. The shopping itself was like a minor military operation. A comprehensive list is vital as you need to buy everything, including lots of bottled water. We had been warned that the park shops were not well stocked. If you arrived in the park with nothing, you wouldn't starve, but most of what was available was tinned food and drinks as well as braai supplies.

 

We had booked Riverplace guest house in Upington for the first night, on the recommendation of fellow STers, but despite taking full payment 3 months in advance, they moved us at short notice to a different B&B down the road, presumably to accommodate a large group. I was not happy about this as I had spent a long time deciding where to stay to make it an integral part of the trip, rather than just a room to sleep in. Also, we had the issue of frozen and chilled food to be stored, which Riverplace are well used to doing. Our alternative accommodation (Sun River Kalahari Lodge) was OK, just not really our taste. It was in a lovely setting on the Orange River. However, it was cheaper than Riverplace and it took a further month to obtain a refund from them :(

 

I had managed to book our flights using miles (a first for me) but as I was not aware of the intricacies of this booking system , which opens 355 days in advance (and having flu at the time), we ended up going a week later than we would normally. However, we flew out premium economy on the A380 (lovely plane - really quiet) and came back business (another first for us), on the top deck of a jumbo - fabulous!! And all for the not insignificant cost of various airline taxes (about £580 each)

 

So the itinerary was:

 

24th Jan Joburg

25th Upington

26-28th Twee Rivieren 2 nights

28-30th Kieliekrankie wilderness camp 2 nights

30th-2nd Feb Nossob 3 nights

2-5th Mata Mata river front chalet 3 nights

5th Upington

6th Joburg

7th Fly home

 

Although it was not peak season so I was able to book only 3 months in advance, this meant that we only got one wilderness camp and this was a different one to what I was initially planning after looking at availability! Having never been before, I took longer than usual, double checking that there was enough time to transfer between camps, especially as we had been looking at going north of Nossob. During this time, the other wilderness camp got booked up. This turned out to be a perfect itinerary though, as it allowed us to see the different areas of the park. Although most KTP aficionados prefer the wilderness camps, they are very small and so get booked up well in advance. The main camps are still small (compared to the Kruger) and are well positioned for the different areas of the park. The main camps are run on generators, which are switched off overnight, so no electricity between about 10pm and 5am, depending on the time of year, whereas the wilderness camps are on solar, so they have 24 hour light (but no sockets for charging). I wouldn't have thought this significant, but we did end up washing up after a braai in the dark on more than one occasion!

 

We had a high clearance car - looks like a 4x4, but was only 2WD, which we usually have for summer game viewing in the Kruger, affording better views over long grass. This was useful as often the sandy roads were at a lower level than the surrounding ground. We spent most of the journey to Upington listening to the South Africa vs. West Indies test match on the radio, until the final few deciding minutes where the station cut to the news and did not return, meaning we missed the conclusion :(

 

There seems to be only one restaurant recommended to tourists in Upington, which is a casual bar-style place, which also serves sushi (about 800km from the sea)!! We had a good meal and an early night to recover from the long drive.

 

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I just spent half an hour thinking and typing the next instalment and by some random keystroke (I'm not sure what), deleted it all :angry:

 

Day 1 Upington to Twee Rivieren

 

We wanted to get a pojtkie to use on the braai, so we went into town to the local camping/outdoors/car parts/everything store. A last minute purchase of salad to last a few days and we were on the road. It is now tarred, quiet and extremely straight. So much so, that they use it for speed-testing cars! We barely saw any other vehicles. The scenery gradually changed into rolling dunes. This was less spectacular than it may have been, as it was so overcast. There were lots of Southern pale chanting goshawks on telegraph poles en route. Once we turned off towards the park, the road was much more bendy and slower speeds were required. We declined to stop at the Khoisan stall selling tourist goods. The first “game” we saw was a meerkat at the side of the road. Needless to say, the camera equipment was still packed away. We assumed that we would have plenty of other chances, but unfortunately we were wrong :(

 

Arriving was painless, due to the small numbers of visitors. There is a combined check-in building, one half is South Africa and the other Botswana. So there is a door on one side to/from South Africa (for most visitors) and another to Botswana. We had a very warm welcome from the SANParks staff. I think she was a bit appalled at the price of an international wild card and so we ended up paying the local price. I did query this, but she put it through the computer again and got the same result. Maybe the computer was appalled? Computer says “no”? A considerable and unexpected saving though

 

The camp is a bit characterless and the rooms are basic, but we expected this. There was air-conditioning though, which was an unexpected surprise. After getting our tyres deflated, we unpacked the car, no mean feat with 10 days worth of food and drink and relaxed before our evening drive.

 

Twee Rivieren is on the point of the “V” where the two river valleys join, so it is the only camp where you have a choice of which river valley to explore on each drive. We chose the Auob and went on a short drive. There were lots of birds, but photography was not great due to the overhead conditions.

 

African rock pipit (I believe, but am happy to stand corrected) whatever it is, we've never seen one before..

 

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Common fiscal shrike

 

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Red-headed finches - our first new species of the trip

 

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Cape turtle dove

 

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I'm not sure what this guy was eating when we found him in the middle of the road....

 

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Back to camp to light our first braai (hoping that the rain stays away)

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@@Tdgraves

 

when we stay at Twee Rivieren, we always eat at the restaurant....

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@@Tdgraves

 

when we stay at Twee Rivieren, we always eat at the restaurant....

@@ice that was the original plan in my meal planner (believe me, I'm not usually a menu planner, but this is necessary in order not to forget that vital ingredient, or horror of horrors, run out of food) but it didn't make sense letting the fresh ingredients go off, in order to use the facilities. Is it any good?

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Tom Kellie

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~ @Tdgraves:

 

That's the hare photo I've long wanted to make.

Stunningly clear, with the ear veins showing.

What I especially like is how the longish tail droops downward, which I've seldom noticed.

There's something about the perspective of this photo which gives the sense of nearly being at the hare's perspective, rather than towering above it, biped-style.

The blurred bokeh background, the saturated colors, the large iris in the eye, the trace of whiskers — this is exactly the sort of wildlife image I most enjoy. It briefly pulls me towards the subject's world.

Many thanks!

Tom K.

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Thanks @@Tom Kellie this was the only chance I have ever had to photograph a hare. The perspective is because it was on the crest of a dune and we approached it from below

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@@Tdgraves following your TR avidly as I'm always keen for an update on KTP. Shame about the meerkats, but you did at least get to see these cute creatures.

 

We ate at the Twee Riverien restaurant on our first night in the park and it was the worst meal of the trip - maybe they were having a bad night, however the comments over at Sanparks (and I haven't checked for a while) indicate that meals at this restcamp are often disappointing. The menu was limited, and not everything was available when we went to order. At best, the food was ordinary.

 

We much preferred the dinners our guide cooked for us, he did a huge shop in Upington which saw us well fed for our first 3 days, after which we moved to the Kalahari Farmstall.

 

 

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Tom Kellie

Thanks @@Tom Kellie this was the only chance I have ever had to photograph a hare. The perspective is because it was on the crest of a dune and we approached it from below

 

~ @Tdgraves:

 

Knowing that is all the more remarkable.

It's such a great shot — everything is well-balanced.

The only hares in Kenya that I recall were:

1. A hare standing in shadow beside bushes in Samburu — it paused for several seconds before leaping away

2. A hare in heavy shadow under bushes at Lake Bogoria — although a sunny day, the location was relatively dark

Both of those hare photo opportunities were at around 9 am.

Last week I saw more than one dozen separate hares on an unscheduled night game drive in Nairobi National Park.

Our 4-wheel drive had been stuck in thick mud for nearly two hours, awaiting help. On the return drive in darkness we saw a series of hares, as well as two feeding hippos far from water.

Frankly, I really like your hare image as it generally has the ‘look’ to which my own photography aspires.

Thank you for explaining the background. Your Kgalagadi self-catering thread is enjoyable to read.

Tom K.

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@@Tdgraves

 

we like it, that's all I can say - certainly nothing fancy and they sometimes, too run out of certain food but still good enough for us

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@Tdgraves: excellent timing! We have ate once at the restaurant at TR, and the food was edible but nothing to write home about. Second night, we have returned to our self cooking staple food: rice and viennese :) !

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Great start so far! Glad you were able to get a refund after being relocated.

 

What does the fiscal shrike have in its beak?

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Great start so far! Glad you were able to get a refund after being relocated.

 

What does the fiscal shrike have in its beak?

Yeah, eventually....

 

No idea!

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Day 2: Drive from Twee Rivieren up the Nossob valley

 

It had rained heavily overnight and the skies were even more overcast when we got up. We were not the first to leave camp, as we were tired as it was only the beginning of the holiday.

 

We found a herd of springbok and a few were pronking. Such a shame about the light, but great fun watching them enjoy themselves so much

 

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I've always wanted to get shots of pronking springbok, but it is so difficult on a game drive vehicle with other guests.

 

We then had some very obliging oryx to get that "animal on the dune ridge shot"

 

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We had travelled quite a distance over the mainly sandy roads, when we came across 4 or 5 parked vehicles, this could only mean one thing. Cats. Spotty cats. Five of them - mum and 4 offspring

 

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She crouched low as a single springbok was making its way, determinedly, straight towards them. This was all on the left hand side of the road, so as I was driving, I decided to move into the back seat. My arms were getting tired, so I briefly moved the camera from the window and she chose that exact moment to sprint. Drat (and a lot more expletives). Fortunately my husband is wiser and he managed to catch it (though not in crisp focus). We had to really rack the ISO up because of the cloud cover.

 

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And here are my ones. You can see the difference in magnification from the 7D to the 5D

 

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The springbok was making ground, so she gave up the chase. This was the queue for the youngsters to play while she had a rest

 

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Wow! Day one and already a (failed) cheetah hunt. Fabulous. A first for us. Worth the long drive to get here :D

 

We continued up a bit further to the picnic site and after using the facilities, turned around to head back to camp. We briefly saw the cheetah again, on the other side of the road, but they soon left.

 

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We also saw a few other creatures, including this capped wheatear, another first.

 

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And a Kgalagadi special, a lanner falcon, again a new species for us

 

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And this Kalahari tent tortoise, another new one for us

 

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By this stage it had got very dark and started to rain. By the time we got to camp, the heavens opened.

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michael-ibk

Wow! Flying Springbok! And flying cheetah! Sensational stuff, great shots. Bravo!

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Wow that looks like 'my' cheetah family from last year. We looked everywhere for them this time, with no luck. Cheetah project say she is Corinne! Fantastic to see them all doing so well. Pen

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@Tdgraves: The skies might be overcasted but that makes for some great shadowless photos! What was the ISO #?

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@@xelas for the cheetah 5D ISO 1600 and 7D ISO 1000 at 7.40am!!!

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@Tdgraves: Well, not so high. I have put D7100 on AutoISO max 1600, and D610 max 3200 !! I still need to inspect the results; till then I will just enjoy yours (and @penolva) photos :D

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Pretty high for the morning though ;)

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@@Tdgraves we saw a big tortoise like that and I wondered what it was, certainly too big for a leopard tortoise.

 

Thanks for the reminder of this sighting and for the information.

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@@Tdgraves

quality photographs

particularly like that of the springbok. the one when the springbok turns is class.

the cheetah action pictures are beautiful, not to forget the BIF the angle of which at eye level is very pleasing.

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Alexander33

@ Tdgraves

 

I don't care what you say -- I think the cheetah shots are great. It's not an easy thing to get those, and they really do capture how truly fast these cats are.

 

Kalahari tent tortoise -- a first for me, too! Added to my "want" list.

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Tremendous pictures of the springboks - and I really like the cheetah pictures also!

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Thanks all. It does remind me that one can be too picky trying to get the perfect shot, whilst forgetting that everything you see is unique and others would kill for a cheetah hunt, even if it was cloudy!! :unsure:

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