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Deserts and Daisies 2019


MeezersUK

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Deserts and daisies pre trip

This was our second  trip  to  South Africa,  last time we did Cape Town  and Kruger,  this time I wanted to see the spring flowers on the west coast,  this has been on my bucket list  for over 30 years, but it's  a  long way to go to see flowers that may or may not be in bloom when we get there, so I  added another bucket list experience, spending some time in a desert, namely the Kalahari . 
 The closest  airport  to  the  Kgalagadi  transfrontier park  is Upington,  so we started there. Our itinerary  was
1 night Upington
6 nights Kgalagadi 
1 night Upington 
3 nights Springbok
3 nights Clanwilliam 
2 nights Langebaan 
Fly home from Cape Town

It was just me and 23 year old son travelling. We flew indirect as usual, Birmingham  to Johannesburg  via Paris and then an additional  flight   Johannesburg  to  Upington  , which is the nearest city to the Kgalagadi  transfrontier park. As usual with our indirect  flights,  nothing went according  to  plan. Our Birmingham  to Paris flight was delayed, which meant that even with a 4 hour layover we missed our 11pm Paris  to Johannesburg  flight. Air France  put us in an airport  hotel for the night where, at 1am  I was frantically  rebooking our flights to Upington,  luckily getting 2 of the last 3 seats , .and a night in a  Johannesburg airport  hotel to replace  our first night in a b&b in  Upington . Next day we were on our way to Johannesburg,  via Amsterdam! Arriving  in Johannesburg  11pm Friday  night  13 hours after we were supposed  to  land. Unfortunately  our suitcase  didn't  arrive  with us, Air France  promised  it would  be flown out next day - when we were on our way to Upington,  no problem,  they would fly it to Upington,  but we would  then be enroute  to the Kalahari,  no problem,  they would courier  it to us. Long story short, we were reunited  with our suitcase  on day 13. Luckily  I  always  pack a change  of  clothes  in hand luggage  and this time I  must have had a premonition  because  I  packed 2 changes of clothes each. But still, there are no clothing shops in the Kalahari,  it's  hot during  the day, but nights and early mornings are chilly and I missed my fleece. The worst was wearing the same shoes for 13 days.   I'd  also packed several items especially  for our stay in the Kalahari,  my Kgalagadi  self drive guide book that I had flicked through  in the UK,  but planned on reading more thoroughly  once in the park, a thermos flask - no cafes in the park, you want a hot drink during the day, you take it with you , a clothes hanger and laundry liquid ( no washing machines either) and other stuff. All minor inconveniences  but they added up 

 

Deserts and daisies Day 1  23nd August

 

So, I'll  start at Upington,  which should  have  been  day 1 but was now day 2. Our flight landed early afternoon.  

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We collect a Nissan X trail  from Avis and head into Upington, following  the  map in my head to the Kalahari  mall ( I have  directions  printed out, but from the b&b we were supposed  to  be  at) we find the mall after a short tour of the suburbs :) first stop is a Vodacom  shop so I can buy a South African  sim card for my phone and phone Air France  to  organise  delivery  of our suitcase.( ha ha !) Then grocery shopping. I have a list but we are a few hours behind  schedule,  so our grocery shop resembles  a supermarket  sweep,  items being thrown  into  the trolley  with no regard to price or ingredients.  We load up the car and are finally  on our way by 3.30pm.

It's  a 2.5 hour drive  to  the  Kgalagadi.  Our first night  is at Twee rivieren  camp, which is right on the border of the park,  but we still  have  to  be there before  gates close at 6.30pm. I was expecting  our drive to be rather boring with barren scenery, but I was surprised.  The road is called  the ' red dunes route' and it was mostly  scrub covered dunes , but they have their own beauty.  The road is long and straight and empty.  You don't  have to lift your foot from the accelerator  until  the  turn off for the Kgalagadi.  Except  when you're  braking  for mongoose.  We saw warning signs for fox, antelope,horses, owls  , an unidentifiable  bird, but the one animal who was running into the road every 5 minutes  had no warning  sign, still, they kept me alert.

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We arrived at Twee rivieren  at 6pm, got settled in to our chalet and I decided  that after the stressful  start to the holiday we would  eat in the one and only restaurant  in the park. The menu was limited  but perfectly  acceptable,  and there was wine and a bat flying circuits above our heads. We were here, I could  finally  relax . 
   
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Deserts and daisies  day 2

Our first night in the desert. Even though we are on the park boundary with settlements  nearby it was so quiet and there were so many stars. I'm  up at 7am and sitting , shivering  outside  with a cup of tea, then breakfast . I'm  already  missing my fleece. I've  washed our underwear and socks and draped them over  the chairs, at least they dry quickly  in  the arid air. Two cheeky little birds perch at my elbow, hoping for handouts. By 8am it has begun to warm up and I'm  no longer shivering.

I let David have a lie in and we check  out at 10am to begin our drive to the  Kalahari Tented camp  where we will stay 2 nights. The drive is supposed  to  take  3.5 hours, the roads are either sand or gravel and there is a 50kmph speed  limit,  so you don't  get anywhere  fast. And we were stopping  for anything  that moved. :)
We saw our first ( and only ) hartebeest , gemsbok,and  ostrich

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 and at a waterhole  we stopped  to watch ground squirrels,  but they all ran off as we approached,  a honey badger was coming  to drink. We had glimpsed one in Kruger, but from a distance,  so I was hoping  we would  see another  in the Kgalagadi,  and here it was, right infront  of  us on our first drive.

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A little  further  on we saw a solitary  meerkat,  where the rest  of  his clan were I  don't  know,  but he posed nicely  for  us. 

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More gemsbok followed,  we soon realised  that gemsbok are as prolific  in the kalahari  as impala  are in Kruger. We'd now been  driving  2 hours and were only  1/4 of the way there.  We sped up a little and were more selective  in what we stopped  for. 

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We stopped  for  lunch at the Kamqua picnic site. You can get out of your car at the picnic  sites, once you've  checked  it's  safe to do so, there are toilets,  picnic  tables  and braais ( bbqs) . And lots of birds. I'd  made a packed lunch and when we sat down to eat it a flock descended  on us. They perched on the table and hopped around our feet . We didn't  feed them ( not allowed  in the park) but I'm  sure  they find enough  crumbs around the tables .

Shortly after leaving Kamqua the road deteriorated.  The sand hadn't  been graded ( scraped level) and there were ruts and deep patches which made driving tedious.  I couldn't  watch for wildlife as I had to concentrate  on avoiding the worst ruts. I'd  been warned of this but hadn't  realised how bone shakingly tiring it would be. By the time we arrived  at  Mata Mata camp, where we were to check in for the Kalahari Tented camp , I'd  decided  I was having a day off, I wasn't  driving  anywhere  the next day ( there is just the one road in and out of camp) . I booked a night drive for that night and a sunset drive for the next day, let someone  else do the driving .
The Kalahari Tented camp  is  about 3kms back along the road from Mata mata. The tents have sandbags reinforcing/ insulating  the walls and the roofs are covered, each tent has a separate  stand alone kitchen  and  a  decking area where you can sit and watch the waterhole.

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  It was soooo quiet and still. I loved it. We had mongoose for neighbours, they appeared as soon as I  lit the braai. My first  braai attempt was a little ambitious.  I tried to cook too much at once and ended up resorting to the frying pan. Just as 4 giraffes  approached  the  waterhole  they were obscured  by clouds of smoke from our braai :)

 

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We're  picked up at 8.30 for our night drive. There are 4 others in the vehicle . We head south , catching lots of eyes in the spot lights. Our driver says' that's  a small spotted  genet' or ' that would be a wild cat' but as all we can see are eyes in the dark 50 metres  away we have to take his word for it. We do see a couple  of  spring hares bouncing  around  ( they look nothing  like hares, more like mini kangaroos) and a wild cat. Apart from that it is just dark, and cold, very cold. We have blankets but I really  miss my fleece. Back at camp I have warm milk with Amarula ( I  packed hot chocolate  , but it's  in the suitcase) and then to bed.  I'm  woken a short while later by hyenas  'laughing' close  by. 

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michael-ibk

Always nice to see a Kgalagadi report, and I´m also interested to see more about your other destinations as well. What a great Honey Badger sighting for a start, awesome! Really sorry to hear about the lost luggage, I´m always afraid about that. Happened a couple of times on the way back home (when it doesn´t matter) but so far never on the way to safari. Really quite a nuisance, and I do remember how surprisingly cold it can be there - also had a really freezy night at Kalahari Tented Camp.

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Deserts and daisies  Day 3

I'm  awake and up at 7.30am . I was actually  awake at 4am, I was freezing and had to fetch another blanket . Then the hyenas started up again. It really is an extraordinary  experience  to lie in the dark in a tent listening to a wild animal on the other side of the canvas ! I went back to sleep only to be woken by them again at 7.30, so I bundled up in a blanket and went outside to see if I could see them. No luck, but there were ostrich,  jackal and springbok  at the waterhole,  so I made a cup of tea, with bottled water, the water in the park ranges from salty to very salty, so bottled water is used for drinking, and settled down to watch. The blanket I'm  wrapped in and the clothes I'm  wearing are all synthetic and every time I touch something  metal I get a static shock. 

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I do a cooked breakfast when David gets up. I can't  get the gas to stay alight, I have to hold the lighter button down which means I'm  trying  to  cook one handed, in the end I balance a tin of baked beans on the button  which does the trick. I'm  quite pleased with my  improvisation,  it feels in keeping with our 'rustic accommodation ' :D
We sit and watch the comings and goings  at the waterhole until mid morning , when we make the short trip up to Mata Mata  to confirm  and pay for our sunset drive. While there we visit the shop, I'm  in need of coffee,  as my coffee is in the suitcase and I  didn't  buy any in Upington  because  it  wasn't  on my list, because  I'd  packed  my favourite  brand. The only coffee they have are single cup  sachets of cappuccino , the shops do a good job of stocking  the essentials,  pity coffee obviously  isn't  classed as such. Anyway, I  buy a few sachets of cappuccino  and  hot chocolate,  and a bar of soap to replace  our shower  gel. Luckily  we have  travel sized bottles of other toiletries. 
Back at camp I open the rusks , now I have  something  to  dunk them in. South Africans serve rusks with coffee like we serve biscuits  with  tea. My favourite  are the condensed  milk  flavour. 
The rest of the day is spent sitting watching the waterhole and soaking up the peace and quiet. It's  hard to explain  the 'silence' because  it's  not  silent, there are birds chirping and the occasional  ostrich or jackal calling. But all the usual  day to day sounds are absent. No cars or machines or tvs  or radios. I jump when someone  in a neighbouring  tent speaks!

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Lunch is a more successful  braai,  the hours until our sunset drive are passed with a glass of wine in one hand and guide book in the other as I try to identify the many birds around us. One large eagle ( a Martial eagle I think) is making a big performance  of getting a drink without getting wet. 

Our mongoose  neighbours  have  been  playing  nearby all morning.  A jackal trots past within feet of us  on his way to the waterhole. It's  just perfect. 

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Our vehicle  arrives to take  us for our sunset  drive.  It's  just the two of us. We see another wild cat, they look just like chubby  tabby cats. Jackals,giraffe, springbok,  a tiny white faced owl and our first Cape fox, but he was too quick  for  me  to  get a photo. A much more productive drive than yesterday's and as it's  early evening  it's  not so cold.

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Back at camp by 8pm, soup and sarnies for tea, then shower and bed just as the hyenas start up again. I think about nipping out to try and see them, but I'm  warm in bed and it's  chilly out there, so I just lie and listen.

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very interesting report, @MeezersUK!  I can feel the atmosphere.  I was also there iin November/December 2019. It was a very dry year but perhaps in August it was not so bad...  I am curious if you saw flowers ;-)  

It looks like your suitcase came almost at the end of your trip ...

Once our plane (the machine, not the flight) from Joburg to Kasane was changed becasue of mechanical problem and our luggade obviously was not brought to a new machine so, I also experienced comming to destination without the luggage. Fortunately, we stayed for 4 days in Kasane and our luggage came the next day. But if you move ... then it could be a problem! 

Looking forward for next chapters!

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Tdgraves

Your eagle is a black-chested snake eagle. The park was still very dry in January, although there were flowers and grasses were there had been patchy rain. We also lost an item of luggage on our connection (which is why I usually prefer direct flights) our cooler box - pretty essential for KTP (and also containing things like coffee)! Luckily it arrived the following day...

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MeezersUK

Thanks  Tdgraves . I had only the Kgalagadi  park map/guide and so many birds didnt  match the pictures  :)

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MeezersUK

Deserts and daisies  Day 4

We leave Kalahari  Tented  camp  today, we will be spending the next 3 nights at Nossob camp . There are only 4 main roads in the park . The 2 longest follow the dry Auob and Nossob river beds, the river beds form a sort of V shape and have 2 shorter roads connecting them.Twee rivieren  camp is at the point of the V ,Kalahari  tented camp is towards the top of the left hand riverbed and Nossob is on the opposite side of the V on the Nossob river road.
 So , by 8.30am we are packed  up and ready to go , one advantage of having no suitcase is less to pack ;) we collect our permit from reception at Mata Mata,  whenever  we  are  in camp the permit is held at reception,  whenever we leave camp  reception  note where we are going and the permit goes with us. This supposedly alerts staff if anyone  isn't  where they're  supposed to be when gates close. Top up the fuel at the petrol station ( the 3 main camps have petrol and shops ) and then drive South, back along the boneshaker road . There is absolutely  nothing  to  see , even when I can take my eyes off the road. Kamqua picnic site is at the junction  with  the road to Nosdob river, so we stop for a drink and snack . Along upper dunes road we see a heron perched on a water tank, I doubt he's  going to  find anything  to  catch in there, and what is a heron doing in a desert anyway ?  There are large paw prints in the sand at the side of the road, definitely  a lion , I stop for a while and use the binoculars  but their owner is nowhere to be seen. Infact there is nothing to see until we are  at the waterhole  near the junction  with  the Nossob river road. Here we see gemsbok, springbok and wildebeest,  but they don't  really improve a long, boring drive. 

 

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Dikbaardskolk is the name  of  the  picnic  site we stop at for lunch. As well as the usual  welcoming  committee  of  birds, we have a jackal lying in the shade , surveying the picnickers  like a family dog  at a bbq. 

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 We continue north , we see no animals and only 1 other car. I  begin  to think everyone  must be at a great sighting somewhere and we didn't  get the invite :)  Nossob camp is smack bang in the middle of the road. You have  to drive through the camp to continue  North. We  check in at reception,  hand our permit in and collect keys to our riverfront  chalet. This is a new , quite luxurious  chalet  as far as camp accommodation  goes, it even has a TV!  Again , we have a fantastic view of the waterhole. The bird hide is close by and open 24/7 for nocturnal  waterhole viewing, but I think the view from our chalet  is just as good.

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We visit the shop for ice, pop , bread and I want a fridge magnet for my collection, I saw some at Mata mata but didn't  buy, but Nossob doesn't  have any. I must remember  to get one from Twee rivieren. 
 After dinner I'm ready for bed, the combination  of boring drive and sun almost sent me to sleep at times today, I  do a quick check of the waterhole  before  retiring , a jackal is just leaving . I can hear clicking/ clucking noises,  like a cross between a chicken and a duck, coming from all around. I wonder if these are the barking geckos I've  read about.   My room faces the floodlit waterhole and with curtains drawn back from the glass doors I can lie in bed  and watch for animals , but it's  not long before  I'm  asleep. 

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MeezersUK

Deserts and daisies day 5

An earlier start today. We are loading the car up at 8am when a guy carrying a camera goes running past on his way to the bird hide, he gives me a puzzled look as he sprints by. I surmise there must be something  of interest at the waterhole  and  he is wondering  why  I'm  not eager to see it. I  hurry inside , grab my camera  and go out to our braai area , in time to see a large male lion leaving  the  waterhole. We are preparing  to  go out looking for lions and they're  are coming to us! Though he doesn't  hang around  for long, he is soon out of sight over the dunes.

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We are heading north today to a picnic site approx 75kms away, there are several  waterholes  we  stop at so it takes about 3 hours to get there.

 

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 We see our first hyena at one waterhole. He's  a brown hyena, he has a longer, shaggier coat than the spotted hyenas we saw in Kruger .
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Wildebeest are having a mud bath at one waterhole. 

 

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Apart from the hyena  and wildebeest, it's  all birds today.  P1020975.JPG.f8baa8b392b31a2f1e2a968fe70ee543.JPG

 

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At the picnic site I'm  trying to get a photo of a bulbul ( I think ? ) but he won't  get his beak out of the lense.  I realise  he has his beady eyes on the apple I'm  holding :)

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A little  striped mouse proves as difficult  to  photograph,  he won't  keep still, I get a dozen shots of the tip of his tale :)

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More birds at the waterholes on the way back. Sand grouse and quail I think. They are so well camouflaged. 

 

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Back at Nossob I  book a sunset drive for that evening  , then return to  the  chalet looking forward  to coffee and waterhole  watching. But there's  no power, I can't  boil the kettle ! I've read the power goes off between 11pm and 5am to save electricity,  I assume it also goes off during the day. Anyway, I pour a cold drink and spend the afternoon  watching birds .

 

Our sunset drive  is  quite productive.  We see a pair of spotted eagle owls, a pair of bat eared foxes, a pair of lions, everything in twos, but all too distant or quick to get a decent photo.

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The lions are several hundred meters  apart and call to each other frequently,  the noise gives me goosebumps.  The  male is moving south to join the female who is at a kill, at one point he is quite close to us, but moves so silently.  If he didn't  roar we wouldn't  know  he was there.

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The eagle owls take flight as soon as we pull up beside  them, but one perches on a nearby tree and gives us a perfect silhouette. 

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It's  about  8pm when we get back to camp. We forgot to take torches so have to make our way back to the  chalet  in the dark. Once inside  it's  still  dark, the power is still  off.  I had tried to make  toast that morning,  but the toaster didn't  work, I now realise it must have tripped  the switch. Luckily  I  know  exactly  where I left our torches and manage to find them in the dark, we then head over to reception,  but it's  closed.  Our guide from the sunset  drive  is waiting  to  take  guests  on  a  night drive.  I tell her of our predicament  and she drives off to fetch the  duty manager, who sure enough  finds a switch to flick and we have light .

Dinner is everything that has partly defrosted thrown on the braai :)  That's  several  vege burgers, meat burgers and fish . The vege burgers are tasteless and go straight in the bin once braaied. I  felt I had to cook them first or it would  be a waste of the charcoal I'd  used :D
 The lions are roaring nearby all evening,  but we don't  see them again. I leave the curtains  open when I go to bed just incase they decide  to visit  the  waterhole  again. 

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MeezersUK

The last 3 photos have posted themselves, ignore them :D

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Tdgraves

your "bulbul" is a chestnut-vented tit-babbler

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