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Local is lekker - a pseudo-safari


Kalaharikind
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Kalaharikind

The Local is lekker trip was born on a Friday evening. We were standing around the braai (as one does, on a Friday evening), with a glass of wine in hand (as one does), chatting about this and that (again, as one does) when Johan said, "Let's go to Augrabies Falls while the Gariep River is in flood, and then move on to see if the Kalahari is really as green as people say." Trip planning done and dusted.

 

Needless to say, I rushed to the garage to get the ammo crates out of storage and to start packing when reality struck: for various reasons we could only leave the following Wednesday. No matter: the Falls would still be there and the Kalahari was not going anywhere either.


All of our "household stuff" go into ammo crates, and packing them was a doddle - our "long trips" are generally to the remoter parts of Namibia and Botswana, where we could never be sure what provisions would be available.  This time, we would be close to shops at all times, and could easily stock up along the way. 


Packing the bakkie was just as easy: we have everything we need, nothing we do not need and everything has its place. The ammo crates, our clothing, camera bags, first-aid kit, books and a small cooler box go in the cab. Everything else – including the washing machine! - go in the load box. I have my very own kitchen: built-in storage space in the canopy that is more a hold-all for small, frequently used items, while the one on the other side of the canopy houses Johan’s  “workshop” – tools and equipment that we hope we would not need – or as this sign somewhere in Namibia put it so succinctly, should there be an 


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(OK, the washing machine is not exactly that – it’s simply a 25 l plastic bucket with a tight-fitting lid. Chuck in dirty clothes, add washing powder and water, and let the bakkie do the rest. At your destination, it’s a simple casing of rinsing, wringing dry, hanging up and, hey presto! clean clothes.)


We left early Wednesday morning, but Johan decided that the freezer full of meat was not enough, so we stopped at his favourite butcher and he managed to add five braais’ worth of meat into an already generously stocked freezer. 

 

When we got to the wind farm near Gouda – and thinking about the debate around wind turbines and birds being killed by the blades – I realised that I had left all our bird guides at home. Not the worst of things I could have left behind, but quite high on the list. Johan has the Roberts bird app on his phone, I had Plan A, B and C, so a low disaster level. But still…

 

Our first overnight stop would be a farm deep in the Bushmanland, where friends of ours have been battling a merciless drought for far longer than the rest of the country. They depend on animal feed donations and have had to drastically reduce the size of their herd.

 

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People across the country have been incredibly in donating feed, helping farmers keep their livestock alive

 

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The farm road is 35 km, punctuated by eight gates, then only do you get on the "main" dirt raod that takes you to the nearest town... 

 

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Green shoots showing their heads after a few drops of rain - but much more is needed

 

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And when it rains, this is the result

 

It was lovey to see our friends again, and I would have loved spending more time with them, but the road called. 

 

The next morning we again tackled the 35 km farm road to the “main” road, and from there another 220 km to the nearest town. More than 300 km from where we had left the tarred road, split over two days and excluding the farm road, and we did not meet one other vehicle on the road…

 

Since we had taken fresh fruit and vegetables for our Bushmanland friends, we stopped at Keimoes to get some supplies for ourselves. Remember the bird guides I had forgotten at home? My Plan A to remedy the situation was a long shot: a farm stall in Keimoes that also sells second-hand books. I was hoping that there might just be a bird guide, any bird guide. They had a surprisingly good selection of second-hand books (and yes, I did buy a few), but no bird guides. Oh well, there still was plan B and C. 


A good few kilometers from Augrabies, we could see the spray of water shot into the air – we were getting closer and closer…
 

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~ @Kalaharikind:

 

Your writing above is a joy to read. 

 

My morning has been brightened by reading your description of a Kalahari trek...of sorts.

 

Thank you.

 

I'm looking forward to more.

 

            Tom K.

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Oh goodie, you've started!

Before you hit the real road, the fun has already begun! well it looks like you didn't really need the bird book affter all, considering what you've counted so far.

 

lookng forward to the ride alongside you guys.

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Great, another lovely trip report about the Kalahari

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Kalaharikind

Augrabies was our first taste of the Sanparks Covid protocol: a health questionnaire and temperature check as well as the standard sanitising, occupancy control and mask-wearing in public places. Most people adhered to the mask-wearing guidelines – but, as always, there were a few who blithely ignored the rules.

 

Booking done, we bought some wood at the Sanparks shop; the shop also led to the collapse of my bird guide plan B and C: I had thought that I’d be able to get at least a decent guide to the park, or buy a bird guide – but the shelves were bare… That meant we were stuck with Plan D:  the Robert’s app Johan has on his phone. He uses it relatively often, but I prefer paper. Oh well. And, even with a guide, my ID skills are questionable at best. @Galanacan attest to that 

 

The rest camp was relatively full, but we found a nice spot on the perimeter of the camping area. Setting up camp was quick – we worked liked a well-oiled machine and from selecting a camp site to sipping a G&T took much less than 10 minutes. 

 

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This is an old pic - coincidentally also taken at Augrabies - of the RTT


As always, the rest camp had its own braai-grid cleaning brigade. 638291667_AugrabiesNP2021(1)_1280x851.JPG.0466a3d42a5915e2c3346bcbcd45b6de.JPG

Southern masked weaver

 

 

As if the drought-battered farmers did not have enough on their plate, locusts were a problem – although the birds did not complain too much! (Farmers are a hardy breed – no sooner than the first swarm of locusts were spotted, did they joke that they would now have to start feeding the locusts as well!)

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Pale-winged starling on bakkie-cleaning duty

 

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Cape glossy starling

 

Even the Cape wagtail shared in the bounty.

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Before we get to the Falls - I know, that's the only reason you're here, not silly birds - the tale of Fairest Helen, her Squabbling Suitors and the Busybody Starling.

 

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Fairest Helen watching...

 

 

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The Squabbling Suitors, well, squabbling

 

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Who will win my hand, Fairest Helen wonders

 

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The Busybody Starling appears... Will he mediate? Will he referee? Will he win Fairest Helen's heart?

 

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No, he will not join the fray.

 

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The Squabbling Suitors bravely do battle- Fairest Helen the prize...

 

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They know no fear, they feel no pain

 

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Enough! Fairest Helen cries, Enough! I now know who will have my heart

 

 

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Kalaharikind

Where are my manners?

 

@Tom Kelliethank you for your kind words - you certainly are the gentleman of the interwebzz

 

@Kitsafariand @Bikowelcome - plenty of room on the bus! 

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Enjoying this tale. Just one question so far if I may? Why is the Sparrow called Fair Helen?:(

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@Kalaharikind

I'm following your TR with great interest as we are leaving for Augrabies and Kgalagadi within a month.  :)

 

 

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Thanks for posting, I am really enjoying your TR and the ballad of Fair Helen. Look forward to seeing a green Augrabies when you have time. 

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im curious too - why helen? and you're keeping us in suspense - who won her hand?  

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Enjoying your report so far and looking forward to the next installment...

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Kalaharikind

@Galanaand @Kitsafari I did think of calling her Guinevere, but Helen was much shorter to type - and there was the Troy angle as well. I've 

no idea who won - they seemed to call it quits and then flew off. Or maybe the Squabbling Suitors decided that Helen was not worth all that rolling around in the dust?

 

@RitsgaaiI am so jealous - any room for me? Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy!

 

@Treepoland @shazdwnNext instalment coming up - I'll try to let you have some boulders, water and noise later today. 

 

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~ @Kalaharikind:

 

Looking over the great images again I noticed that the Onychognathus nabouroup (that's such a mouthful of syllables!) Pale-winged Starling was sporting no less than two bands.

 

The silvery band looks engraved, perhaps with Sweet Nothings from someone special.

 

But the yellow band? Is that now the height of fashion for Kalahari birds?

 

Great portrait, as are the other birds who look to have been stuffing themselves at a wedding banquet.

 

Whatever may be in the next installment, I'm with everyone else in looking forward to the fun!

 

                 Tom K.

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Peter Connan

What a nice surprise. I have not been to Augrabies since I was a boy! I really need to get back.

 

Looking forward to the green Kalahari. One of my favorite places on this planet.

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Kalaharikind

@Tom KellieApparently the yellow is the height of fashion, and if you've a band on each leg, you're an absolute superstar! 

 

@Peter Connansomewhere on the road between Upington and Kgalagadi:

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~ @Kalaharikindand @Peter Connan:

 

All of that luscious green in the two images above!

 

Healthy...vibrant...inviting.

 

This trip report offers compelling evidence that the northwestern region of the Northern Cape Province is a lovely place.

 

There's so much about South Africa which I don't know. 

 

A trip report of this quality is a delightful education.

 

            Tom K.

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Peter Connan

Wow, that is beautiful!

 

Never seen it that green.

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  • 4 months later...
Kalaharikind

Thanks to everybody who has read and commented - and my apologies for the long delay in posting.

 

Right, let's get to the real reason for this leg of our trip: the Augrabies Falls proper. You didn't really think we visited for Pale-winged Starling ballet and sparrows-a-duelling, did you now? 

 

The Khoisan who managed for centuries to survive in this mostly unforgiving region called it Aukoerebis - the Place of Great Noise. Hendrik Jakob Wikar, a Swede, visited the area in 1799, couldn't pronounce the Nama word, and promptly dubbed it Augrabies. No matter the pronunciation, the noise, even during a year of average rainfall, stays "great"; when the Orange River is truly in flood, the noise can only be described as thunderous. During ordinary years, the water only falls down the main Falls, with maybe a fall on the ravine side - the Bridal Veil fall - but in great years, secondary falls form down the side of the ravine. 

 

The main fall plunges 56 m into the ravine, which is about 18 km long. According to legend, rumour and science there must be a treasure trove of diamonds at the bottom of the pool - after all, the "diamond towns" Alexander Bay and Oranjemund are at the mouth of the Orange River.

 

In 1954 the Upington Publicity Association asked that the falls be declared a national park. The Ministry of Lands approved the request in principle in 1955, but then interdepartmental politics reared it head and the Ministry of Water Affairs objected. After behind the scenes to-ing and fro-ing, Water Affairs relented and the Augrabies Falls National Park was proclaimed in August 1966.

 

Voice-over will be suspended for a while: listen to the great noise, feel the spray on your skin and let the sun warm your body.

 

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Edited by Kalaharikind
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Wow, looks stunning  -  great pictures!

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Kalaharikind

@Zim GirlThank you so much. It was truly spectacular to see - something to treasure for ever.

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Kalaharikind

By way of contract, this is what the Falls looked like in 2014 - quite a dry year. The upside of it was that there was no spray mist, and one could see the effect of the water on the rocks over centuries. With all the water rushing down, it's difficult to appreciate the scale of the Falls.

 

The Falls in a year of flood shows the present, but a dry year shows all that had happened in the past.

 

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(Please turn your pc/laptop on its side for the next photo...)

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I read an interesting anecdote in a local outdoors magazine: the writer tells that in 1966 it was so dry that the Lower Orange River actually stopped flowing. The view points had not yet been fenced off, and visitors could walk on the surrounding rocks - he tells that he could actually straddle the Falls! (I'm not sure how true this is, but if the river beyond the Falls had dried up, it could be true.)

 

And I wonder what today's health and safety officials would say about the lack of fencing... 

 

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Kalaharikind

There's nothing like going completely off-course while staying at the same place, is there? This is the last of the Augrabies TR within a TR. But it's such an awesome place, I just cannot get enough of it, so please bear with me...

 

These photos are from 2018; we'll then do a quick time/space jump to 2021.

 

 

The main fall; the Bridal Veil fall is to the left: 

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No idea how to fix the horisontal falls - anybody, please?

 

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Edited by Kalaharikind
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Kalaharikind

@AfricIan, @Zim Girl@KiwiGran @NSY @Towlersonsafari thanks for bearing with me!

 

It had been wonderful to fall asleep to the sound of the Falls, but other places were calling. 

 

First though, we had a minor hassle to sort out - the camp freezer was not running to temperature, and Johan thought that it might be due to low aircon gas. Not much of a problem - there were three towns on our way where it could be done - but on a Saturday things might be iffy. Luckily friends of ours knew somebody who was more than willing to help, and he had the right type of gas. So, we adapted our plans: we would spend the night with our friends, have the fridge regassed, repack everything the next morning (the fridge/freezer contents meanwhile found a cold welcome in their home) and then leave for Upington and beyond. 

 

Askham is small - a farmer's meeting place and stopover for visitors to Kgalagadi TFP - but for a few days in February it really was the hippest, hottest, most happening place in South Africa as townsfolk, farmers and other random visitors (like us) celebrated the arrival of the Kuruman River at Askham. 

 

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Most of the children from Askham had probably never been in a swimming pool before: and now they had a river to swim in. A kind soul from Upington brought his rubber duck, and everybody who wanted to could try their luck at water-skiing. Body boards and small boats were brought out, and people revelled in this unusual event. Kuruman is more than 300 km from Askham, and apparently the last time the river came so far down was 30-40 years ago (depending on who you spoke to!)

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It was like a village fete, or a church bazaar - the entire community attended. People who live in the Kalahari have an almost spiritual connection with water, I think, and if there's water in such volumes to be seen, they make the most of it.

 

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On our way back from Kgalagadi, we went to the river for a second look.

 

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Follow-up rains that had been expected in Kuruman did not appear, and the road that had been covered in water now contained only a solitary puddle of water.

 

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We met this family here - I really hoped that they, too, had come for a second look and had not missed the experience of a lifetime.

 

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Next stop: Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park!

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Kalaharikind

In a sense, Askham was, for me, the highlight of our trip: a river that made it through more than 300 kms of drought-stricken countryside, forcing its way down a dry riverbed, shedding water in dry sand, retaining enough to travel on, bringing hope to desperate farmers, farmworkers and townsfolk alike, giving them something to revel in, a story they could tell their granchildren - because this was an event that rarely happens more than once in a lifetime. 

 

But the Kgalagadi called as well...

 

The long, straight road there gave us a teasing indication of what we could expect: tall green grass hiding the red dunes. There were towering white clouds, and black ones promising more rain. The February heat was not as intense and energy sapping as in other years - there was a lightness that made all problems and worries seem less significant.

 

We could not get accommodation at Nossob, so decided to stay outside the Park at the Kgalagadi Lodge. The campsites are high up against a dune, with beautiful views of Botswana just across the road. Each campsite has a covered outside living room, and private ablutions with enough space in which to store luggage and camping equipment. The camper incharge of keeping things clean and hygienic (me, of course) really appreciated the washing up facilities - so much nicer to have a proper zinc sinc than a plain foldable silicone wash basin!

 

The first thing I did once we had set up camp - taking out our chairs and table, off-loading the ammo crates and putting up the RTT took all of 5 minutes - was to take of my shoes and and walk around in that lovely red Kalahari sand. Pure and utter bliss. I completely understand why Elias le Riche (one of generations of Le Riches who were custodians of the Park) said that the Kalahari is heaven for a man, a woman's sorrow and hell for a motor car, but that was in a different era. It's my soul's happy place.

 

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The dunes were covered by bright green tendrils of the Namib melon

 

 

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The lodge's resident emu made frequent rounds, looking for scraps to eat. 

 

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Much smaller, but also on the lookout for a snack, was this Familiar Chat

 

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Instead of scavenging, this Pygmy Falcon kept watch from a camelthorn tree, flying off with a tremendous speed at his prey.

 

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A not-so-sociable Sociable Weaver:

 

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The moon getting ready to stand in for the sun:

 

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With the fire going, a glass of wine nearby, we listened to goats returning to their kraal (pen) in another country and watched the sun go down

 

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Does life get any better than this? 

 

 

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8 hours ago, Kalaharikind said:

Does life get any better than this? 

Rarely.

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