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The Park Today
Although the Botswana and South African wildlife authorities have cooperated in the management of the Gemsbokand Kalahari Gemsbok Parks since 1948, it was only in 1998 that the governments of the two countries decided to formally recognise their common environmental interests. On 7 April 1999 the respective presidents signed a treaty that would link the Gemsbok National Park and the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park under one unifying name – The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. It was officially opened on 12 May 2000. This is the first formally declared transfrontier park in Africa and will hopefully be a model for conservation in the 21st Century.
The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park encompass two of the three Kalahari eco-types. The south-western part comprises duneveld, with its unique semi-dessert vegetation, and the north-eastern part comprises Kalahari plains thornveld. The area also incorporates salt pans which play an important role in the grazing and life patterns of the game.
The size of The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is quite overwhelming. The South African side of the Park comprises 9 591 km², with a further 28 400 km² on the Botswana side. The Park is bigger since it became a Transfrontier Park, which makes it one of the largest National Parks in the world. The Nossob riverbed meanders through both countries, symbolic of the natural ‘oneness’ of the two parks.
To survive the long dry spells animals need large areas to move in to find suitable vegetation. It is therefore essential to maintain as large a conservation area as possible, so that the wildlife can find the resources it needs in this harsh climate.
The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is one of the most pristine conservation areas on earth. Access to the wilderness trail and Mabuasehube area is only possible with 4x4 vehicles and for visitors staying in Botswana. It is not a general tourist route. The wildness of the area is the biggest attraction.
The Kalahari is a semi-arid region with an average rainfall of 150mm in the southwest to 350mm in the northeast. The unreliable and irregular rains fall mostly during dramatic thunderstorms, often accompanied by strong winds and dust-storms, between November and April. The first rains transform the red dunes, covering them with the fresh yellow flowers of the dubbeltjie, Tribulus terrestris. Within two weeks fresh green grass begins to grow. If the rains do not return, the vegetation will soon wither and the thirstland once again becomes apparent.
Temperatures vary greatly from – 11°C on cold winter nights to 42°C in the shade on summer days when the ground surface temperature reaches a sizzling 70°C. During the winter months, when frost is common, the ground surface temperatures can be 25°C lower than the temperature of the air. Winter in the Kalahari is a cool, dry season from May to August, followed by a warm, dry season from September to October and then a hot, wet season from November to April.
The modern Kalahari Desert, a small remnant of the original dune desert, lies within the Kalahari sand beds – a massive expanse of sand that covers 1 630 000 km² from just north of the equator to the banks of the Orange River in South Africa. The sand originated from rocks lying in a shallow basin that were eroded by wind over millions of years. The red colour of the dunes is caused by iron oxide, which covers each sand grain. The rainfall of the area is too low to reduce this iron oxide, and a wonderful variety of colours can be found in the desert sand. The dunes of the Kalahari hide the ancient sedimentary roccks which are believed to be rich in fossil deposits. The dunes are fixed and are no longer moved by the wind. They do, however, owe their characteristic shape to wind which exposes the moist sand beneath. The moist sand is then eroded further. The sand that is removed is deposited on the southwest side of the dune, which results in a more gentle gradient. These longitudinal dunes are called seif dunes, an Arab word meaning ‘sword’.
Twee Rivieren is the administrative centre and the biggest rest camp. It is at the most southerly point of the Park and just inside the main gate on the South African side. The camp consists of chalet, camping facilities, an information centre, restaurant, shop and a swimming pool. Fuel is available.
Nossob is centrally situated in the Park and has recently been revamped. Facilities include chalets, camping, a predator information centre and swimming pool. There is a shop and fuel available.
Mata-Mata, against the Namibian border post, has been given a major face-lift and the chalets have their own kitchen and bathroom. There is a shop, swimming pool and fuel is also available. Mata-Mata also has an Interpretation Centre.
The Wilderness Camps
Grootklok is small ans exclusive, only 20km from Union’s End, and accessible to two-wheel drive vehicles. A waterhole is visible from the camp and predators are often seen.
Gharagab is accessible to 4x4 vehicles only.
The Kalahari Tented Camp (close to Mata-Mata) has 15 units, sleeping two to four people, as well as a swimming pool to cool down in. The stilted canvas tents are elegantly decorated and look out on the waterhole in the ancient Auob River.
Kielie Kranke is situated on one of the highest dunes in the Park with infinite views over the sand dunes. The area consists of dune vegetation with few, if any, trees. It consists of four two-bedded units with a 360 view of the area and the waterhole.
Urikaruus is situated on the bank of the Auob River between Twee Rivieren and Mata-Mata camps. Surrounded by camelthorn trees, this lofted camp, four two-bed units, overlookes a waterhale in the river bed.
Bitterpan is accessible only to four-wheel drive vehicles (no trailers) and links the two rest camps of Nossob and Mata-Mata. The area overlooks a huge pan but has few trees. The camp, which is small and exclusive, is surrounded only by the silence of the great Kalahari. It has four two-bed units with their own bathrooms and a communal kitchen and braai area.
Botswana Camps & 4x4 Trails
Experience the true Kalahari within the Kgalagadi. Chances are that you will not even see other vehicles while traveling in this big sky country. Be self-sufficient in all ways. Camping is available at Polentwa, Rooiputs, Two Rivers and in the Mabuaeshube area. Of the ten camps some sites consist of a shady tree as the only infrastructure, while at Mabuasehube and Kaa Gate you might find running water.
Kaa Game View Trail can be traveled in one day. However, it is advised to camp one night en route. The trail can be traveled in both directions. No trailers are allowed. This section of the Kalahari typically has low game concentrations expect in drier times after scattered rain showers when game concentrates on green spots.
Polentswa Wilderness Trail is an exclusive route with only one party of not less than two and not more than five vehicles allowed to depart each day. No trailers are allowed. The route frequently passes impressive pans, often with accompanying game. Sandy, relatively flat terrain expect for a single dune close to Rooi Rambukus on the last day. To avoid disappointment, bookings must be made in advance.
Mabuasehube Wilderness Trail is another exclusive trail that can only be traveled from Mabuasehube to Nossob. No trailers are allowed. It passes through lovely tree savannah for the most of the way, in contrast to the red dune savannah in the southwest of the Park. Normally bigger game concentrations can be seen at the Mabuasehube pans. It is a sandy track running through relatively flat terrain. Bookings to be made in advance to avoid disappointment.
Access Route: All Access routes are two way routes and trailers are allowed. We recommend that visitors, if at all possible, camp once between Nossob Restcamp and Mabuasehube. The distance from Kaa Gate to Nossob riverbed can easily be done in a single day. Once again flat, sandy terrain with relatively small dunes to cross at places. A passport is not needed to enjoy the Botswana side as long as entry and exit is made through the same gate.