So…fast forward 9 weeks and with a new sub-assembly installed in the Land Rover, off we go to the Kgalagadi.
SanParks were fantastic and in spite of very clear cancellation rules they still gave us a very generous refund of accommodation costs which we used to book at Kgalagadi again at the end of October. Once again we were lucky to benefit from late cancellations and in fact benefited by being able to get a night at Kieliekrankie. The new itinerary as follows:
- 23 October Kalahari Guest House;
- 24 and 25 October Nossob;
- 26 October Kieliekrankie;
- 27 and 28 October Kalahari Tented Camp;
- 29 October Twee Rivieren;
- 30 October Blou Nartjie (Calvinia);
- 31 October Home
The trip up north went smoothly. Pippa and I were both a bit anxious after our last attempt but for some illogical reason when we passed the point of our previous breakdown we both felt a lot more relaxed.
As we got closer to Upington we became aware that the air conditioner in our car wasn’t working. With temperatures increasing rapidly (33°C) it soon became quite uncomfortable. It wasn’t a major problem but it wasn’t ideal travelling in those temperatures!
We arrived at Kalahari Guest House mid afternoon and settled in for the evening. We’d stayed there on a previous trip up to Botswana and were pleased to see that they’d maintained their high standards. The Bushcamp tent was impeccably clean and tidy.
We left the Bushcamp at about 8:00 the next morning and arrived at Twee Rivieren by 10:30. At last…very exciting to finally get there! Checking in didn’t take too long and after topping up with diesel and deflating our tyres we set off for Nossob.
Day 1 – Our first day at Nossob
We started off fairly slowly, hoping that we might be lucky enough to get an early sighting. It soon became apparent though that in the heat of the day the animals weren’t likely to be very active. We decided to press on to Nossob closer to the 50km/h speed limit. There were of course still opportunities to stop along the way.
We reached Nossob at about 3:00 that afternoon and after settling in took a slow drive along Marie’s Loop. There were some nice bird sightings and of course various buck. We both loved the scenery and enjoyed the fact that views from the track were largely open and unimpeded. There were no Lion or Cheetah that day though!
We stopped at Rooikop waterhole where we saw a couple of Jackal before heading back to camp for a braai and an early night.
Day 2 – Nossob surrounds
We were up early and having heard that there had been some Lion sighted near Kwang the previous morning we decided to go north. The road was a bit more corrugated and sandy than that to the south but certainly not as bad as I’d anticipated.
We didn’t see anything major along the way so stopped at Cubitje Quap waterhole for a short while, hoping that something might show. A female Kudu pitched up for a drink. After watching her for a while we carried on to Kwang.
There were a few other cars parked there but still plenty of room for us to find parking in the shade and still have a decent view of the waterhole. There were no Lion of course but quite a few Wildebeest, a couple of Gemsbok and a Secretary Bird, which all took turns to have a drink before wandering off again.
We had coffee and rusks and waited for a while in the hope of something else showing up. The only things to do so were a couple more cars!
By 9:00am it was already starting to warm up and it didn’t look like our elusive Lion were going to arrive so we headed back to Nossob. Once again nothing major to see on the route back but we still enjoyed the drive and view of the countryside. I did start to worry a bit about the car though. It seemed to be lacking power when going through deeper patches of sand or up an incline. I didn’t feel any threat of getting stuck, just an unease due to lack of response and power.
We duly got back to our cottage at Nossob and settled down to relax and wait for our late afternoon drive. A campsite resident stopped at our cottage for a chat and told us that there had been 3 Lion not far out of the camp on the Twee Rivieren road that morning. Just our luck…we head north and the Lion show south!!
There was plenty to keep us occupied at the cottage. Lots of smaller birds in the trees as well as a few striped squirrels (one couple in particular having some fun in the sun, in spite of the 40°C temperature!).
Pippa took a walk to the hide to assess wheelchair access. Quite a sandy area getting from the car park to the walkway but manageable she said.
Later in the afternoon we went for a drive (south!) hoping we might still get to see the Lion that were there in the morning. Once again our luck was out…no Lion to be seen. We stopped at Rooikop and watched some Springbuck and Wildebeest at the waterhole and then carried on and went along Marie’s Loop.
It was hot and other cars had taken up any shade to be had at “Marie se Gat” so we headed back to camp and went to the hide to sit and watch the passing parade. The sandy area that Pippa spoke about was very sandy and quite a mission to get through. We managed but not without a lot of huffing and puffing!
A Jackal came for a drink and of course plenty of Doves.
We stuck around for a while and then decided it was time to head back to our cottage, start the fire for a braai and have a little whiskey (or two!). No sooner had we got to the car when a lady ran up and told us to go back…a lioness was on her way. No second invitations needed!
What a way to end the day. And so we went back to the cottage feeling very excited about another great day in the park. The whiskey and braai went down a treat!
Day 3 – Kieliekrankie
Sadly our all too short a stay at Nossob came to an end. We were looking forward to seeing Kieliekrankie though, having read some very nice reviews about the camp and setting.
We only managed to get away at about 6:30am and travelled slowly down to Marie’s Loop hoping to get another sighting of the Lioness from the previous evening. Not long after turning onto the loop I spotted a Cheetah crossing the road about 50m ahead of us. We moved forward slowly and saw it moving deeper into the bush towards the river bed. Sadly, no photo opportunity though. The grass along that particular stretch was quite dense and tall. But we did get a sighting. Exciting times!
Not long after that we saw a car parked on the side of the road and eased up slowly to see what they had spotted. Initially we couldn’t see a thing but the occupants of the car very kindly pointed us in the right direction up the hill and there were a couple of Lion crouched down in the grass. Very difficult to see. Luckily it wasn’t long before one of them got up and started moving off higher up the hill. Still not a clear view for a decent photo but enough to get a shot for the record. Beautiful animals!
We pressed on slowly with the intention of finding a nice shady spot at a waterhole closer to the Kielikrankie turnoff where we could park and wait for the 2:00pm check-in time. The car though was starting to worry me again. There was still no power through thicker patches of sand and up hills. I had visions of breaking down and then having to try and arrange for a recovery. That stressed me out. I decided that it would be better to try and get some decent momentum going and push on to Twee Rivieren from where I could phone the Land Rover workshop in Cape Town and get some advice on what the problem might be. Sadly that meant that we missed the opportunity of the leisurely drive down that we had planned. We had to stop a couple of times though!
We stopped for a break at Dikbaardskolk and then came across a couple of Lion lazing about under some trees next to the road near Kij Kij. Quite a few cars had pulled up but we still had a good view. It looked as though they had recently fed from a kill judging by the blood still on the youngster’s coat. He spent a fair amount of time cleaning himself while we were there.
We made it to Twee Rivieren at about midday without any problem. The car in fact was much happier on the firmer gravel road from Kij Kij onwards. I was a lot less stressed but still relieved to be able to make contact with the mechanics to get their opinion. We went to the restaurant and enjoyed a cool drink, the air-conditioning and a welcome break from the 38°C temperature.
Our mechanic in Cape Town felt that we weren’t doing any damage to the car. We’d been checking oil, water etc. regularly and there was no sign of the engine over-heating. He felt it might have been an electronic glitch and the computer had stored an error code which was putting the car into limp mode (restricting revs and gears to protect itself). He suggested we carry on to Kielikrankie and disconnect the battery terminal there that evening for an hour or so which should clear any error codes and effectively re-boot the system.
When we got back to the car we noticed a very flat tyre. A passing visitor offered to help and then 2 SanParks staff arrived and took over and changed the wheel. They then showed us the way to their technical workshop where the tyre was repaired. Lucky to have this happen at Twee Rivieren and not in the middle of nowhere! After filling up with diesel we set off for Kielikrankie. An uneventful trip with just a couple of stops along the way to view birds and Hyena bathing in a waterhole. Hills were still an issue but having been reassured about the car I wasn’t feeling stressed about it.
We both loved Kieliekrankie. Very comfortable accommodation, beautiful view of the red dunes and so peaceful. The waterhole is quite far off so game viewing and photography wasn’t great but sitting on the deck with a fire going and a drink in hand while the sun set was a wonderful experience.
We saw a couple of Jackal and a Pale Chanting Goshawk drinking at the waterhole. An African Wildcat also made a brief appearance next to our deck but very fleeting and there wasn’t time for a decent photograph. Pippa is a cat lover of note so that was special for her! Later that evening Pippa saw a Caracal down at the waterhole.
Day 4 – On to Kalahari Tented Camp
On another trip I’d like to spend at least another day at Kieliekrankie but having heard so much about Kalahari Tented Camp we were both looking forward to our 2 nights there. We once again set off a bit later than intended (at about 7:00am) so no doubt missed any potential opportunity of a Leopard sighting in the Montrose area. We had a great morning though. Our first sighting was a little Cape Fox…the first time either of us had seen one in real life.
Next up were some Meerkat. Again a first for both of us and we were really pleased to have come across them. Such fascinating little animals and great to be able to capture a few photos of the “Sentinel” in classic pose!
Our next sighting was a Tawny Eagle which was sitting quite high up in a tree. We parked and waited and patience paid off…It took off and flew down to the waterhole for a bath. It was fascinating watching the interaction between the Eagle and the resident Sandgrouse. They initially flew off and perched in a nearby tree but they clearly got impatient and wanted to get back to the water. A few of them started flying down and almost seemed to be dive-bombing the Eagle. This eventually provoked a reaction and it went on the attack. Exit Sandgrouse!
We then experienced some more of the wonderful friendliness and camaraderie of our fellow Kgalagadi tourists. We had pulled up in front of a car parked on the side of the road to look at a Lion lying fast asleep on the far side of the river bed in the shade of a tree. It wasn’t a good viewing. We waited in the hope that he might get up and give us a show. Not to be.
The couple drove up next to us and asked if we had seen the Cheetah about half a kilometer back? Nope we said…missed them! They then had us turn around and follow them so that they could show us the spot. Very lucky because the Cheetah were also the other side of the river bed and in the shade. No doubt we would have missed them again. Again no chance of a decent photo but I took this shot for the record anyway!
After a while we moved on, sensing that they weren’t going to be getting up anytime soon. It was only 9:00am but already very hot.
There were a couple of bird sightings along the way and then near to 13th Borehole we were waved down by another car and told about 3 Lion that had been sighted there. They were very close to the road and parking area but fast asleep in the shade. The heat was clearly too much for them as well. There were quite a number of vehicles parked there so after a couple of attempted photos we pressed on to Mata Mata.
We had a lovely sighting of Spotted Eagle Owl between 13th and 14th Boreholes and managed to get a couple of decent photos of them.
We arrived at Mata Mata at around about midday. It was too early to check in to Kalahari Tented Camp so we parked in the shade near reception and disconnected the car battery terminal (which we didn’t do at Kieliekrankie). Pippa went off to the shop to get some supplies needed for the next couple of days while I sat with the car. Noticing that the bonnet of the car was open, a number of people stopped to offer help. We had a very pleasant chat with one couple in particular. They were obviously frequent visitors to Kgalagadi and had plenty of advice and stories to share.
An hour and a half later I reconnected the battery and we set off to check in to KTC. The battery terminal trick didn’t work and progress up hills was slow. I was getting very good at my pretence of going slowly to look for animals though!
Wow! What a stunning set up at KTC. Fantastic accommodation again and a really beautiful view of the river bed. The waterhole itself was hidden behind a tree but I think it would have been too far away for clear viewing anyway. We loved it.
It was incredibly hot and we waited until 4:30 before going on our afternoon drive. Even then, and with the car having been parked in the shade, the temperature was 42°C. We only went as far as Sitzas and sat there in the shade to see what would come down to the waterhole. Only a few Oryx (Gemsbok), including a couple of energetic youngsters, paid a visit.
We stuck around for about an hour and then headed back to Mata Mata to collect some Roosterbrood that Pippa had ordered earlier. While crossing the river bed near the turn-off to KTC we saw a couple of cars parked on the hill on the opposite bank watching something. There on our left were 4 Cheetah heading towards the KTC waterhole. They were walking away from us and were already quite far away but it was very exciting nonetheless! We pushed on as quickly as my sick car would take us so that we could get the Roosterbrood and hopefully get back to camp in time to see them there.
Back at KTC there were quite a few Wildebeest and Springbuck at and around the waterhole. They clearly sensed the approaching Cheetah and had their sentries posted. The sun started setting but still no sign of the Cheetah so I started the fire for our braai while we waited. Sadly there was no sight of them. It was only well after dark that we caught the bright eyes of what we assumed to be the Cheetah family going past us down in the river bed. Oh well…We’d had a very good day and one can’t have it all.
Day 5 – Kalahari Tented camp and surrounds
Our last day at KTC and we left early in the morning and took a slow drive down towards the 13th Borehole. There were no predators in sight but we did get some nice bird viewing opportunities. First off was a Tawny Eagle. It was standing in the grass at the side of the road when we stopped but then strode with great authority into the road and marched down the track for a short while before flying off.
There were a couple of Giraffe and Ostrich at the 14th Borehole so we sat there for a while to watch them.
Next was another sighting of the Spotted Eagle Owl at the same spot as the previous day near 13th Borehole, except this time on the opposite side of the road and with a couple of chicks. The young’uns seemed a bit bemused with all the attention they were getting.
No sleepy Lion at 13th Borehole that morning and it was already very hot so we decided to head back to camp. By the time we got back to the Owl sighting there were another 4 cars parked there. We joined the queue and waited for another chance to see them but sadly the occupants of the car in prime position weren’t in any hurry to move and give others a turn. It was at least 20 minutes after we had stopped that they moved. The only time that we’d witnessed such a lack of courtesy to other visitors while in the Kgalagadi. We moved off to allow others that were still parked and waiting for an opportunity to see the birds.
Back at camp it was stifling hot (43°C) and we spent the day spraying ourselves with water and sitting in whatever breeze we could find to try and cool off. We decided not to have a drive again that afternoon and to rather stay in the camp and see what developed in the river-bed below us. There was quite a cloud build-up to the west which looked promising for a spectacular sunset.
The wind started picking up a bit later in the afternoon. It didn’t cool us down though ….. more like having a hair drier blowing in your face! In spite of the heat we had a great evening viewing the animals browsing on the river bed and enjoying a braai and evening drinks. The sunset was very nice although not quite as dramatic as we’d hoped for.
By the time we started getting ready for bed the wind was quite strong. Pippa had gone into the tent and as I opened the door to go in a scorpion charged in ahead of me. One benefit of being in a wheelchair…I wasn’t going to be stepping on it! It scuttled furtively from one side of the tent to the other before I could capture it in a glass. We took a couple of photos for evidence before I took it outside and let it go over the balcony.
Day 6…back to Twee Rivieren and then home.
We left KTC at about 7:00 the next morning to head back to Twee Rivieren for our final night in the park. Not a lot to see again that morning and I made the mistake of missing the spot where we’d previously seen the owls. Pippa had wanted a final look so I wasn’t a very popular guy when we realized too late that we’d passed them. I was stressing about the car again and preoccupied with what lay in store for us on our way back to Cape Town the next day. A pity that the stress once again impacted on our final day in the park. Oh well…the probable missed opportunities of the day just means we’ll have to go back and try again!
We went out for a drive later that afternoon as far as Rooiputs but again we’d run out of luck for any major sighting. We enjoyed the drive and the fascinating landscape of the Kgalagadi though.
The only photos taken that day were some nice ones that Pippa took of sunset at Twee Rivieren. I didn’t take a single shot the whole day…An indication of my state of mind!
We left Twee Rivieren to start our 1 100km trek home at about 7:30 the next morning. Any hope of the car recovering once on the open road was short lived. It was clear that we’d have to stop in Upington and take the car to the Land Rover agents to have it repaired. It was Sunday though so we’d have to sleep over and take it in the next morning. We arrived in Upington at about 1:00pm…just over 5 hours to do 250km. It was hard trying to convince the traffic behind us that I was crawling up hills to study the salt pans!
We were lucky to find accessible accommodation at the Blue Rain Guesthouse very quickly. Unfortunately there were no picturesque views to distract us so we went for a drive later in the afternoon with the intention of enjoying a sunset cruise on the Orange River. When we got to the entrance of the cruise operator there was a very steep slope to get down to the river and parking area. Do we take the risk of the car not being able to get up the hill after the cruise? Nope…way too embarrassing if that were to happen so off we went back to the guesthouse for a snacky meal and an early night!
We were at the Land Rover workshop at 8:00 the next morning. It was a busy morning for them but they said they’d look at our car as soon as possible.
A couple of hours later a mechanic took our car in for a diagnostic check then took it off for a test drive. He got back, opened the bonnet, took off the engine cover, went off to fetch some tools and 10 minutes later we were told the car was fixed and ready to go! The turbo inlet pipe had come loose. It would seem that it hadn’t been connected properly when the sub assembly was fitted a couple of weeks earlier. My initial sense of relief was soon overtaken by frustration…Why hadn’t I asked one of the technical staff at Twee Rivieren to have a look at the engine for us before going up to Kieliekrankie and KTC? Live and learn!!
We left Upington at 11:30 and arrived back home in Cape Town at 8:00 that evening. Amazing how much better the car went with a functioning turbo!
I now understand why so many people are regulars to Kgalagadi. In spite of the car issues and the resulting stress and frustration we both loved it up there. We had some great sightings and we both enjoyed the diversity of landscape in the different areas. We always felt that there was the opportunity of something exciting about to be revealed around every corner. The accommodation was also very good…Especially at Kieliekrankie and KTC. We’ll be back! 🙂
Accommodation summary here.
Kgalagadi Gallery for full screen resolution of photos here.