The Central Kalahari Game Reserve
The Central Kalahari Game Reserve Reserve, or CKGR, is one of the few places in Africa, and in the world, that has remained unspoiled and wild; it is also one of the largest natural reserves on the African continent, with an area of 52,800 sq. km.
The CKGR is part of the Kalahari basin, as it is derived from its name, and it is located in the central part of Botswana; it is a very popular reserve among those travelers who are looking for authentic contact with nature and who do not like crowded places.
Most visitors go to the Northern part of the reserve, where the roads are a bit simpler to travel and where more animals are present.
Few, however, venture to the South, where it is crucial to be very experienced in driving on the sand and to be prepared to solve the unforeseen events that may happen to the car; here it is always advisable to travel in multiple cars, so that you can cope with any eventuality.
The recommended time to visit the CKGR is during the dry season, while during the rainy season the tracks become impassable and, in addition to being really experienced in mud driving, you must realize that you can proceed very slowly and often you have to stop and armed with a shovel, to free the vehicle from the mud.
During the dry season, however, in the months from June to October, the roads are generally in good condition, the slopes are usually dry; it still needs a bit of driving skills on the sand, although deflating tires usually avoids many problems, especially in the North of the reserve.
There are several animals in the reserve, in particular those that are not strictly dependent on water, such as the oryxes, but you can also see wildebeests, springboks, giraffes, steenboks, lions, spotted hyenas, wild dogs, black-backed jackals and some rare specimens of elephants; there are also some night mammals such as the bat-eared fox, the aardwolf, the aardvark and the brown hyena.
In the CKGR there are also several species of birds including the chanting goshawks, various species of eagles, bustards and kohraans, francolins, starlings, rollers and many others.
For us it is the first time we venture into this reserve and we cannot wait to go through its tracks.
We arrive at Rakops at about 11.00 am, this morning we left the Planet Baobab, near Gweta, just as the sun rose; the road that led us to Rakops is asphalted, and especially the second part, from Motopi onwards, in good condition; you just have to pay attention to the animals on the road: horses, cows, sheep, goats and some dogs.
We stopped doing some shopping and fueling at Rakops, this is the last place where you can find the necessary to go camping in Central Kalahari; from here we leave the asphalt road and enter a 40 km long dirt road leading us to one of the CKGR entrances.
In all, the entrances to the reserve are four: the Matswere Gate, located in the North-East part of the reserve, this is the most used entrance, and the one from which we enter, and we will also come out; the Southern Gate to the South, the Xade Gate, that is on the West towards Namibia and near Ghanzi, and the new Tsau Gate on the North-West, that is connected to the road that from Ghanzi leads to Maun, the latter being used by both those who, coming out, are heading to Namibia and those going to Maun and coming from the Westernmost part of the CKGR.
We arrive at the Matswere Gate, get off the car and enter the rangers’ office.
It is important to know that you cannot enter the reserve if you do not have a reservation for a camping or one of the few present lodges; we booked for two nights at the Motopi campsite and we already paid in advance the entrance fees, that can also be paid directly at the gate.
We sign the register and ask the ranger for information about the condition of the roads, we are in the dry season and usually the roads are all in good condition, but it is always good to ask, since the situation may change from one year to another based on several factors .
They tell us that the streets in the North of the park are all in good condition, pointing us on a map the puddles where there is still water, despite the rains being over since months; it is important to know where water is, since here it is more likely to spot the animals that are going there to drink.
The road to reach the Motopi Campsite is long, and in the reserve you cannot exceed 40 km/h, speed that you would not be able to exceed even wanting.
We travel the first 40km, leading us from the entrance to where the crossroad with three other roads is located: the road to the left leads to the Deception Valley, the road to the right leads to the Leopard Pan and then to the Passarge Valley, while the central road cuts this reserve area straight and leads to the pond of Passarge.
We make a quick calculations of the kilometers and the speed and we decide to take this last road; it is not very panoramic, but in return it saves us a lot of time, our fear is to get in the dark at the campsite.
In fact, after 6.30 pm, that coincides with sunset, you can no longer circulate within the reserve, for reasons of safety, since it is difficult to see the animals in the dark, that could suddenly cross the road; also usually in all national parks and reserves of Botswana and other African countries it is forbidden to circulate in the dark to prevent poachers taking advantage of the darkness to kill the animals.
Most of this track runs through tall bushes of acacia and our off-road struggles to pass in between, but this does not prevent us from seeing some antelopes and birds that are on the ground like francolins and bustards or birds of prey that are perched on the branches of trees and bushes.
We take a few hours to get to the Passarge waterhole and when we arrive the sun is already coming down to the horizon, there are still 50 km to our campsite; we enjoy a wonderful sunset as we follow the Tracks4Africa directions that lead us to our Motopi Campsite, where we arrive shortly after 6.30 pm.
We are at Motopi Campsite 1 and we should be alone, but when we get there we find an off-road trailer; they are South African from Pretoria, they have booked at Motopi 3 but claim they did not find the way to get there and so they are here.
There is enough room for everyone and we like to have company; they are super-equipped and have built a sort of fort with the car, the trailer and a fence that they erected all around; it looks like an impregnable fortress.
They've already turned on the fire, so we take our chairs and put them in the heat, and we talk a bit with them.
They tell us they come always to Botswana because its nature is wilder and more authentic than the South African and there are fewer people; in the meanwhile, I wonder what they would think if they came to visit us in Europe, they would surely re-evaluate South Africa in many ways.
We remain there a bit around the fire and exchange travel experiences, this is one of the most beautiful moments when you are in these places: the warmth of the fire, the starry sky, a drink and the travel stories in the nature; I cannot think of anything better.
The next morning we woke up early before dawn; we get ready quickly and then we drink a hot coffee as the sky begins to light up.
We leave while the sun rises, the sky is painted in warm colors that seem to turn on the grass, dried and yellow because of the absence of rain; this light is spectacular.
After a few hundred meters from our pitch we see some lions, we first see a male and a female who are mating right on the track; we stop immediately, turn off the engine and we stand there silently watching them.
Shortly thereafter, on the opposite side of the road, we see a movement between the tall grass and we spot two puppies playing under the watchful look of an adult lioness that, at some point, gets up and begins to walk and slips through the bushes, followed immediately by the two puppies and another lioness.
It is not easy to get sightings in the Central Kalahari, often the vegetation is dense, even during the dry season, we were very lucky.
We inevitably think that these lions were not far from our camping pitch and that they are the same we have heard roaring in the night; it's always good to remember that prudence is never too much when you are in wild places like the CKGR.
We continue our exploration of the reserve and head towards the Passarge waterhole; this is a good point of observation and so we go there in a corner waiting for some animal to go to the puddle of water.
We see some gemsboks walking a little far away, these animals are present somewhere in the reserve, they are not strictly dependent on water and can withstand high temperatures, so they are able to survive in arid and desert places.
On the pond's edge there are helmeted guineafowls, some sandgrouses and crowned lapwings.
Shortly afterwards we see some squirrels that peck off their lair, they must pay close attention because there are many birds of prey in the reserve; to testify of this shortly afterwards comes a dark chanting goshawk that hangs first on the edge of the puddle and then enters the water, then flies away, we shoot several photographs with a beautiful light.
We also notice a few bunches of springboks and a herd of wildebeests.
When we get to the intersection of the two roads, the one that comes from Motopi and the one that leads to the Passarge Valley, we find two vehicles motionless right near the intersection; initially we think they may need help, but instead they are just talking and laughing, and as soon as they see us they ask where we come from.
We have a word and then they say "do you want a coffee?", we think "why not"; we exit our car, paying attention that there are no potentially dangerous animals nearby.
They in the meanwhile take the gas cylinder and boil water to make coffee, we take a biscuit package to share while they start to open their bags and pull out different types of biltong, almost racing to offer it to us.
We stay there a bit with them to chat, they are too sympathetic and they go after each other; they come from South Africa, Lesotho and Botswana and are curious about us and our journey.
When we get back in the car, we enter the track that runs through the Passarge Valley; the scenery here is spectacular, the spaces are a bit more open and the animals are easier to see; we see several Kori bustards, the heaviest bird in the world that can fly, usually seen walking in the grass looking for food.
We also note some secretary birds that walk with their martial step in search of prey, as well as various species of antelopes that, due to the high temperatures of the central part of the day, are ripped under the branches of acacia bushes in search for a little shadow.
At one point, with our great surprise, we see a bat-eared fox, we are surprised because this is a twilight and nocturnal animal, so it's not common to see it around during the day; shortly after, it snaps into its burrow under a bush, it is beautiful, it is one of my favorite animals.
We also see several species of birds, although the dry season is not the best time for bird watching; usually the best season is that of rains where there are also the birds migrating here from the Northern hemisphere, escaping from the cold.
We arrive at the Leopard Pan, here we often see large swarms of oryxes, from here we take the track to the Sunday pool, at the gate they told us that there is still water and therefore potentially a good place for sightings.
We arrive but there are no animals, we wait a while but no one comes; you cannot predict if and when the animals will appear.
The sun begins to descend to the horizon and the sky starts to shine with warm colors; what a show.
In theory we have a reservation at the Motopi campsite tonight, but the distances are too long and we could not have visited this part of the reserve so well and go back in time so we decided to find a campsite in this part of the CKGR; chatting with the South Africans we met, they told us that many travelers do so, stopping where they prefer, despite having a different booking.
We explore the surroundings and find a campsite in a wonderful location: it has a view on the Deception Valley and from here you can see the sun coming down at the horizon; we decide to stop here.
It is indescribable the beauty of this place and it's all for us.
We light the fire and place the table with the chairs and, while the sun sets, we drink a spritz: what a wonder.
In the distance, we see some leverets looking at us curious, maybe they are trying to figure out whether we are a danger to them or simply they are just curious.
When the darkness comes we decide not to go out to dine, but we prefer to get inside our car; if we lift the bed in practice we have a kind of sitting room and we decide to dine there, the reason is simple, it is true that we have the torches to see if some animal is approaching but why to risk nasty surprises? It is starting to be cold and so it is better to stay inside.
There is an incredible starry night, the only light is that of the moon, that has just passed the first quarter; from the windows of our tent we look at the sky and constellations, that seem so close to be able to touch them.
We also look with the torch in the bush, almost hoping to see some animal approaching our car, but there is no one, even the leverets went away with the darkness and so we decide to sleep.
The next morning we get up as the sun rises; when we get out of our car we see several footprints impressed in the sand, last night there was none; in the night while we slept, we had visits!
This morning we have breakfast enjoying the spectacular view of the Deception Valley illuminated by the sunlight rising and then we leave; we go down to see if there is someone at the Sunday waterhole, but today, apart from some birds, there is no one.
From here we go back to the Leopard Pan where we see many herbivores, mostly oryxes, there are some very large flocks although they are a bit distant from us.
From here we continue our exploration to the South and to the Deception Valley and we see several giraffes walking with their grace and prettiness, some are busy eating, we have not yet seen them here in the CKGR and we are happy; here the spaces are open and you can see them in the distance.
We arrive to the main junction and we take the road leading to the Gate Matswere, if it was for us we would still be a bit longer in the reserve, but unfortunately we have to exit the gate by 11.00 am, this is the reserve regulation regardless of the time you entered.
It takes almost two hours from here to get to the gate and we do not want to get late, we do not want to get some fine.
We arrive at the Matswere Gate at 11.00 am, enter the rangers’ office, sign the exit log and place the pin on the sighting board at Motopi, where yesterday we saw the lions; someone today saw the wild dogs not far from this gate, wow, we would like to go back looking for them, but we cannot, we have to get out.
Today we are heading to Maun, we have a long way to go; so we leave, letting the Central Kalahari Reserve behind us.
We will definitely return, landscapes and the sense of freedom just won us, and the fact that it is more difficult to find animals makes the sightings even more exciting; next time we will venture a little further South to discover new places and scenarios.
Central Kalahari Game Reserve - Photo Credits: Romina Facchi