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Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park/South Africa

Introducing Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

A long, hot road leads between crimson dunes from Upington to the magical Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, one of the world’s last great, unspoilt ecosystems. Once you step foot inside Africa’s first transfrontier park, tucked away alongside Namibia in the Northern Cape and southwest Botswana, you’ll soon see why the journey was well worth the effort.

The Kgalagadi is a wild land of harsh extremes and frequent droughts, where shifting red and white sands meet thorn trees and dry riverbeds. Yet despite the desolate landscape, it’s teeming with wildlife. From prides of black-maned lion to packs of howling spotted hyenas, there are some 1775 predators here, including around 200 cheetahs, 450 lions and 150 leopards. It’s one of the best places in the world to spot big cats, especially cheetahs. Add in those giant, orange-ball sunsets and the black-velvet night skies studded with twinkling stars, and you’ll feel like you’ve entered the Africa of storybooks.

Covering 37,991 sq km (of which 9591 sq km lie in South Africa), Kgalagadi is one of Africa’s largest protected wilderness areas. Antelopes, forced to travel great distances in times of drought to reach water and food, migrate across the unfenced expanses.

The semi-arid countryside (with around 250mm of rainfall a year) is richer than it appears, and supports large populations of birds, reptiles, rodents, small mammals and antelopes. These in turn support the large population of predators. Most of the animals are remarkably tolerant of vehicles, allowing you to get extraordinarily close.

The landscape is hauntingly beautiful. Between the Nossob and Auob Rivers (usually dry), the Kalahari dunes are characteristically red due to iron oxide. Elsewhere, the sand varies from pink and yellowish to grey; following the rains, shimmering pioneer grasses give the land a green tint.

The best time to visit is winter (May to August), when the weather is coolest (below freezing at night) and the animals are drawn to the bores along the dry river beds. Temperatures climb in September and October, but conditions remain dry. November to April is the wet season; if it does rain, many animals scatter to fresh pastures across the plains, making them harder to spot. However, the extreme heat at the height of summer, with temperatures passing 40°C in the shade early in the year, forces many animals to spend the days wallowing in the waterholes, making spotting easier. Despite the high summer temperatures, accommodation in the park fills up during the early-December-to-mid-January school holidays.