Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
Lonely Planet review
It’s a long, hot jostle down dusty crimson roads to reach magical Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, one of the world’s last great, unspoilt ecosystems. But once you step foot inside Africa’s first multinational park, tucked away between Botswana and Namibia in the country’s extreme north, you’ll understand why journeying to the end of the earth is 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 more than 1100 predators here, including around 200 cheetahs, 450 lions and 150 leopards. Add in those giant orange-ball sunsets the continent is famous for, and black-velvet skies studded with millions of twinkling stars, and you’ll feel like you’ve entered the Africa of storybooks.
Proclaimed a national park in April 1999, Kgalagadi is the result of a merger between the former Kalahari-Gemsbok National Park in South Africa and the Mabuasehube-Gemsbok National Park in Botswana.
The accessible section of the park lies in the triangular segment of South African territory between Namibia and Botswana. This region covers 9591 sq km. The protected area continues on the Botswana side of the border (there are no fences) for a further 28,400 sq km. South Africa’s side of the park was proclaimed in 1931 and Botswana’s in 1938. Kgalagadi is one of the largest protected wilderness areas in Africa, allowing the unhindered migration of antelopes, which are forced to travel great distances in times of drought to reach water and food.
Although the countryside is described as semidesert (with around 200mm of rainfall a year) it is richer than it appears and supports large populations of birds, reptiles, rodents, small mammals and antelopes. These in turn support a large population of predators. Most of the animals are remarkably tolerant of vehicles. This allows you to get extraordinarily close to animals that are otherwise wild – it’s as if you are invisible.
The landscape is hauntingly beautiful – at times it feels you’ve reached the ends of the earth. The Nossob and Auob Rivers (usually dry) run through the park and meet each other a few kilometres north of the entrance at Twee Rivieren rest camp. Between the two rivers, the Kalahari dunes are characteristically red due to iron oxide. In other areas the sand varies from pink and yellowish to grey.