A long, hot road leads between crimson dunes from Upington to Africa’s first transfrontier park, one of the world’s last great, unspoilt ecosystems. Once you enter the magical 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 lions to packs of howling spotted hyenas, there are some 1775 predators here. It’s one of the best places in the world to spot big cats, especially cheetahs. Add in giant, orange-ball sunsets and black-velvet night skies studded with twinkling stars, and you’ll feel like you’ve entered the Africa of storybooks.

We found the section between Urikaruus and Mata-Mata to be particularly good for predator sightings, while the east–west routes linking the two rivers are rich in scenery and birdlife. The semi-arid countryside also supports large populations of reptiles, rodents, small mammals and antelopes. 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.