The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is a relatively new park, and as I mentioned earlier, it is the first transfrontier park in Southern Africa.
The park is a combination of the old Kalahari Gemsbok National Park of South Africa and the old Gemsbok National Park of Botswana. Setting up the park was a commendable effort (that surely involved lots of patience, sacrifices and good neighbourliness) by both South Africa and Botswana, and their respective conservation bodies. This is part of the reason why it is known as a peace park.
Time of year to visit
We visited the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in February 2005 and this is a nice time to visit, but it also has some drawbacks. It is a time preferred by photographers for two reasons. Firstly, the chance of getting some thunderstorms is still good and this makes for very dramatic pictures. This year the rains were particularly late and there were some very heavy storms during our visit. Secondly, it is so hot at this time of the year, that the general public tends to stay away. This leads to more opportunities and fewer disturbances for photographers.
That brings us to the main drawback of a February visit, or indeed any summer visit. The maximum temperature while we were in the park was a staggering 46 degrees Celsius (115 degrees Fahrenheit) while the minimum was as high as 23 degrees Celsius (73 degrees Fahrenheit). Yes, it was VERY hot!
However, I suspect that game viewing inside the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park will be decent all year round. The changing landscapes also offer different opportunities at different times of the year. The widely known red dusty photographs of Springbok or Blue Wildebeest taken in the Kalahari are taken in windy September and October after the cold dry season.
One caution though! We have heard from friends who have been visiting the park for over 27 years, that it gets extremely cold in winter (not nice for camping). They said it was not uncommon to experience temperatures as low as -8 degrees Celsius (18 degrees Fahrenheit) in the winter months of July and August. However. the day temperatures stay reasonable throughout the year.
Accommodation is available in the form of little chalets or as camping. We always prefer camping, since we are already so nicely set up for this after a few years of regular camping. However, the chalets looked like decent accommodation as well. Most foreigners prefer to stay in chalets.
The big advantage of camping in any of the South African National Parks is the low cost. We paid a mere 595 South African Rands for seven nights. This is almost exactly $100 at current exchange rates. That’s nothing for a week in such a prime photographic destination!
The chalets would have worked out to 2 800 South African Rands ($470) for seven nights.
A four-wheel drive off-road vehicle is not a prerequisite for driving in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. If you visit from another country, I recommend you rent one of these rather than a small sedan car. If you are resident in Southern Africa, use your four-wheel drive vehicle if you are lucky enough to own one. The roads are pretty bad, “sinkplaat” roads.
For photography, the high four-wheel drive vehicles also offer the advantage of a higher vantage point. This enables you to see more, especially if the grass is high.
The “sinkplaat” condition in and around the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park causes everything in the car to vibrate badly, even at modest speeds. It is as if the road consists of continuous mini speed bumps. This condition is aggravated by driving two-wheel drive cars and by having too high tyre pressures. It is therefore recommended to switch to four-wheel drive if possible and to deflate tyres to 1.6 bar as you enter the park. When you leave, remember to inflate your tyres again before leaving.
How long to visit
We were there for a week only, and this is a very short time in which to try and observe all the Kalahari has to offer. However, we were lucky in terms of sightings.
“The Kalahari only reveals itself to those who seek with a true heart” – Unknown.
We had very special lion sightings, one being a whole family feeding off an Oryx kill at first light one morning (for pictures, see Kalahari Carnivores). I did not see Cheetahs or Leopards in my time in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, but felt that if I had another two weeks to “seek with a true heart”, I would have been unlucky to still not have seen the Cheetahs at least.
Maybe visiting such a special place and wanting to see everything in one week is not to “seek with a true heart” . Our next visit will be two or three weeks.
You have to put in a lot of hard driving for good sightings and this is not always nice. Spending four hours in your car and not seeing anything special can be frustrating to say the least! However, it is patience that separates mediocre photographers from special ones. On some days, the Kalahari will definitely help turn you into a patient photographer.
If you are interested in the region, and would like to learn more about its wildlife, while at the same time reading a very entertaining story, I can recommend Cry of the Kalahari by Mark and Delia Owens.
This book does not give detailed information on the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.