Strictly speaking, the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park doesn’t fall into East Africa. In fact, Google maps informs me it is a mere 4 737km drive between the Mara and the Kgalagadi and it would take me 66 hours to get there. Wouldn’t that be an adventure? But this is an African travel blog after all so why not include the Kgalagadi?
It was 25 years ago that I last visited this beautiful corner of South Africa when &Beyond was tasked with managing the newly built Tswalu Game Lodge. I remember red sand, rolling dunes, golden grass and six desert black rhinos. Imagine my great joy when I was invited to come and stay at Tswalu Kalahari and rediscover this extraordinary semi-arid sandy savanna that straddles three countries: South Africa, Namibia and Botswana.
A dear friend from New York was coming to stay and suggested we do a road trip. Perfect, I thought and got the planning underway. I decided not to share any details of our journey but just bundle him in my car and head northwest for 700km. And what discoveries we made: the old synagogue in Vryberg; a memorial to the Boer women and children who were incarcerated in a concentration camp in the same town (many of whom perished); and in Kuruman the first mission station of the London Missionary Society founded by Robert Moffat in 1821. Here we stood in the same pulpit where David Livingstone preached in 1841. Who would have thought?
Keeping our final destination a tight secret, we spent two nights in the quirky but delightful Vanzylsrus Hotel near the Namibian border. We drank ice-cold beers, ate sheep’s tails, and lazed away the afternoon under a pepper tree at the pool. Nothing much happens here. It’s that kind of town with everyone coming, going, or passing through but not lingering for too long.
And back to Tswalu I finally went after all these years. Standing with arms open wide to welcome us was Nigel Pace, formerly of The Cape Grace and now charming host of this magnificent lodge. Yes, the sand is still a burning orangey-red, and the dunes still roll endlessly to the west and the golden grass still waves gently in the wind. The beauty of this wilderness takes your breath away — it’s nothing quite like anywhere else. And then you throw into the mix a warm and gracious staff, oh-so comfy suites and so many stars they block out the sky. Every time you turn a corner there is another kokerboom, or quiver tree, waiting to be photographed. I took the best ones.
Don’t be fooled that wildlife viewing offers slim pickings around these parts. One surprise after the next: Hartmann’s mountain zebra is where Laikipia and the Lowveld collide with Grévy’s upper stripes and Burchell’s lower ones (check the links if you don’t believe me); those original six black rhinos sure have been busy multiplying; a handsome brown hyena with its fluffy ruff; bat-eared fox, porcupine, and black-maned lions. Don’t get me started on the meerkats. The Mara certainly could do with a couple of colonies of these enchanting creatures. And if all this is not enough, imagine around every bend and over every dune more sable, roan, eland, kudu and oryx than you can shake a stick at?
And then there is JAN. Or properly put Klein JAN. A Michelin-star chef tucked away in the sand dunes? A tiny cottage? A water tank that turns magically into a grand stairwell that leads to a long pantry piled high with regional delights (dates, kumquats, Namibian truffles, bottle peaches, prickly pears and more) which leads into the wine cellar which leads into the cheese room which leads into the dining room which overlooks the dunes. A food journey surely quite like no other in the world. And the food. Oh, the food. One delicious, exquisite, surprising dish after the next.
Don’t dally. Go as fast as your feet can take you. You will be so glad you did.
Filed under: Safari Style
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