The Kalahari Desert spans more than 900 000 square kilometres over Botswana, South Africa and Namibia. It is one of the most exceptional self-drive destinations on the continent, offering the visitor as much time and space as could be desired.
It is considered a semi-desert meaning that it does not have year-round aridity, and as such is home to a great variety of wildlife. The scenery takes one from sand dunes to salt pans and shimmering grasslands. Here are some of the highlights of a Kalahari holiday:
1. The sunsets
The Kalahari, in all its vastness, has a variety of horizons; some broken by with camelthorn trees, others flawlessly flat. As the sun dips into these horizons it spills a palate of warm colours into the sky. Sunsets are gorgeous in the Kalahari Desert, and each evening visitors are treated to nature’s vivid display.
2. The birds of prey
If you’re a birder, then the Central Kalahari Game Reserve is the place to be. It has a reputation for being one of the best destinations for raptor-spotting. This is where one will be totally excused for stopping the vehicle to ogle each and every feathered fowl.
Goshawks nest on top of giant sociable weaver nests, tawny eagles perch on road signs while bateleurs, yellow-billed kites, pygmy falcons and white-backed vultures are regularly seen in the park. An array of birds sprinkle treetops and watering holes with colour, filling birders’ hearts with joy at every turn.
3. The wide, open spaces
The Central Kalahari competes with Selous Game Reserve for the title of the largest game reserve in the world, spanning an extravagant 52 000 square kilometres, most of which is inaccessible to tourists. In some of the areas open to the public, self-drivers will find themselves confronted by little more than fossilised river beds, scaly-surfaces barren of vegetative life.
North of the Central Kalahari, the salt pans of the Makgadikgadi are the crystallised remains of what used to be a lake the size of Switzerland and now exist as a striking tract of salty clay. The largest singular pan stretches for almost 5 000 square kilometres. One can perceive the curve of Earth on it’s flat, never-ending horizon.
4. The black-maned lions
Cheetahs, leopards, African wildcats, caracals, and small-spotted cats find their home in the Central Kalahari. Many of them are endangered and conservation efforts exist to protect them.
In the desert, their survival is also threatened by the reigning power of the Kalahari black-maned lion. The austerity of the desert, the dead heat and drought make survival a challenge for many of the animals that reside here. Lions are not exempt from these trials and as a result have become ultra-resilient to the harsh conditions of the desert. They have internal cooling mechanisms, physiques designed for endurance and they can go without water for weeks. They are often spotted lying on their backs in the shade, airing the sweat glands under their feet to keep their body temperature low. Kalahari lions are opportunistic, unfussy killers, and they are not opposed to cannibalism when their survival depends on it.
5. The green season
What we know as a desert is turned wholly on its head in December, as cracked facades and shade-less sand dunes give way to reveal the sweet greenery brought about by the rains. Water-less winters parade their own unembellished beauty but once the rain comes tumbling from the sky so enter the zebra, wildebeest and springbok – all moving in from the Okavango Delta. Heavily pregnant, the ungulates give birth to thousands of young, littering the newly green Kalahari Desert with unsteady foals and calves. As nature would have it this precious platter is all too irresistible for the desert’s predators, and so the green season’s wildlife spectacular commences.
6. The stargazing
Last on the list, but certainly not last to love, is the stargazing in the Kalahari. One could imagine that the lack of polluting activity on the ground would keep the atmosphere clear enough to watch the night twinkle into life. With or without equipment, travellers can marvel at the lustre of a full moon and recline under a deep, dark sky, interpreting the network of stars that gaze back down at Earth.
Images Copyright: © Rory Bruins