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Africa Geographic Travel

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The Botswana side of Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is mostly undeveloped, and certainly wilder from a visitor point of view. The three main camps on the South African side – Twee Rivieren, Nossob and Mata Mata – are all fenced, while the so-called wildernesss camps on the South African side are indeed unfenced, all the camps have chalets with plenty of comforts (Fresh water! Beds! Kitchens! Fridges!).

Sunrise, Kgalagadi style, at Mpayathutlwa pan in Mabuasehube.

The Botswana campsites are all very basic, without any facilities to speak of (except for a wooden shelter, long-drop toilet and maybe a tap or shower – if it’s working). So you must have a 4×4 that is fully-equipped so you can be totally self-sufficient.

I ventured east from Nossob Camp on the South African side into the huge Mabuasehube Game Reserve, which makes up the eastern part of the Transfrontier Park.

The jeep track that links the South African side with Mabuasehube through the dunes is about 170kms, which takes about 7 hours to drive if you go about 25kms per hour, which is a reasonable speed on this terrain. Remember to deflate your tyres to about 1 bar.

Once you’re in the eastern part of Mabua, you encounter a series of huge pans, natural depressions within the dunes that sometimes fill with water during exceptionally heavy rains. The animals can congregate here, licking the salt and feeding on fresh grass.

And the lions are apparently plentiful too. At the Mpayathutlwa pan section ranger Kgosietsile Tau from Botswana Parks told me that there is a resident pride of 12 lions which sometimes spend their days lying in the shade of the camp’s camel thorn trees.

Driving into Mabua is a great experience. You really do feel like you’ve got the whole place to yourself, especially in summer. There are no gates or fences to pass through and there are almost no signs or directions (except for a few beacons, so remember to take a GPS and Tracks4Africa software). You probably won’t encounter another vehicle for several hours, or even several days, if you’re lucky.

As much as I like to camp alone in the bush sometimes (is there any wilder experience?), it was great to bump into the Daley family, who had driven up from the bottom of Africa to set up camp at Mpayathutlwa Pan, one of the best campsites – along with the camp at Mabuasehube Pan itself.

The Daleys fed me cold beers and good food, and told me how they had visited Mabua several times before, and on all occasions had been surrounded by the huge pride of resident lions.

This time, however, the lions were nowhere to be seen. Nevertheless, for two nights we enjoyed the simple, profound experience of camping in the middle of the Kalahari, watching the campfire embers glow under the Milky Way, all the while listening to the sounds of the bush.

The views across the pans are very beautiful, and quite unique for the south-west part of the Kgalagadi, and I was surprised that there wasn’t more antelope especially because there had been quite a bit of rain in the area (one night, the lightning from the thunderstorms pounded the horizon all around us and that evening it drizzled for about six hours).

It’s funny how, even without seeing much wildlife, time seems to pass very quickly in the Kgalagadi. Despite the lack of large animals while I was in Mabua, there was so much else to appreciate, that I didn’t wish to be anywhere else. Although, I do appreciate a cold shower, a colder beer, a fresh plate of food and my rooftop tent!

The modern world definitely has its advantages, but I think the pendulum needs to swing back towards simplicity and wildness a whole lot more. It’s in a place like Mabua, and the rest of Kgalagadi, that it becomes very clear how addicted we are to our modern lifestyles of urban living and consumption, at the major expense of our own relationships (with ourselves and others) and ultimately our contentment. And this awareness, this re-calibration of our priorities, is one of many reasons why we need wilderness areas as an antidote to our addiction.

To the lions of Mabuasehube… I’ll be back some day soon to keep you company and to the kindred spirits of the bush; the Daley family – Simon, Claire, Mike, Robert and Kim – thanks for everything, especially those ice-cold G&Ts.

Sunset in Mabua.
The campsite at Mpayathutlwa pan.
Camping ith the Daley family at Mpayathuthlwa pan.
I came across this Kori bustard close to the road in Mabua, it was very relaxed!
This is Mabuasehube pan itself… and one lonely Wildebeest!
Ground squirrel.
The basic A-frame shelters on the Bostwana side of Kgalagadi. This one is at Mabuasehube pan.
Looking out over Mabuasehube pan.
Tsama melon, the wonder fruit of the Kgalagadi.
Anyone know which type of beetle this is?
The entrance gate at Mabuasehube if you’re coming from the Botswana side.
My campsite at Matopi, on the access route from the South African side.
Typical sandy tracks on the access route. Remember to deflate your tyres to 1 bar, and you’ll be fine.

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Photojournalist Scott Ramsay focuses on exploring the national parks, nature reserves and community conservancies in Southern Africa, taking photographs and interviewing the experts who work in these protected areas. Through his work, he hopes to inspire others to travel to the continent's wild places, which Scott believes are Africa's greatest long term assets. For more, go to or Partners include Ford Ranger, Goodyear, Cape Union Mart, K-Way, EeziAwn, Frontrunner, Hetzner and Globecomm.

Africa Geographic Travel
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