Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman gave as always an outstanding performance in the 2007 blockbuster The Bucket List, but I loathe the phrase. It is so cliché, overused, and corny, especially when people speak about their travel dreams. I have to admit however that the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park was top of my bucket list for a number of years and finally in Spring this year, I made my way to this intriguing arid landscape of red dunes, dry river beds, and camel thorn trees.


The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is Africa’s first officially declared international conservation area that straddles the border of South Africa and Botswana. In 1999, South Africa’s Kalahari Gemsbok National Park and Botwana’s Gemsbok National Park were unified through an international treaty. Both parks already had a long conservation history and the vast area of about 38,000 km² (nearly the size of the Netherlands) is now managed as one large protected wilderness area.

Kgalagadi, meaning salt pan or ‘ thirstland’ in San language, is a phenomenal semi-desert of grass covered dune systems that come alive after the first rains. The tiny 150-350 mm annual rainfall generally occurs in dramatic storms between November and April and is just enough to keep this parched region alive with a wide range of annual and perennial plants. The temperatures in this tough environment are also pretty extreme, reaching an icy -11oC on a cold winter’s nights to a boiling ground surface temperature of 70oC in summer.


Both plants and animals alike need to be able to survive not only the long dry spells, but also be protected from or avoid the extreme heat and cold on a daily basis. It is no wonder that plants and wildlife surviving in these hash conditions are highly adapted and specialised. For example, the iconic Oryx (gemsbok) can raise its body temperature to exceed the air temperature allowing it to lose heat, while the blood rich lining of the nasal passage cools the oxygenated blood before reaching sensitive organs, like the brain.


The Kgalagadi is one of the last remaining wilderness areas where you can witness large scale migratory movements of herbivores, such as blue wildebeest, springbok, eland and red hartebeest, while large predators, such as cheetah, leopard, brown and spotted hyena, and the black-maned lion, lie in ambush. A daily live-show of the survival of the fittest.


The San people, nomadic hunter – gatherers, have been part of this unforgiving environment for probably about 200,000 years and many still live a traditional lifestyle across the Kalahari region. In 2002, their history and heritage in the Kgalagadi was acknowledged, when the ‡Khomani San and Mier communities reached a land settlement agreement with the government of South Africa and South African National Parks (SANParks) and resulted in the construction of !Xaus Lodge.



To me the Kgalagadi with its breath-taking, never-ending landscapes and big skies is intoxicating and provocative. No cell phone reception and internet, no shops, no distraction from radio and TV, basically no interruption or disturbance from any modern technology, intensifies your senses. It allows you to focus better and truly hear, see and smell nature and its powerful silence. To treasure whatever the day brings. To respect and embrace the iconic and less obvious, the big and small, the attractive and downright ugly. It brings you back to basics, appreciating what life is really about and what is genuinely important.


This blog was originally written by Louise de Waal for The Good Holiday.

All photos © Louise de Waal

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