If you’re into rugged holidays like taking on the Otter Trail then the two-night, guided (for obvious reasons as meeting a lion on the path might not be everyone’s idea of ‘fun’) !Xerry wilderness trail in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park will no doubt appeal.
We’re talking real ‘back to nature’ stuff here with open-air toilets, only a thorn-bush fence between you and those predators at night, and a traipse through the red sands of the Kalahari that will leave you both invigorated and tired, but overwhelmed by the magic of the place…
You will also need to be aware that getting there might not be as easy as driving to doer and gone through the Northern Cape until you cannot travel anymore. The road from Askham to the southern gate of Twee Rivieren is said to have improved somewhat, but it’s still pretty torrid to drive.
You’ll need not only your wits about you, and a spare tyre or two as insurance, but most definitely an off-road vehicle (this is not the realm of sedans) so take seriously the brochures that say something along the lines of: please note that the roads in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park are not sedan-friendly – they’re not over-exaggerating – it can take as long as three hours to negotiate the 60 kilometre section of road before you reach the gate.
Known as the !Xerry Wilderness Trail, the trail heads into a region of the Kgalagadi Park where little has changed since the days of our forefathers – so this describes real solitude, freedom and wilderness (not just the sort advertised in every game farm brochure between home and the Kruger National Park).
Actually, it’s not as ‘wild’ as it sounds. You’ll find yourself at a base camp of sorts where you will spend two nights, and the days include an early morning and late afternoon walk. But, it is in the middle of nowhere. And you are in the heart of the wilderness. There is the distinct possibility of seeing creatures both great and small. And you will be very much aware of your pale, insignificance in the larger scale of things.
Things in the park have changed though. Now the main roads within are tarred the park is no longer the terrain only of those who are prepared to rough it. Larger tour groups are making their way here and the odd traffic jam is no longer an experience relegated to the city you’ve just left behind.
That said, it is still one of the most incredible experiences possible – the commune with the desert. Dry river beds of the Nossob and Auob Rivers, electric thunderstorms, 38 000km² worth of park, three quarters of which lies in Botswana, effortless sand dunes, sightings of the black-maned Kalahari lion, and nights punctuated by the call of the black-backed jackal make a trip here more than worth the effort.
We begin our two-day !Xerry Wilderness Trail with some trepidation. It’s become a standing joke in our household that I sadly lack the pre-requisites of what it is to be ‘gung-ho’. I like my creature comforts. None-the-less, I toss my regard for freshly combed hair and toilets that effortlessly flush aside, intent on making this trail through dune veld, 12 kilometres or so west of Nossob, worth every minute.
Our guide doesn’t fool around when it comes to just how he expects us to behave whilst we’re under his supervision. His instruction to walk in a single line, not in groups is one I’ve not heard since school and I find myself wrestling with either actively rebelling or realising that there is wisdom inherent in his instruction and that he just might know what he’s talking about.
Despite my obvious anxiety, the late afternoon walk is a gentle one. And the intention is not to meet face-to-face with a lion, but to re-negotiate our relationship with nature. We learn instead about whistling rats, squirrels, mice that live in trees, suricates (meerkat) and other little creatures like the buck spoor spider, called this because it looks remarkably like the droppings of a springbok.
Pretty shrikes and perfect little finches rent the air with their calls, and the rather awkward kori bustard, some steenbok and blue wildebeest are about as big as the game is going to get, whilst out and about. But the alchemy of the Kalahari is in its sand dunes and effortless skyline. Try sitting on the top of a dune with the sun going down and you’ll find yourself blown away. There is little to beat the experience and my heart is soaring.
That is until I brave the toilet back at base camp. It’s little more than a long drop, and it doesn’t have a roof. And then there is the low-lying fence that might give you an incredible view out over the Kalahari whilst you sit doing your thing, but doesn’t exactly allow you the feeling of safety or privacy. If this is as bad as its gets though, then !Xerry is a piece of cake.
The !Xerry Wilderness Trail takes place only in the cooler months between April and the end of October. Kgalagadi is a place of extremes and summer can be unbelievably hot, whilst the nights in winter plunge below freezing. The best time to visit is between February and the end of April or in September/October.
- the isolation and seclusion does something for the soul
- the wild life photography opportunities, because of the concentration of animals in the dry river beds, are second to none
- if you are even remotely interested in birds of prey then this is a haven
- the incredible desert scenery is a unique experience, and a chance to see the unusual – bat-eared fox, meercats, honey badgers, and pangolins
- and the never-ending yearn to see the black-maned lion
Contact SANParks on Telephone:+27 (0)54 561-2050