The Kalahari is a vast, arid wilderness that covers much of southern Africa, stretching from Namibia in the west to Botswana in the east and South Africa to the south. It covers a staggering 900,000km2 – an area roughly the size of Venezuela! Most of Botswana’s landscape is part of the Kalahari ecosystem and even the name ’Kalahari’ itself is derived from the Tswana language, meaning ‘great thirst’. Ironic then that I am writing about water! For much of the year, this barren place is dusty and void of much vegetation, yet for a few precious months, usually between December and April, the Kalahari bursts into life.
The summer rains mean long lush grass suddenly sprouts from the rather sad looking ground and attracts plains game (such as springbok, oryx, zebra, hartebeest) from far and wide. The antelope take the extra food as an opportunity to give birth, and with plenty of round-bellied lions lounging around, it is fair to say the desert’s predators make the most of this! If you like your birds, then prepare to be amazed. Migrants from Europe, Asia and even other parts of Africa swarm to Botswana at this time and the viewing is sensational.
Even having lived in Botswana, I had never been to the Kalahari proper and was very excited to go on my most recent trip there – cheetah, aardvark and brown hyena lay in wait!
It was fascinating to see how the landscape changed between the Delta; from lush, green trees to low bushes and long grasses, backed by an almost endless horizon of wilderness. I was enchanted from the start, and with only two permanent lodges (plus some campsites) in an area larger than the Netherlands, it felt like I was really off the map. Driving to my first stop, Kalahari Plains Camp (part of the Wilderness portfolio), I had my eyes peeled for the distinctive silhouette of a cheetah. Despite having lived in Africa and been on safari many times I have never seen these rare cats. The Kalahari is one of the best places in the world to spot them (especially during the green season) so I had high hopes. Over the next few days I was spoiled with frolicking impalas, huge flocks of quelea, large herds of oryx, brown hyena and bat eared foxes – but there were no spots to be seen. However, on my penultimate day…
“Oh my goodness! It’s a cheetah, let’s go!” said my guide and we sped off across Tau Pan to chase down what both we had seen through our binoculars. We pulled up to the tree and to our amazement found not the male cheetah we were looking for but two adolescent male lions and their mother feasting on a baby giraffe they had just killed! An amazing sighting to be sure, and just proof that even the most seasoned safari goers get it wrong sometimes. While the hunt for the world’s fastest land mammal continues, there is no doubt that I fell in love with the huge skies and sweeping landscape of the “Great Thirst” and would wholeheartedly recommend visiting Botswana at this time of year! While it is a fantastic time to spot wildlife, camps consider it the low season and you can get some great deals. It really is Botswana’s best kept secret, what’s not to love?