Unlike Kruger the Kgalagadi Transfontier National Park probably needs some introduction. South Africa’s second-largest wildlife park spans over more than
30 000km2 – about the size of Belgium – and is famous for its wildcats. Especially the rare black-maned lion.
Just recently we discovered go!. A magazine for South Africa’s crazy 4×4 campers that is published monthly. The unmissable cover of issue #117 struck our eyes straight away: Kgalagadi – It’s quiet, even wilder than the Kruger and 100% lion country! An edition fully dedicated to what we are just about to explore.
We reach the parks entrance gate at 3 pm. Just in time for a first sunset game drive. After a few minutes we already see big herds of springbok, oryx, red hartebeests and two secretary birds. We feel lucky this afternoon so we keep on driving. We come upon two bakkies standing by the side of the road. They wave to slow us down and point to the bush just next to them. We pull up and the only thing we can hear them whisper is: lions. We count seven. Lion King, his five females and Simba their cub sleeping on their backs and showing off their well fed white big bellies. There is another lion couple under a nearby tree we get told by other by-passers. We stay with the pride of lions for as long as we can – and yes it is for about two hours. The park closes at sunset so we have to rush back to make it out of the park in time. You should never push your luck but what happened in the next 30 minutes of our drive out of the park will never be forgotten. We get stopped by another two lions walking along the nearby 4×4 track. We already have forgotten that we urgently need to leave the park and who cares about the R500 fine. We capture this stunning scene in our minds and for our followers on camera of course. Click click and off we go again. Just around the next corner we see another pride of lions to our right. Five lionesses playing and they look like they are hungry and off to hunt an unlucky mammal. We look at each other and are of the same opinion: another quick stop won’t make the difference and we are sure that the man at the gate will understand every minute of our delay. We enjoy another eye full and feel so privileged to see 15 lions on a game drive that we never really intended on doing.
go! has taught us how to do it the African way: wake up before sunrise, coffee and rusks at a waterhole, game drive all day, braai, go to bed early. Repeat. And this is exactly how we do it. We braai, we sleep, we get up early, we are among the first to enter the park and we have coffee and rusks for breakfast. Then yet we don’t get to repeat it.
Keeping our expectations low we head the same direction as yesterday. Beginners luck is still with us. Barely twenty kilometres into the park we see cars pulled up again. Everyone is gazing in the same direction: three lions resting on the summit of a dune. Our sight narrowed by the binoculars we almost oversee two lionesses with their cubs crossing the street just in front of us and walking towards the others (click here for video). Holding our breaths and of course whispering we can’t believe once again what our eyes are seeing.
After they all disappear behind the dune we head further north. The dirt road gets worse and worse. It’s bumpy and noisy and we don’t get to see any new animals. 150 kilometres into the park we hear a strange noise coming from underneath our van. We do what you shouldn’t do: get out of your vehicle. Nick looks out for approaching animals and Eva gets out to look whats going on underneath. S#%ç our exhaust pipe is broken.
We have no other option than to keep on driving, hoping that the noise will not scare all the animals away and keeping our fingers crossed that we will make it back to the camp all safe and sound. Silenced by the noise and the situation we keep en route driving carefully and super slow. Our hope to see animals long gone and our motivation has also faded. What happens if we cannot fix our van? Is this the end of our dream? Do we really have to go back home already? But what happens on our way back is just the yellow of the egg. In the middle of nowhere we discover giraffes walking on the horizon. Nature definitely has its ways of cheering one up. Reaching the road that heads back south again we see two cars pulled up. Hyenas creeping under a tree chewing on bones. Trust is back and excitement all on. We turn south not to risk too much with our broken kombi. Luckily. Three cheetahs hiding up on the hill under a tree watching a herd of springboks grass. We look at each other and it is soon clear: they are hungry. When one of them sneaks off behind the dune we both hope that we will witness some action. To distract the springboks the other two keep on watching from above. Where did he go? Is this all really happening? All of a sudden the cheetah comes shooting out of the nearby trees in front of us while the others come running down the hill. They catch one of the springboks and enjoy him in the shade of a tree. Luckily we have our binoculars. Their faces are soon painted red with blood while the bones crack between their teeth. Mother nature has struck once again.
Back at the camp the workshop is shut and tomorrow is a public holiday. We are forced to pause for a day. Unfortunately the park mechanics realise that they can’t repair it. We although convince them to fix it temporarily. It’s our gut feeling that tells us to go on another short game drive. Far into the park we see another wildcat strolling through trees looking for prey. We have hit the jackpot and are third time lucky: the big 5 are complete. This time we get to see the leopard. Luckily he is not irritated by us and comes closer and closer by the minute (see video on Instagram). As he walks right in front of our car we are for sure two happy campers in the middle of African wildlife.