Quirky Kalahari

Forgo Botswana’s usual mokoro pilgrimage and Big Five checklists in favour of something more extraordinary… Time to explore the quirky Kalahari.

This chronicle of the Kalahari starts at its centre, the wild heart of Botswana, with a guide from Kwando Safaris Tau Pan Camp in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.

Central Kalahari Game Reserve

The CKGR covers a staggering five million hectares and is guide Majwagana “Scuppa” Tshururu’s ancestral home.

“My name, ‘Majwagana’, means a natural waterhole. That is where I was born. We San use moments and happenings to decide how children are named.”

Scuppa and his family once lived a nomadic lifestyle out here in the desert, hunting and gathering only what was needed.

Walking with Scuppa today offers culturally sensitive insight into traditional San ways, such as how to drink the dew that collects in the curved cups of Kalahari apple-leaf foliage.

Although few San still live like this, his inherited expertise lives on here and offers travellers a responsible encounter with Botswana’s earliest culture.

Tours at Leroo La Tau

Kuru Art Project

From a modest studio complex in D’Kar, more San stories are preserved at Kuru Art Project. “The main objective here is not to teach art,” says project coordinator Maude Brown.

“This isn’t an art school. Here, they produce their own work, and we just help with supplies.” Kuru means “do” or to do it yourself, and 20 local artists are doing exactly that, creating vivid paintings, prints, and even embroidery that celebrate the Naro San.

One such artist is Nqisa Xaase, who sits on the floor below her spectacular portrait of pangolins. A trio painted in a swish of dots, crescents and swirls that make it easy to imagine the creature’s long tongue flicking out to lick up dainty ants.

Camp Kalahari

Camp Kalahari

Camp Kalahari

The rest of the world also tends to seek out big cats on safari, but Camp Kalahari has made a name for itself based on the Kalahari’s smaller cool cats.

Scurrying from burrow to bush, scratching for scorpions in between, the Makgadikgadi’s habituated meerkats will charm even the most well-travelled safari lover.

Under the watchful eye of their colony caretakers, visitors walk alongside them to better understand their survival on such barren real estate.

One of three meerkat minders, Bajuta Mosarwa, has watched meerkats out here for five years. “There is one alpha male and female in each colony, but all food gathered is shared among the animals.”

The Makgadikgadi’s habituated meerkats will charm even the most well-travelled safari lover

The Makgadikgadi’s habituated meerkats will charm even the most well-travelled safari lover

Nxai Pan National Park

While the rest of Botswana is deemed “best” during the dry winter months, Nxai Pan National Park comes alive with the rains of summer, when the longest land mammal migration (as named by National Geographic) comes rolling in.

The plains and pans transform into luscious lawn, drawing zebra in their thousands. “Which part of the zebra has the most stripes?” asks Ikitse Baleseleng.

Hailing from Letlhakane, the bottom tip of the salt pans near Orapa, Ike is a guide at Nxai Pan Camp. “The outside,” he chuckles when no-one on the safari vehicle can figure out the answer.

Nxai Pan also allows time travel. A bevvy of seven bulging baobabs stands sentry over a grand ivory expanse makes up the network of Makgadikgadi Salt Pans.

The only giants and beacons for miles around, these tall trees drew many travellers crossing the Kalahari including and landscape painter and naturalist Thomas Baines.

The Nxai Pan baobabs

The Nxai Pan baobabs

Boteti River

Perhaps more mysterious than the migration, and more miraculous than the lengthy lifespan of a baobab is the Boteti River.

Once they’ve had their full at Nxai Pan, zebra trot south to these desert waters. For over ten years this tributary didn’t flow until 2008 when H2O finally dribbled in again.

Having a (relatively) steady stream over the past decade, the Boteti has been a crucial hydration station for zebra on their epic migration.

Leroo La Tau Lodge overlooks this immense assembly of wildlife, and private balconies provide the perfect pinnacle from which to meet the migration.

Alongside the zebra, Blue Wildebeest assemble too and following them, lions. They don’t call the lodge “Paw of the Lion” for nothing.

At magical times, the river fills so much that boats deploy for water-based wildlife encounters you’re more likely to associate with the Okavango or Chobe National Park up north.

However, the recent declaration of drought has put all vessels into retirement – perhaps for another ten years?

Leroo La Tau Lodge

Leroo La Tau Lodge

Nata Bird Sanctuary and Sua Pan 

Depending on how you define the Kalahari, it is an area that starts in South Africa, spills into Namibia, covers most of Botswana and even reaches the Congo.

To the east of Bots, it fizzles out nearer Zimbabwe, and this is where you can meet the world’s best collective noun.

A “flamboyance of flamingos” has to be one of the most descriptive ones around. Established in 1988, Nata Bird Sanctuary and the adjoining Sua Pan attract these comical birds in their thousands when the correct conditions conspire.

Nata Flamingo

“Flamingos prefer shallower waters,” says Nata Lodge guide Pako Mphinyane, pointing to the blushing mirage. “The sanctuary is home to other animals too, like ostriches, blue wildebeest, zebras and sometimes bat-eared foxes, but the birds are my favourite.”

It is easy to see why. After good rains, it is home to the largest congregation of lesser flamingos in Southern Africa.

Something about the mysterious cycles of nature makes travel into this wilderness so enticing. The Kalahari is Mother Earth at its most unpredictable.

Getting There

SAA domestic partner Airlink flies to Gaborone four times a day, and Maun twice a day. From there, either drive or catch a charter flight to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve for the start of this itinerary. Book your trip now!