Where Lions Roam

Story and photos by Koos Pieters

The Kalahari Gemsbok National Park was once a remote destination frequented only by the very brave. Access to the park was obtained via several hours of bad gravel roads, and the last 60 kilometres from Askham to Twee-Rivieren were particularly challenging – especially in the rainy season when your vehicle was more off the road than on it. This obviously restricted the number of would-be visitors, so that those vasbyters who were brave enough to take on the roads had most of the camps in the park (and the mystical, magical Kalahari) to themselves.

These road conditions made it virtually unthinkable that anyone would tow a caravan into the park, and those that did, paid the price with broken windows, broken suspension parts, and damage to the flimsy, lightweight furniture in their caravans – that were simply not designed for severe road conditions. But those were the days before the off-road caravan entered the arena.

During the early 90s, the 250-kilometre stretch from Upington was tarred all the way to Askham, and only the last 60 kilometres to the gate remained a challenge. But not for long – and after that section had also been tarred by local entrepreneurs, (in a process that seemed to go on forever) the traffic soon started picking up, and it gradually became a very popular destination for the world and his uncle. And soon the caravans started rolling in as well, to the extent that Twee-Rivieren camp nowadays is often packed with standard caravans from all over the country. But, venturing deeper into the park with a caravan, on roads that are often severely corrugated, still presents a challenge.
Polentswa Camp Site
So, slowly but surely, this wonderful destination, which has since changed its name to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, had become so accessible and so popular that it is necessary to book a year in advance for most camps in the park. And, consequently, the increase of visitors and vehicles has extensively eroded the charm and the remoteness that was once the Kalahari Gemsbok Park.

But it was a different story on the Botswana side of the trans-border park. Here one could still book oneself into unfenced and untamed camp sites with minimal facilities, and the brave at heart soon discovered that they could regain some of the old charm and remoteness by heading that way – as long as they could make themselves totally self-contained. Camping spots like Rooiputs and Polentswa provided just the right stuff, and soon became very popular with a handful of people, who tried to keep the secret to themselves.

But, people talk to their friends around fires, and it didn’t take long for the handful to grow to a few more and then to many more; and the bottom line is that, because of the limited number of campsites, you have very little chance of getting into any of these wonderful camps unless you book a year (or even more) in advance. Naturally, off-road trailers and the odd offroad caravan soon followed.

Again, the brave of heart found themselves scanning the horizon for new frontiers – and they discovered Mabuasehube, and a few other unfenced and untamed camps, way to the north-east of the Botswana side of the park. And, once again, the growing number of hard-core nature lovers looking for the last undiscovered frontiers followed, and availability soon came under pressure.

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