Botswana: Kalahari National Park, Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park
Having travelled this far in Africa we thought we had built up a pretty good repertoire of adjectives to describe the things we have seen. The Central Kalahari Game Reserve has blown that notion out of the water. This is, quite simply, one of the most jaw-droppingly beautifully places on the planet. From peach melba and azure blue dawn to fiery red and gold sunset, this 53,000 km2 wonderland delivers one breath-taking view after another.
Equally striking is the fact that it is virtually devoid of people. Not just tourists, but anyone. For this is a place of great controversy as well as great beauty. Only the indigenous hunter-gatherer San were ever skilful and stubborn enough to populate this area, but even they were powerless against the government’s internationally derided re-settlement programme. As recently as 2002 San people were still being evicted from the reserve, purportedly in the name of wildlife conservation but coincidently at the same time as De Beers were lobbying the government for diamond concessions in the area. This tragic programme has since been successfully challenged in the courts, but few San have returned, and the damage to their way of life seems irreparable. So, for now at least, this vast wilderness is home only to stunning fauna, tenacious flora and, for five days in February this year, us.
The 45km road from Rakops to the Matswere Gate at the Eastern border of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve is an experience in itself. Described by our guidebook as “almost impassable” in the wet season, we were pleasantly surprised that the track had dried out over the last few days and was now mainly compact mud with only the occasional stretch of waterlogged black cotton soil. This track gave us a foretaste of what was to come – a 360˚ horizon of unblemished wilderness surrounded us with Savannah and bush stretching out in all directions. The terrain is so flat here that you get a good sense of the curvature of the Earth, a feeling of being on a planet rather than just in a country. Even now in the “wet season” the sky is deep blue, broken by fluffy white clouds. And the sun is intense. Hoards of butterflies carpet the muddy tyre ruts and scatter like confetti as we approach them.