Best of the Kalahari Safari (Full Itinerary)
This 9-Day Kalahari safari highlights the solitude, the breath-taking night skies and the savage nature of the wilderness. Combined with fascinating animals, birds and plants and of course the wildlife, this promises to be a safari that will stay with you forever.
Next departure date: To be confirmed
ITINERARY – Best of the Kalahari Safari
Start of safari in Johannesburg; flight to Upington; drive to Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
Welcome to the “rainbow nation” of South Africa! Your fantastic Kalahari safari will start today in one of the most vibrant cities in Africa!You will be met by your Nature Travel guide at the O.R. Tambo International Airport on the outskirts of Johannesburg, South African biggest city and the economic hub of the continent. Johannesburg, affectionately called Jo’burg, Jozi, and E’Goli, the “city of gold,” is the financial and industrial metropolis of South Africa, built on a rich history of gold mining.
From O.R. Tambo we will take the first available flight to Upington International Airport, just outside the town of Upington in the Northern Cape province of South Africa, about 800 km (500mi) west of Johannesburg.
We suggest you arrive at O.R. Tambo as early in the morning as you can (or even a day or two before), as this will make our day of travelling a lot easier. If you would like us to arrange extra activities for you in Johannesburg (like a visit to historic Soweto and the Mandela Museum, theme park rides at Gold Reef City, or the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Cradle of Humankind nearby) please don’t hesitate to ask. We will gladly assist.
The flight to Upington will take about 90 minutes. Interestingly, the runway at Upington International Airport is, at 5,100 metres (16,700 ft), one of the longest in the world. Upon arrival we will pick up our comfortable, airconditioned vehicle for the trip and make our way to one of the shopping malls in town to pick up supplies. Upington is situated on the fertile banks of the Orange river, and is known for its export-quality grapes, raisins and wines.
*Please note: there is also the option to drive straight from O.R. Tambo International Airport to Upington. This will take about 9 hours over fairly good roads. This option will cut costs and allow you to see more of the South African countryside. Please let us know if you are interested in this option.
We will have lunch in town and then head straight north on the R360 road towards the Kgalagadi. During our 3 hour drive we will see the landscape change from open Karoo plains to the first red dunes, and start getting a feel for the low rolling hills of the Kalahari. We will also get to know each other and maybe start some life-long friendships.
The Kalahari is a large, semi-arid, sandy savannah desert, extending for a massive 900,000 km2 (350,000 sq mi), covering much of southwestern Botswana, parts of Namibia and the northwestern regions of South Africa where the focus of our safari will be for the next 9 days. The surrounding Kalahari Basin covers over 2,500,000 km2 (970,000 sq mi), extending further into Botswana, Namibia and South Africa, and encroaching into parts of Angola, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The name Kalahari is derived from the Tswana word Kgala, meaning “the great thirst”, or Kgalagadi, meaning “a waterless place”.
The high iron oxide content in the soil is what makes the sand of the Kalahari that characteristic red, and especially in the correct light, it is a sight that stays with you forever. It also gives the Kalahari an otherworldly, almost Mars-like, feel and look.
The San people have lived in the Kalahari for 20,000 years as hunter-gatherers, and have developed some ingenious ways to stay alive and thrive in this harsh environment. Interestingly, despite the apparent utter lifeless wilderness, the Kalahari is not a true desert. Parts of the Kalahari receive as much as 250 millimetres of rainfall, albeit erratically, throughout the year, and therefore the Kalahari supports more animals and plants than a true desert.
The flora of the Kalahari includes camelthorn, blackthorn and silver cluster-leaf trees (acacia species) and many other herbs and grasses, and even flowers like the Devil’s thorn flower. The Kiwano fruit, also known as the African horned melon, is endemic to a specific region in the Kalahari desert, and is just one example of a feast of edible plants that include wild cucumbers and the creeping tsamma melons, favoured by traditional tribes of the area as well as all sorts of animals.
On our drive north we will also see our first Sociable Weaver nests; huge structures built on anything from telephone poles to windmills, and another of the iconic Kalahari sights. We will almost certainly see Pale Chanting Goshawk, Common Ostrich and Northern Black Korhaan. Mammals should include Gemsbok, Springbok and Greater Kudu.
We will pass by the turnoff for Hakskeenpan, where the world land speed record attempt will be held in the near future. We will also drive past Askham, the place where the annual Kalahari Festival is held in March; dancing, music, food and storytelling in the middle of the desert!
We will reach the Twee Rivieren gate of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in the late afternoon. There is some paperwork to be done, but soon we will check into our accommodation at the Twee Rivieren (“two rivers”) Rest Camp situated just inside the entrance gate.
Twee Rivieren is the park’s largest rest camp and administrative headquarters. It is situated on the banks of the dry Nossob riverbed. Twee Rivieren has a shop, fuel, restaurant, information centre and swimming pool. This is the only camp with 24 hours electricity and cell phone reception. This is also the southernmost camp in the park, and because of the long distances between camps, it is the camp where most people stay for the first night of their Kgalagadi trip.
We will do a quick walk in the camp at dusk to try and spot some crepuscular animals (bats and maybe a Southern White-faced Owl), and then have our first dinner together. Our dinner will be in the restaurant in camp, and should include some delicious local fare.
We will then retire for a good night’s rest. Tomorrow we go into the park proper!
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
Today we have our first full day to explore the wonders of the Kgalagadi!
We will make our way north towards either Nossob or Mata Mata rest camp, depending on availability at the time of the trip. It is a drive of about 140 km (90 mi) but will take us until at least lunch time. We will drive relatively slowly, scanning the dunes for signs of animal life and looking up in the trees for birds and other animals. We will stop at the many waterholes on the way, each with an interesting name with a lot of history attached. It will be a wonderful time to start learning about all the Kalahari, and the Kgalagadi, has to offer.
There are a few spots along the way where we can exit the vehicle, use the bathroom facilities and stretch our legs. We will also have a basic packed breakfast at one of these spots during the course of the morning. Just remember to look around carefully before you dash off to the loo; some of the Kgalagadi’s inhabitants (Lions, Puff Adders and others) sometimes prefer the shade of a man-made structure in the heat of the day!
Now for some more info on the park: the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park lies in the southern Kalahari desert and straddles the border between South Africa and Botswana, combining the old Kalahari Gemsbok National Park of South Africa with Botswana’s Gemsbok National Park. It is a huge park of about 38,000 km2 (15,000 sq mi), one of the last such vast conservation areas left on earth. The park was officially opened in 2000 and is jointly governed by Botswana’s Department of Wildlife and National Parks and South African National Parks (SANParks). There is currently talk of even extending the park further by creating a corridor linking it to the Augrabies National Park to the south, and to the Ai-Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park to the west.
The Kgalagadi, also called “KTP” for short, was southern Africa’s first “peace park”, allowing animals to migrate freely between neighbouring countries, hopefully in a return to their ancient natural migration patterns. Apart from being a vitally important ecological tool, the idea behind the establishing the Kgalagadi was also to promote tourism and goodwill between the two neighbouring countries.
Within the park there are three traditional fully serviced tourist rest camps and also six unfenced wilderness camps where visitors need 4×4 vehicles and basically only shade is provided. Camping in one of these wilderness camps is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, where you feel incredibly close to nature, with wildlife all around you and even in your camp sometimes! The KTP receives about 50,000 visitors each year, which may sound like a lot, but remember that a park like Kruger receives over a million visitors a year…
Despite the seemingly lifeless arid conditions and habitat, the park has abundant, varied wildlife. It is home to large predators such as the famed black-maned Kalahari Lion (450 at last count), Leopard (150), Cheetah (200) and hyaenas (600 Brown Hyaena and 400 Spotted Hyaena). In fact, people in the know say it is easier to see these large predators here than in the Kruger National Park or its adjacent private game reserves!
The Kgalagadi mammal count is at 62 different species at the moment. Herds of large herbivores such as Common Wildebeest, Springbok, Common Eland and Hartebeest also live and move seasonally within the park, providing sustenance for the predators, along with Greater Kudu and of course the iconic Gemsbok. Giraffes have also been introduced recently and are thriving in the park.
Smaller mammals include African Wildcat, Bat-eared Fox, Black-backed Jackal, Meerkat, Honey Badger, Temminck’s Ground Pangolin, Yellow Mongoose, South African Ground Squirrel, Brants’s Whistling Rat and Damara Mole Rat. Other interesting fauna include 48 reptile species, like Common Barking Gecko (Whistling Gecko), Ground Agama, Bradfield’s Dwarf Gecko, Kalahari Tree Skink, Puff Adder and Cape Cobra.
We will reach our camp in the early afternoon, check in and have a light lunch. We will then relax in our chalets in the heat of the day and then head out in the late afternoon for a short game drive again.
As mentioned before, we will either stay in Mata-Mata or Nossob rest camps. Mata-Mata camp is situated on the banks of the Auob River on the western boundary of the park. The camp borders Namibia and is surrounded by thorny Kalahari dune bushveld. The camp has swimming pool, shop and fuel facilities. A generator provides electricity for 16 hours per day and there is no telephone or cellphone reception. Nossob Rest Camp is situated within the dry riverbed of the Nossob. The camp is surrounded by tree savannah and is famous for spectacular predator sightings. The camp has a swimming pool, predator information centre, shop and fuel facilities. A generator provides electricity for 16 hours per day. No phone reception is available at the camp.
We will return to whichever camp we are staying in for dinner, but this time it will be in the shape of a traditional South African “braai”, or barbeque, on an open fire. Nothing beats sitting around the fire with a drink in hand in the Kalahari desert, with only the night sounds and millions of stars for company. A truly magical experience!
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
We will enjoy another full day in the Kgalagadi. If there is time we will take a short walk to the hide in the camp that overlooks a small waterhole. Both camps have this feature and it is always a good idea to take a quick peek and make sure we don’t miss something cool right under our noses!
Nearly twice the size of the Kruger National Park (even if two thirds of it lies in Botswana) the Kgalagadi is characterised by the two dry river beds of the Nossob and Auob rivers, said to flow only once a century. Recently they have flowed a lot more regularly, possibly as a result of our planet’s changing climatic conditions. When they do, it is a spectacular sight, with the surrounding dunes turning a bright green as a result of all the new fresh grass.
Most tourist roads in the Kgalagadi follow these dry river beds and this is where most animals congregate, in turn followed by the predators… There are also several waterholes by the roadside, and this feature is what makes the park so utterly unique. We will stop at every waterhole on our route and just relax and wait. It is amazing what you can see by just staying at one waterhole and being patient. Many visitors to the Kgalagadi follow exactly this approach and have witnessed some truly remarkable wildlife action.
Something else to remember about the Kgalagadi, and the Kalahari in general, is that seasonal temperatures are extreme, with the mercury easily reaching 45 °C (113 °F) in summer and dropping to -8 °C (18 °F) on cold winter nights.
We will enjoy morning and afternoon game drives today, avoiding the hot midday temperatures by returning to the camp. We will have a packed breakfast on the way and return to camp for lunch. We will enjoy a short siesta before going out into the park again in the late afternoon.
Apart from the animals, we will also enjoy some fantastic birding. More than 280 species can be found in the park, including many vultures and raptors. There are about 15,000 Common Ostrich, and like some of the big mammals, they are actually nomadic. Avian species we will look for include White-backed and Lappet-faced Vulture, Secretarybird, Tawny and Martial Eagle, Black-chested Snake Eagle, Bateleur, Pygmy, Lanner and Red-necked Falcon, Pale Chanting and Gabar Goshawk, Greater Kestrel, Verreaux’s Eagle-owl, Western Barn and Southern White-faced Owl, Pearl-spotted Owlet, African Scops Owl, Kori and Ludwig’s Bustard, Red-crested and Northern Black Korhaan, and Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill.
Smaller birds we will try to tick include Burchell’s and Namaqua Sandgrouse, Namaqua Dove, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Brubru, Lilac-breasted Roller, Acacia Pied Barbet, Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Rosy-faced Lovebird, Spike-heeled and Fawn-coloured Lark, Great Sparrow, Grey-backed Sparrow-lark, Black-throated Canary, Shaft-tailed Whydah, Pririt Batis, Black-chested Prinia, Ashy Tit, Dusky Sunbird, Violet-eared Waxbill, Marico and Fairy Flycatcher, Lark-like Bunting, African Red-eyed Bulbul, and of course the Sociable Weaver with its massive communal nests.
We will again have a barbeque tonight and enjoy the night sounds around the fire. Listen out for several owl species, along with Rufous-cheeked Nightjar. We will do a short night camp perimeter walk on one of the nights and look for some nocturnal species. There is bound to be something interesting!
*Please note: on any of the evenings that we are in the Kgalagadi you have the option to partake in a night game drive with the park’s knowledgeable rangers in a dedicated game drive vehicle. This is a fantastic way to enjoy the varied and very special nocturnal animals that call the Kalahari their home. Please let us know well in advance of your safari if you would like to take up this exciting option.
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
Today we will have another full day in the KTP, but we are sleeping back in Twee Rivieren camp in the south tonight. We will adjust our plans according to which animals and/or birds we still need to see.
We might have a somewhat later breakfast in camp before setting off, or have a packed breakfast along the way. We could reach Twee Rivieren in time for a late lunch, or alternatively have a packed lunch on the way.
By now it will be clear just why the Kgalagadi is such a magical place. It is the perfect park for a different kind of African safari and even better for nature and wildlife photographers. Because of the sparse vegetation, the amazing contrasts and the high concentration of animals in the dry riverbeds, many an award-winning wildlife shot has been taken in the KTP.
We will make our way south throughout the day, aiming for Twee Rivieren rest camp. We will again stop at every waterhole on our way, making sure not to miss animals and birds coming to drink. The Kgalagadi turns up something very odd every now and again, so we are sure to keep our eyes peeled!
We will have dinner in the restaurant again and enjoy another good night’s sleep. Tomorrow a different kind of adventure awaits!
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
Today we have a long but beautiful drive of about 6 hours ahead of us. We are heading south to the town of Upington again before turning east towards the city of Kimberley. We will have a packed breakfast and enjoy lunch in the town of Upington.
We will drive through Kimberley on the afternoon. Kimberley is of course famous for its diamond mining past. British businessmen Cecil Rhodes and Barney Barnato made their fortunes in Kimberley, and Rhodes established the De Beers diamond company in the early days of the mining town. The city housed South Africa’s first stock exchange, which opened in 1881. Another interesting fact about the city is that it was the first to have electric street lighting installed in the southern hemisphere, in 1882! Kimberley is also home to the Big Hole, an open-pit mine that claims to be the deepest hole excavated by hand in the world.
These days the city projects itself as a significant tourist destination, the ‘City that Sparkles’, boasting a diversity of museums and visitor attractions. It is also a gateway to other Northern Cape destinations including many nature reserves and game parks. It is to one of these, Marrick Safari, that we are heading.
We will reach the privately-owned Marrick Safari in the mid-afternoon and check into our accommodation. Marrick Safari is located approximately 12km out of Kimberley and nestled in 3,000 hectares of unspoilt wilderness, almost free from human interference. The property itself sustains a range of ecosystems, from flat savannah to rocky hillscapes to thicker thorny bushveld and there is also an ephemeral wetland.
This family-run undertaking has as its main aim the establishment of a world-class eco-tourism operation, focusing on the provision of a home-style service. At Marrick, there truly is something for everybody. We will go on a guided 4×4 game drive in the afternoon, including having some sundowners. Sunsets at Marrick are extraordinary and there is nothing more relaxing after a hot day in the bush than sipping an ice cold drink next to the pan.
Mammals we will look for on our game drive include African Buffalo, Giraffe, Greater Kudu, Common Eland, Blesbok, Gemsbok, Black and Common Wildebeest, Hartebeest, Steenbok, Common Duiker, Plains Zebra, Nyala, Mountain Reedbuck, Waterbuck, Impala (including Black-faced subspecies normally found in Namibia), Springbok, the rare and beautiful Roan and Sable Antelope, and Common Warthog.
We will enjoy dinner around an open fire before retiring to your luxurious cottage for a good night’s rest.
Today we have a full day on safari at Marrick! We will enjoy all our meals at the main lodge and go on 4×4 game drives with the local expert guides.
Apart from seeing the many mammals at Marrick, we will also concentrate on birds today. The Marrick Pan, when full of water, is home to both the Greater and Lesser Flamingo but is also a bird magnet for other large variety of water-borne species such as the Egyptian and Spur-winged Goose, Black-necked Grebe, South African Shelduck, Southern Pochard, Glossy and African Sacred Ibis, Red-billed and Cape Teal, Black-headed Heron, Ruff, Common Greenshank and Southern Red Bishop.
Other species typical of the area include Kori Bustard, Double-banded Courser, Orange River Francolin, Secretarybird, Blue Crane, Alpine & Bradfield’s Swift, Pririt Batis, Ant-eating Chat, Crimson-breasted Shrike, African Hoopoe, Wattled Starling, Spike-heeled, Pink-billed, Fawn-coloured and Red-capped Lark, Eastern Clapper Lark, Fairy Flycatcher, Grey-backed Sparrow-lark, Red-billed Firefinch, Red-headed Finch, Desert and Cloud Cisticola, Capped Wheatear, Chat Flycatcher, Cape Penduline Tit, Golden-breasted, Cinnamon-breasted and Lark-like Bunting, Sociable Weaver, Black-faced and Violet-eared Waxbill, Green-winged Pytilia and many others.
Smaller mammals we will look for today include Karoo Rock Sengi, Gerbil (Large-eared) Mouse, Rock Hyrax, Cape Hare, South African Ground Squirrel, Yellow and Cape Grey Mongoose, and Smith’s Red Rock Hare.
Tonight after another fantastic dinner we are going to do something special; a night drive! Marrick’s night drives offer a particularly unique and exciting insight into the world of nocturnal animal activity. Marrick is known for its unique nocturnal animals such as the rare Aardvark, Aardwolf, Cape Porcupine, Bat-eared Fox, Black-footed Cat, Southern African Spring-hare, Scrub Hare and South African Hedgehog. Additionally, African Wildcat as well as the Striped Polecat, also known as the “zorilla”, can be seen. Birds might include Western Barn Owl, Spotted Eagle-Owl and Rufous-cheeked Nightjar.
After this exciting excursion we will return to our accommodation for a good last night’s sleep at magical Marrick.
Marrick Safari to Mokala National Park
The day will start with breakfast at Marrick and another game drive, picking up all the animal and bird species we may have missed up to this point.
We will then set off on our shortish drive to our next destination, about 90 minutes southwest. We will first stop at a mall just outside Kimberley to pick up supplies for the final leg of our Kalahari safari. We will reach Mokala National Park just after midday and do our first game drive on the way to the reception offices at one of the two main camps, Lillydale. We will have a packed lunch on the verandah overlooking the Riet river meandering through the park.
Mokala is SANPark’s newest national park, proclaimed in 2007, and is known as the park “where endangered species roam”. The 196 km2 (76 sq mi) park is named for the Setswana name for the Camel Thorn, a beautiful tree species typical of the Kalahari. Local people have used the bark and gum of the Camel Thorn to treat coughs and colds, and even the seeds have been roasted and used as a coffee substitute.
The park is in the transition zone of the savannah (Kalahari and Nama Karoo) biomes; the former being flat and sandy dotted with tall grasses, along with Camel Thorns, Umbrella Thorns and Puzzle Bushes, and the latter characterised by rocky outcrops and flat areas with grass and scrub. The overall flat landscape lends itself to some incredible sunrises and sunsets; get those cameras ready!
The park currently offers a range of accommodation, from luxury bungalows to camping. The two main camps are Mosu Lodge, with 15 self-catering air-conditioned units, and Lillydale Rest Camp, with 12. Both camps have swimming pools that are very welcoming in the hot summer months.
After checking in we will drive south through the park towards our accommodation for the next two nights in Mosu Lodge. We will take it slow and stop for any interesting fauna and flora species, as well as for some of the stunning Kalahari landscapes we will no doubt encounter.
Mokala is home to a number of endangered species and the main purpose of the park is to actively protect these species. These sought-after species are then relocated for use in other national parks and game reserves all over the southern African area. The park might not have any large predators, but this makes the other animals far more relaxed, allowing us to get really close to them and enjoy them thoroughly.
Mokala’s mammals include Black and White Rhinoceros, disease-free African Buffalo, Sable and Roan Antelope, Tsessebe, Hartebeest, Common Eland, Greater Kudu, Common and Black Wildebeest, Plains Zebra, Giraffe, Steenbok, Common Warthog, Impala and Gemsbok. Although there are no large predators, some smaller carnivores do inhabit Mokala. They include Black-footed Cat, African Wildcat, Cape Fox, Caracal and the elusive Brown Hyaena.
We will reach Mosu in the late afternoon and do a short walk in the camp grounds for some interesting smaller species of mammal and reptiles. There is also a waterhole just outside the camp’s perimeter fence, and it is advisable to always have a pair of binoculars handy in case something interesting decides it’s time for a drink. After our walk it will be time for dinner in the form of a barbeque, and then a good night’s rest.
Mokala National Park
We have a full day in Mokala today! We will have breakfast in packed form and do a longish morning drive in the park. We will return to Mosu for lunch and a short siesta, before setting off on a shorter afternoon drive.
Mokala has been dubbed “SANPark’s best kept secret”, and not just for the endangered species. It is a park off the beaten track where everything happens at a more relaxed pace. You will never experience the crowds that you find in South Africa’s other national parks, allowing us to take it slow and enjoy every sighting and experience out in the beautiful bush.
Apart from all the fantastic mammals we hope to see, we will also not neglect the birds! From a birding perspective, Mokala offers some very exciting opportunities. This is because the park is situated in the transitions zone between the Kalahari and the Karoo biomes, allowing species of both to occur here. The bird list currently stands at over 200 species, and more are being added on a regular basis. We will search for new species on our trip like African Rock Pipit, Rufous-eared Warbler, Melodious and Sabota Lark, Double-banded Courser, Short-toed Rock Thrush, Cinnamon-breasted and Cape Bunting, Buffy Pipit, Long-tailed Paradise Whydah, Red-billed Oxpecker, Mountain Wheatear and Yellow-bellied Eremomela.
We will also look to again tick Black-chested Prinia, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Golden-breasted Bunting, Scaly-feathered Weaver, Cape Glossy Starling, Cape Robin-chat, House and Cape Sparrow, Kalahari Scrub Robin, Diederik Cuckoo, European and Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Ant-eating Chat, Fiscal and Chat Flycatcher, Ashy Tit, Pygmy Falcon, Desert Cisticola, Red-crested Korhaan, Kori Bustard, Greater Striped Swallow, African Hoopoe, Acacia Pied Barbet, Pririt Batis, Common Scimitarbill, Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, Yellow and Black-throated Canary, Red-faced Mousebird, Familiar Chat and many others.
At the Stofdam Bird Hide we will also pick up some water-associated species like Black-winged Stilt, Brown-throated Martin, South African Shelduck, Three-banded Plover, Little Swift, Hadeda Ibis, Egyptian Goose and Southern Masked Weaver.
We will return relatively early this afternoon for our last barbeque together and then we are going to do something exciting! We finish our trip with another night drive! We could see anything from Bat-eared Fox and Aardvark, to Aardwolf and Cape Porcupine! We should also pick up Cape and Scrub Hare, Southern African Spring-hare and more. Birds that we could tick on this drive include Double-banded Courser, Spotted Thick-knee, and Rufous-cheeked and Freckled Nightjar.
We will return to Mosu late in the evening and enjoy our last night under the star-filled Kalahari sky.
Mokala National Park to Johannesburg and Departure
Unfortunately this is our final morning together after an excellent Kalahari tour.
Depending on your onward flight time out of Johannesburg, we will have a birding walk in camp before leaving, or do a game drive again before departing. The drive to O.R. Tambo International Airport is about 6 ½ hours long, and we will pass some beautiful savannah scenery on our way back.
We will say our goodbyes at O.R. Tambo International Airport after an unforgettable tour. We hope you remembered to put some red Kalahari sand in your luggage, and in your soul…
*Please note: Extensions to Namibia, Botswana, Kruger National Park or any other attraction in Southern Africa can easily be arranged. Please contact us for more information.
Do you have a quick question about this safari? Speak to a specialist at