In response to a recent post at Africa on the Blog, I was asked to share some tips for camping in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana. This is assuming that you’re going the self-drive route, which we typically do from Johannesburg. A 4×4 vehicle is a prerequisite, preferably with an off-road trailer and rooftop tent, or an off-road caravan. These can be hired in South Africa or Botswana, or you may choose a guided safari (also offered via that last link).
To clarify, camping in the Central Kalahari is survivalist-style, because the facilities are rudimentary, if any (long drop toilet and bucket-type shower which may or may not include clean or otherwise water) and there are no fences…meaning that lions can prowl past your tent whenever the fancy takes them, which it often does. There must be little in the world that thrills quite so thoroughly as a nearby roar, awakening the senses to a spine-chilling experience of Real Life.
Tip #1 is to pack a healthy dose of respect into your travel bags; for nature and her wild animals. If you’re visiting the African bushveld for the first time, it would be wise to familiarise yourself with their ways, by reading up on their behaviour or watching some of the wealth of footage available on YouTube, TV or good old-fashioned film. At the same time, be aware that the wildlife is not inherently dangerous, or particularly bothered about human beings. Fear is not called for. In fact, it doesn’t belong here, but dignity and respect do.
As wildlife photographers and videographers, we have fifteen-odd years of wilderness experience to draw on, including countless trips to the Central Kalahari specifically. It’s tricky to fit this into one blog post, so I’ll do a second one soon. Here are the first few guidelines that come to mind immediately:
- Book your campsite/s in advance – or put on your most skilled negotiating shoes, and pray that this works…
- Make sure that you have sufficient local currency with you, plus a bit extra. There are no auto banks in the desert, or exchange booths.
- Load relevant waypoints on your GPS before you leave, but it won’t hurt to have a backup map too, in case you encounter any trouble with your GPS.
- Take lots of water; enough for drinking and washing – even if you plan not to 🙂
- A gas shower is first prize, but bag showers also work (which can be laid out in the sun to warm up). Try to strike a balance between enough pressure to wash and not too much, to preserve your supply. This is an art!
- Preferably travel in a convoy of at least two vehicles. You never know what might happen or where you might get stuck, miles from help.
- Naturally, ensure that services are up to date, wheels are aligned, etc. Also, tighten your vehicle’s wheel nuts yourself. (A friend of ours had a wheel spin off completely during a game drive, after the nuts were left loose by a poor wheel alignment job.)
- Beef up your car’s tool kit and consider including things like an inflatable jack (we used two at once to replace our friend’s wheel, in thick sand) and a fitted winch. Spare tyres, properly pumped, go without saying.
- Don’t forget your passports and vehicle papers (including for an off-road trailer or caravan) if you’ll be crossing the Botswana border, or your holiday will end before it even begins.
- Take effective two-way radios, one per vehicle, and be sure to test them before you leave. This is not only useful, but a lot of fun too, particularly if you have witty friends 😀
- Hiring a satellite phone could prove invaluable because there is no cellphone reception. Having said that, though, we’ve never taken one with us and friends who have done so, haven’t had the need to use theirs. It all comes down to how risk-averse you are…
- Calculate your total fuel requirements for your trip, including enough to cruise around game viewing, and of course to return to civilization. Diesel is your best bet in terms of consumption and availability.
- Top up all your fuel cans at one of the towns closest to your destination, and preferably carry the cans outside your vehicle, such as on a roof rack.
- If you don’t have a roof rack, consider getting one. Not only can it carry extra items, but it’s the best place to park off, take in the scenery and catch a tan, if you’re that way inclined. Many game reserves don’t allow this, but as of our last visit, it was acceptable in the Central Kalahari – one of the big perks of a seriously remote location.
- Find out about current rules, just in case, such as whether or not you may sit on the roof and walk around outside your vehicle (which should clearly be done with due caution). Game rangers patrol the area, but you can expect to see them seldom, and hardly any other people – another great perk, if you appreciate solitude.
- Savour your surroundings and soak in the magnificence of one of the world’s last true wildernesses!
More tips will follow soon, so if you found this helpful, please stay tuned . . .