Dec 2013 Tankwa Karoo & Kgalagadi

The Cheetah Trip 🙂

This trip came about by good fortune as a forum friend on the Landcruiser Club Forum had to cancell his long planned trip and given that it included two nights at Mata Mata, two nights at our favourite camp Polentswa and a bonus of two nights at Grootkalk I jumped in and took it over – no brainer – without giving anything too much thought. Like Holiday Traffic !!

Having made all the arrangements I then started to engage brain and the short trip became a much longer one as we decided to go via the Tankwa Karoo so that we would not be travelling on major roads with the rest of the Xmas holidaymakers.

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Tankwa Karoo Area Map

Tankwa Karoo Area Map

Leaving Cape Town, in the light for a change, allbeit at 6.00am, we took a leisurely trip up the N1 and off at the Agter Paarl turnoff and thence headed via Wellington – Bains Kloof Pass to Ceres – R 44 to R 355 and into the Tankwa Karoo Park on the R366 arriving early in the afternoon. A nice warm sunny day and a good drive.

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One of the things I learnt about planning this trip was that it pays to book whatever you can get with Sanparks and then go into their site on a daily basis as things change far more often than one would imagine. Right up to the last minute our favorite destination in the Tankwa – Vaarschfontein farm house – was not available; however the day before we were due to leave it suddenly became available for the first night of our stay so I jumped at the offer of it and made the necessary changes. I had previously done this with a fair part of our stay in the Kgalagadi Park too and thus we actually ended up with the tour mostly of our choice.

At Varschfontein

At Varschfontein

At Vaarschfontein

At Vaarschfontein

So Tankwa Karoo was one night at our much loved Vaarschfontein, where we encountered a three metre spitting cobra which nearly came upon us as we were sitting outside – I am not sure who got the bigger shock – and where was the camera ? – yawellnofine…… second night at Paulshoek and last night at Elandsberg. Paulshoek we had stayed at before and it is a good second choice but Elandsberg we had been up to but never stayed at before. Tastes differ but personally Elandsberg is just too upmarket for the Tankwa; it is, in my opinion, rather out of place – the seemingly good idea of the plunge pools has turned into a problem as it attracts the bees, so they mostly have to remain covered, and amazingly enough no one thought of supplying any shade for motor vehicles – a serious oversight – given the heat in summer. Its rather like being in a gated community without the gates – not for us – nothing wrong, all very luxurious, but just out of place in the Tankwa.Each to his own.

At Vaarschfontein

At Vaarschfontein

At Vaarschfontein

At Vaarschfontein

Whilst in the Tankwa we did the 4×4 route down near Vaarschfontein and also went up the Elandsburg Mountain 4×4 route to the view point plus travelled up to the Langkloof. It is always nice to be there and we barely saw another vehicle for our entire stay.

Up at langkloof

Up at langkloof

Tankwa Landscape

Tankwa Landscape

Solifugid - found 2 in the paulshoek farmhouse !

Solifugid – found 2 in the paulshoek farmhouse !

Tankwa Landscape from Elandsberg

Tankwa Landscape from Elandsberg

Travelling out of the park on the Sunday – the day before the public holiday – we went via the Gannaga Pass which had seen some erosion from the recent bad weather in the area and then via Middlepos and the R 354 to Calvinia – again arriving early afternoon. We stayed overnight here in our usual self catering accomodation. The next day being the public holiday we continued up the R27 via Kenhardt to Upington with barely any traffic at all. Filling up with some supplies in Upington we then finished our days journey by arriving at Malopo Lodge with its short distance (70Km’s) to the entrance to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier park. It was VERY hot at Molopo, 38 degrees, a taste of what was to come but it was nice to be back there and we were welcomed back like old friends. Lots of heavy clouds and lightning in the distance but no rain here that night. We took the opportunity of stocking up with some great pre-packed Kudu & beef steaks here – good value and excellent quality. Braai wood can also be bought here.

Road out to Calvinia

Road out to Calvinia

Map of Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

Map of Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

Tuesday saw us go into the park and progress was extremely slow at the arrivals counter – I think staff training was in progress in that there were three ladies at the counter with two of them instructing someone how and what to do. The chap in front of us was just wanting to leave the park but still he had to wait. Not impressive or well thought out. By contrast booking in for our camps on the Botswana side was done with aplomb.

What a first day it proved to be for sightings. Within 10 minutes of entering the park we had a spitting cobra crossing the road in front of us and not ten minutes later a pair of lazy mating lions and barely ten minutes later still a pair of Cheetahs. What luck. The last Cheetahs we saw were also in this park but at a great distance so it was a real joy to encounter a pair so close to the road. Our last trip in September this year gave us Honey Badger sightings this trip proved to be the trip of the Cheetah – more in due course.

Spitting Cobra barely 10 minutes into the park !

Spitting Cobra barely 10 minutes into the park !

10 minutes later !

10 minutes later !

Within half an hour of entering the park :-)

Within half an hour of entering the park 🙂

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We were heading for Mata Mata to the Kalahari Tented Camp and it has to be said that large sections of the road are in a very poor and corrugated state. It would seem to me that the route is used by vehicles, many with trailers, who stop one night at Twee Riveren, a second night at Mata Mata, and then cross into Namibia; we thought that a lot of these vehicles were driving very fast – maybe like the route through Kruger to Mozambique it has become just a thoroughfare ? Maybe they should make people stay three nights or police the road better.

On Road to Mata Mata

On Road to Mata Mata

Road to Mata Mata

Road to Mata Mata

It was good to be back at the Tented Camp which was full. We had a pair of lions down at the waterhole and whilst a bit far for really good photos they did keep us entertained. It was very hot with heavy clouds but no rain. There had been rain in the previous few days and thus some areas of the roads were wet and muddy.

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The next day we had changed to stay at the Riverside Cottages at Mata Mata. The campsite was very full and we were pleased not to be staying here as there was very little shade still available. There would appear to be maintenance problems in this park; we were told that generators and pumps were failing here and at Nossob and I did think that the Tented Camp could do with a bit of upkeep too. The chalet we had was situated near to the septic tank which judging by the smell was also having problems – when I pointed this out at reception I was told, yes, they knew about it ! SO ??????? I don’t know who thought this one out but these cottages are all well and good and upmarket – even with TV (who wants TV in a park ? )…. and an aircon. But they turn the power off at 9.00 pm. It is hot, very hot. So you open all the windows – no netting on the windows so you spend the rest of the night fighting with the mozzies and trying not to gag on the smell from the septic tank. It had rained in the early evening but that cool did not last for long. So OK never again, in future only the Kalahari Tented Camp.

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In the two days that we were up at Mata Mata we went out on game drives and saw some generally good sightings.

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Moving on we took another full days drive to go around the park and up to Polentswa Camp site #1 – our favorite campsite here. It was good to be back and for the first time we encountered a Botspark crew who had booked themselves into Campsite #2. Four cars arrived late in the afternoon – they were all friends and were supposed to share out between camps 2 & 3; given that the Botspark crew were in #2 they all shared camp 3. Interesting. The Crew came down to us and made a big show of “cleaning” up the braai area and actually asked to see our permit – first time for everything 🙂 however it needs to be said that all these A frames are in urgent need of repairs and treatment – this most obviously is not on the menu.The crew comprised one man and two ladies – one big tent – In the night we had a gale force wind, I am surprised that the RTT survived without damage. Wow what a wind.

At Polentswa

At Polentswa

At Polentswa

At Polentswa

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Whilst at Polentswa we did have some rain and the earth smelt sweet – big juicy drops of rain – wonderful – and we were treated to a lightning show from far off in the distance. We also had a roaring Lion off in the near distance too.We went out in the day time for drives to the various waterholes with good sightings.

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The two days here went very quickly and then it was off to Grootkalk for two days to another tented camp. We had never been here before so were pleased to have the opportunity – again the camp could do with some maintenance and a change of mattress ! We had lions & jackals & noisy hyenas in the night and a very noisy lion outside in the early morning – what a wonderful experience – it sounded like he was right outside our door.My goodness could he roar !

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Unions End Dec 2013 compare with next photo

Unions End Dec 2013 compare with next photo

Unions End last year Feb 2012 !

Unions End last year Feb 2012 !

Our stay in the park was drawing to a close and the weather was set to change.Leaving Grootkalk we had to head for our last night at Rooiputs which we did stopping off for a leg stretch at Nossob.They have still not repaired the Ablutions ! We had been told that the park was full, and the website bore this out; but it has to said that we really did not encounter that much traffic at all and arriving at Nossob we were surprised to see it quite empty in fact.

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Leaving Nossob not having seen much at all earlier in the day we encountered, in the road, drinking water from a puddle, what at first looked like an injured dog, approaching slowly and keeping our distance this turned out to be a magnificient cheetah. We shut off the engine and waited and took the best photos we could from the distance. During this period my camera decided that its battery needed changing and whilst so doing the Cheetah who had been calling to things unseen started to run off looking over her shoulder – three other Cheetahs duly followed.Grrrrrrr technology. It was a fantastic sight to see however and travelling on a few minutes later I remembered that I had turned on my GoPro 3+ which I have mounted on the dash and sure enough – allbeit at a distance – later I found that I had captured the footage.

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Next down the road came a group of three lions doing what lions mostly do – nothing – and blow me down a bit further on what do we encounter ? but another cheetah walking with determination towards Nossob. Interesting taking photos whilst driving backwards 🙂 Luckily there was no other traffic around.

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Just LEAVE me out of this !

Just LEAVE me out of this !

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In all this excitement we had taken the shortcut over the hill and missed the Melkvlei picnic site and we really felt like a leg stretch so turning around to go back there what do we encounter ? – yep – yet another Cheetah with a baby Springbok kill. Unbelievable, simply unbelievable.

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Having had a leg stretch we continued down towards Rooiputs to find that the Cheetah with the kill had dragged it off into the deep cover but not 100 yards further down the road were yet another pair of lions. What a day.

You woke me up WHY ?

You woke me up WHY ?

I'm off to the Lions Union - far too many Cheetah photos here

I’m off to the Lions Union – far too many Cheetah photos here

The day was drawing in and serious rain was a very strong possiblility, it had been spitting on and off all day. We set up camp at Rooiputs camp #4 (at last I got it !) and managed to braai and clean up before the rain started in earnest. It rained heavily all night.

Rooiputs campsite #4 - (at last !!)

Rooiputs campsite #4 – (at last !!)

Fortunately the rain stopped long enough in the morning for us to pack up our very wet RTT and feeling a bit down started on our way out of the park. The road south was very wet and muddy with huge lakes on the road. The Nossob river whilst not actually flowing contained a fair amount of water.

Heading South out of the park from Rooiputs

Heading South out of the park from Rooiputs

Water in the Nossob River ! :-)

Water in the Nossob River ! 🙂

Leaving the park early was easy and fast and we travelled from here all the way to Calvinia arriving on Xmas Eve early in the afternoon. We could actually have carried on but having done 7 hours the thought of another 4 was a bit much and we had booked anyway. We had planned the trip so that we could avoid as much of the holiday traffic as possible and so on Xmas Day we left Calvinia at 6.30am and were back in Cape Town by late morning. Traffic going towards Cape Town was virtually nil until Malmesbury but I was quite surprised at the amount of traffic heading North, not heavy, but more than I would have thought. Home, change cars and go to the daughter’s & family for lunch – the end of a perfect trip.

Just under 4000Kms travelled, no problems other than a dead tyredog – can’t be bad. 🙂

LINKS: Cheetahs Crossing

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East Africa Trip 2012
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