Central Kalahari Game Reserve
The Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) is one of the largest game reserves in the world, covering an estimated 52,800 kmÂ² in surface area, which is roughly 1/11th of the entire country. It was established in 1961, with the original intention of being a sanctuary for the San culture, who called the Central Kalahari their home and consequently remained undeveloped and closed to the public for almost 30 years. The public first fell in love with the San culture, through books such as "The Lost World of the Kalahari" by Laurens van der Post, published in 1958, and the highly publisized and humorous film "The Gods must be Crazy", which was released in the 1980's. Although very few San still reside in the CKGR today, you will still have an opportunity to experience interaction with the ancient culture when residing at one of the lodges in and around the reserve.
If you are looking to visit a place where you can experience absolute remoteness and untouched wilderness, then the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana should be on your list of places to see. The land offers huge open plains, with various different types of Acacia scattered along ancient riverbeds and the odd salt pans inbetween. If your interest lies in wildlife, do try to visit the northern Kalahari after the first rains have fallen (January-April), when the fresh grass attracts a large number of antelope, which are closely followed by predators, including Cheetah and the famous black maned Lions.
Initially, it was incredibly difficult to gain access to the reserve, as special approval and permits were required. One of the few known visitors were Mark and Delia Owens, who ended up living in the Deception Valley for about 7 years in the 1970's, which inspired their bestselling book "Cry of the Kalahari". Only from the late 1980's, the park allowed it's first organised tours to enter, and more recently it opened to self-drivers, as the park now offers basic camping facilities. For those who consider camping, this experience is only viable if you have some 4x4 driving experience and requires it a lot of pre-planning. The park does not have shops, nor does it provide fuel and water, therefore one should prepare to bring sufficient supplies to survive for the duration of ones stay.
Things to do in Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR):
If you are staying at one of the lodges in and around the Game Reserve, your activities in the Kalahari will revolve around game drives, which will focus on both wildlife and birds. In addition, some, but not all lodges, offer a glimpse into the life of the ancient San culture. The Kalahari is also a great place for stargazing, especially during the dry season (May-October) when skies are clear.
For those who are self-driving, you will be limited to game drives during daylight hours. Do take note that the CKGR is not for the faint hearted and it is suggested to travel in a convoy with a minimum of 2 vehicles, especially at the southern entrance of the park.
How to get to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR):
The easiest mode of travel is by light aircraft, flying directly to your preferred accommodation. Most of the luxury lodges are located in the northern part of the CKGR. The nearest international airport would be Maun, where you can catch a light aircraft transfer. Alternatively, you can arrange a mobile tented safari with a local tour operator, starting in Maun or Gaborone, entering via the Northern and Sourthern gates respectively.
The CKGR is also accessible by vehicle, but self-driving should be left to those with advanced driving experience, when travelling during the rainy season. The roads can be quite deceptive, especially when driving across a dry surface that may be hiding a bottomless mud pit underneath. It is therefore recommended to drive in a convoy with a minimum of 2 vehicles, should one car get stuck, the other can assist. It can also happen that one comes across roads that haven't been used in months, which can likely lead to someone heading off track. Extra fuel should be calculated for this in case of emergency.
There are three entrance gates to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR), one in the North at the Matswere Gate (1.5 hours from Rakops or 3-4 hours from Maun), one in the west at Xade Gate (6 hours from Ghanzi) and one in the south at Khutse (4 hours from Lethlakeng to Khankhwe campsite via Khutse).
Where to stay in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR):
Given the size of the reserve, to this day you can only find 2 lodges placed inside the reserve itself, the Kalahari Plains Camp and Tau Pan Camp. Alternatively, there are several lodges scattered around the reserve, such as Dinaka, which is one of the recommended choices. For self-drivers, there is a large number of campsites to choose from. During the rainy season the northern CKGR will suffice. During the dry season, aim to stay near the artificial waterholes such, as Passarge Pan, Sunday Pan, Letiahau and Piper's Pan to increase your chances of wildlife sightings.