2011 was a truly memorable wildlife photography year for me as I travelled to some wonderful locations to photograph some of the greatest species that mother nature has to offer. I also fulfilled many personal goals when it came to getting photographs in national parks that I have wanted to visit for a long time.
Top of the list was the wildebeest migration in Kenya and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in Southern Africa. The lush grass that drives the wildebeest to chase the rain in the Mara is all too absent in the Kalahari desert. The sheer variety of predators that you can see in a short space of time in the Kgalagadi, edges it for me as the better of the two parks, only just though. What sways it for me, is pure and simply my love of birds of prey, of which there are many.
For many years the Kalahari Gemsbok Park was the only park in South Africa that I had never visited, and by the time I had the means to get there, it had been extended into Botswana and had been renamed as the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.
Twee Rivieren (Two rivers) is the southernmost camp that I stayed in with the best facilities in the Park. The two rivers (Nossob and Auob) that converge north of the camp have not flowed since the early 70’s and the roads you travel on, wind along the dry riverbeds punctuated with the welcome waterholes that provide water for the animals that live there. I also stayed in Mata Mata and Nossob camps.
I was using a 4×4 for the entire trip and although the Park authorities say that a normal 2×4 sedan is good enough, occasionally the verges along the sides of the road make it difficult for people in lower vehicles to spot and photograph wildlife that are further from the road. There were also areas of thick sand on the roads and a few 2×4 vehicles had to be retrieved much to the amusement of the 4×4 community.
So what makes this place so special? The Kalahari Desert makes for great contrasting landscapes with a variety of different eco-systems. The red dunes set against the dark clouds of the frequent thunderstorms will give you some fantastic photographic opportunities. It is dry and hot and you can only but marvel at the wildlife that survives there. For me, the lure was always the predators. In the Kgalagadi you will get many chances to photograph the dark maned Lions out in the open. The sparse nature of trees and bushes in the riverbeds means the lions have to move around in the open for quite long periods. They also tend to lounge around the man-made waterholes giving you some of the best chances to get good photos with clean backgrounds. I also saw a great many Cheetahs including 4 kills. Leopard and hyenas are prevalent although less visible. Bat-eared fox and Cape fox run around the riverbed looking for tiny morsels, often oblivious of the humans watching them.
The birds of prey was another focus of my trip and I managed to get some fantastic photos of the various birds from the majestic Martial Eagle to the diminutive Pygmy Falcon. Owls also were a predominant feature and I spent many hours photographing the various large species.
This treasure of a wilderness area is without a doubt the best park in South Africa. It can be difficult to get to and requires a lot more planning than say, the Kruger National Park, but the landscape and the creatures that call it home make this one of Africa’s finest.
This is the biggest post I have uploaded so far and I hope that it conveys the magic of the Kalahari.