Kgalagadi: Walk among wild animals
I’m not afraid of lions.
Well, not when I’m sitting in my car with the windows closed and the lion is 50m away under a tree, in dreamland. But walking in the red dunes of the Kgalagadi with nothing but fresh air between you and a pride is a different matter.
The !Xerry Wilderness Trail.
So you can imagine my apprehension when I accepted an invitation from SANParks to experience the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park’s two-day !Xerry Wilderness Trail with a few other journalists. This trail is in dune veld about 12km west of Nossob, an area that’s otherwise inaccessible. A 4×4 trail does run past the !Xerry camp, but you might well not see other people during your stay.
!Xerry is for someone in search of less rather than more.
And then, just as you start to think there’s nothing, you start to notice plenty. We go for an unhurried late afternoon walk with field guide André Butler (who could pass for a bass player in a blues band if he were not in uniform).
Keep your eyes peeled.
We recognise the ponderous gait of a kori bustard in the distance, and see crimson-breasted shrikes, southern pale chanting goshawks and scaly-feathered finches. We also see red hartebeest, gemsbok, blue wildebeest, springbok and a steenbok or three. This is particularly apt, as !Xerry is Nama for “steenbok”. It’s the small things, however, that hold our attention for longer, those you don’t see from a car.
A closer look.
André motions us closer and we squat to get a closer look at what looks like a spoor in the sand. From a distance we probably look like a bunch of cricket commentators examining cracks in the pitch before the game.
“What do you think it is?” André asks.
Springbok spoor? André plucks a blade of grass and tickles the “spoor”. After the third tickle, a spider suddenly appears from under the sand! It’s not a spoor, but the doublelayered web (covered in sand to camouflage it) of the buck spoor spider. If the spider senses a visitor stepping on its trapdoor, it comes out to see whether it might be something edible.
Walking along the crest of a long dune, we look down on a dune street on either side, perfectly parallel. Dunes stretch to the horizon in every direction. It’s almost sunset and we sit down for sundowners on the “peak” of the dune. We can see !Xerry Camp, about 500m away. The torches in the boma have already been lit, and from up here it looks like a cosy haven. Back at the camp, huddling around the fire while supper is being cooked, I almost forget we’re in lion country… until I have to go to the toilet. It’s a long drop in an enclosure without a roof, so you can look over the fence and see only desert. A lion might even try his luck with this fence, I think as I’m sitting there. “Not likely,” André reassures me a little later. “You don’t have to worry. Lions are more likely to dig a hole under a fence than to jump over it.”
It’s time for bed and I have a tent to myself. Slowly, the voices from the other tents quieten down. Every now and then the sociable weavers chirp-chirp from their nest above me. I wish I could hear a lion roar perhaps the famous Nossob lion brothers Jan and Freek, proclaiming the boundaries of their territory. I have to make do, however, with some jackal action and human snoring.
Go! says: At !Xerry Camp you realise you can do without your social circle and 300 TV channels.
Game hikes 101
How it works. Maximum 8 hikers per group. You only hike from late afternoon till sunset and from before sunrise until about 9am.
The hike. There’s no destination for the day’s hike. Distances depend on the group, but you never hike more than 15 km per day. Guides are armed.
What to pack. Food for two days, drinking water, full camping and cooking gear, warm clothes for night time, sunscreen, hat, sunglasses, binoculars, a birding book and comfortable hiking
shoes. Wood is sold at Nossob.
Season. The !Xerrytrail is open only from 1 April to 31 October.
Vehicle. You leave your vehicle at Nossob; transport to !Xerry is provided.
Children. Only 16 and older.
Cost: R850 per person for the two days.
Contact: 012 4289111; 054 561 2000
More game-viewing hikes
1. Serendipity Trail: On this bushveld loop near Mookgophong, Limpopo, you can see zebras, blue wildebeest, kudu, impala, bushbuck, klipspringers and baboons.
Cost: R180 per person for the weekend (two nights’accommodation); half-price for children between 5 and 12 years.
Contact: 014 743 1665
2. Cape of Good Hope HikingTrail: For two days you walk among fynbos near the sea and look for bontebok, eland and mountain zebra.
Cost: R120 – R150 per person, depending on season, plus R75 conservation fee.
Contact: 021 780 9204
3. Marutswa Forest Boardwalk: This trail near bulwer in KZN is ideal for anyone who likes to be in the outdoors but has difficulty walking. A section of the trail is even wheelchair-friendly (in dryweather). You’re likely to see rare Cape parrots (the best place in the country to spot them), orange ground thrushes, bush blackcaps, longcrested eagles and narina trogons.
Cost: Adults R20, R5 per pupil, under-sixes free. It costs R120 per hour per group to hire a guide.
Contact: 082 574 7987
(Note: Prices accurate in January 2010)