The small camp of Mata-Mata is not just a border post between South Africa and Namibia. It’s also one of the best game-viewing areas in the Kgalagadi.
Stands. Just like Satara in the Kruger National Park, a few lucky Mata-Mata campers can pitch their tents right next to the fence. But sadly there’s not as much game as at Satara. Except for a spotted hyena or two that makes the rounds at night, you seldom see anything more than a lone ostrich or a small herd of blue wildebeest drinking at the waterhole.
My favourite stand is #6 in the north-western corner of the campsite. It’s right next to the fence. You usually have only one neighbour and it’s in the shade most of the day.
The giant camel thorn trees in other parts of the campsite look attractive, but be prepared to share the shade with a lot of other campers.
Ablution facilities. There is only one ablution block in the campsite, with three showers, two toilets, urinals and basins on the men’s side. There is barely enough space for your toiletry bag and clothes in the shower cubicles, and a lot of the hooks are broken.
On the women’s side there are two showers, two basins, three showers and a bath with a hand shower (when we were here, the hand shower was broken, but it might have been fixed since then).
The drinking water at Mata-Mata is not as soapy as Twee Rivieren’s, thanks to a new purification system for borehole water.
Other facilities. There’s a washroom next to the ablution block with six sinks for dishes, two deep basins for clothes and plug sockets in the wall. On the south-western side of the campsite is a wash line.
Visitors: Watch out for Cape ground squirrel holes between the campsite and the ablution block. This is where the young squirrels play, so be careful not to run them over. Spotted hyenas show up at the fence in the early evening – don’t feed them.
Cost? R150 a night for two; R48 per extra adult and R24 per extra child. Maximum six people per stand.
And if I don’t want to camp? There are four new chalets with a river view (R950 a night for two). Three of them sleep four people (R1 450 a night) and one is wheelchair-friendly (R1 087). There are also three older chalets (R520 a night for two).
Which are the best game drive routes?
In the morning
(80 km to Thirteenth Borehole and back – about 4 hours)
Was that a roar?
Get a permit for your game drive at reception and try to be out on the road the moment the gate opens. Drive really slowly for the first 10 km. You might spot an owl, an African wild cat or even a leopard in a tree (they say a female leopard lives near the camp). You’re bound to see spotted hyenas, which are common in the area.
If game is scarce, push on to Dalkeith Waterhole (24 km from Mata-Mata). Lions like to gather here early in the morning. Because it’s so close to the road, this waterhole is one of the best places in the park for morning photography.
Look for the Cape fox den next to the road about 50 m south of the waterhole. October is a good time to see cubs. Also pay a visit to the two boreholes – Thirteenth and Fourteenth. If the lions aren’t at Dalkeith, they’re probably at one of the waterholes.
Out all day
(±170 km to Auchterlonie and back, about 7 hours)
From Mata-Mata there is only one road south and it’s in the Auob River bed. There are two dune roads that you can take (one after 56 km and the other after 84 km), but this isn’t a prime gameviewing area, so I would recommend that you stay in the river bed until you reach the Auchterlonie picnic site (±85 km).
Auchterlonie is a good spot for lunch, so pack some leftovers from last night’s braai. There are bathrooms here, plus a museum where you can see how the early farmers tried to make a living (see last month’s article on Twee Rivieren).
Take your time and drive back to camp slowly in the late afternoon.
(34 km to Craig Lockhart Waterhole and back, 2 hours)
Short drive, long stay
In the late afternoon the angle of the sun is perfect for photography at both Sitzas and Craig Lockhart waterholes, so there is no need to drive far. Spend as much time as possible at these two waterholes, as bateared foxes and cheetahs are regulars in this area.
Just make sure that you and your camera are on the ridge 2 km from camp for the moment when the sun actually dips below the horizon. This is one of the best places to get a shot of a Kgalagadi sunset in all its glory.
Birds and beasts
In the camp: Cape crows are the kings of the campsite – they cheekily hop between the tents looking for insects, leftovers and car keys, so don’t leave any shiny belongings lying around.
The crimson-breasted shrike is common at Mata-Mata. You’ll hear them calling from the treetops.
There are a lot of forktailed drongos at the campsite and sometimes they build nests in the camel thorn trees.
Also look for pearl-spotted owlets that nest in a big camel thorn tree north-west of the swimming pool.
At the waterholes: Cape turtle-doves flock to the waterholes to drink early in the morning and late afternoon. Yellow canaries and Namaqua doves quench their thirst throughout the day.
Mata-Mata to Craig Lockhart: On the 17 km from the camp to Craig Lockhart Waterhole, kori bustards are regularly spotted in the river bed.
African hoopoe scratch around for insects beneath the camel thorn trees.
If you look closely, you may see a spotted eagle-owl. During the day they hide in or under the trees.
On the loop roads: In the open veld surrounding the three loop roads south of the camp, past the boreholes, ostriches and lilac-breasted rollers are regularly spotted. Almost every second dead tree is a lookout point for a black-shouldered kite
Any guided game drives?
Game drives sometimes depart from Mata-Mata (R145 for a morning or night drive; R250 for a day drive), but often there is no field guide on duty. And even if there is someone on duty, it’s probably best to do your own thing.
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Make sure you have extra memory cards for your camera when you approach Mata-Mata. The veld opens up beautifully, there are huge red dunes, and the camel thorn trees look like they belong in a coffee-table book.
The three short loop roads south of the camp, past the Dalkeith Waterhole, Fourteenth Borehole and Thirteenth Borehole, wind through some of the Kgalagadi’s best game-viewing veld. Lions, cheetahs, bat-eared foxes and Cape foxes are regularly seen.
Giraffe are abundant in this area, which wasn’t always the case. Many years ago, they were hunted to extinction in the Kalahari. Then, in 1990, eight giraffe from Etosha were moved into a game camp near Mata-Mata. They were set free after eight years and now there are more than 40 in the park.
Mata-Mata camp itself is tiny, although there is a small shop, a filling station, an information centre and a swimming pool.
There’s also a hide with views of a waterhole in the Auob River, but few animals come to drink here because the camp is near the park border.
The camp is powered by a generator that runs between 5 am and 11 pm. It’s not, however, the source of the constant drone that you hear throughout the day – that’s from another generator on the Namibian side of the border, outside the park.
You can cross the border into Namibia at Mata-Mata, but you have to visit the customs office at Twee Rivieren and you have to spend a minimum of two nights in the park
Take the slow road
Hear the lions roar