Photo trip report: South Africa, Cape to Kgalagadi

Nov 12th, 2011, 07:03 AM
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Photo trip report: South Africa, Cape to Kgalagadi

I have posted photos of my latest adventure to South Africa--from Cape Town up the West Coast to Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, August 2011. My spouse and I are birders so this report is focused on that but we of course saw many mammals as well, along with incredible scenery. Since Kgalagadi gets little attention on this forum (or elsewhere, for that matter) I thought it might be of interest--it should be, as its an amazing park.

We timed this trip to coincide with the wildflower display for which the West Coast of SA is famed, and we were not disappointed, with incredible vistas of flowers especially in the Skilpad Preserve section of Namaqua National Park. We saw 209 bird species overall, many less than on our first South Africa trip but still a good number given the desert habitat of the north. We had 33 mammal species as well.

Our itinerary in a nutshell: Four nights in Cape Town, visiting: Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, Boulder's Beach (where we lodged), Cape Point Reserve, Strandfontein Sewage Works (yes, this is a must-stop for birders), and a trip along the coast of False Bay to Rooi Els for Cape Rockjumper (a special rare endemic bird which we found, but alas, no photos.) Then up the West coast to West Coast National Park (staying one night in Langebaan), then a night in Lambert's Bay for the Cape Gannet colony (unfortunately one of our two foggy mornings, putting the kabosh on my hopes of great flight shots.) Then to Namaqualand: Skilpad reserve (more for flowers than birds), and Goegap Preserve (beautiful but our other foggy morning.) Then to Augrabies Falls National Park for two nights.

Finally, culminating with a week in Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park on the border of Namibia and Botswana. This fantastic Kalahari landscape is great for raptors, and predators, and you are practically tripping over species like Kori Bustard, Lilac-breasted Roller, and Pale-chanting Goshawk. Although apparently August is not the best time for mammal activity as it was quite cold most mornings. Still, we had some great sightings of lion (including mother and three cubs on a Gemsbok kill) and leopard, cheetah too but only in the distance (no good photos sadly.) Lots of Bat-eared Fox, Wildebeest, and the main antelopes of Springbok and Gemsbok. Because of the habitat it does not support buffalo or elephant or rhino, so it is not a place to see the Big Five, but it makes up for that in other ways. Not too many folks make it up this far--certainly not many American tourists--and it is a really special place, highly recommended.

We had perfect weather the entire time, aside from two foggy mornings--not one drop of rain. I had been concerned because so many on this forum and elsewhere had said that August is the worst time for Cape Town, with potential rain for days, but we had crystal clear blue skies the entire trip, with comfortable temperatures (except in the Kalahari where temps were quite cold in the very early mornings!)

The trip was arranged and privately guided by Lawson's Birding & Wildlife Tours, ( highly recommended--the 2nd time we've used them for South Africa.

Photos here:

Enjoy! I'll be happy to answer any questions concerning this area, especially Kgalagadi.
jczinn is offline  
Nov 12th, 2011, 09:10 AM
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JC, just wonderfully beautiful photos!! What lens did you use for the birds? Steve
sdb2 is offline  
Nov 12th, 2011, 09:28 AM
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Love your pics. Looks like a great trip. Very adventurous!

We are planning a similar trip and I am very interested in your thoughts about the camps you stayed in in Kgalagadi. Did you take any of the SanParks night drives? We won't have a guide with us so will have to deal with bringing/making our own food. I don't know how that could work in an unfenced camp . We will rent a 4x4 but I am concerned about the "roads". We originally were planning for Sept, but have to put it off until at least May 2013! Bummer!

Any details would be appreciated.
christabir is offline  
Nov 12th, 2011, 09:33 AM
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Stunning photos. Good to hear about the weather as we are visiting Cape Town next August.
raelond is offline  
Nov 12th, 2011, 10:11 AM
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All of your photos are beautiful but "Starry Night" was absolutely gorgeous. Thanks for sharing.
one2travel2 is offline  
Nov 12th, 2011, 12:43 PM
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Thanks everyone!

@sbd2: hi Steve, I used a Nikon 200-400 for the birds, mostly with the 1.4 Nikon TC, on a D300s. By clicking the "i" button in the corner of the photos you can get basic exif data for each.

@christabir: The primary roads in Kgalagadi were really fine--(and there are only two of them..) We had a 4 x 4 but we didn't stay at either of the "4x4" only camps (Bittepan and Grootkolk), so I can't really vouch for those roads. Which camps are you planning? We stayed in two unfenced (wilderness) camps--Kieliekranke (fantastic setting, the sunset photo is from there) and Kalahari Tented Camp. We also stayed at Nossob and Twee Rivieren. If you are in the cabins there really is no issue with being unfenced because while the camp itself is unfenced, the cabins are not--nothing can get in As far as I know there is no tent camping except in the fenced camps. At Kieliekranke our guide had an African Wildcat rooting around his trash cans, unfortunately we missed it! I highly recommend staying in as many wilderness camps as you can, they are fantastic--but reserve as far ahead as possible, as there are not many cabins. We reserved the day that they open up for the following year, which I believe is exactly 11 months. We also enjoyed Nossob (our best lion sightings in that area and a good waterhole.)

We took one night drive, from Kalahari Tented camp--we were able to book the night drive originating from Mata Mata--they came and picked us up (Mata Mata is only 3k from KTC.) We were the only two people on the drive, and we didn't see much--some bat-eared foxes and a lot of Spring Hares, an owl--nothing much else. So it was a bit of a disappointment, but still nice to be out in the bush at night. You just never know with night drives.

For lots of good info on Kgalagadi I'd check out the San Parks Arid Parks forum, lots of friendly folk there and that's where I got most of my information before the trip.
jczinn is offline  
Nov 12th, 2011, 01:50 PM
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jc - thanks. We agree about the wilderness camps - definitely the way to go. I am not afraid of the unfenced thing, I just don't know how to protect the food from hyenas and AWCats! In Yosemite, one keeps their food away from your sleeping tent and car - in Kgalagadi, you keep it with you. I wish we could do the guide, if only for the food logistics.

I tried to make rez on Oct 1 for next Sept. Many dates were already sold out. I assume that's guides and such. I have checked out that site. It's great.
christabir is offline  
Nov 12th, 2011, 02:00 PM
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christabir--I guess I am confused about what your concern is-- in the unfenced camps, there are cabins and the kitchen is enclosed inside. In Kalahari Tented camp (which actually is more like a cabin than a tent--the roof is tented but the walls are cemented sandbags at least halfway up) the kitchen is in a separate room that is across your patio but it is all fenced, and sealed. In Kieliekranke we had a kitchen right in our cabin. I presume the other wilderness camps are similar.

If you are doing actual camping (pitching your own tent or in an RV) that is only allowed in the fenced camps. Of course, you will do your brai-ing outside but you are on a porch or up on stilts. Seems unlikely that an animal could come up there or would while there were people about--tho I suppose not impossible!
jczinn is offline  
Nov 19th, 2011, 08:32 AM
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Stunning photos of professional quality--birds to flowers. So many great group shots in Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Such an adventure! Thanks.
atravelynn is offline  
Nov 19th, 2011, 10:40 PM
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You have some lovely photos - I especially enjoyed the birds. We love Kgalagadi - it is our favourite SA park - we visited most recently this past August (I wonder if we crossed paths) and will return for Christmas/New Years (we are in SA for a year). We have been to the park every year but one since 2004. We too love the wilderness camps - stunning locations, intimate atmosphere, unfenced, great rangers....we love them. Our favourites are Bitterpan and Gharagab - so isolated - well worth the extra cost of the 4x4! Grootkolk is another favourite. Bitterpan and Grootkolk have communal cooking areas, although it is possible to braai at your tent if you prefer. We like the communal cooking areas simply because they provide the opportunity to interact with our fellow guests. We always ask the ranger to join us for dinner, and they tell wonderful stories. We try to take the rangers something useful, such as batteries for their headlamps and flashlights - SAN Parks does not seem to outfit the rangers very well.

Christabir - Food storage is not a problem - if you don't feel the storage cupboards in the tents/kitchens are sufficient, you can always leave your non-perishable food in your vehicle and store the remainder in the tent's refrigerator. The biggest challenge are the mice - we travel with our food in big, sturdy plastic tubs (from Pick 'n Pay), so that we are able to leave our food in our tent or the communal kitchen. We have never had a problem with anything but mice - no hyena or cats. (A little different from Canada, where bears are always a concern and you haul your food up into a tree at night). Shop well before your enter the park - there isn't much in the shops - some frozen meat, basic dairy products, drinks, but no fresh produce. Also, cash only for petrol, and be aware that the one ATM in the park often isn't working, so take all the cash you will need. If you're stuck, the shop at Nossob will give you cash off your credit card. CR
canadian_robin is offline  
Mar 24th, 2012, 05:58 PM
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jczinn: I just found your trip report and exciting photos! Thanks for sharing. I'm beginning to plan my first trip to South Africa! My biologist husband is interested in the little things that other people miss...rare indigenous plants, tortoises, reptiles, etc. We love flowers too and I am also concerned about September weather at Cape peninsula...but we are aiming for an August/September/or October trip (next year) because of the flowers. I know August is best for Namakwaland flowers, but September is better for the flowers and plants closer to Table Mountain and the Cape peninsula area. I notice you gambled on the weather as well, and you got good weather! I'm happy for you! Your photos make me feel excited about this trip.

We are looking at Eastern Cape, Western Cape with Cape peninsula, and Northern cape (maybe). We will have up to 3 weeks in South Africa, maybe a bit less. We are avoiding malaria areas on this first trip.

I skimmed your trip report and looked at your amazing photos...I'm looking forward to another read-through of your trip report. If you had to pick a highlight...your favorite spot that you visited on this trip...what would you choose?
Melissa5 is offline  

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