Daily Archives: September 19, 2014

In the wild: Tswalu Kalahari Reserve Part 3

Wednesday Morning

On Wednesday morning after their sleep out, Oliver and Peter got to go and meet a colony of Meerkats. They walked in on foot and got incredibly close to these delightful little guys (and girls).

A Meerkat at Tswalu

A colony of curious Meerkats

Oliver got close to the Meerkats

Wednesday Afternoon

On Wednesday afternoon I treated myself to a Rejuvenating Facial in the beautiful and relaxing Tswalu Kalahari Spa. This award winning spa has a menu of delicious spa experiences. I enjoyed my hour chatting with Spa Manager and Beauty Therapist, Corli, as she cleansed and moisturised my face, which had been exposed to a fair bit of sun and wind on the game drives.

All four of us then joined a game drive to a pack of African Wild Dogs. These animals also are extremely endangered and rare in the wild. This pack was made up of five adult dogs and nine quite young pups. When we arrived the dogs were sleeping and yawning in the shade of some trees. But after a while the adult dogs got up, kissed the pups goodbye (literally) and then organised themselves to hunt for dinner. We followed them as they trotted in formation through the bush, stopped to look and listen for prey, and then fanned out and sprinted when they targeted prey to chase. It was a thrilling sight to see these beautiful animals showing us their true nature. Again, before this we only had seen them behind fences at the Cheetah Rescue Centre.

An African Wild Dog stretching after an afternoon nap and preparing to hunt

African Wild Dog pups

The African Wild Dog Alpha male leading the hunt

Thursday Morning

On Thursday morning, our last morning in this paradise, we did some horseback riding. It was extremely cold and windy so Oliver and Louisa rode in the Stable’s arena, although a rather naughty orphan Zebra kept running at Louisa’s horse and making it shy. Meanwhile I took a ride with Juan and Patrick, the horse guide, out across the bush and saw Baboons running away from the horses. Because it was quite windy the horses were very skittish. So we stayed relatively close to the Stables, looping out into the bush for a kilometre or two at a sedate pace. I didn’t want to be thrown off onto any of the many Tswalu plants that have huge sharp thorns if my horse got a fright in the wind.

Bush riding

Comfortable in the saddle!

On our way back to pack up our Lodge, we asked Juan and Ben if there was a chance we could see some Giraffes. In our four days we had not yet seen any although apparently they are a reasonably common sight. Sure enough, Ben spotted some Giraffes on the horizon as if conjuring them by magic. When we got closer we found two beautiful male Giraffes engaged in a display of dominance called “necking”. They circled one another and banged each other on the neck or body with their heads. Juan said that people hardly ever get to see this display!

So in just four days we managed to see rare Cheetahs and African Wild dogs, an endangered Desert Black Rhino, a Leopard, Giraffes, Lions, countless other African wild animals, birds, snakes (including a deadly Cape Cobra), lizards, insects, trees, plants and on and on. As Louisa said when we were planning this trip: lots of animals but no fences!

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“Necking” giraffes at Tswalu

From This Country to Our Country

Tomorrow we fly home to Australia. South Africa and Australia seem to have a lot in common in the uncommon beauty of their landscapes, fauna and flora: sunburnt countries both, lands of sweeping plains … Although we have loved the animals during our stay at Tswalu, we perhaps have loved just as much, maybe more, the landscape itself. What a glorious, glorious part of the world!

From one divine sunrise …

… to another

As a farewell, the kind people at Tswalu gave each of us a small bottle of red Kalahari Desert sand to take home. In a parting note, the Tswalu team wrote:

People say that if you leave with the red sand of the dunes in your shoes, the desert will call you back. So take a few grains with you — this will always be your home in the Kalahari.

Will we be back? We hope so. Meanwhile we will keep in touch via the Tswalu blog. But our visit may benefit the Kalahari as it has benefited us. In the same farewell note we read:

As you have seen, the southern Kalahari is a precious environment. Your visit will contribute to the conservation and care of what may be South Africa’s last great wilderness.

Ready to fly home. Farewell magical Tswalu.

What a rare privilege it has been to experience this final and elemental face of South Africa!

Go back to “In the wild: Tswalu Kalahari Reserve Part 1 or Part 2” 

In the wild: Tswalu Kalahari Reserve Part 2

Sunday Afternoon

On our first afternoon, Oliver and Peter joined Juan and Ben for their first game drive. They met a lot of African animals we are less familiar with, such as this Blue Wildebeest. But mostly they were on the path of a Leopard, which they tracked down quite close to the Lodges. That night we were told to be cautious walking to and from our Lodge as the Leopard might still be close by.

A Blue Wildebeest

Tracking the Leopard

Monday Morning

On Monday morning we set out at 6am, before sunrise, looking for two male Cheetahs that had been spotted Sunday night. Ben and Juan followed tracks in the sand and scats on the ground until we spotted them strolling along one of the dirt roads. Their stomachs were full from hunting the night before and we followed them and watched as they looked for and then settled into a comfortable resting spot for the day. It was amazing to see these animals in their natural habitat. They are highly endangered and the last time we saw Cheetahs was behind fences in the Sanctuary near Maropeng. Almost all of the animals at Tswalu are used to the safari vehicles and so we were not in danger even though we got very close. We were instructed simply to stay seated in the jeep and not to make loud or sudden movements. But these Cheetahs were happy to yawn and ignore us!

Tracking two male Cheetahs

Cheetahs are highly endangered but protected and thriving at Tswalu

Monday Afternoon

On Monday afternoon, continuing the good luck and/or demonstrating the great skills of our Guide and Tracker, we found a pack of 10 Lions lazing near a waterhole. This group included four gorgeous young Lion cubs. While the adult Lions mostly slept on and ignored us, the cubs were very playful and inquisitive.

Four gorgeous Lion cubs

Playful and inquisitive

Meanwhile the adult Lions snoozed on in the afternoon heat

 Tuesday Morning

On Tuesday morning we set out to find a Desert Black Rhino, a critically endangered animal and one of the hallmark species of Tswalu. But he proved quite elusive! We searched for nearly four hours, following tracks, signs and scats; finding lots of other animals but not our Rhino. Finally, a call came through on the radio from another Guide who had spotted a Rhino way up on the edge of the Reserve. When we found him he was camouflaged well in the surrounding bush and stared rather suspiciously at us. Rhinos apparently are skittish and aggressive so we respectfully kept our distance from this awesome animal. After this long morning we were thoroughly exhausted but already had seen an incredible array of African wildlife in just a few days.

A Springbok

A Warthog

A herd of Plains Zebras

The elusive and highly endangered Desert Black Rhino

Tuesday Afternoon

On Tuesday evening Oliver and Peter drove with Juan and Ben out onto a dune in the middle of the Reserve where they spent the night sleeping under the stars in Tswalu’s Malori Sleep-Out Deck. They were treated to a glorious sunset and delicious dinner cooked by Ben (although unfortunately ants got to their dessert before they did) before being left to the bush and the dark.

Preparing to camp under the stars on a sand dune

Another beautiful sunset

Read on to “In the wild: Tswalu Kalahari Reserve Part 3” … (or go back to Part 1)

 

In the wild: Tswalu Kalahari Reserve Part 1

On Sunday afternoon, four days ago, we flew into Tswalu Kalahari Reserve on a small private plane.

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On a seven seater plane to Tswalu

Tswalu is the largest private game reserve in South Africa; 100,000 hectares of land in the southern Kalahari. Over the past 10-15 years the owners, the Oppenheimers, and their conservation team have worked to renew the land and to return plant, animal, bird and other species lost during periods of farming and hunting in this part of the “Green Kalahari”. At Tswalu you stay in Lodges right at the heart of the game reserve with wildlife wandering past your doorstep!

Wildlife on our back doorstep

The typical pattern at game reserves in Africa is to go on “game drives” in open safari vehicles early in the morning before sunrise and late in the afternoon as the sun sets. The wildlife is more active early and late in the day as everything and everyone rests during the intense heat of the middle of the day. So our days at Tswalu were broken into morning and afternoon/evening activities with quiet time in between: we returned from our game drives to eat brunch, swim in the pool, rest, play quietly, or read. We were miles and miles and miles from the nearest town so everything revolved around the game drives.

Our safari vehicle

Brunch after a game drive

Relaxing by the pool

The view to the pool, waterhole and beyond

At Tswalu, which is a truly luxurious game park experience, each family, couple or group has their own Guide and Tracker. This way we were able to tailor our game drives to the things that Oliver and Louisa were most interested in: learning about tracks, seeing the animals they liked, cutting the drives short when they became tired. This arrangement of a private Guide and Tracker for each group is perfect and a distinctive part of the Tswalu experience; it means that each group has their own needs met.

Tracking wild animals

Our Guide’s name was Juan; he drove the safari vehicle and interpreted for us what we were seeing. His knowledge of animals, birds, plants and the surroundings — their look, calls, tracks, habits, locations — was truly amazing! He told us he was born nearby in Kimberley, had worked on a number of game reserves, and is a “bush baby”. He was incredibly passionate about Tswalu and the Kalahari and seemed to be in his perfect job. He taught us the Afrikaans word for “truly awesome” (lekker, which sounded like lacquer to my ears) because he used it so often to describe what we were seeing. If only everyone could find the role in life that suited them so completely!

Our Tracker’s name was Ben; he sat on a jump seat at the front of the safari vehicle and looked for prints, scats and other signs of the animals we were tracking. He signalled to Juan the path to follow. Sometimes they both got out of the vehicle and walked around, peering at signs on the ground, or discussing options. They spoke mostly in Afrikaans but it was fascinating to watch them and see how their discussions and interpretations of signs around them led us to, for instance, two Cheetahs or a Leopard or the elusive Desert Black Rhino. These animals were like needles in a haystack in the huge expanse of landscape, yet everyday we found and learned about so many beautiful creatures thanks to Juan and Ben’s encyclopaedic yet somewhat mysterious talents.

Oliver, Juan and Ben

Juan showing Oliver and Louisa how to interpret tracks in the sand

Louisa following some bird tracks

Read on to “In the wild: Tswalu Kalahari Reserve Part 2” …