Itinerary and route to Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
Route from Johannesburg to Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
The Kalahari is a remote semi-arid wilderness, far from most cities. To get to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park involves a good day’s travel, no matter where you come from. Once you are in the park it takes time to drive around between rest camps. We decided to split our road trip and stop at a few places on the way to explore.
I’d like to share our route and itinerary with you.
1. Johannesburg to Witsand Nature Reserve. 2-night stop.
2. Witsand Nature Reserve to Molopo Kalahari Lodge. Overnight stop.
3. Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park: Rooiputs, Polentswa, Nossob and Lesholoago – Mabuasehube. 17 nights.
4. Mabuasehube Gate, Botswana to Kuruman, via Tshabong. Overnight stop.
5. Kuruman to Johannesburg.
NB: Our speed limit for the entire trip was 44 km/hr. This shows how slowly we were traveling in the park. On the national roads we could travel on average at 110 km/hr.
Johannesburg to Witsand Nature Reserve.
We thought it would be a great idea to drive a different route and went south west from Johannesburg via the N1 to Parys. We passed through Bothaville, Hoopstad, Hertzogville and Kimberley where we refuelled. We joined the N8 and just short of 80 kilometres past Griekwastad, we turned north to Witsand Nature Reserve.
Most of the roads were in a fair condition apart from the odd pothole. In the region of Hoopstad this changed, as the road had as many holes as a colander. I wouldn’t have minded being in a hovercraft, because we had a good chance of disappearing into one of them. Fortunately we (or rather our vehicle) came out unscathed.
Just north of Kimberley we travelled on a good gravel road that was in a far better condition; almost like a highway. I loved the scenery and happened to catch a fleeting glimpse of a meerkat (suricate) standing erect on an ant heap as we whizzed past.
The road from the N8 to Witsand was a gravel road and apart from a small stretch was in good condition.
Witsand Nature Reserve.
We camped two nights at Witsand Nature Reserve, remote and quiet with unexpected white and red sand dunes. The area is known as the Green Kalahari. I would recommend a short stay. If you are there in the dry season you may even hear the sands roar. Unfortunately we didn’t as the sands were still damp from rain a few weeks before.
There are self-catering bungalows and chalets as well as ten campsites with power, water and a place to make a fire. The ablution facilities were clean with hot water. There is no fuel and no restaurant at Witsand.
Witsand Nature Reserve to Molopo Kalahari Lodge, Ashkam.
We left Witsand on a different gravel road, then joined a tar road near Upington. Whilst in Upington, we stocked up at the Kalahari Mall. We continued on tar to Molopo Kalahari Lodge, an overnight camping stop before we entered the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park at Twee Rivieren.
Molopo Kalahari Lodge.
Molopo Kalahari Lodge is just outside Ashkam, 200 km north of Upington and 60 km from Twee Rivieren, the entrance gate to Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. It is a pleasant campsite with fully serviced chalets, rondavels and tented chalets.
The camping facilities have electricity, with shade to sit under and semi-private ablution facilities. There is fuel available as well as a lovely restaurant with interesting decor. We ate a delicious dinner at the restaurant.
Although their website says campers are given a loaf of bread in the evening for breakfast the next morning, we did not get one, but instead were offered complimentary coffee, rusks and muffins. You could have a cooked breakfast, at extra cost, but we decided against it as we wanted to get to the park.
We found the lodge slightly noisy in the evening because of local residents living a few kilometres away, but overall the stay was pleasant.
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
Rooiputs, Polentswa, Nossob and Lesholoago - Mabuasehube
The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park can be quite confusing. Twee Rivieren is the entrance point into the park from South Africa. Being a Transfrontier park you can spend time on the South African side as well as the Botswana side. There are two main roads going north to northwest – one to Mata Mata and one to Nossob. Naturally there are other interlinking roads as well. There are traditional rest camps, wilderness camps and private concessions that are run by SANPARKS, DWNP Botswana and Ta Shebube Lodges.
Rooiputs, Polentswa and the campsites in the Mabuasehube area where we were going are run by Department of Wildlife and National Parks, Botswana.
The Nossob river separates the two countries although majority of the time the riverbed is dry. Rooiputs is in the Botswana area but a stone’s throw away from the river and not far from Twee Rivieren (25 km). Polentswa is also in Botswana, 60 km north of Nossob and just east of the river.
You do not need a passport to camp there if you enter and exit at the Twee Rivieren Gate. In the Mabuasehube area which is in the far eastern side of the park in Botswana, there are a few salt pans such as Lesholoago, Khiding, Mabuasehube, Monamodi and Mapayatutlwa which each have campsites.
If you camp there and exit at the Mabuasehube Gate you will need to go through the usual border procedures. Lonely Planet has detailed information about this procedure.
We entered at Twee Rivieren where we checked in at the South African counter because we would be spending two nights at Nossob. We then proceeded to the Botswana counter to process our documents, stamp our passports and vehicle papers as we would be leaving the park at the Mabuasehube Gate in Botswana.
If you intend staying on the South African side you only check in at the South African counter.
From Twee Rivieren we drove to Rooiputs Campsite 2 where we camped for three nights.
The Botswana campsites usually consist of a large open area with an A-frame to provide limited shade. Most of these campsites have a pit toilet, a shower cubicle and cold water but not all of them do. In some cases you share the facilities (for what they are) with the campsite closest to you. It is advisable to drive to those campsites if they are more than a hundred meters apart, not to be lazy but in case of predators.
We shared a shower and pit toilet with campsite 1 and we had water.
We drove from Rooiputs to Dikbaardskolk picnic spot for a quick late breakfast/early lunch stop then carried on to Nossob where we refuelled before continuing to Polentswa. Rooiputs to Polentswa is approximately a 4-hour drive. The speed limit in the park is 50 km/h. We camped at campsite 3 at Polentswa for 7 nights.
NB: Please note that Polentswa has NO WATER. Please supply your own.
In general the roads in park can be extremely corrugated. On occasion, although short lived, it felt like we were making virgin tracks on a freeway, because the road had just been graded. It is good to see they are making an effort to maintain the roads, but it is difficult to keep up with the quick regression of the roads.
When driving on the South African side a 4x4 vehicle is not necessary, however the roads are not necessarily sedan friendly and the height of the embankment on the sides of the road makes it difficult to see game.
After Polentswa we camped at Nossob Rest Camp for 2 nights. This was a maintenance and pamper session as the rest camp has excellent facilities. Although we couldn’t complain about the daily showers we had, it was good to sort ourselves out for the last week of our travels. We also caught up on laundry.
There is fuel available at Twee Rivieren and Nossob but not at any other parts of the park. Botswana side of the park has no fuel and the nearest place I know of is Tshabong, a fair distance away, outside the park. (You would pay with Pula) I would carry reserve fuel in case there is an issue.
It is a good idea to have cash (Rand) available, although we could use our credit cards for fuel and shopping. There are shops at Nossob and Twee Rivieren as well, with quite impressive basic stock for such a remote area but I wouldn’t bank on doing all your shopping for your trip there. Prepare and plan ahead of your visit.
Lesholoago, Mabuasehube, Botswana
We left Nossob as the gate opened at 7am and drove the Bosobogolo dual direction dune road between Nossob and Bosobogolo Pan. We knew it would be a long and arduous day ‘at the office’ and it was. We arrived at Lesholoago at approximately 4pm with only a short 15-minute stop for a picnic lunch. The distance is only about 200 km but can take you more than 9 hours.
The dunes weren’t overly problematic, but they were deceptive. On two occasions, near the beginning of the trail, we needed a second attempt to drive over them. On the first steep dune we got stuck in the soft sand as we weren’t sure if we should continue left or right.
We made sure the sand was clear from our tyres, reversed and deflated our tyres even more than we already had, before our next attempt. Paul instructed me to follow him on foot with the spade and drove off. As we were towing a trailer it was imperative that he kept the momentum going.
Our friends, Alan & Sue who were behind us, picked me up with a stern warning: - Didn’t you notice the predator footprints?! Stay with your vehicle! Thankfully they gave me a lift, cleared the dune easily in their vehicle and returned me to my husband safely. I was grateful that I didn’t have to run up the sand dune, armed with a mere spade to give a lion a thump on the nose.
Pro tip: As stipulated in the rules and regulations at Kgalagadi, a 4x4 is required for the sand roads. The sand is soft and the middle island between two deep ruts is often quite high and can result in your jockey wheel ‘ploughing’. The same would happen to your vehicle if you do not have enough clearance.
It is a good idea to have experience in sand driving, especially if you are towing. It is also a necessity to deflate tyres by at least a third of the original pressure. It makes the world of difference. Thankfully we didn’t have a head on collision at the top of the dunes with any oncoming traffic! That would have been a disaster. We saw no other vehicles throughout the day, until we reached the campsites.
We have a portable air compressor in our vehicle to inflate tyres if necessary.
Around the pans at Lesholoago, Khiding, Mabuasehube, Monamodi and Mapayatutlwa the roads vary from sand to gravel and stone.
We camped for five nights at Lesholoago (also spelt Losoloago) campsite 2 which has a water hole.
Travel for Wildlife has a comprehensive blog about the facilities at the campsites in the Mabuasehube Area. However, they can differ from visit to visit when different boreholes run dry.
We had water at campsite 2, but the boreholes have been known to run dry.
Mabuasehube Gate, Botswana to Kuruman in South Africa, via Tshabong and McCarthy’s Rest Border Post
As you leave Mabuasehube Gate you drive onto ‘The Kalahari Highway’, where you can travel north, deeper into Botswana and then on to Namibia. Alternatively you can drive south for approximately 120 kilometres to Tshabong and then to McCarthy’s Rest, into South Africa.
‘The Kalahari Highway’ as we nicknamed it, is wide enough in places for about six vehicles abreast – except it is not tarmac – it is soft, shifting, deep sand. Once again a long stretch where you pick two tracks (or deep ruts) and stick to them as the middle island is quite high in places. It is not worth changing tracks. This section takes about two hours.
We only saw one motor vehicle drive towards us, as well as a donkey cart. After that time you reach a gravel road. Look out for potholes as we presume animals have dug the holes into the hard, salty crust.
We filled up with fuel on the outskirts of Tshabong at an Engen garage. Many of the garages at Tshabong are no longer operational.
The road to McCarthy’s Rest Border Post in Tshabong is not well signposted and looks quite insignificant.
From McCarthy’s Rest Border Post we drove on a long, rough gravel road till just outside Hotazel where we joined the tar. The road was busy from Hotazel with trucks from the mines and other drivers wanting to overtake precariously.
We camped overnight at Red Sands Country Lodge which is approximately 10 kilometres west of Kuruman.
Red Sands Country Lodge
Red Sands is a pleasant campsite with self-catering chalets, bungalows and camp sites. It has a restaurant and is a good overnight stop with excellent facilities.
Kuruman to Johannesburg
We filled up with fuel at Kuruman but chose to use one of the newer filling stations on the outskirts of the town as there have been incidents of theft in the centre of town.
We continued to Vryburg, Delareyville, Krugersdorp and Johannesburg.
Warning: Apparently crime is rife in some of the small towns such as Kuruman and Vryburg. Although we never had any issues, we have heard of many people that have been caught unawares. Be vigilant and lock car doors. Do not have valuables on display.
If possible drive through the side roads and avoid the main roads in the towns. Be on the lookout for potholes & drivers doing the unexpected, like driving towards you in the wrong direction in your lane.
Out of interest:
Our average speed in the park was just below 30 km p/h.
It takes time to travel to the Kgalagadi and inside the park, where your vehicle can and will suffer from the corrugations. Take tools with you as nuts and bolts rattle loose. Not sure what you will do when you lose your fillings and false teeth…
You will come back covered in sand and dust, but then one thing is for certain about the Kalahari, you can shake the sand from your shoes, but it will never leave your soul.