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Kalahari Desert a sea of dunes

It’s the most unusual address that I’ve ever stayed at – !Xaus Lodge, Dune 91, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, Mier, Northern Cape, South Africa.

That address is correct.  We did have to cross 91 sand dunes in the Kalahari Desert, no road, just tyre tracks that our driver, Castro, had to stick to in order to reach it.

I’d flown from Perth, Western Australia to Johannesburg, South Africa, went through Immigration to the domestic terminal to catch a ninety-minute flight to Upington in Western Cape Province. Toured the town, it’s a wine making centre on the Orange River, then drove two hours to the entrance to Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Checked into the park, stepped into Botswana which shares the park, had lunch at a lodge whose kitchen had closed, boarded the coach for another ninety-minute drive adjacent to a dry river bed (slightly interrupted by a stop under a broad tree to photograph a pride of resting lions), then up a sand dune, parked the bus and we hopped aboard Castro’s Land Rover for the exciting trip negotiating those steep sand dunes until we finally reached the lodge.

The trip was definitely worth it!

!Xaus Lodge sits atop a sand dune which overlooks a large salt pan.  It is a stunning location. The lodge only has power for a few hours each morning and evening. No phone signals. No internet. No Farcebook. Bliss!

Wary animals

There is a small watering station below the lodge on the salt plain, which got active at dusk as a variety of animals gingerly made their way for a drink, always wary of any predators that may be lurking about. It was riveting to sit and watch the cavalcade of animals creep in for a furtive drink, then to leave as quickly and silently as they could manage.

Apart from the lions we encountered on our way in, there were no other members of Africa’s Big Five anywhere near the lodge.   On this safari, we hunted the little five.

Castro was a brilliant guide, and this safari was on foot.  He could track anything, particularly the small insects and reptiles which burrowed underneath the sand. I saw mongoose in the wild for the first time. And they are difficult to see because they like to hide underneath bushes, darting quickly between them in order to avoid detection.

San bush people

We visited a small Kalahari bush people’s compound that was nearby. These days the San people live mainly in modern compounds to keep their villages vibrant. However, families come and spend time living a traditional lifestyle in these small camps.  They are basic. Surrounded by wooden walls, containing a few small huts, the villagers make ornaments and other items to see to tourists.  Small in stature, and cheerful, the bush people were very welcoming and proud of their heritage. It was astounding that people could thrive in such harsh terrain where water is so precious and hard to procure.

In late afternoon we would go for a ride across the sand dunes, to perch on top of one of the higher dunes to enjoy drinks at sunset as we delighted in the changing colours as darkness eked over the landscape.

A dark ride back to the lodge swept away any sense of direction as we weaved our way around and over the dunes.

A delightful dinner at the lodge, before power out at 10 pm. Then I would sit on my balcony to watch the night sky burst into life. The lack of any ambient light reminded me of how the city has destroyed the experience of seeing a truly unaffected dark sky.  The more I stared, the brighter the sky became, enhancing my appreciation for this truly unique place.

For more visit www.southafrica.net/au/en/travel

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