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A Male Ostrich Striding Across The Savannah - Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana

Botswana: Central Kalahari Game Reserve

The Central Kalahari is the second largest game reserve in the world. It is a vast and arid landscape, a total wilderness, but it is full of life and great place to get away from it all

Established in 1961 the Central Kalahari Game Reserve covers an area of 52,800 square kilometres (20,400 sq mi) (larger than the Netherlands, and almost 10% of Botswana’s total land area), making it the second largest game reserve in the world.

This land is the ancestral home of the Bushmen or San people, but the has been a controversial relocation programme run by the Botswana government to move thousands of them from the Kalahari desert. This relocation was later banned by a court, but it has been hard for the San to return as there is a ban on them from hunting wildlife which is key to their hunter-gatherer lifestyle. The irony of this ban is that private game reserves in the park’s boundaries are permitted to allow tourists to hunt game. A further kick in the teeth for the San is the fact that the government has allowed a mining company to establish a huge diamond mine within the National Park.

Anyway, enough politics we had about 400km to drive.

The first part of our journey took us north on the A14. It was not the most scenic of journeys. We made a brief stop in the village of Letlkane to refuel. It has a population of more than 22,000 people, which in my mind makes it more than a village. Back we live in Oregon a place with a population of 20 would call itself a city. The village has grown to this size due to the fact it is surrounded by four large diamond mines. We briefly popped into a brand new, large western-style shopping mall that was under development. Only a handful of the shops were occupied, and we were filled with relatively expensive goods. We wondered who could really afford to shop here.
It was time to move on.

Eventually, after several hours of driving on nice tarmac roads, we reached the village of Rakops, which this time looked like a village. This is where our route left the A14 and transitioned onto a dirt road.

To get to the Matswere gate, the main entrance of the park, was a further 45km. The road was extremely rough with huge potholes that were filled with sand and could swallow a car. It took us over two hours to complete our journey to the gate.

Our campsite at Sunday Pans was another 60km into the park. Which took us a further 3 hours to drive!

The are only a handful of campsites at Sunday Pans and they are a long way apart. We had yet to use our camping equipment, so we were excited as we pulled in to get set up. The site was huge and there were no signs of other human beings anywhere. A true wilderness. Lovely and scary at the same time. I had also read that lions like to visit these camps which was concerning as there was no one around to help us if they did turn up!

We got out our chairs, tables and cooking gear. It was also a chance to pop up our roof tent. The access to this was by a ladder and I could only assume that lions and definitely leopards, could climb a ladder.

On site was a very rudimentary pit toilet and a shower which supposedly had recently been refurbished but was totally non-operational. It was quite the walk from where we set up so for anything other than number twos we’d be using the ‘bush’ toilet, especially if we got the call of nature at night.

The site itself was very open except for one tree that we set up close to. We shared this tree with several nests of white-browed sparrow weavers. This was a desert, so water is in short supply, so the local birds looked very interested every time we did something with water. Eventually, we thought we’d share with them and put down a small bowl of water. For a few minutes, it became a feeding frenzy.

We settled in for the evening breaking out the pre-mixed gin and tonic in a can we had bought in Francistown that had been chilling in our on-board refrigerator for two days. We took our seats to watch the sun go down.

We then set about cooking dinner before it went dark.

It turned out to be a beautifully clear night. Being so far from any town or village there was zero light pollution and the moon had yet to rise, which meant we could see so many stars, all the way down to the horizon. The most amazing sight though was seeing the milky way in its full glory.

After a while of star gazing, we climbed up the ladder and crawled into our roof tent.

Sunset in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana
Sunset in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve
These birds went crazy when we put some water down for them - Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana
These birds went crazy when we put some water down for them

During the night the wind had got up and had made the side of the tent flap wildly. This combined with the fact that the temperature had dropped significantly, and we only had one thin blanket to keep us warm, meant we didn’t have the greatest of night’s sleep. Anyway, onwards, and upwards! So, we climbed down the ladder and set about getting some coffee on the go.
We were only booked to stay at Sunday Pan for one night. Our next destination was a campsite in Passarge Valley, a further 65km into the Kalahari, which was another 3 hours of driving on the rough, dirt roads.

As soon as we were done with breakfast we packed up and broke camp. It was still early morning, so we decided to drive across to Leopard Pan, which was a local waterhole and a great place to see wildlife in this dry landscape. We followed the road which looped around the waterhole and spotted a black-backed jackal skulking across the savannah. Once we reached the waterhole itself there was a small group of oryx and kudu wading in the waters, and they were soon joined by a small herd of wildebeest. We spent about 30 minutes watching the activities of this group before hitting the road towards Passarge Valley.

The road if anything was worse than we’d driven on the previous day, which was hard to believe. The sand was deeper, the ruts more substantial. It was slow going. The scenery was still lovely. As we negotiated the trail, I noticed a wriggling snake crossing the road, I did my best to avoid it but couldn’t avoid clipping it. We reversed back to see what damage we’d done and saw the black snake slithering away into the long grass. I think the sand saved the snake. When we’d run over it, all we’d done is pushed the snake into the sand.

Anyway, we continued our journey towards the Passarge Valley, and about 3 hours later we reached the campsite. We pulled in, and were a little disappointed with the site itself, as it didn’t have much of a view. But it was quite sheltered by the handful of trees.

As we inspected the site we started to get harassed by some wasps, but we didn’t think too much of it.

We hadn’t been there long before we heard the sound of some approaching vehicles. Suddenly around half a dozen 4-wheeled drive cars pulled into the camp. Not what we were expecting. It turned out that this was a group of tourists, who were all friends, from Poland, who were on a self-drive tour of Botswana. They had been due to be at this site the night before but hadn’t made it here and decided to come and check it out anyway. They politely asked if they could stay for a while to have a break and use the ’facilities’. A couple of the Poles were very friendly and started chatting with us, whilst others lit up cigarettes, started to make coffee and prepare some breakfast. Some of the ladies headed to the pit toilet and returned quickly suggesting something was wrong. Karen went off to investigate. When she came back, she said there was a wasp nest inside the toilet itself and there were thousands of wasps in it! Horrible. The Poles quickly wrapped up their breakfast break and headed out leaving us alone, except for the wasps. After the Poles had gone, the wasp activity had stepped up several notches. It was getting scary.

We had to decide what to do. I have never liked insects flying around me, so having thousands of wasps flying around was my idea of hell. Karen, who is less bothered by insects was also not happy. We weighed up our options and quickly decided to pack up and drive back toward the Matswere Gate.

After three hours of driving, we reached the campsites at the creepily named Deception Valley. We found the campsites, which were not the most attractive, but they were large and spacious. It was getting to be later in the day, but we were not sure whether someone was booked on to the site or not, so we didn’t set up until the sun started to set.

After setting up we sat down and enjoyed a gin and tonic while watching the sunset.

A Kori bustard - Central Kalahari Game Reserve
A Kori bustard
A prowling black-backed jackal - Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana
A prowling black-backed jackal
The oryx are built to survive the arid conditions of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve - Botswana
The oryx are built to survive the arid conditions of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve
A beautiful kudu stag - Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana
A beautiful kudu stag
Gathering at Leopard Pan - Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana
Gathering at Leopard Pan
A grazing springbok - Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana
A grazing springbok
A violet eared waxbill - Central Kalahari Game Reserve
A violet eared waxbill
A pale chanting goshawk looking for snakes - Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana
A pale chanting goshawk looking for snakes
A male ostrich striding across the savannah - Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana
A male ostrich striding across the savannah

About The Central Kalahari Game Reserve

The Central Kalahari Game Reserve (referred to as CKGR) is the second largest reserve in the world and by far the most remote reserve in Southern Africa. The CKGR covers an area of 52000 square kilometres and it is home to rhinos, black-maned lions and desert-adapted elephants among other striking game species.

As a testament to the Central Kalahari’s old age, it is home to the San people, an ancient hunter-gatherer society that has transcended the ages with their excellent hunting skills and ability to adapt to the harsh environmental challenges presented by this enormous desert.

Planning your visit to Central Kalahari Game Reserve

There are four entrance gates to the park. The most commonly used are Matswere followed by Tsau Gate and less commonly Xade Gate. There is also an entrance from the Khutse Game Reserve. 

Along any of the routes, you will encounter sand and plenty of it. For most good  4×4 vehicles you shouldn’t have any – most people who get stuck are pulling trailers. The easiest route with the least thick sand is via Rakops and Matswere Gate. This is the route we took, but there was still lots of sand.

The tracks within Central Kalahari are mainly sandy single-spoor tracks. Off the main loop the tracks are sandier with some ups and downs as they pass through dunes. On the main loop the track is quite flat and in most places not so sandy. This is because the track mainly travels along valleys that have hardened salty, soil beneath them. In some places where the track travels across pans, it’s possible to reach the speed limit, which is 40 km/ hr in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.

Although the pans are nice when dry, during the rainy season (Nov-Mar) they can become very muddy. After heavy rain, the main loop, especially in Deception Valley, can become quite difficult. There are no huge areas of water or deep water, but surface water turns the salty mud into thick, soft, sticky mud that traps your vehicle and is very slippery. We saw many deep ruts when we were there. Luckily, the tracks dry out very quickly. In the sand dunes, the water passes straight through the sand so the tracks in these areas remain fine.

There are no petrol stations in the reserve, so you need to fill up before you enter and take extra petrol in jerry cans.

Phone:+267 397 1405 or +267 318 0774
Hours:Gate hours of Central Kalahari Game Reserve are 06:30-18:30 Apr-Sep, 05:30-19:00 Oct-Mar.
Fees:Adult 190 pula ($15) per day Children 95 pula ($7.50) per day. Vehicles 75 pula ($5.75) per day. Trailers are extra,

Things to bring:

Car Equipment

Two spare tiresSeed net/grillPuncture repair kitSand tracks
Spade/shovelHigh-lift jackKinetic strap/ropeCompressor
Tire pressure gaugeCar tools and spares  


Water and foodFuelBraai WoodFlashlight
HeadlampFirst Aid KitCameraBinoculars
Wide-brimmed hatSunscreenMosquito spray 

Best time to visit Central Kalahari Game Reserve

Truly a year-round destination there is a best time to visit the Makgadikgadi Pans and the Kalahari however and that is during the wet (or green) season, which runs from November to April. This is when the parched landscape transforms into lush greenery and thousands of animals head to the pans from the south to enjoy abundant grazing on the grassy plains – gemsbok, wildebeest, giraffe, and of course their predators, including cheetah and the Kalahari’s famous black-maned lions.

Where to stay


Central Kalahari Game Reserve has 26 individual campsites, some tens of kilometres from the neighbouring site. Some sites (Kori, Pipers Pan, Passarge Valley) are more popular than others and can be booked many months, if not a year, in advance. If you visit last minute, you might be able to work out an itinerary but might not get your first choice of campsites.

Almost all sites have a long drop toilet and bucket shower (bring your own water). Although neither site we stayed at had a working shower.

Contact either the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) or Bigfoot Tours to book the campsites in the reserve and to pay conservation fees in advance and receive a voucher, or pay in cash at the park gates.

Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP): Botswana Parks and Reserves Reservation Office, +267 397 1405 or +267 318 0774, Office hours are 07:30-16:30 on weekdays. Closed weekends.

Big Foot Tours: +267 395 3360,  +267 73 5555 73, +267 72 24 3567, or Try contacting them on Facebook or their website.

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