Kgalagadi Trip Report - August 2013

Weavers Nest on road side

This Kgalagadi trip was to be like no other trip we had ever done; we spent 9 nights on the Botswana side of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in two very new Lodges- Rooiputs Luxury Lodge and Polentswa Tented Camp.

Rooiputs Luxury Lodge only opened at the end of June 2013 and Polentswa will be opening early September 2013. What also made this trip different is that we were doing the trip in winter not like our normal April and November/December trips.

The cold front hit us the day we arrived and temperatures varied between -7 degrees celsius and -4 in the early morning’s then heating up on one or two days to 32 degrees by midday, I am just glad we took loads of warm clothes!

Our trip started as usual leaving home at 3am in the morning, heading along the N14 to the Kgalagadi. We had a pleasant drive with only a few stop-starts along the way due to road works, which are mainly between Sannieshof and Delareyville then again between Vryburg and Kuruman.

The trip was pleasant but as usual there was a lot of roadkill on the 250km stretch of road leading from Upington to the park, mainly bat-eared foxes but also goshawks and owls. We also saw a few new crosses where people had died in motor vehicle accidents. 

We arrived at the main gate of Kgalagadi at 1.40 pm; we checked in at the Botswana side at reception (no passports were needed because we were coming back through the same gate) then headed for Rooiputs Lodge, which is only 25km from Twee Rivieren.

Mario at Kgalagadi entrance gate

We had no idea what to expect because so little is known about these two new lodges and all we had heard were complaints from a few campers on the different 4X4 and SANParks forums. (These complaints are nothing new - when SANParks were opening the 6 new wilderness camps in the Kgalagadi in 2002 we heard the same negative, selfish people grumbling and whining yet these wilderness camps have been the best thing that has happened on the South African side of the park!) 

All we can say is that both Rooiputs and Polentswa are fantastic lodges and well worth a stay at both! Rooiputs is just a short distance from the main road to the lodge. Turn off at the Rooiputs 4X4 camping site then take the road to the left, and then to the right and this road leads up to the lodge.

Rooiputs Lodge units

On arrival, we were warmly welcomed by the lodge manager Martin and Sets (Polentswa lodge manager) and the rest of the staff. Once Martin and Sets had shown us around and had a bite to eat we settled in for our first 3 day stay.

Our first sighting from the lodge was Gemsbok and then that evening two jackals popped past - the waterhole is new so the animals are still getting used to this new drinking spot. Our first night we were the only ones at the lodge and it was such a great experience, we had a lovely dinner with Martin and Sets.


Dinner at Rooiputs with Sets and Martin

On our second day we left around 8am, it was very cold and by the time we left the lodge for our morning game drive it was -4 degrees Celsius and very windy. We took a slow drive up to Kij Kij Waterhole and found a male lion drinking; we then followed him up the road for a while then moved on towards Melkvlei waterhole, there we saw big herds of Gemsbok and Springbok, we then headed back.

On the way back to the lodge we found the male lying that had been drinking at Kij Kij on top of a large red sand dune just a few kilometres from the waterhole, we left him around 11am and then went back to the lodge.


Male lion on sand dune

That afternoon a group of 9 photographers arrived at Rooiputs from Australia for a 3-day Photographic Safari hosted by Darran Leal, a professional photographer based in Queensland.

Our afternoon drive started round 3pm we followed the photographers for a while in our own vehicle and took pics of them while they were on their game drive. They found the male lion we told them about, he was still lying on the sand dune were we had left him that morning.  

We headed back to Kij Kij waterhole and then carried on back to the lodge. We found three cheetahs but only got the tail end as they moved over the dune, so we headed back to the lodge for another superb dinner.

It was great being with a group of likeminded people all talking the same language - wildlife Photography!

Photographers on guided photo Safari with Darran

The next morning we went for a quick self-drive back up the Nossob river towards Kij Kij, it was a quiet morning with a few big herds of Gemsbok and Springbok, so we went back to photograph the lodge and surrounding area.

KT and KB the safari guides, found a pair of mating lions on their morning game drive, so that afternoon after high tea we went out with the photographic safari to see if we could find them again.


Mating lions in the Kgalagadi

Yes we did and the lighting was perfect, it was a lot of fun sitting on a vehicle with other photographers all snapping away wanting to get that perfect shot. We left the lions as the sun faded and headed back to the lodge for a well-deserved dinner.

We then left around 7.10am for the next leg of our trip to Polentswa Tented Camp; we said our fairwells to the Australian photographers and headed up north. It was a good trip with a quick stop off at Nossob to refuel then off up to Polentswa.

sign to Polentswa Lodge

Polentswa Lodge is 200km from Rooiputs lodge and only 60km from Nossob camp.  We arrived at the turn off to the 4 X 4 wilderness trail sign and the camp is only 6 km from the main road turn off.

You will cross the Nossob river and drive past the lonely grave of Hans Schwabe, a German diamond prospector, whose remains were found after his vehicle broke down in 1958. He was prospecting for diamonds without permission and either lions got him or he died of thirst. This is a reminder of the end result due to the lust for wealth!

Grave of Hans Schwabe, German diamond prospector

Then you drive past the 3 A-frame Polentswa camping sites to get to the lodge. The road is just a little corrugated before the camp site but after that it becomes smooth very scenic with the large Polentswa pan on your left and red sand dunes on your right. You can see the lodge as you drive along the road just past the camping site. The lodge is then 4km from the campers.

Polentswa Lodge tent

We arrived at the lodge at 12:51pm; we had to take all our bedding from Rooiputs because there was nothing at the lodge, only the builders were on site - what an adventure!

They were still waiting for the furniture truck to arrive and it was a great feeling knowing we were the first guests to spend 4 wonderful nights here! It was just us in the empty lodge, the pan with many gemsbok, springbok and Red hartebeest and the millions of stars.

Stars over Polentswa Pan

We set up camp and after meeting Elias the builder who would be our neighbour for the next 4 days, we got our braai and fire ready for the evening; what a great feeling being up there on the dunes overlooking the pan and waterhole.

It was cold and we showered during the heat of the day, which was usually round 1 or 2pm. Elias brought us hot water for our hot water bottles every evening and our flasks were filled with hot water every morning for our coffee (that’s service!).

Shower time in Polentswa

Our game viewing up here was great! We left the lodge around 7am and headed up towards Lijersdraai waterhole on the first morning. We arrived at 8.30  to find a leopard drinking at the waterhole; we stopped to photograph it and as Mario looked up he saw another leopard on the left just watching!

It turned out to be the leopard mother 'Safran' and male cub 'Tebogo' that we photographed in November 2012. It was the first time anyone had seen her cub and we were very blessed to have seen them again and knowing that he had survived. We sat with them for 20 minutes and we photographed them interacting in perfect early morning light!

Then they left and we never saw them again. We were the only vehicle at this sighting - the north of the park is lovely! Another vehicle from the Polentswa camping site arrived at 09h30 and obviously missed seeing the leopards - the early bird gets the worm and the leopard sightings.

We went back in the afternoon and again over the next couple of mornings but the leopards never showed up again. Matthew Schurch has compiled a Kgalagadi Leopard ID manual and he confirmed that they are the same leopards we saw in November 2012 by the pictures we had taken.

Safran and her cub Tebogo

The rest of our drives were quiet and most of the waterholes we went to visit were also very quiet in terms of predators, but on our 2nd to last morning we drove back to the lodge after following lion spoor on the access road to Polentswa tented camp.

We had heard the lions roaring all night from the east but could not find them at Polentswa waterhole or along the roads in the area. We then headed back to the lodge, but instead of going up to the lodge we carried on past the turn off road to the lodge as we noticed the lion spoor carrying on along this road to the west.

Lion spoor in road

We drove along this track for about 3 km and there on a large sand dune overlooking the pan were two lionesses lying in the sun! We stayed with them for a while then went back to the lodge.

Lionesses on sand dune near Polentswa Lodge

We spent most afternoons at Polentswa Waterhole and also got some nice pics of two Bateleur eagles fighting and a brown hyena.

Bateleur fight at Polentswa waterhole

The brown hyena was limping and had blood on its side and throat. We saw him again the next day and when he bent down to drink from the waterhole bright red blood came gushing out of his nose! We did not see him the following day so he most probably died during the night. 

Sick Brown Hyena at waterhole

On our last morning at the lodge we took some pics of the morning sky over the pan then we heard lions roaring close to the lodge towards the east again but could not see them, so we left and headed for Polentswa Waterhole at 07.15am.

We could see lion spoor in the road but again could not see them so we decided to sit at Polentswa waterhole and photograph a jackal trying to catch doves as they flew in to drink.

All of a sudden the jackal took off and there in the distance were two male lions coming to the waterhole for a drink! Lighting was not great because they approached from the east and then they drank with their butts facing us!

We briefly followed them up the road untill they went over the dunes. Wow another great day in the wilderness, tracking lions on a self-drive safari!

Male Lion on the move from waterhole

We drove back down to Rooiputs for our last two nights in the Kgalagadi. We had another two great days at Rooiputs lodge which we ended with a night drive.

KB was our Guide and we had heard a lion roaring that morning but could not find him so on the night drive we picked up his spoor on the Nossob raod. We then saw his fresh scat (dung) so we pressed on till we found him.

The lazy guy was lying in the middle of two roads and all he wanted to do was sleep.

Lazy male lion on night drive

We got off a few nice night shots then headed back to the lodge, KB our guide then found us a small Spotted Genet in a tree; another great sighting, we took more shots then went back to the lodge and a nice warm bed with four hot water bottles!

Photograph time at Rooiputs

On our last day the truck containing the Polentswa furniture arrived and the staff that would be working at Polentswa left Rooiputs to travel to the tented camp in order to be waiting to help with the furniture.

Polentswa Furniture Truck stop off at Rooiputs

After saying our goodbyes to the staff and Astrid (the lodge owner) we then left the lodge around 7 am, after photographing a magnificent Kgalagadi sunrise and headed for home. 

God willing, we will be back at both these wonderful lodges!

For more information about Polentswa tented camp and Rooiputs luxury lodge, please contact Ta Shebube using the information below:

Telephone: + (267) 3161696
Facsimile: + (267) 3161695
Cell: + (267) 71 578 568
Postal address: P.O. Box 694, Sebele, Gaborone, Botswana

To make a booking enquiry please click here

To download the brochure, Ta Shebube and the Lions of the Kgalagadi, please click here 

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"Having a passion for the region myself and having had to learn about all the dynamics, waterholes and ideal routes to drive over a period of 6 years - I wish I had this guide on my first trip already!" - Morkel Erasmus, Secunda, South Africa

"Mario and Jenny take you to spots that are not always visited, and their descriptions of the more remote camps will allow you to make an informed decision without wasting time and money" - Bob & Sherry Shepardson, DeBary, Florida, USA

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