The Kalahari is a vast region that stretches from the Orange River in South Africa northwards across Botswana, eastern Namibia, western Zimbabwe, western Zambia, eastern Angola and up into the Democratic Republic of Congo. The surface area is more than 2,5 million square kilometres, or ten times the size of Britain.
The Kalahari is often referred to as a desert but this is not correct. Most of it is sandveld and flat thornveld. There are small areas of sand dunes in the south and in these the Kalahari comes closest to being a desert. We prefer to refer to the Kalahari as a ‘Thirstland’ or ‘Semi-arid biome’ rather than a desert as surface water is a rare commodity except around the Okavango delta, the Okavango- and Kwando Rivers in northern Botswana and Angola, and the Orange River in the extreme south in South Africa.
The broad savannas of the Kalahari are, for the most part, covered by a thin layer of grasses and thorn scrub. In areas where underground water is not too deep, larger trees dominate the landscape and especially the Camel thorns (Acacia erioloba) and Grey camel thorns (Acacia haematoxylon) then give the countryside a park-like appearance. In the northern parts, however, the rainfall is relatively high and the Kalahari becomes almost tropical. Two prominent rivers, originating the highlands of Angola, are particularly important. The first is the Kwando – which changes its name first to Linyanti and then to Chobe – with its very luxurious plant growth along its reaches and which eventually joins the mighty Zambezi 70 kilometres upstream from the Victoria Falls. The second is the Okavango River which flows southward across Namibia’s Caprivi Strip into Botswana where it runs through a 100 kilometre panhandle to fan out over the Kalahari savanna in a magnificent inland delta. This is one of Africa’s great wildlife paradises, characterised by water channels, lagoons, papyrus beds, woodlands, palm-fringed islands and great floodplains. The exceptional scenery of the Okavango delta blows the visitor away and this is a photographer’s delight with an abundance of antelopes, elephants, buffalos and predators.
The Orange River in the extreme south of the Kalahari is very different. The rainfall in this area is low and the countryside is arid – the river being the main source of water for many kilometres. Many people regard the magnificent Augrabies Falls as the gateway to the Kalahari. There are a number of main falls and many vantage points. The Augrabies National Park is also home to some interesting wildlife such as black rhino and klipspringer.
The Kalahari Gemsbok National Park in South Africa is easily accessible, but it requires a long drive to get there. Union’s End, at the northern tip of the park, is said to be the remotest place in South Africa. This park is home to large numbers of gemsbok, springbok, hartebeest, blue wildebeest and eland as well as large and small predators. It is also one of the very best places in Africa to see birds of prey (eagles, vultures, goshawks, owls and falcons). No wonder this park is such a favourite with wildlife entusiasts.
The modern tourist finds it difficult to experience the entire Kalahari in a single safari; the distances are too great, some areas are too remote; and time to travel is usually too little. The most popular destinations are:
The Augrabies National Park
The Kalahari Gemsbok Park
The Makgadigadi Pans (including Nxai Pan)
The Okavango Delta
A trip to the Okavango Delta can also be combined with a visit to the Chobe National Park and the Victoria Falls.
Accommodation is provided in safari camps, lodges and hotels.