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The Northern Cape Kalahari


The Kalahari is often referred to a desert. It is in fact a ‘thirstland’ – a very dry, arid and ‘thirsty’ savannah region with dune areas that can resemble a true desert for much of the year, but which supports a far greater biodiversity than a true desert and can become relatively lush in parts after the rare but annual rainfalls. The Kalahari covers about 900 000 km² of land over Namibia, Botswana and the Northern Cape of South Africa, and is popularly characterised by iconic images that feature deep red sand dunes, bushmen walking in heat-generated mirages, black-maned lions, Gemsbok and other antelope gathered at drying waterholes, vultures sitting in a dry tree – waiting, salt pans overrun with pink flamingos, 4×4 tracks in the sand, and space…endless…endless space under a beating and merciless sun.

The Kalahari of the Northern Cape

The word Kalahari is derived from the Tswana word Kgalagari (also pronounced Kgalagadi) which means ‘waterless place’, but while this may be true for great areas of the Kalahari, particularly the rolling dune fields, it is not entirely true of the region overall – and certainly not underground. The dolomitic rock that underpins the Kalahari lets loose an uninterrupted flow of between 20 and 30 million litres of crystalline water a day at the Eye of Kuruman – the ground-well spring that feeds the town of Kuruman  – the northernmost town in the Northern Cape that is consequently dubbed the Oasis of the Kalahari.

The two main Kalahari attractions are the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (the area within South Africa’s borders formerly known as the Gemsbok National Park) and the private 100 000ha Tswalu Kalahari Game Reserve, famous for its conservation initiatives and luxury safari offerings. A number of smaller game and nature reserves can be found, and activities such as hiking at the Kalahari Trails Nature Reserve beckon those who like to study the surprising biodiversity of the arid area at close range. The Kalahari is also the ancestral home of the San Bushmen, who have inhabited this ‘inhospitable’ landscape for over 20 000 years. Meet them, stay with them, and learn some of their ancient secrets in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.

The Kalahari towns listed here are primarily mining towns, but Kuruman offers some attractions in and near the town, including some lush respite from the ‘dry and dusty’ if you are travelling that way – perhaps on your way west to the Kgalagadi from Kimberley.