Gemsbok at a waterhole close to Mata Mata.
South Africa

The Ultimate Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park Safari Guide

The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park located in the southern Kalahari desert, straddles the border between South Africa and Botswana. The red sand dunes, sparse vegetation and dry riverbeds of the Nossob and Auob Rivers is teeming with wild life. The desolate landscape is an excellent place to see predators, particularly the big cats; lions, leopards and cheetahs. Camping in Kgalagadi is the most popular way to explore this fantastic park for a couple of days. Want to explore the Kalahari? Our Road Trip Guide from Cape Town to Kgalagadi will be very handy!

About The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

Two adjacent national parks, the Gemsbok National Park in Botswana and the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park in South Africa were joined to form a single ecological unit, The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. The boundary between the two parks had no physical barriers, although it is also the international border between the two countries. This allowed for the free movement of animals. If you are staying within the Kgalagadi Park you do not need a passport even if you drive into the Botswana side, it is only necessary if you enter in one country and exit in the other.

Young Cape Fox outside it's den.
Young Cape Fox outside it’s den.

Getting to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

The closest relatively large town to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is Upington in the Northern Cape. Getting to Upington from Cape Town take the N7 turn off on to the R27, total distance to Upington 820km (8 to 9 hours drive). From Upington take the R360 for 250 kilometres via Askham to Twee Rivieren on the South Africa/Botswana border. Total distance from from Cape Town 1100 km and from Johannesburg 960 km.

The easiest way to get to Kgalagadi Tranfrontier Park is to fly from Cape Town or Johannesburg to Upington and rent a car in Upington.

We love using Rentalcars they compare all car rental agencies and give you the best price, pick up your car in Cape Town, Johannesburg or Upington.

Animals in the Kgalagadi

The Kgalagadi is one of the top destinations to experience wild African wilderness and a bucket list item for most wild life photographers. Since there are no elephant, rhino or buffalo it is not the place to see the big 5. The desolate Kalahari landscapes are however an excellent place to spot black-maned Kalahari lions, cheetahs and if you are lucky even a leopard. We had a lot of fun watching the smaller inhabitants of the Kalahari; the bat-eared fox, meerkat, ground squirrel and the beautiful cape fox. The Honey Badger (Ratel) and Pangolin (Scaly Anteater) are some of the other smaller animals special to the park. Plenty of action is offered by watching other predators and scavengers such as hyenas, jackals and the birds of prey interact.

SANparks checklist of mammals in the park

Seeing Kalahari Lions in the wild is one of the highlights of visiting Kgalagadi!

Best time to visit the Kgalagadi Tranfrontier Park

You can visit his amazing park all year round. The park  is busier during South African school holidays. The Kalahari is an arid region with less than 200mm of rainfall a year, falling between the summer months of January and April.

Mar/April – end of the rainy season, still some thunderstorms and rain. Game sightings very good, but predator sightings limited. Temps are moderate in the day and cool at night. Vegetation is green, beautiful time.

Jun/Jul – Very dry and dusty, lots of the red dunes. Game and predator sightings good. Good for bird watching Day temps nice, but at night drops to -10 deg C.

Sept/Oct – Still dry and sparse vegetation, and very dusty. More lively than in winter months. Moderate day temps and cool at night. the end of the dry season, many animals and migrating birds congregate around the waterholes. Great time for bird watching.

Dec/Jan – Thunderstorms, hot and heavy rain. With very hot days, game viewing is best in mornings or evenings. Game, predator and bird sightings very good. New-born animals around, attracting predators.

What car do you need to drive in Kgalagadi?

4×4 is not required to drive the roads between the traditional camps. Good ground clearance will however make it a lot easier to drive. In the rainy season from December to April the roads can be muddy and 4×4 is more necessary. Deflate your tires to 1.6 bar for driving in the sand. You can inflate them again at Twee Rivieren camp before exit.

  • Twee Rivieren to Nossob the road was good and a Sedan car is ok.
  • Nossob to Mata Mata the road was very sandy, a French couple in a Polo got stuck in the sand a couple of times and had to be towed out.
  • Mata Mata to Twee Rivieren, road was good.
wilde beest kgalagadi
We saw many blue wildebeests everywhere in the park, they are also called gnus.

Accommodation in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

On the South African side of the park the most popular camps are the three ‘traditional camps’ this is the cheapest way to visit the park. The easiest way to visit the park is by staying in one of the wilderness camps. The six wilderness camps on the South African side are unfenced, but have chalets with plenty of luxury, these camps are significantly more expensive than the traditional camps. !Xaus Lodge is the only fully-catered luxury lodge located in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.

Camping in The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

For camping in the Kgalagadi your options are the three fenced traditional camps on the South African side or the six more wild campsites on the Botswana side. The traditional campsites have shops where you can buy essentials, but we always pack a cooler box with ice, drinks and meat for the first two days. The toilet and washing facilities is neat and clean. When packing keep in mind that it can get very hot in the day, freezing at night and you will be camping on kalahari sand and dust so ground sails are nice. You will need all your own drinking water in the park. Buy some 5L bottles at a supermarket outside the park.

Our campsite at Twee Rivieren at sunset.
Our campsite at Twee Rivieren at sunset.

You are allowed to camp with a caravan in the Kgalagdi Transfrontier Park. The sandy and badly corrugated roads can be very hard on your caravan causing significant damage. With a standard caravan I would recommend you stick to Tweerivieren, people do make it to Mata Mata driving careful and slow, the roads to Nosob will be even harder on caravans with lower profiles. Off road caravans should make it to these sites no problem.

The Botswana side of park is mostly undeveloped, the camps are all very basic, with only a wooden shelter, long-drop toilet and maybe a tap or shower. Here are no shops and the roads rough so you must have a 4×4 that is fully-equipped so you can be totally self-sufficient. You should always drive at least two cars together in this part of the park. A grass net is recommended to protect your radiator for driving in the long grass.

Since the camps on the Botswana are unfenced lions and predators can enter your camp and often do so. Rooftop tents are the most popular way to camp here and are recommended. Some people do however camp in the ‘wild’ camps in normal tents on the ground without problems. Apparently sleeping on your car roof does not really guarantee predators can’t reach you, it just gives you false sense of security. This is off course at your own risk.

Camping on the South African side of the Kgalagadi Tranfrontier Park

We stayed in all three traditional camps, Tweerivieren, Nossop and Mata mata. These campsites are fenced so lions and other animals cannot pay you a visit at night. Accommodation here is available in self-catering chalets and there are campsites which is the cheapest option on the South African side.

Twee rivieren Camp

If you drive from Upington you will enter the park here. It is a well-maintained campsite with nice facilities close to the main gate so even if you arrive a bit late it’s not far to drive. The camp has everything you may need for camping and safari. There is a big shop that sells food, cool drinks, wood, water, some camping equipment, souvenirs.

Cost of camping R330 per campsite

A Martial Eagle, we saw many bird of prey.
A Martial Eagle, we saw many bird of prey.

Nossob Camp

We only booked our campsite 2 days ahead and the standard campsites (R330) were fully booked. We stayed in the premium campsite, this was a bit high for our budget, but was really nice. You have your own ablutions block and kitchenette.  There is a nice, private shaded area where you can hide from wind and sun. It was a good campsite with jackals walking around inside and I heard a couple of hyenas howling nearby during the night.

The camp has a waterhole with a hide, ask where it is, sunrise and sunset you can have some awesome game viewing from here.

Cost of camping R600 per campsite

Nossob camp site
Premium camp site at Nossob camp, each campsite has these private facilities.

Mata Mata Camp

We had fun in Mata mata watching many ground squirrels and meerkats running around, digging, trying to find some food all around us. The camp has a waterhole with a hide, we spoke to people that saw a hyena and a cheetah at this waterhole. When you return from your game drive go and sit here for sunset! The camp has a small shop selling cool drinks, snacks, ice, wood and water.

Mata Mata Kgalagadi
A ground squirrel begging for food at our camp in Mata Mata!

All three campsites had the following facilities available:

  • Hot water shower – yes
  • Flushing toilets – yes
  • Electricity – yes, in you choose a site with electricity
  • Power outlets – yes, if you choose more expensive site with electricity
  • Braai place – yes
  • Swimming pool
  • Wi-fi – no
  • Phone reception – poor signal, no 3G
  • Accept cards – yes

The Wilderness Camps on the South African side of Kgalagadi

The Kgalagadi Tranfrontier Park has six ‘wilderness camps’ on the South African side of the park. These camps are located in beautiful locations far inside the park, the locations are isolated and close to wildlife.

The sites are; Grootkolk Wilderness Camp, Urikaruus Wilderness Camp, Kielie Krankie Wilderness Camp, Bitterpan Wilderness Camp, Gharagab Wilderness Camp, Kalahari Tented Camp and !Xaus Lodge run by San/Bushmen communities. Each wilderness camp always has an armed ranger on site.

All the camps but Kalahari Tented Camp have 4 chalets sleeping 2 persons each. The camps have solar power and gas available (no conventional plugs). Units are equipped with a kitchen, bathroom and bedroom, cooking utensils, linen and a fridge/freezer.

Grootkolk Wilderness Camp

The most northerly situated camp, located close to the Namibian border with the black maned Kalahari lion often seen in this area. Chalets in Grootkolk are made from sand bags and canvas.

Grootkolk is 6 hours drive from Twee Rivieren and 2,5 hours from Nossob. The camp can be reached by normal car.

Urikaruus Wilderness Camp

Located on the bank of the Auob River between Twee Rivieren and Mata-Mata camps with a very active waterhole, here you can see most of the animals the park is famed for from lions and cheetas to herds of wildebeest, springboks and giraffes. The units are linked by a raised boardwalk. The camp can be reached by normal vehicle.

Twee rivieren camp is 2 hours drive from Urikaruus.

lions kgalagadi

Bitterpan

Bitterpan is and isolated camp on stilts overlooking a waterhole. Bitterpan is located on a 4×4 route through the Kalahari dunes from Nossob to Mata-Mata and the Kalahari Tent Camp. It can only be reached by 4×4 and is about a 2,5 hr drive from Nossob to Bitterpan.

Grootkolk

The campsite is hidden in the dunes, overlooking a waterhole, 20 km from Union’s End. Due to the waterhole attracting animals they are visible from camp. South Africa, Botswana and Namibia meet at this town. Grootkolk is 6 hours drive from Twee Rivieren and 2,5 hours from Nossob. The camp is accessible to sedan vehicles.

Kieliekrankie

Kieliekrankie campsite is sunk into one of the highest dunes in the Kalahari with beautiful views of the red Kalahari sands. For great animal viewing the campsite overlooks a waterhole. The campsite is located 50 km, one-and-a-half hours, drive away from Twee Rivieren. Kieliekrankie can be reached by normal car.

Gharagab

Garagab campsite is located in the far northern region of the park, with elevated views of Kalahari dunes and the thornveld savannah. The campsite is located 164 km, about four hours drive, north of Nossob on the road to Unions End. Garagab camp can only be reached by 4×4 vehicles.

Kalahari Tented Camp

The Kalahari Tented Camp is the largest of the wilderness camps, it has 15 units. The camp is located close to Mata-Mata and the Namibian border. Giraffes are often seen in the area. Kalahari camp has a swimming pool with a wooden tanning deck. Accommodation is in stilted canvas tents looking out on a waterhole in the Auob River. Guided morning and sunset drives, and guided morning walks can be arranged from Kalahari Tented Camp.

!Xaus Lodge

!Xaus Lodge is an excellent comfort for a lodge in a magical setting in the middle of the desert. The lodge is run by local communities on Heritage land returned to the ‡Khomani San and Mier communities. It is the only fully-catered luxury lodge to be located in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Located on the red dunes of the Kalahari the lodge overlooks an enormous salt pan where, from your private chalet you can see the animals drinking at the waterhole below. Booking !Xaus Lodge

Booking Campsites and Fees in Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

For the duration of your stay in the park you have to pay a daily SANParks conservation fee per person, as well as your accommodation. The daily conservation fee covers daily self drive safaris, but if you book a safari drive or a walk that is extra. At the time of writing the conservation fee is R96 per day for SA citizens and R384 for foreigners (2020). Conservation fees are less if you have a SANParks Wild Card.

Day visitors are welcome in Kgalagadi transfrontier park. There is a maximum number of visitors that are allowed in the park per day. Day visitors are not allowed if this number is reached. This happens in season when the park gets busy. You can book day visits ahead.

The campsites are popular and I will recommend you book as far ahead as possible. We have checked for camping at various times in the year and you often find a spot, so even if it is with short notice you have to check! It is easy to book and pay accommodation from the SANparks site:

CAMPSITES AVAILABLE IN KGALAGADI TRANSFRONTIER PARK

The Botswana Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) are responsable for bookings on the Botswana side of Kglagadi

Contact DWNP central reservations: Tel +267 318 0774, [email protected]

Game Drives in Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

Most people do self drive safaris in the park during the day. There are organised safari drives, we have heard good things about the night drives from Nossob. Morning and sunset drives, as well as morning walks, are available at Twee Rivieren, Nossob, Mata-Mata and the Kalahari Tented Camp. Enquiries about these drives can be made at the reception desks. Drives require a minimum of 2 adults in order to go out and a max of 20 people can go.

Our Kgalagadi trip – Day 1

We arrived at 3pm did a  35km game drive towards Nossob before lighting the fire for our braai. The drive took us 3,5 hours and we saw; three jackals, a bat ear fox, many meerkats and ground squirrels, many gemsboks and springboks, some wilde beests, many ostriches . Remember the camp closes at 7pm.

gemsbok ostrich kgalagadi
There were many gemsboks and ostriches walking around everywhere.

Two Rivers campsite – Nossob campsite

We started the drive quite early before 7am hoping to spot more animals and we did see some right in the beginning. Cape foxes and jackals were very active in the morning digging, running around so we got some nice photos. Most of springboks, gemsboks and were still half asleep sitting in the grass. After that for most of the way we didn’t see much some occasional ostriches, jackals and bokkies. The road is half gravel half sandy not difficult to drive don’t need 4×4 can drive with a normal car.

There are two designated picnic spots between Two Rivers and Nossob with flushing toilets and running water. These are only places you allowed to get off the car.

kgalagadi
Gemsbok and a jackal at a waterhole, this is a very typical scene in the Kgalagadi.

Nossob – Mata Mata

It was our worst day in the park we literally saw nothing till the last turn to Mata Mata, there we saw some springboks, gemsboks, jackals and many different birds.

Mata Mata – Khalahari Lodge – Springbok

That was our best day from the start, just after leaving the campsite we saw a wild cat, 5 minutes later two hyenas. Finally we got some luck! This was a very good day, we also saw four lions (two male and two female together), two bat-eared foxes, a Cape fox with two cubs. Not mentioning black back jackals, boks, wildebeest, eagles, falcons and many meerkats and ground squirrels.

Two lionesses very happy to see each other.
Two lionesses very happy to see each other.

Tips for Kgalagadi Transfrontier park game watching

  • We found the area between Mata Mata and Twee Rivieren to have the most animals (especially lions) of areas that can be driven without 4×4. On this stretch lions are seen almost every day. We were told some stories by regular visitors to the park that they have seen up to 25 lions on that stretch in one day! If you are limited in time we’d say from Two River gate drive straight to Mata Mata and rather stay there for a day or two and do short morning and evening drives in the area.
  • If you’re geared with a 4×4 and roof top tent and feel like going into the wild and exploring more off the beaten path of the park go to Botswana side stay in unfenced campsites we’re sure you won’t be disappointed.
  • For great photos you’ll need a proper zoom lens we did regret about having only 18-135mm one. By the way we’ve never seen so many people geared so well in one place from their cars to the photo equipment compare to them we looked real safari amateurs.
  • From other travellers words it sounded like Night safari is worth of money and people see a lot on them. For some reasons there were no night safaris on the days we were there. Remember to book night safari long in advanced they are very popular and usually fully booked.
  • The guided morning walks are highly recommended, get up early and experience the Kalahari dawn. Book early as you can.
meerkat Mata Mata
The meerkats loved digging around Mata Mata camp!
  • Deflate tyres to 1.6 bars, there is facilities to inflate and deflate tyres in all 3 traditional camps.
  • The best times for animal sightings are in the early mornings in summer, and afternoons in winter.
  • If you are traveling from South Africa into Namibia, you are required to spend at least two nights in the park – bring your passport!
  • Bring binoculars!
  • Look at the animal sightings’ board at the three main camps to see what has recently been sighted and where.

Related Posts

LIKE IT? PIN IT!

13 Comments

  1. Willie Punt

    Good day
    Where and how do I book the wild camps like Rooiputs in the Kgalagadi.
    Would really appreciate your advice and feedback

    • Stingy Nomads

      Hello Willie, Rooiputs is on the Botswana side of the park, therefore you will need to contact Botswana Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) DWNP central reservations: Tel +267 318 0774 or email [email protected].
      You can also book Rooiputs through a booking agent. Enjoy your trip!

  2. Thanks for the information. Ypur blog has helped a lot in answering many questions.Had few additional queries :
    1. What all camping equipment is needed if we wish to opt for the standard campsites. Where can we get this equipment?
    2. How to manage for the food and drinking water?
    3. Are we supposed to take permits well in advance? Or should they be taken while booking the campsites? Or can they be taken directly at the park entry gate??
    4. Apart from the permit, are there any additional costs for game drive?
    5. It would be great if you could give a break up of all the costs.. would help me in knowing the overall trip costs

    Thanks and Regards
    Harsha

    • Stingy Nomads

      Hello Harsha, glad our article is helpful. We mention facilities in the article, the ablution and kitchen facilities at all the campsites are good.
      1. You will need tent, sleeping bag, mattress, cooking equipment, food, wood. Shops in Mata Mata, Nossob and Twee Rivieren camps sell basic commodities. You will need to buy, borrow or rent this equipment before coming to the park. You can cook on the fire, but we always take a grid for braai, gas stove and an electric kettle.
      2. We like to stock up at a supermarket before coming to the park and only buy gas and maybe wood at shops in the park. Buy drinking water in the park.
      3. Book before hand, work out according to nationality and time spent in SA parks if it is going to be worth it for you to buy wildcard
      https://www.sanparks.org/bookings/
      [email protected]
      Park tel: + 27 (0) 54 561 2000 (Twee Rivieren)
      Fax: + 27 (0) 54 561 2005
      4. Selfdrive once you have checked into the park no extra cost. Morning and sunset drives, as well as morning walks, are available at Twee Rivieren, Nossob, Mata-Mata and the Kalahari Tented Camp at extra cost, check for prices with Sanparks.
      5. We do not currently offer this service.
      I am sure you will have a great time exploring Kgaladi, safe travels!

  3. After the lockdown is over I’m looking to do something different and the kgalagadi looks great. You mention the 6 wilderness camps on the south african side- I was wondering if you knew the names?

    • Stingy Nomads

      The six ‘wilderness camps’ are located in scenic locations deep in the park, they are isolated, close to wildlife and small only hosting about 8 people each; Grootkolk Wilderness Camp, Urikaruus Wilderness Camp, Kielie Krankie Wilderness Camp, Bitterpan Wilderness Camp, Gharagab Wilderness Camp, Kalahari Tented Camp and !Xaus Lodge run by San/Bushmen communities. Safe Travels!

  4. Jeremy thompson

    What is the cost of the day/night drives from the main camps? I cant seem to find info anywhere.

    Thanks

    • Stingy Nomads

      As far as I know morning and sunset drives are available at Twee Rivieren, Nossob, Mata-Mata and the Kalahari Tented Camp; enquiries can be made at the reception desks. Drives require a minimum of 2 adults in order to go out. We have not done this, but you can try to contact Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park at +27 (0)54 561 2000 or [email protected]

  5. Thanks for this informative article. Van you advise what type of road the is between Tweerivieren and Mata Mata is it heavy sand or graves would you be able to tow a caravan along this route?

    • Stingy Nomads

      If you have a good 4×4 towing vehicle it is possible to go from Tweerivieren to Nossob, but if it is a normal road caravan deflate the tyres and drive very slow or you could completely wreck your caravan, the road here was a mix of sand and gravel. The road was very sandy between Nossob and Mata Mata and I would not recommend you try taking a road caravan on this road. Safe travels!

  6. Jeremy Rollins

    I think it would be a good idea to stress that the accommodation in the park is usually fully booked months in advance. After reading your blog I was left with the impression I would only need to book near to my travel date which is next August. I had intended to stay eight nights, but have been forced to reduce to six and take some expensive non-camping options.

    • Stingy Nomads

      Hello, Jeremy! We’ve been to Kgalagadi twice in September and October and didn’t book anything months beforehand just a couple of days before and never had any problem. We phoned once or twice to check availability for some of our readers and there were spots available for their dates as well but when they tried to book it online it looked like everything was fully booked. Which campsites did you try to book? What are your dates? We can phone the park to double check.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.