A short trip down the bitumen with Chris leading and we turned off onto the dirt. At first the road was wide and quite smooth. Eventually it became sandier and sandier and the car laboured and strained through deeply rutted soft sand. With our tyre pressures down, no-one had any problems and fortunately no-one was embarrassingly bogged and had to be pulled out.
We crossed the Great Kalahari Desert National Park, still ploughing through the sand for many kilometres until we neared the gate and office for Xade Camp in the park. As we approached, a waterhole showed us our first real game of the trip: some Wildebeest, Oryx and two kinds of vultures, including the increasingly rare Lappet-faced Vulture.
With small campsites we split into two groups for the night, though we were only a few minutes' drive apart.
Once settled, Chris loaded us up into his truck with the overflow following him in cars and we went on our first evening safari drive with sightings of Black-backed jackals and Kudu.
The night, as the previous nights had been was very cold; the days have been wonderfully warm with temperatures between 35 and 40, though with the exceptionally low humidity it doesn't feel as hot as at home.
But the sky was extraordinary with the Milky Way stretching across from horizon to horizon. This may not be 5-star accommodation, but it's actually better: it's million-star! I didn't drag all my camera gear here to miss some night photography and I managed some more than passable shots of the sky!
From Xade to Piper Pan…
In the morning we packed up all our gear. On offer was an early morning game drive. The only takers were Russ and I along with Bob and Margaret. Back at the waterhole we had passed yesterday, there was not a single solitary animal! However, driving slowly back along the road, Chris thought he saw a lion on the road. No it's a just a shadow, said Chris. What a disappointment… then the shadow got up and walked across the road. We followed the young male lion for while he stared back at us as h plodded further and further off the road and into the bush. What a thrill!
Once back at camp we could opt to travel with Chris in the safari truck. Being open on all side, it's a touch breezy, especially in the early morning when the air is still cold from the night. So with layers and layers of clothes, scarves, beanies and a rug over the knees, seven of us left partners to drive the car while we had a ringside seat being the first to see the game helped by Chris's experienced eyes.
The road was strictly four-wheel-drive stuff: deep soft sand, corrugations and wash-aways. We crossed dry pans and drove through stands of thorny bushes and spotted steenboks, wildebeest, jackals, bat-eared foxes, springbok, giraffe and more.
After setting up camp, Chris took another group out again for a sunset drive spotting game on the huge grassy pan. That night with the clearest skies and no moon, I tried out a bit more night sky photography and was quite chuffed with the results.
19May -20 May
Piper Pan to Deception Valley…
Another day driving - or rather Russ driving and me in the safari truck again. Whenever we spotted game, Chris, who does quite a bit of photography himself, would manoeuvre the truck into the best position for some great pictures. A very large herd of springbok put on a great display of 'pronking', that strange and awkward-looking jumping high in the air with the back arched over. Cameras on motor drive ensured that at least a couple of the hundred or so shots would actually capture it!
Deception Pan is so called because the heat haze over the vast plain makes it look as if it holds water - though it is dry 99% of the time being in the middle of the Central Kalahari!
This camp is for two nights, a welcome relief from all the packing up of tents and gear every morning!
Again Chris took us around the many intersecting, criss-crossing tracks over the pans and through the bush, not once getting lost - or at least, if he did, he didn't let on.