Kalahari Red Dune Route
It is said that no two visits to the Kalahari are the same. This ancient and beautiful land is not only amazingly rich in diversity; it also reflects an endless variety of moods, making each new encounter refreshingly different from the previous ones
The Kalahari Red Dune Route showcases the Kalahari through a wide range of activities including duneboarding, camel riding and 4x4 trailing for the adventurous, and game drives, guided walks, birding expeditions and other eco-inclined activities for nature-lovers. For visitors attuned to culture and history, the Kalahari Red Dune Route offers the opportunity to experience regional customs and folklore, sample traditional cuisine, and meet the warm and welcoming people of the Kalahari (a glossary of common local words and terms can be found below to assist you during your visit). Accommodation options are as diverse as the landscape, and vary from camping to homely bed and breakfasts to luxury lodges. All in all, the Kalahari Red Dune Route offers something for everyone.
The area covered by the route extends north of Upington in the Northern Cape province of South Africa into the toe-shaped protrusion of South Africa to the Namibian border. The route incorporates the first formally declared Transfrontier Conservation Area in Africa, the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. This park straddles the South Africa-Botswana border and is one of the largest conservation areas in the world.
Why 'Red Dunes'?
The colour of the dunes in the southern Kalahari can be attributed to the high iron oxide content of the sand. In areas of higher rainfall and in shallow areas where water collects, the iron oxide is leached out, causing the sand ultimately to turn white. The gradual effect of the leaching transforms the desert into a wonderful variety of colours. (Hidden from view by the Kalahari dunes are layers of ancient sedimentary bedrocks, formations that are believed to be rich in fossils.) Most of the sand dunes to be seen on the Kalahari Red Dune Route are stabilised by vegetation. They owe their characteristic shape to wind action that exposes the moist sand beneath the dry surface. The damp layer is eroded further and the resultant windborne particles are deposited on the south-west side of the dune, causing a characteristic gentler gradient.
Besides the red dunes, some of the most obvious features of the Kalahari landscape are the nests of the sociable weaver birds. Their huge edifices often cover entire telephone poles (much to the vexation of the locals, whose telephone services can be interrupted by retained moisture within the nests). The colonies have up to 50 chambers housing as many as 300 birds. The chambers are affixed to the bottom of the nest to make them as inaccessible as possible to predators. The structure as a whole has a unique 'air-conditioning system' that ensures the interior temperature never falls below 15°C or rises above 30°C. Pygmy falcons, which cannot survive the harsh winter without a nest, borrow the weavers’ chambers for warmth and in exchange offer their hosts protection from lizards and insects. A ring of white droppings around the chamber entrance reveals the presence of the falcon. Both the Cape cobra and the honey badger are enemies of the sociable weavers, preying on the eggs and chicks.
History of farming in the southern Kalahari:
Originally the resourceful hunter-gatherers known as the San inhabited the Kalahari. Experience had taught them that, though there was water in the area, it was mostly saline and thus unsuitable for agriculture. In the 1920's and 1930's, farmers from the west sought grazing permits during the winter months when there was plenty of nourishment for their livestock. The sheep could survive on just a little drinking water as they obtained most of their moisture from plants. Shepherds would lead their flocks to areas where rains had recently fallen, and they would gather tsama melons for additional nourishment for their flocks. When spring came, the animals would need more water and the herds would again be moved west.
Later the government decided that the land was arable, and had it surveyed and apportioned. Farmers who settled in the region would construct dams that supplied water for about nine months of the year. When the water ran out, the farmers either trucked in extra supplies or simply bought or rented another farm. Most chose to buy additional land, and gradually a nomadic style of farming returned to the Kalahari. Shepherds would move the animals by night and rest during the heat of the day.
In the early 1980s, the government laid on a water supply network from the Orange River. Today this scheme serves about 650 000ha, and is controlled by a Water Board and a system of flow-control valves and consumption meters designed to prevent overgrazing.
Additional travel information:
Climate and weather: The Kalahari is a desert. Daytime temperatures can be extremely high and sunblock is essential, especially for those with sensitive skins. In winter, night-time temperatures can drop below 0°C (though the days are usually warm and pleasant). Thunderstorms are common during the rainy season between November and April.
Malaria: The Kalahari is malaria-free. However, in the event of high seasonal rains it is advisable to take the usual precautions.
Distances and roads: The distances that you will travel in the Kalahari are large. Most vehicles are suitable for travel in the area, provided you stay clear of the dunes. Four-wheel drive vehicles are advisable for game drives, thanks to their higher ground clearance. Remember that speeding on dirt roads is particularly dangerous. It also creates a great deal of dust, which can adversely affect people, plants and animals in the vicinity of roads.
Transport: The town of Upington has direct daily air links with Johannesburg and Cape Town, as well as coach services connecting all the major centres in South Africa and Namibia. Car hire (including 4x4) is available at the airport.
Finances: Many shops in the smaller towns along the Kalahari Red Dune Route accept only cash. Furthermore, there are few banks and automated teller machines in the area covered by the route. Thus it is advisable to do all banking in Upington and to draw enough cash to cover the entire journey.
Glossary of terms:
Biltong: Spicy air-dried meat (beef, game or ostrich), preserved with salt and seasoned with pepper, coriander and other spices (recipes differ, and are often handed down from generation to generation). Other terms used globally to describe similar meat products include the American jerky, Mexican carne secca, Swiss bunderfleisch or Italian bresaula.
Boerekos: Directly translated from Afrikaans, boerekos means 'farmer’s food'. Boerekos is the traditional cuisine, consisting primarily of meat (either lamb or game) and vegetables, potato dishes or home-baked breads.
Boma: A large enclosure, often used during game capture. The term is also used to describe an outdoor area used for social gatherings. Usually the walls are made of reeds or bamboo and the roof is thatched.
Braai: The South African barbecue. An abbreviation of the Afrikaans word braaivleis or 'grilled meat'. Meat products and accompaniments such as vegetables and garlic bread are cooked over an open fire in a relaxed, sociable environment.
Koeksisters (also spelt koeksusters): Twisted plaits of dough, deep-fried in hot oil and soaked in thick syrup until translucent. Koeksisters are originally from the Orient.
Lapa: An outdoor braai (barbeque) or meeting area, often with a thatched roof.
Nabbas: Truffle-like delicacies that grow naturally in the Kalahari. They taste similar to mushrooms and are delicious on roosterkoek (see below).
Pans: Pans are usually areas of hard, bare clay in a natural depression, round or oval in shape. Pans vary in size from roughly 100m to several square kilometres. Though pans sometimes are swollen during the rainy season, it is wrong to believe the water draws the game. It is too saline. However, fertile soils and the greater variety of vegetation near pans provide food for game and a habitat for many bird species.
Rondawel: A round, hut-like dwelling.
Rooi: The Afrikaans word for red.
Roosterkoek: Bread kneaded and then cooked over open coals.
San: The original residents of the Kalahari, often called Bushmen or hunter-gatherers.
Tsama melons: Among the quintessential plants of the Kalahari. In dry spells they are the principal source of water for many antelope, particularly the gemsbok, as their content is over 90% water. Tsama melons are annuals that ripen in midwinter on a long trailing stem. They grow copiously after rains. Twenty-two tsama melons yield the equivalent energy of 1kg of fresh meat.
The two focus areas in this route are Kimberley’s Platfontein, where the !Xun and Khwe San tribes live, and the Kalahari. This route stretches over a distance of roughly 600km and captures breathtaking contrasts.
Northern Cape, South Africa: This route stretches from the west coast to the Kamiesberg Mountain Range and links with the Namaqua National Park in the Namaqualand region, famous for its wild flowers. The route is in the centre of the Succulent Karoo Biodiversity Hotspot.
The Karoo Highland Tourism Route is situated in the north-eastern part of the Western Cape and southern part of the Northern Cape in South Africa. The route covers small Karoo towns such as Matjiesfontein, Sutherland, Fraserburg, Williston, Carnarvon, Loxton, Victoria West and Beaufort West and is commonly referred to as the Great Karoo.
Northern Cape, South Africa: This route centres on the town of Kimberley, where a diamond mining rush began after the first stone was discovered in 1866. Surrounding Kimberley are the sites of some important battles of the Anglo Boer War, as well as rock art sites.
In the Northern Cape of South Africa, where the Kalahari and the Nama-Karoo deserts meet, the Great Gariep River (Orange River) flows, bringing life to the typically arid worlds on both sides, and turning the area into an oasis. It is here that travellers can experience the Kokerboom Food and Wine Route.
Northern Cape, South Africa: This route covers the mountainous desert region in the north-west corner of South Africa. The Richtersveld has the highest diversity of succulent plants in the world and is also of interest to artists, geologists and those interested in indigenous culture.