An inside look at Tswalu Kalahari

by MMC
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Tswalu. Its name means “new beginning” in the local vernacular Tswana. As I fly over the vast arid hinterland of South Africa’s most remote province – the Northern Cape – I wonder what I will discover out there in this arid, nondescript mosaic of livestock. farms that I can see from the window of the sumptuous Pilatus which takes me from OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg to this legendary place.

There is something to be said for private planes. Indeed, anything that takes the hassle out of getting to and from the airport, finding parking, queuing at check-in and security, getting buses to and from a plane expired which is parked as far away from the main terminal as possible. building, waiting for luggage, etc etc, my vote!

The land below is bare… exhausted… worn out… and I find myself thinking that farming here must be an act of supreme will and that those who take it upon themselves inspire my admiration for their sheer tenacity.

An hour and a half from the private hangar at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, the landscape begins to change. Now dotted with the deep gray scars that are the calling card of manganese mines, the patchwork of farmland abruptly stops to give way to the gentle slopes of Korannaberg before stretching uninterrupted to the horizon . This is my destination: the 282,000 acres of virtually pristine “Kalahari Green” desert that make up Tswalu Kalahari, South Africa’s largest private game reserve.

It belongs to the Oppenheimer family of Anglo-American fame. Nicky and Strilli Oppenheimer were granted the first rights to the land in the will of its previous owner, the Mancunian entrepreneur and hunter Stephen Boler, who died suddenly in 1998. It was Boler who began transforming what was once a farm of livestock into something. resembling a natural bush, although for hunting purposes.

The hunt stopped as soon as the Oppenheimers took possession and so began a long and often arduous road to realizing Nicky and Strilli’s dream of returning the Kalahari to itself. Untold tons of man-made structures were removed, along with countless water features, irrigation systems, exotic flora and miles of barbed wire.

The property was expanded to include sensitive habitats and the grasses were allowed to regrow. Native game has been reintroduced, notably in the form of magnificent black-maned Kalahari lions. And a luxury lodge has been opened – The Motse – offering visitors the chance to enjoy an authentic desert safari experience. It has been joined by the Oppenheimers’ former private home – Tarkuni – which is offered as a private safari home, and now Loapi Camp – less of a tented camp and more of a collection of ultra-luxurious canvas safari homes.

About three decades later, the Oppenheimers’ dream of restoring this part of the southern Kalahari, or “green,” has more than come true. As I study the large relief map in the Motse living room, I reflect on the vast expanse around me. The arid mountain bushveld that makes up part of Korannaberg to the east of the property gives way to the west to gently rolling dunes and vast open plains to the southwest.

To the northeast is the aptly named Hotazel ​​and to the northwest is Van Zylsrus. Tswalu is approximately 186 miles northwest of Kimberley and 167 km northeast of Upington. Botswana is approximately 70 km to the west and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is easily accessible by car.

The reserve is vast, adding new meaning to the notion of exclusivity. In your private vehicle, you feel an incredible sense of remoteness as you pass through spectacular landscapes ranging from magnificent mountains to grass-covered dunes that resemble a sea of ​​sand. Life is everywhere, despite the arid nature of the environment. And some of that life is preciously unusual and rare.

Tswalu is the only place in South Africa where you have the best chance of seeing the elusive and endangered ground pangolin, an animal renowned as the holy grail of game viewing. Indeed, when it comes to pangolin sightings, Tswalu is the ideal place, especially when temperatures drop and these strange creatures adopt diurnal habits. This has made it a research hotspot for scientists studying this incredible little creature.

There are more than just pangolins in Tswalu. With some 80 species of mammals and 240 species of birds, including the Namaqua sandgrouse and the pygmy falcon, you won’t be bored on a safari in Tswalu. The “usual suspects” for the region include gemsbok, sable, tsessebe, roan, ycteropus, porcupine and springbok. Add to it the giraffe, the buffalo, the zebra (Burchells and Hartmann mountain), the elk, the cheetah, the brown hyena, the wolf and the hartebeest.

And then there are the meerkats, Tswalu has habituated “mobs” or clans and guests can get exceptionally close to them with the help of resident human assistants whose job is to monitor them and maintain their levels of habituation. This is a major asset that has made Tswalu a popular stopover on safari itineraries.

The area around Tswalu is the ancestral home of the San Bushmen and there are ancient petroglyphs in the mountains. This is why, a few hours later, I find myself at the top of Korannaberg with the most incredible view available to me.

The climb up to the petroglyphs revealed more about the geology and flora of the area thanks to my guide’s encyclopedic knowledge and the ancient carvings and stone tools that seem abandoned at every turn bear witness to the people whose descendants constitute a large number of people. part of the Tswalu workforce, which has more than 140 employees.

It is this team of people that goes to the very heart of what Tswalu is and its deep and abiding commitment to the people of this place.

In 2008, Jonathan Oppenheimer established the Tswalu Foundation with the aim of developing a platform from which Tswalu guests could contribute to and become involved in both community and environmental research in the reserve.

The foundation is registered as a non-profit organization which, in addition to funding species research, ecological and applied research in Kalahari ecosystems, also provides grants for the development of social and community projects.

Among these, the Tswalu Clinic began when Dr Ludwig Focking and his wife Eva visited the reserve and decided to get involved in helping to improve the health of the local community. The clinic has become a vital health and education center in this remote part of the world and now attracts healthcare professionals from around the world to share their expertise. The clinic oversees the provision of primary health care, handling everything from cuts and scrapes to prenatal care, blood and vision tests, and dispensing some basic medications.

Support for Tswalu’s staff and community of families extends to the staff village with its energy and water efficient homes, pre-school nursery, daycare and adult literacy programme. Environmental projects carried out by the foundation include research on the brown hyena, the namaqua sandgrouse, the ycterope and scorpions and now, of course, pangolins.

Where to stay:

The Motsé
consists of a village of nine luxury “legae” – beautifully appointed thatched suites, three of which are two-bedroom family units. Each legae has an outdoor porch with views of a nearby waterhole and the Kalahari dunes beyond, and is air-conditioned to ensure absolute comfort whatever the season. The decor and design is a mix of contemporary and traditional furnishings in muted desert tones. Open fireplaces, linens and a luxurious bathroom complete the accommodation. Motse’s common areas are built on several levels around a swimming pool, with salas and lapas offering respite from the sun. There is a lovely indoor lounge, bar, dining room, library and boma where bush braais are regularly served.

Tarkouni can accommodate 10 people exclusively and tailor-made and has its own host and chef.

Camp Loapi is nestled in a secluded Korannaberg valley and offers six self-contained, modular-style tented villas offering exceptional luxury and exclusivity. There are four one-bedroom houses and two two-bedroom villas, all with their own safari vehicle, private guides and stunning views.

No matter where you stay, you have your own vehicle, guide and tracker to look after you for the duration of your visit. Activities include morning and evening game drives, walks, horse riding, the Tswalu Kalahari Spa with its range of therapies and treatments, stargazing and tours of the staff village and community facilities. There is also the inimitable Klein Jan restaurant.

Tswalu is an eight-hour drive from Johannesburg, but regular flights are available from Cape Town and Johannesburg.

Tell us about including Tswalu Kalahari in your next safari itinerary…

Text: Sharon Gilbert-Rivett

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