Part 2, Doro Nawas, Desert Rhino Camp and Kalahari Plains Camp

By Bert Duplessis, Fish Eagle Safaris

Back to Part 1, skip to Part 3.

When approached by road, Doro Nawas Camp makes quite a visual statement:  this large dark edifice, looking very much like a part of a ‘burnt mountain’, literally looms over the valley in which it is located.  Upon closer inspection, it is less daunting than what one’s first impression may have presaged.  In fact it  has a very effective design, and is quite appealing from the inside, if not out. 

 

The large rooms are very well-equipped with showers, separate bathroom & toilet, and outside showers.  The rooms also have adequate if not outstanding lighting.  Beds can be rolled outside for a night out under the stars.  I considered doing that on my second night there but thought not, as the reading light does not roll along…    At the time I was reading a fascinating Afrikaans novel by Marita Van der Vyver .

Our afternoon activity was an outing to Twyfelfontein rock engravings, nowadays a World Heritage site.  I had previously visited the site many years ago.  Upon looking at the several thousand year old engravings again, I was just as captivated as I was the first time.  Who were these unknown artists and did they have any idea that their modest efforts to illustrate and educate and to impart a sense of life and movement would endure into near perpetuity?  What spurred them on to put chisel to stone?  Likely the same creative urge that spurred on painters and sculptors through the ages.   Twyfelfontein is definitely worth a visit for guests staying at Doro Nawas.

The following morning Craig and I took a nature drive with our guide Pieter.  We drove through a spectacularly beautiful environment, but there was preciously little in the way of game, just a few springbok and gemsbok here and there, and a few new bird species for our bird list. 

We did enjoy a delightful lunch of young potatoes, a fresh garden salad, and thin ribbon pasta stuffed into a butternut squash ‘cup’.  Really flavorful and light.  That afternoon I opted to forego an activity as I needed to catch up on some overdue e-mail replies, which took up a good couple of hours.  Fortunately Doro Nawas had just recently installed a free internet connection, with a laptop at the disposal of lodge guests.  Had the lodge been full, I would likely have had more competition for the service.  As it was, there were only three other guests around, and they were all on an activity so I pretty much had the place to myself.

After breakfast the next morning (March 18), Pieter drove me to the Petrified Forest, about 50 minutes one-way from Doro Nawas.  It was definitely worth the trip.  The scenery along the way was pretty impressive, as was the superb examples of calcified trees in this National Heritage site.  A guide escorted me to several petrified trees, one of which was approximately 30 meters tall.  The trees were deposited here as a result of a cataclysmic natural disaster, a flood of truly gigantic proportions which occurred towards the end of the glacier/wet stage of Namibia, about 270 million years ago.  Due to the overpowering size and force of the flood, the trees were literally snapped off at the base and carried here from far away, only to be buried almost instantaneously under metres of sand and silt deposit.  Over the millennia the organic matter was replaced with quartzite.  As time passed other events including glacier formation and natural water and wind formation scraped away the layer of dirt covering the trees, once again exposing them to the surface.  It is uncanny to see the resemblance to an actual tree right down to year rings and broken off branches. 

Back at the lodge I took a few photographs and caught up on e-mail, then took a relatively short flight to Desert Rhino Camp.  I fell in love with this camp – which I will be sure to revisit soon – almost immediately.   There was just something ‘right’ about the style of the tents, the main area and it definitely did not hurt to see plenty of game on the drive between the air strip and the camp. 

The afternoon ‘nature drive’ at Desert Rhino turned into a superb game drive because we came across three lionesses in pursuit of a lame oryx.  Had the lions realized the extent of the oryx’  lower-leg injury, which rendered it practically immobile, they would likely have pressed their attack and closed in right away.  Instead they chose to break off and to return to the woodland, probably planning to ambush  the unfortunate antelope  later that night.

On the 19th of March we were up very early for our great Black Rhino expedition.  This takes the form of a 4-wheel drive vehicle with guides attached to the Save the Rhino Trust leaving camp even earlier, to find signs and tracks of black rhino by checking specific water holes or other known rhino haunts.  Once they have located and closed in on the rhino, they radio back to base and call in the vehicle with the Desert Rhino Camp.  If the guests are lucky, this all happens by late morning or so.  If they are not, as was the case with us, the search and pursuit of the black rhino can take many hours. 

It was not until well after lunch, around 2:00P, that our posse of guides located a mother and young adult rhino.  We bounced our way – the paths are extremely rough – to the valley where they had been located. Approaching slowly and quietly we stopped about a half mile or so from the rhino and then left the vehicle, approaching the rhino on foot.  It was relatively open terrain with just some large deciduous shrubs providing cover as we slowly approached the rhino from downwind, walking more or less parallel to the cantankerous behemoths.  We were firmly instructed to keep quiet and that no questions would be entertained on the walk.  When we were within about 170 meters of the rhino, the Save the Rhino guide called halt and we took the opportunity to take some photographs and marvel at seeing these highly endangered creatures on their terms, in their terrain.  And what a spectacle it was.  There they were, unaware of our presence but sensing that all was not quite well.  Sniffing the clean desert air, looking this way and that, turning around and around yet unable to locate any imminent danger.  Which is the way we left them as we drove off, casting a couple of backward glances as the rhinos slowly blended into the surprisingly lush green verbiage covering this usually rocky terrain.   

Over a late lunch one of the Save the Rhino guides spoke to us about the plight of the desert rhino and the role of SRT in protecting and monitoring them.  It was eye-opening to learn that these animals had come back from the brink of local extension – due to heavy poaching – to being relatively common although very sparsely distributed. 

 

By March 20 I was in the Deception Valley area of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve at Kalahari Plains Camp.  The CKGR is home to the legendary Kalahari black-maned lion as well as some of the world’s best cheetah viewing.   On our very first game drive later that day we spotted several of these impressive lions as they walked across the open plains; we later also experienced fascinating interaction with some young Kalahari lions who were very interested in our vehicle, and actually ran behind us for a while as we pulled off.  We never did see any cheetah but conditions were definitely good for them. 

 

Kalahari Plains consist of  10 en-suite canvas units with a sleep-out above each from which to enjoy moonlit or star-studded nights. The main area consists of a lounge and dining area with an inviting swimming pool and deck area. The tents and main area are all raised off the ground to catch the breeze and take in the sweeping, spacious views across the Kalahari. Solar power provides all the electricity and hot water in the camp – making Kalahari Plains a 100% solar-powered camp – and innovative insulated canvas walls and roof keep the temperatures inside the units comfortable.

Thanks to the diversity of habitats, healthy game populations move through the area and are present to a greater or lesser degree all year round, but with the advent of the summer rains (end of November to April)  the desert truly comes to life. Short grasses sprout in the pan systems and fossil riverbeds, attracting plentiful plains game such as springbok and gemsbok which converge in their hundreds and thousands to graze. I had never seen so many gemsbok anywhere in Africa; there were small and large groups of them everywhere!  Likewise springbok in their hundreds.  Not as many zebras as I had seen on a previous Green Season trip to the Nxai Pan area.  There are no giraffes in this part of the Kalahari.

The next morning we drove all the way to Deception Valley which was interesting – we saw Mark and Delia Owens’ campsite (the co-authors of ‘Cry of the Kalahari’) and enjoyed a picnic lunch in the area.  It was quite a long drive from Kalahari Plains Camp and is probably best done as a full day outing. 

By far the most interesting part of my stay at Kalahari Plains Camp was an outing with Xhukuri, a San of the Xanakwe tribe.  This 2-hour interpretive walk from and back to the camp was nothing less than a revelation.  Fellow guests Nancy and Mark and I were introduced to a few elements of traditional San culture in an delightfully entertaining manner. Xhukuri was lively, energetic and had a fantastic sense of humor in additional to carrying a well-stocked bag of San paraphernalia.  These included an ostrich egg for water; some tortoise shell jewelry which could also be used for digging and scooping water, and a helmet.  He also had a long stick for extracting springhares from their holes. The bag was made from steenbok leather, colored with a local herbal tea.   
At one stage Xhukuri showed us how to twirl a stick on a rope, producing a rather loud whirling noise which is audible up to 2 kilometres away.  We were also told about the construction of the bow and arrow, the type of tree used for its various parts, and learned about a specific type of insect pupa which is harvested for the poison. 

 

Xhukuri said that a young San man had to demonstrate three things to be considered ready for marriage:  chase off a lion, make fire from scratch and chase and successfully kill an animal.  Demonstrating one of these skills, Xhukuri promptly started a fire, accomplishing this extremely difficult feat in a manner of minutes.  We were duly impressed.

 

I would highly recommend this outing for all guests staying at Kalahari Plains Camp.

 

Continue to Part 3


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