Kalahari: Wilderness Camps I – Kielie Krankie and Grootkolk

This is part of a series of photographs from our 2008 and 2009 trips to the Kalahari.  Click here to see a map of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.

The wilderness camps in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (KTP) are small and unfenced, and as close to nature as one is going to get.

In the wilderness camps they’ve used natural materials (wood, canvas, reeds and stone) to create a rustic appearance, and to allow the cabins to blend in with the surrounding landscape. Each of the wilderness camps has a different design to highlight the features of the area that they are in. They all look down on a waterhole (approximately 100 metres away), which increases the chances of seeing animals as they come down to drink.

As they are unfenced, wild animals (including the predators) routinely pass through the camps. Which is one of the reasons that they are not suitable for young children. One of the rules of staying there, is that one sticks to the paths inside the camp itself, and doesn’t go wandering off into the veld. Not even to get that perfect shot! At night it’s best to stay inside your cabin, or risk meeting the wildlife up close.

Most of the wilderness camps consist of four 2-person cabins or chalets, and the camp guard’s little house. This effectively means that in the middle of the wilderness, you and your travelling companion will have a maximum of 7 other people near you.

Approach to Kielie Krankie wilderness camp (©2009 WMB)

The cabins or chalets all have a sleeping area, a little kitchen area and a small bathroom (shower, basin and toilet). Which means that once you’re in for the night, there’s no need to go wandering around outside tempting the predators. There is gas available for cooking and to provide warm water for bathing.

The accommodation also comes equipped with a whistle – the kind that sports referees use. In the event that you have a problem (most notably are trapped inside your cabin because there’s a lion or leopard sleeping on your doorstep), you’re supposed to blow on this whistle and wait for help to arrive!

The camp game guards or rangers are there to maintain the camp, and generally make sure that the guests have an enjoyable and “incident”-free visit.  They also know a lot about the area and the animals, and are in tune with the rhythm of the camp i.e. they know if there are any interesting animals lurking close by. Willem (whom we met at the Kielie Krankie camp) was very knowledgeable about the veld and the animals, and borrowed our field guides to brush up on his facts. It’s a lonely existence for the camp guards who rely on short-wave radio for company – and for listening to rugby and soccer commentary on. On days that the signal is poor, they only have the two-way radio system to communicate with their colleagues at other camps (and get those important game scores!). The worst “joke” you can play on these guys, if you have been asked to play courier by one of the main camps, is to tell them that you forgot their food, magazines or whatever back at base camp.

I am going to start in this post with my favourite wilderness camps: Kielie Krankie and Grootkolk (CLICK HERE to see map).

Kielie Krankie

Kielie Krankie is my hands down favourite wilderness camp. It is in the south of the KTP, perched high up on the red sand dunes. Even on the hottest days it remains cool, with a breeze often blowing through the camp. It’s a very peaceful, calming camp to stay in. And it is one of the few places in the KTP where one can – if one stands on the edge of the balcony, looking south – get cellphone reception. If you’ve been “off the radar” for 10 days and are looking for news from home, that can be significant. The last time we were there, we discovered that while we were off having fun in the bush, the South African government had changed, and the President was no longer the President!

Kielie Krankie cabin (©2009 WMB)

Because of its situation in the area between the two rivers (the Nossob and the Auob rivers), Kielie Krankie itself is usually not teeming with big herds of buck, or lots of big predators. Although when we were there in September 2009, I saw a leopard at the waterhole, in broad daylight. According to the sightings notebooks kept in each cabin, most of the animals of the KTP do pass by the camp though. You have to be there at the right time – and paying attention.

Kielie Krankie in the late afternoon (©2006 WMB)

One of the main attractions for me in staying at Kielie Krankie is that it is well positioned between the two north-south roads following the two rivers i.e. the Twee-Riverien – Mata Mata road, and the Twee-Rivieren – Nossob road. This means that when you want to go game viewing you have quick access to the most popular (as far as the animals are concerned) waterholes.


Grootkolk is a remote camp situated north of the bigger Nossob camp. Here the vegetation has changed from the red dunes of the south to savanna. We always see the most beautiful sunsets at Grootkolk.

Grootkolk cabin (©2008 WMB)

It is also big predator country – lions and leopards often pass through the camp, and sometimes even stay close to the waterhole for a couple of days. On game drives close by we have also seen cheetah. The camp also is a favourite with snakes, and there’s usually a snake or two in residence. Another reason to use that whistle and call for help!

Grootkolk communal fireplace (©2008 WMB)

One of the big features of the camp is the large weaver bird communities which have set up house close to the waterhole. Oddly enough they come to the camp for water. With the cooking and washing-up facilities outside of the cabins, there’s always easily accessible water around. As soon as the sun comes up in the mornings, the weaver birds (and the odd Redheaded Finch) leave their communal nests, and come swarming across the veld to the camp. It always reminds me of a squadron of planes. They provide an excellent early warning system if there is a snake close by.

Weaver birds at Grootkolk (©2009 LB)

The cabins here are also cool, with bottom half of the walls made of plastered sandbags, and the top half of canvas.  Which I’m sure any self-respecting lion or leopard could easily shred . . . but thankfully haven’t so far.

From Grootkolk one has access to the north-south road which runs along the Nossob river. So one can visit the waterholes situated along the river.  With the Nossob camp about a two and a half hour drive away, travelling back to Nossob for fuel or emergency supplies, is still a viable option.

Waterhole at Grootkolk - with two lions! (©2009 WMB)

I will be writing further posts about the other wilderness camps, so please come by again.

This is part of a series of photographs from our 2008 and 2009 trips to the Kalahari.  Click here to see a map of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.

Credits: Photographs: Willie (WMB) and Lisa (LB), photo processing and text: Lisa @ Notes from Africa | Photoblog


About lisa@notesfromafrica

I live on the Southern coast of South Africa, and write about the things that interest, amuse or inspire me. You can find me at http://notesfromafrica.wordpress.com and https://southerncape.wordpress.com (my photoblog)
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13 Responses to Kalahari: Wilderness Camps I – Kielie Krankie and Grootkolk

  1. This all sounds so very exciting – especially the chance of waking up to a lion sleeping on my doorstep and having to whistle for help! I want to stay in a wilderness camp. I absolutely LOVE the picture with the birds – it’s a fun shot.

    Can’t wait to read more of your posts!

    • I think I’d be yelling for help, not blowing on a little whistle!

      Those birds are cute, aren’t they? And very tame. I was standing less than 2 meters away. While I was trying to focus, some of the others were trying to steal my breakfast.

  2. Lovely, Lisa! Such stunning photos as well, it all makes my African-heart ache!
    Sunshine xx

  3. I’m seeing a visit to KTP in my future! You really make it sound like a lot of fun, and very interesting. Just need to find me a 4×4 first 😉

    Great action shot of the weaver birds! I can practically hear how much fun they’re having.

    “Kielie Krankie” – any idea where/what the name originates from?

    • For the main roads in the KTP you don’t need a 4X4, but you do need a pretty sturdy vehicle like a bakkie (pick-up truck).

      According to the official SANParks pages, “Kielie Krankie” means Byna siek / Almost sick, but they don’t say how the name came about. Not a very nice name for a beautiful place.

  4. Wow–sounds incredible, Lisa! The photos are fabulous. I have got to make it to your fine continent some day soon!

    Great post!

  5. That looks amazing! Just what I’d want in a trip to such a wild place – the benefits of walls and a roof but not too much between me and what looks like a stunning location.

    • The wilderness camps are nice . . . and SO much more comfortable than camping (which one can do at the bigger, fenced camps).

      In my next post (next week) I’ll be writing about the two most remote wilderness camps. Which one can only get to with a 4X4.

  6. Well, wilderness camp sounds very cool place for chilling but safety must be a priority with all camps and make sure this camp is ideal for us to stay.

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