Kalahari: Wilderness Camps II – Gharagab and Bitterpan

Map of Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park camps - click on map to enlarge (Source: SANParks)

The most remote of the Kgalagadi wilderness camps are Gharagab and Bitterpan. Not only because of their location, but because they can only be reached by 4X4 tracks. Although 4X4 enthusiasts are bound to be disappointed. Except for some really long and steep sand dunes, the routes are not a challenge for an experienced off-road driver (like Willie). If you get motion sickness easily (like me!), then the constant rocking motion for a couple of hours, will be plenty challenging enough!

In both camps there is a single one-way track going into the camp, and a separate single one-way track going out, forming a circular route. What this means is that unless you are prepared to go for a very long and scenic drive, game drives out from these two camps are not possible.  Once you’re there, you’re there.  Which is great if you just want to sit and relax and watch the game which comes to the waterhole. Not so great if you get restless easily.

Gharagab

Gharagab is in the far north of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (KTP).  It’s a beautiful location deep in the African savanna. When I’m here, I really feel like I’m in Africa. The view here is stunning. The camp sits on a low ridge, and overlooks the endless savanna. Because of the “wide-angle” view you have got, the horizon seems to curve around you. From the tower behind the cabins, one gets an even more spectacular view. Sound also seems to travel further in this more open and flatter area. In fact it is quite a noisy place with the insects, birds and geckos “making a racket” during the day, and the lions and jackals roaring and howling at night.

Gharagab camp (©2008 WMB)

If you are going to be staying at the Grootkolk camp (approximately 2 hours driving away), it is worth making the trip to Gharagab, and staying at least one night. At Gharagab (and Bitterpan, discussed below) one is only allowed to use the road to the camp if one is going to be staying there i.e. this is not a day trip. Because of the location, and the fact that you have time on your hands, Willie believes this is the perfect place to cook a Lamb Shank Potjie (recipe at bottom of post).

Gharagab is one of the hottest places in the KTP. Even in early spring (when we have been there), it can be take-your-breathe-away hot. In the middle of summer it must be unbearable. Although the design of the cabins is interesting and fits in with the look of the area, the cabins (which are mostly wood with corrugated iron paneling) are poorly insulated. So there is really no place to hide from the heat.

Gharagab cabin (©2008 WMB)

Something which I neglected to mention in my first post about the wilderness camps, and which may not be self explanatory, is that they are self-catering and one has to bring one’s own drinking and cooking water. [Although the bigger camps – Twee Riverien, Nossob and Mata Mata – may say they have drinking water, it’s not necessarily a good thing to drink it!] So if you are going to stay in the smaller wilderness camps, you have to take with you everything you are going to need while you’re there, including firewood.

View from Gharagab cabin kitchen (©2008 LB)

The quality of the water used for bathing, is another issue. In most places it’s not great – it is brackish (has high salt content) and is alkaline. At Gharagab it’s really bad. If you are there for only a night, don’t bother taking a shower. Even if you’re hot, you’re going to end up feeling far worse. The water leaves a salty residue on your skin and hair. If you’re like me and have sensitive skin, it’s going to strip your skin, which is going to take weeks or even months to recover.

Sunset at Gharagab (©2006 LB)

Bitterpan

[For some reason we have no photographs of Bitterpan . . . ]

When you approach the Bitterpan camp (right in the center of the KTP), it feels like you’ve reached the last outpost. It is almost like the set of a Western movie.  The camp looks out over a salt pan, to which the animals come to lick salt. On a moonlit night, it’s got an almost eerie feeling. The salt pan becomes a moonscape, and the animals seem to drift onto the pan.

Bitterpan camp - Click on image to enlarge (Source: SANParks)

Bitterpan camp - view of salt pan (Image source: SANParks)

Bitterpan has the same problem with heat that Gharagab does i.e. it is hot and the cabins (which are made of wood and canvas) do not provide much relief from the heat.

I read somewhere that the Bitterpan wilderness camp won an architectural design award. One can see why. It is cute, and has a lot of features. However, they are not necessarily practical features. There is a walk-way joining the individual cabins, which although raised from the ground, would pose no challenge to any of the predators in the KTP. The little bathrooms are also not part of the bedroom area, so if you need to go to the bathroom at night, you run the risk of meeting up with a predator on the prowl. One who will have a definite sight advantage in the dark!

Approaching Bitterpan - The Last Outpost (Click on photo for image source and more Bitterpan images)

Then there is the communal cooking area. While this is great if you are there with a big party of family or friends, it’s not such a good idea if several separate couples are there at once. Although it does result in a more social atmosphere – one gets to meet and exchange stories with one’s fellow camp-mates – the cooking is a bit of a nightmare if everybody is trying to do their own thing in the little kitchen. When we were there, there was a bigger group there, who would have been at home in “the colonies”! It was cocktails at sunset, with nobody making a move to get the fire started and the food cooked. We were tired and hungry, so Willie ended up making a fire big enough for everybody to use – although he didn’t volunteer to cook their meat for them. It is also customary in the KTP camps that one cleans up the kitchen before one leaves, and this also becomes an issue if it’s a communal kitchen. Our colonial camp-mates thought that somebody else should do it i.e. the camp guard (not his job!).

Although I found both these camps too hot for my liking, I really recommend them as beautiful and interesting places to visit.

Lamb Shank Potjie

Lamb Shank Potjie

(Serves 4)

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons oil
  • 4 lamb shanks
  • 3 onions
  • 2 cloves crushed garlic
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 1/3 teaspoon dried marjoram
  • 2 tomatoes (chopped)
  • 2 large carrots (sliced)
  • 3 cups boiling water (boiling)
  • 1 cup rice (Basmati if possible)
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 2 cups green beans (cleaned)

Instructions

  1. Heat the oil in a heavy pot (flat bottomed black pot no 14 if possible) and brown the meat.
  2. Add the onions and garlic, and fry until brown.
  3. Add the salt & pepper, marjoram, tomato, carrots and boiling water.  Cover and cook slowly over low heat coals (or stove top) for two hours.
  4. Add the rice, turmeric and green beans.  Cover and cook for a further 30 minutes or until the rice is soft.

[Recipe adapted from and Image from: “The 4X4 Safari Cookbook” by Rita van Dyk]

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

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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)
This entry was posted in Nature ● Environment, Photography, Travel and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Kalahari: Wilderness Camps II – Gharagab and Bitterpan

  1. What amazing photographs – most of them look like postcards! There’s something about African sunsets and sunrises that you just can’t describe – ahhhh, my homesick homesick heart!
    Sunshine xx

  2. I can see how the communial kitchen can be problematic if all campers don’t share a like-minded attitude towards camping etiquette.

    That potjie must have tasted heavenly “in the wild” 🙂

  3. I shouldn’t have read this right before bed. Now I’m starving! The lamb shank potjie receipe looks amazing.

    Also, great info and photos! Sounds like a worthwhile experience, sans the salty skin from the water of course.

  4. I know the homesickness that can be brought out by photos – my archive from my road trip has been a bit too much at times! I would kill for some skin-searing heat and to break into a healthy sweat right now… rather than being wrapped up 24/7, except when in artifically dry, stale inside air.

    It’s all about the happy medium I suppose! And that potjie looks amazing!

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