Kalahari: Wilderness Camps III – Urikaruus & KTC

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

If you’ve been following the Kalahari Series and have read the other two posts on the Wilderness Camps (Wilderness Camps I – Kielie Krankie and Groot Kolk and Wilderness Camps II – Gharagab and Bitterpan), you’re probably thinking to yourself: Not another wilderness camp! Well, for the sake of completeness, I’ve decided to write about these two camps as well. I also get a lot of Google searches with people looking for information about the various camps. Although my posts aren’t the definitive guide they do, I think, give people a sense of each camp. One great reason why you should read this post, is that I’ve included some unique wildlife stories.

Urikaruus is situated along the Twee Rivieren – Mata Mata road, in close proximity to some major game viewing waterholes. This means it’s an excellent location if you want to go off in a different direction on each game drive you do from there.

Urikaruus wilderness camp (©2009 WMB)

The wooden cabins are raised on stilts with walkways between the four cabins. As I’ve remarked previously, this isn’t going to stop a determined predator, but it’s a cute feature. The fact that you are raised above the ground also means that you get a good view over the waterhole and the Auob riverbed. The Auob is mostly dry, and this means the animals can migrate up and down the riverbed between waterholes. The result of this is that both of the wilderness camps on the Auob river: Urikaruus and Kalahari Tented Camp (KTC) have some of the best game viewing. You can sit and just watch the game drift past throughout the day. It’s a very relaxing way to spend the day!

Urikaruus cabin from back - the bedroom and bathroom are on the top level; the kitchen and deck are a level below (©2009 WMB)

Urikaruus cabin side view showing deck and Auob River on left (©2009 WMB)

Willie thinks that Urikaruus has the best kitchen of all the camps. It’s on the same level as the deck, which means that the cook can also see the waterhole and have company while they’re busy in the kitchen.

When we stayed there, Urikaruus was said to have a “resident leopard”. We never saw it, but we did have some wonderful sightings on our game drives from there. Close to the camp we came across the hyenas with their pups (see post), and also saw the family of wildcats one morning (see post).

My only “complaint” about these two camps is that they do get hot. They get the full effect of the afternoon sun. The construction of the camps – Urikaruus in wood; KTC mostly in canvas – doesn’t help to combat the heat. Here the solid walls of Kielie Krankie or Grootkolk (see post) would be a better design. Normally we go for early morning/late afternoon game drives, and stay in camp during the heat of the day. At Urikaruus especially it was very hot during the middle of the day (even in Spring), and instead of staying in the camp in the middle of the day, we took the opportunity to drive down to Twee Riverien (the main camp which has petrol and a small shop – with limited and very expensive stock – and is the only camp which gets good cellphone reception should you want to call home!).  All you can think of in that heat is to have something icy to eat or drink. I had a wonderful surprise when one very hot day at KTC, when Willie whipped out some ice-cream that he had buried in the camping freezer without my knowledge! Especially for me, since he doesn’t eat ice-cream.

Kalahari Tented Camp (KTC) is as far as I know the oldest Wilderness Camp. It’s far bigger than the other wilderness camps with family units as well. This also makes it the only Wilderness Camp suited to kids. KTC is close to the Mata-Mata camp (which has fuel available). Although it was closed for years, the Mata-Mata gate through which you can leave South Africa and go into Namibia, is once again open. Although you need to “check out” through passport control back at Twee Riverien, before being allowed through the gate.

Kalahari Tented Camp (©2003 WMB)

Kalahari Tented Camp (©2003 WMB)

Kalahari Tented Camp - Kitchen (©2003 WMB)

I have fond memories of KTC because it’s the first Wilderness Camp we ever stayed at, and we have had some very interesting animal sightings there. At sunset on one visit, we watched a standoff between a small family of Spotted Hyenas and four adult Gemsbok. The Gemsbok were standing fanned out towards the hyenas. Most of the hyenas hid in the long grass, while three crept forward and tried to lure the Gemsbok into breaking ranks and chasing them. It looked like they were trying to divide and conquer. Obviously as a Gemsbok charge towards the hyenas, the main pack of hyenas would run forward and attack it. This went on for quite a while – probably an hour – until the hyenas gave up. The photographs below were taken during the standoff. It was already getting dark, which is why the photographs are not very clear.

Gemsbok in center of photograph with three hyenas in front (©2003 WMB)

Hyenas rushing forward trying to break up Gemsbok group in order to isolate one animal (©2003 WMB)

On another visit, Willie had gone on a game drive the one evening. I wasn’t feeling well, and decided to stay at the camp. I was lying on the bed, when I heard the sound of movement just on the other side of the canvas walls of the bedroom area. And then some serious sniffing and snorting and pawing, and then those hideous, bone chilling sounds that hyenas make. They obviously thought I was a good choice for their next meal! The canvas walls didn’t seem to me to be much protection against hungry hyenas, and just when I contemplated locking myself in the bathroom – the only area with solid walls – everything went quiet and it seemed they had left. The next morning we found that the hyenas had attacked the spare tire of the 4X4 and shredded the cover. Luckily they left the actual tires alone and didn’t damage the vehicle any further. We also discovered that the hyenas had decided to spend the day sleeping on the slope below our unit – probably a distance of about 15 meters. KTC is an unfenced camp so you can imagine that we didn’t spend a lot of time loitering about outside that day! This experience highlighted one of the design drawbacks of KTC namely that the little kitchen area is separate from the main unit i.e. if there are predators around, you can’t get at your food easily!

Thunderstorm developing at Kalahari Tented Camp (©2003 LB)

The area around KTC is also home to a herd of giraffe. So it’s the one place where you are guaranteed to spot them. One morning as we left KTC travelling southwards towards Twee Riveren we came upon a huge male lion padding slowly down the road. As he passed the small rise that the giraffe were grazing on, they arranged themselves in a circle, so that the biggest adult giraffes were on the perimeter facing outwards, and the smaller adults and little ones were protected in the center. When you see things like this you are reminded that everything in this harsh environment is about survival and death. The predators are a constant threat to the herbivores – and they never forget it, even if as in this case the lion wasn’t looking for a meal.

This will not only be the last in the Wilderness Camp series, but probably the last in the Kalahari Series. Although we are going back to the Kalahari later this year, I want to do something different with the material we collect on that trip. If you do have any questions regarding these posts you can email me using the contact form on my “About” page here.

Kalahari sunrise (©2003 WMB)

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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15 Responses to Kalahari: Wilderness Camps III – Urikaruus & KTC

  1. amblerangel says:

    Love this post Lisa! I would have had a HEART ATTACK if I heard any animal noises outside my tent. The one on posts is the place for me.

    • The only thing keeping me calm that evening was that I had a migraine and had taken some “tranquillizing” medication! 😉 Also the naive thought that they had never had a hyena carry off a human in the camp, so it probably wouldn’t happen to me.

      The one on stilts is a little safer, but if my domestic cat can run up a 7-ft wall with very little effort, I think one of the big cats probably wouldn’t have much trouble getting onto the walkway (which has a gate at the bottom supposedly to keep intruders out!). Although being wooden, the structure itself will keep out a hungry kitty cat or hyena. Hopefully . . .

  2. Gosh, the sunrise photo is stunning! But, goodness, the sound of a hyena on the other side of the canvas would freak me out, I’m afraid. I’m with AmblerAngel–the stilts are the way to go–plus, who wants to be separated from their food!

    Great post, Lisa!

  3. bagnidilucca says:

    I would love to come to Africa one day. We have been to Zanzibar, but I need to see the mainland. I would love to be amongst the wild life. I don’t know whether I would be frightened or not. I guess I will have to find out one day.

    • Africa is definitely worth a visit! When you’re confronted by wildlife up close, there’s a definite sense of awe at having a wild animal so close to you. If it’s a predator, your natural instinct as a prey animal kicks in and your adrenalin starts pumping.

  4. jacquelincangro says:

    Amazing shot of the hyenas in action!

    The camp photos remind me of a similar camp I stayed at in the Caribbean on the island of St. John. It looks beautiful and relaxing (unless of course you are those Gemsboks).

    • Thanks! It would have been nice to have a video of the action too. This incident (as well as another attempted lion hunt we witnessed), made me realize how time intensive wildlife documentaries are to make. There’s a lot of waiting in-between the action.

      It is lovely in the Kalahari – very tranquil. Unless, as you say, you’re one of the animals trying not to get eaten!

  5. 2summers says:

    These Kalahari camps look so cool. I hope to stay in one someday.

  6. Whiling away the time watching the interaction between all the wildlife sounds like heaven 🙂 Although documentaries educate us about the way of the wild, I don’t think it can ever beat actually witnessing the real life happenings.

    Yikes! To think for the longest time I had the thought stuck in my head that hyenas are only scavengers. Best never to let ones guard down, just to be safe! Glad the hyena couldn’t get to you. Do you think it would’ve been scared off if you made a ruckus? Hmm. . . do you think they find the smell of vinegar as offensive as tame dogs do? It might put them off your yummy-scent 😉

    • There’s a lot of editing in wildlife documentaries, so you don’t get a good idea of the pace at which things happen. Sometimes the build-up can take hours, and then the action is over in minutes.

      I think making a lot of noise may just have encouraged the hyenas! Dogs don’t like vinegar? Ha, never never knew that.

  7. Lesley says:

    Hi Lisa, these 3 articles on the camps at KNP have been most informative thank you for a lovely series…(I am planning on going there hopefully next March…).I have enjoyed reading a few of your blog articles – it’ always interesting for me to read how non-S Africans perceive the things/countryside/daily life we take for granted and I enjoy your blog. Good luck with the migraines too, hope they get better, I had bad hormonal migraines but better now…


    • Hi Lesley! I’m so glad that you enjoyed the Wilderness Camp series. I wrote it as a kind of journal for myself, but also to give people a feel for the various camps. We’ll be going back to the KNP in August this year – am already getting excited!

      Not sure if it was clear from my “about” page that I am South African? Or are you referring to the guest blogger I had on my site this week?

      Thank you for visiting my blog and the kind comments! 🙂

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