Tswalu Kala­hari, North­ern Cape, South Africa | TRAVEL

Upscale Living Magazine - - Contents - By Heléne Ra­mack­ers

With its un­du­lated and ex­pan­sive land­scape, Tswalu en­com­passes bare­foot lux­ury at its finest. Stretch­ing over 271,816 acres of vast Kala­hari ter­rain, you will want to kick off your shoes and stay here for­ever.

You know it’s a hot day when the warthogs not only come to lap up the pre­cious wa­ter at the wa­ter­ing hole, but have a roll-around in it as a cool­ing off at­tempt. Even the wilde­beest are gath­er­ing at the same hy­dra­tion point to try and quench their thirst. Hot sum­mers and cool win­ters form an in­te­gral part of one of the last Eden’s in South Africa’s largest pri­vate game re­serve. They form the back­drop for a green Kala­hari when the sum­mer rains de­scend on the unique red earth, spring­ing about a trans­fu­sion of life-sus­tain­ing green­ery for the preser­va­tion of ex­is­tence in this oth­er­wise bar­ren wilder­ness.

My visit to Tswalu Kala­hari is fraught with firsts – first time in a Pi­la­tus PC-12, first time to the Kala­hari, first time with a pri­vate sa­fari guide and tracker, first time see­ing Kala­hari black-maned li­ons; the list goes on and on; mak­ing it an ex­cep­tional ex­pe­ri­ence from the get-go.

The red earth stretches as far as the eye can see, with green­ery dot­ted like a Claude Monet mas­ter­piece. As Cap­tain An­tonie Frone­man starts the de­scent into the sprawl­ing to­pog­ra­phy, it soon makes me re­alise that in spite of the swel­ter­ing heat, the Kala­hari is one of the most beau­ti­ful and di­verse panora­mas in the world.

I am wel­comed at the airstrip by head guide Chris Eras­mus and tracker James Sekwe and af­ter a 30-minute drive through the re­serve where we spot oryx, gi­raffe, tsessebe and Na­maqua doves in their breed­ing dress, the very friendly Tswalo duty man­ager Rachel Vic­tor greets me at re­cep­tion with a cool re­fresher towel.

“Your suite is al­most ready,” she says, “in the mean­time; please sit down for break­fast or lunch.” Head chef Alewyn Malan is at hand to dis­cuss food al­ler­gies and menus with me, tai­lor-made to your pref­er­ence. “If we don’t have it in stock, we will source it for you, and fly it in,” says Alewyn. Re­ally? Yes, just an­other part of the Tswalu ‘we will cater for your every need’ magic.

My ta­ble on the ve­randa has a view of the wa­ter­ing hole, where a myr­iad of an­i­mals come to drink at all times of the day. It is my first ever sight of a roan an­te­lope and a sable an­te­lope. Af­ter brunch, Rachel walks me to my ac­com­mo­da­tion, legae 6 at The Motse, where af­ter an in­for­ma­tive show-around of my im­pres­sive dwelling for the next two nights, I or­der a de­li­cious frothy cap­puc­cino and watch the pass­ing wildlife from my over­sized wicker chair. I’m slightly star­tled by the in­flux of an­i­mals and the short­cut past my room is a won­der­ful sur­prise – sud­denly a warthog ap­pears out of nowhere while the wilde­beest and their calves run up and down right in front of me.

I am sched­uled to meet Chris and James at re­cep­tion for my he­li­copter flight over the re­serve and I’m giddy with ex­cite­ment. Not only to fly in the Agusta West­land 119 sin­gle en­gine he­li­copter, but to get an ea­gle eye view from my com­fort­able cream leather seat up in the sky. Gus van Dyk, di­rec­tor of wildlife is sit­ting be­side me, ex­plain­ing the con­ser­va­tion ef­forts of Tswalu, restor­ing the Kala­hari back to its beau­ti­ful self. The he­li­copter flight is a won­der­ful ad­di­tion to the al­ready ex­cit­ing ex­tra of­fer­ings at Tswalu – you can ei­ther book a con­ser­va­tion ed­u­ca­tional or en­joy a Ko­ran­nen­berg moun­tain pic­nic with un­in­ter­rupted views of the south­ern Kala­hari.

Back on terra firma, Chris and James are ready to take me on my first game drive. I had been asked what I would like to see and hav­ing done some re­search on Tswalu and the an­i­mals that in­habit the re­gion, I know I want to see the Kala­hari black-maned li­ons. We hap­pen to be in the part of the re­serve when the li­ons roam, so find­ing them should be a piece of cake, or so I thought. Once again, the in­ter­ac­tion and kin­ship be­tween guide and tracker yields the de­sired re­sult – find tracks, fol­low them and with the right amount of in­tu­ition and an­i­mal be­hav­ior knowl­edge, the an­i­mal will be in your sights be­fore you know it.

The South­ern Pride’s big male lion is ly­ing fast asleep not quite in the shade. Un­der the tree next to him, three sub-adult li­onesses are hav­ing a slum­ber. We sit and take in the ab­so­lute mag­nif­i­cence of these beasts for a good hour be­fore they start mov­ing about. The male opens his eyes mo­men­tar­ily and rolls onto his back to con­tinue his siesta. Sud­denly, a fe­male sparks his in­ter­est and it is ru­mored that he has been mat­ing with her. She has just come out of oestrus and gives him a nasty smack when he gets too close for her lik­ing. We all laugh out loud when he sniffs where she has sat and pro­ceeds to do the flehmen gri­mace.

Af­ter this in­cred­i­ble sight­ing, we set off to find a suit­able sun­downer spot on top of a ‘kop­pie’ (hill). Chef Alewyn and the rest of the kitchen staff have pulled out all the stops to put to­gether a pic­nic with trim­mings deluxe – beef burg­ers, po­tato salad, beef ke­babs, lamb ribs, chicken drum­sticks, a se­lec­tion of fruit, choco­late mousse and any tip­ple that tick­les your fancy. I qui­etly con­tem­plate skip­ping din­ner be­cause this was just too much de­li­cious food. Rachel had jok­ingly told me ear­lier that no guest is al­lowed to leave un­til they have gained at least eight pounds, which by the look of my eat­ing habits dur­ing my first day at Tswalu is eas­ily at­tain­able.

I freshen up be­fore din­ner which is a ver­i­ta­ble feast of ‘My In­spi­ra­tion – by Alewyn’, con­sist­ing of grilled oc­to­pus or chilled cu­cum­ber soup or spring­bok tar­tar for starters, grilled sea bass, kudu welling­ton on po­tato rosti, duck breast on a sautéed veg­etable or fried tofu disks. I opt for the kudu welling­ton on po­tato rosti served with baby beets, spinach puree, glazed car­rots and a cran­berry port re­duc­tion and truf­fle salt made to per­fec­tion. Af­ter my fill­ing pic­nic, I ask for a sin­gle serv­ing of vanilla ice cream in­stead of the dessert choices con­sist­ing of plum, mint ice cream and liquorice meringue or Amarula tiramisu.

Time for my pre-sleep nightly rit­ual of a clean(s)ing shower with Kala­hari shower prod­ucts. It’s dif­fi­cult to choose be­tween the in­side or out­side shower, be­cause stand­ing out­side I will wit­ness the star-span­gled sky above and might for­get to shower! Clean and re­freshed, I dry my­self with

the fluffy white towel be­fore climb­ing into my enor­mous bed, draped in cream and light blue linen with the dropped mos­quito net.

The fol­low­ing morn­ing is over­cast with a smidgen of rain fall­ing, which means the road will have fresh tracks on it from a ‘blank slate’. James thinks he spots African wild dog tracks and all of a sud­den, we are in hot pur­suit of them, but we seem to be driv­ing in cir­cles. They must be some­where and as we ap­proach the clear­ing, I smell the dis­tinct odor that can only be that of a wild dog. They are hud­dled to­gether in the cool weather

and as soon as the sun makes an ap­pear­ance, they start play­ing and run­ning amok. We fol­low them through the re­serve - chas­ing ba­boons up the moun­tain and stalk­ing guinea fowl. These callous hunters will eat just about any­thing.

It’s still driz­zling and James is cer­tain he has spot­ted chee­tah tracks. They lead to a dead end. Chris backs up and turns the ve­hi­cle around and there they are, two brothers ly­ing un­der some shrub­bery.

Tswalu is home to the most pro­lific bird species – spot­ted ea­gle-owls, Kala­hari scrub-robins, pale chant­ing goshawks, South­ern anteat­ing chats, fis­cal fly­catch­ers, African red-eyed bul­buls and the adorable so­cia­ble weavers.

An­other cor­ner­stone of Tswalu is the Tswalu Foun­da­tion, spear­headed by Dy­lan Smith. Apart from the con­ser­va­tion work they do on the re­serve, the foun­da­tion fo­cuses on how to fur­ther em­power the youth through knowl­edge and re­search on the im­pact of cli­mate change and the hu­man ef­fect on the land­scape. With a re­search cen­ter based at Tswalu, the con­tri­bu­tion to the sus­tain­abil­ity of the an­i­mal species as well as the land­scape form crit­i­cal com­po­nents of the longevity of crit­i­cally en­dan­gered species such as pan­golin.

It is late in the af­ter­noon and there is a sur­prise in store for me – a visit to the meerkat colony. I have never seen meerkats in the wild, let alone walked to them on foot. Hav­ing been ha­bit­u­ated to peo­ple in their vicin­ity, they scratch in the ground all around me in the hope of find­ing some­thing to feed on. I am com­pletely in awe of the cute­ness fac­tor and they don’t seem to mind my pres­ence. It is time for them to en­ter their bur­row, but not be­fore the lit­tle ones en­joy some play­time and the mom grooms the small­est of the lot be­fore send­ing him off to ‘bed’.

With so many firsts for me, have you ever felt the Kala­hari sand be­tween your toes? Here at Tswalu Kala­hari, you will ex­pe­ri­ence bare­foot lux­ury at its best. Go on, book a trip here. Take your shoes off. You know you want to.

Thank you to Jean­nine Orze­chowski for mak­ing the ar­range­ments and to Tswalu Kala­hari for host­ing me.

*Views ex­pressed are the au­thor’s own.

www.tswalu.com www.tswalu­foun­da­tion.org

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