Larger than Denmark or Switzerland, and bigger than Lesotho and Swaziland combined, the 52,800 square kilometer Central Kalahari Game Reserve, which was set up in 1961, is the second largest game reserve in the world. Situated right in the centre of Botswana, this reserve is characterised by vast open plains, salt pans and ancient riverbeds. Varying from sand dunes with many species of trees and shrubs in the north, to flat bush veld in the central area, the reserve is more heavily wooded in the south, with mophane forests to the south and east. Rainfall is sparse and sporadic and can vary from 170 to 700 millimeters per year.
The people commonly known throughout the world as Bushmen, but more properly referred to as the Barwa or San, have been resident in and around the area for probably thousands of years. Originally nomadic hunters and gathers, the lifestyle of the Barwa has gradually changed with the times and they now live in settlements, some of which are situated within the southern half of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. Government is, however, encouraging these people to move to areas outside the reserve in order that they may be provided with modem facilities, schools, clinics, etc. and to integrate them into modern society.
Other fairly recent residents were Mark and Delia Owens, who spent many years in the Deception Valley area of the park undertaking research mainly on brown hyaena. They set up their camp in the northern section of Deception in a prime "tree island", however tree islands are no longer used for camping in these days of more environmental awareness. The Owens' book, "Cry of the Kalahari" brought the attention of readers to this previously little-visited area and even today many people refer to the Central Kalahari simply as Deception. The name "Deception" comes from a pan the dry surface of which sometimes appears convincingly full of water until one gets right to the edge.
The main wildlife concentrations are to be found in the tourist areas in the northern half of this vast reserve but it is possible for adventurous and completely self-contained visitors to travel through the reserve between Khutse on the southern boundary to the northern section - a journey that takes a minimum of two days of 4x4 wilderness travelling. Undeveloped campsites are available for overnight stops at Molapo, Gope, Bape and Xaka. Those visitors wishing to travel trans-Kalahari should note that, apart from being self-contained with all fuel, food and water, they should only travel in a group of two or more vehicles with basic spares and survival aids.
How to get there
There are three entry points to the reserve, the one through Khutse in the south, then a western entrance through Xade and also in the northeast through Matswere. Access to Xade, where there are two undeveloped campsites near the Xade Wildlife Camp, is made by turning off east from the Ghanzi-Kang road about 36 kilometres south of Ghanzi where indicated by signpost. Xade is reached after following this loose sandy track for 160 kilometres, taking about three hours for the full journey from Ghanzi. Visitors should fill up with fuel at Ghanzi and ensure that they have sufficient for their entire stay. On arrival at Xade visitors are required to check in at the tourist office in the Wildlife Camp.
Access to Matswere can be made via Rakops, where petrol and diesel are available most of the time, 55 kilometres from the check-in point at Matswere. Rakops can be accessed from the north from Maun - Motopi - Kumaga - Tsoe, or from the south from Mahalapye - Serowe - Letlhakane - Mopipi. Matswere can also be accessed from Maun by travelling 57 kilometres east, turning right at the Makalamabedi junction, continuing for 20 kilometres to the village and turning right on the western side of the veterinary fence. The fence is followed south for some 80 kilometres of sand track to the Kuke corner veterinary gate, after which a further 21 kilometres down the eastern boundary of the reserve takes the visitor to the entrance gate which is then only 9 kilometres from Matswere. This "short cut" from Maun takes about three and a half hours travelling time.
Matswere is the access point for designated but undeveloped campsites in the region of Deception Valley, Sunday Pan, Leopard Pan and Passarge Valley, whilst the campsites at Piper Pan can be accessed from either Matswere or Xade. New tracks and campsites have been opened up along the Passarge Valley, where game viewing can be most rewarding, and south from the Passarge waterhole area through to link up with the Piper Pan/Deception road. It is along this latter route that the new Tau campsite has been opened in an area that well reflects the very spirit of the Central Kalahari.
Plans have been made to put in rustic pit latrines to service most of these undeveloped campsites, but until this development has been completed, visitors dig their own mini-latrine to ensure they leave no signs of being there, particularly where toilet paper is concerned. Firewood may be collected from well-wooded areas but not from tree islands.
The ashes from campfires must be buried before vacating a campsite, combustible rubbish burnt and non-combustibles carried back to the pit at the entrance gate. Water for purposes other than drinking is available from the Wildlife Camp at Xade and at the Matswere entrance gate/tourist office. There is also a plan to develop some basic shower facilities at the Matswere entrance gate for visitors' use, but the provision of water for this purpose is, in common with most desert areas, a problem at present.
Game viewing for animals which include giraffe, brown hyaena, warthog, wild dog, cheetah, leopard, lion, blue wildebeest, eland, gemsbok, kudu, red hartebeest and springbok, is best between December and April, when the animals tend to congregate in the pans and valleys. Visitors are warned that sleeping in the open without a tent is dangerous and foolhardy and that they should keep their tents fastened to prevent snakes, scorpions, etc. from gaining entry. Foodstuffs, etc. should not be kept in the tent but should be closed into the vehicle to avoid the unwanted attentions of lions and hyaenas.