The Silence of the Sands

1 September 2005

Built on one of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park's highest sand dunes, the newly opened Kieliekrankie Wilderness Camp overlooks vast dune fields stretching to the horizon. Brent Naude-Moseley was one of the first visitors.

Think Kalahari and two things come to mind - the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and red sand dunes. Ah, those magical red dunes: sensuous, curvaceous and synonymous with the Kalahari.

Forty kilometres north of Twee Rivieren, off the Mata- Mata route, there is a road that heads east into the dunes. At the summit of a small rise, a new camp lies before you russetsand, low green bushes, a few buildings in camouflage colours, all backed by blue sky, and not a sign of civilisation anywhere nearby. As we approached, a Kori Bustard took flight in slow motion, its powerful wings lifting it upwards and away over the dune fields. Our tyres crunching on gravel, we parked a few metres below the unfenced camp and as I alighted I quickly scanned our surroundings. We had heard that access to each unit was via heavy-duty lion-proof tunnels and I wasn't keen on a confrontation with the odd feline that might be lurking about.

We were welcomed by a pleasant tourist officer who stays in one of the five units, and who led us down the tunnels - actually, they`re more like long cages - to the back door of our brick-and-canvas, self-catering unit. There is a fully equipped kitchen, bedroom with two single beds, and bathroom with shower. All rooms overlook the dunes and have flaps that can be rolled up. Not being too keen on the great outdoors coming indoors, I planned to keep the mosquito netting firmly closed. There is no electricity and therefore no air-conditioning. Overhead fans and lights are solar-powered. However, it was the rustically furnished wooden deck that drew my attention, because beyond it lay the whole reason we`d come here - wild Kalahari.

There are many reasons to visit the Kgalagadi, but this time our mission was simply to experience a few nights amongst its coppery undulations that stretched for what looked like hundreds of kilometres to the horizon. The dunes upon which Kieliekrankie is situated form a natural amphitheatre, and half a dozen animal trails drew my eyes down to a waterhole in its centre. Apart from the odd Shepherd's tree and low vegetation, nothing clutters the surrounding space. This has to be the perfect place to unwind, and as I gazed at the unspoilt view I felt sure that within a matter of hours 'stress' would be something other people suffered from.

Late afternoon, we headed out for some game viewing. Along the Mata-Mata riverbed, where gemsbok and wildebeest had dozed earlier in the heat of the day, we watched two springbok rams jousting playfully, seemingly rejuvenated by the onset of cooler temperatures. In a hand-dug well near the new museum, a Barn Owl sat on a narrow rock shelf blinking up at us. It's often these smaller creatures that make game viewing worthwhile, and as if to prove this, on our way back a family of suricates dashed across the road and a rat wolf-whistled as we passed by. Well... it didn't really, but you do get a whistling rat that emits sharp, piercing whistles when sensing danger, and we did see one.

Back at Kieliekrankie.we lit a fire in the multi-purpose braai on the deck, and having pulled out the adjustable awning for a little more shade, we sat back to absorb our peaceful surroundings. Clinking glasses to our good fortune and to the lone Secretary Bird walking up a distant dune, we waited for the evening's show to begin. Within an hour, the clouds were performing like actors on a stage, some dissolving into the backdrop and others gracefully shifting shape. The sun, in lead role, ushered the cast through the colours of the spectrum and when the final curtain fell, its black velvet quivered with a trillion sparkling stars.

Hours later, when the moon rose, it arced across a small piece of the heavens visible through the skylight in our bedroom ceiling, and the stillness was punctuated by a lion`s roar, way off in the distance, just before sunrise, we watched an opportunistic Black-backed jackal attempt to make a meal out of some Namaqua Sandgrouse down at the waterhole. In the sand below our deck, footprints revealed that an African wild cat had come our way under the cover of darkness, and a giant millipede, or 'Kalahari train' as it`s locally known, had been the last passer-by, his spoor ploughing over dozens of others.

A new day was dawning, offering much to be explored, but there was no need to rush out. Kieliekrankie is about 'being there'. The camp's attraction lies in its simplicity. There is no cell phone reception and no noise, unless you have inconsiderate neighbours. It's a place you can kick back and soak up the environment and, at the end of each day when the barking gecko breaks off his evening serenade, it`s so quiet that you can hear shooting stars hiss through the sky.

Diversions - 1 September 2005Brent Naude-Moseley

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