Botswana Escapes: Kalahari Plains Camp

 
 

Kalahari Plains Camp sits on the edge of an enormous pan, south-east of Deception Valley in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (also known as the CKGR), which offers some of Botswana’s best summer game viewing. It is one of just two camps in a reserve approximately the size of Switzerland, and the views from across the pan are immense. 

Kalahari Plains overlooks an immense pan with endless horizons and beautiful skies. It comprises eight en-suite canvas units with a sleep-out platform above each from which to enjoy moonlit or star-studded nights.

Open all year round, Kalahari Plains is located well away from the more accessible public roads in the reserve, on the edge of the aptly named Big Pan, and affords great views across this vast (often sparsely vegetated) expanse. There is a waterhole a fair distance away, but with the help of the viewing scope in the main area, you can take a closer look at its visitors.

The main area of Kalahari Plains Camp is a thatched, wooden building, built on a raised deck and open on three sides to allow the air to flow freely. At one end is the dining area, with views out to the separate pool deck and the pan. The small saltwater pool here offers welcome relief from the Kalahari heat, and the shaded deck with comfortable sunloungers some respite from the sun. This deck also leads to a guest toilet with the most fantastic views over Big Pan – so worth trying at least once!

A large proportion of the main area is taken up by an inviting lounge area, an eclectic gathering of comfortable chairs, tea- and coffee-making facilities with freshly baked biscuits in a jar, and a small reference library. At the heart of the building, the bar is the venue for pre-dinner drinks. The curio shop is well stocked and we liked the fact that they sell a good selection of locally made items. There is a stargazing deck on the roof above the bar, and an open campfire area in front where dinner is usually served if the weather allows. Unlike most camps in Botswana the fire is not lit every night due to the scarcity of wood here.

Accommodation at Kalahari Plains Camp is in ten tented chalets, linked to the main area by sandy pathways. These chalets are of a good size, built on wooden decks raised off the ground to keep them cool in the very hot summer months. The innovative insulated canvas walls and roof of each chalet, together with a ceiling fan and large mesh windows, also help to keep the interior relatively cool.

The chalets are decorated in neutral tones and simply, but comfortably, furnished, with lots of wood, soft suede and leather. The beds, which can be made up as twins or a double, face out towards the veranda with fantastic views of the plains. The chalets also have a writing desk with a lamp, universal plug points for charging camera batteries, and a tasteful wooden tray featuring tea and coffee, a flask of hot water (which is topped up with boiling water every morning and evening), mugs, glasses and a jug of iced water. A comfortable armchair looks through the enormous mesh window, while outside on the deck are deckchairs and a table.

A door to one side of the chalet leads to the en-suite bathroom, complete with a flushing toilet, twin handbasins with copper taps, a full-length mirror and walk-in shower. They also have plenty of wooden shelves and hanging space for clothes, extra blankets for the very chilly winter nights, a digital safe, insect repellent and environment-friendly shower gel, shampoo and conditioner. Another thoughtful touch in the hot summer months is the provision of a sarong. Take it with you on a game drive and your guide will wet it in cold water for you to drape over your shoulders to keep cool. ‘Kalahari air-conditioning’ at its best!

On the sleep-out deck, accessed up wooden steps from the bottom deck. Your bed can be made up here for you to sleep under the stars, and you can quite easily pop back downstairs into the comfort of your bed inside if the night air gets too chilly.

Two of the tented chalets have a second en-suite bedroom sleeping up to two children, so are ideal for families, or friends travelling together. The main bedroom offers exactly the same facilities as the standard chalets, whereas the second bedroom, while en-suite, doesn’t have a veranda or the sleep-out deck. It’s important to note is that there is no inter-leading door between the two tents; to access one from the other you have to go outside and walk across your deck.

The mainstay of activities at Kalahari Plains Camp are the guided morning and afternoon game drives in open 4WD vehicles. For much of the year the Central Kalahari Game Reserve is a dry, unrelenting landscape dotted with a relatively low density of wildlife, which includes springbok, gemsbok (or oryx), black-backed jackals, bat-eared foxes and, occasionally, wild dog, cheetah and lion.

During the summer months, from November through to April in times of good rainfall the valleys and pans of the CKGR turn green with nutritious grasses. Antelope, blue wildebeest and giraffe arrive to feed on these sweet grasses and they can attract predators to the area, including cheetah, Kalahari black-maned lion and black-backed jackals. This is when the Central Kalahari offers its best game viewing.

Kalahari Plains also offers an educational walk in the immediate vicinity of the camp, led by a local multi-generational San Bushman family. These San family members leading the walks are full-time employees at Kalahari Plains Camp who alternate with another San family from the same village. They speak in their own Khoisan language using clicks, and a Setswana-speaking staff member assists with translation.

During the walk, the Bushmen demonstrate how traps are set for catching small birds and antelopes. They also highlight the traditional medicinal purposes of local plants, and demonstrate how the age-old way to make a fire. The Bushmen wear their traditional garments only during the walk (offering an insight to their traditions); although during the rest of their time in camp, they wear the standard staff uniform.

Kalahari Plains has an impressive state-of-the-art solar system, which runs off 72 solar panels and provides all the electricity and hot water in camp. The water from the borehole is saltier than seawater, so is used for such things as the showers and the pool. Drinking water, which was once trucked in over a distance of 100km, is now produced by a reverse osmosis machine kept at camp, which purifies the water by removing the salt. 

Access to Kalahari Plains Camp is usually by air. It is approximately a 1¼ -hour light-aircraft flight from Maun, followed by a 30-minute drive to the camp. Alternatively, the camp can be reached by 4WD on a self-drive itinerary but you still need to pre-book. 

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