Nothing can prepare a visitor for the sheer size and immensity of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR), nor its wild, mysterious beauty. There is the immediate impression of unending space, which gives the impression of having the entire reserve to yourself.
Waist-high golden grasses stretch to the horizon, punctuated by dwarfed trees and scrub bushes. Wide and empty pans appear as vast white stretches of pancake-flat earth, meeting a soft, blue-white sky. At night the stars are genuinely awe-inspiring, utterly dominating the land with their brilliance and immediacy.
The CKGR is the largest, most remotely situated reserve in Southern Africa and the second largest wildlife reserve in the world, encompassing 52,800 sq. km.
During and shortly after good summer rains, the flat grasslands of the reserve's northern reaches teem with wildlife, which gathers at the best grazing areas. These include large herds of springbok and gemsbok and wildebeest, hartebeest, eland and giraffe. Silver Terminalia sand veldt, Kalahari sand acacias, and Kalahari apple leaf dominate the landscape, interspersed with grasslands and dotted with occasional dunes, pans and shallow fossil river valleys.
Initially established in 1961 to serve as a sanctuary for the San people in the heart of the Kalahari (and Botswana), the CKGR provides space for traditional lifeways, without intrusion or influence from the outside world. Following 30 years of closure, the 1980s and 1990s saw limited self-drive and organised tours. Following initiatives lead by the Government of Botswana to diversify tourism across the country; authorities allocated concessions for lodge construction. These sites are at the peripheries of and inside the reserve, allowing for fly-in tourists.
Deception Valley, located in the north, is one of the reserve highlights due to dense concentrations of herbivores that gather to feed on the sweet grasses that spring into life after the rainy season. Naturally, these animals attract the usual itinerant predators. Deception Valley is also one of the most travelled areas of the reserve, with many public campsites and proximity to the eastern Matswere Gate. The other two gates are on the far side of the reserve, at Xade and Tsau, where public camps are also available.
Other worthwhile areas to drive are Sunday and Leopard Pans, north of Deception Valley, Passarge Valley, and further south, Piper's Pan.
Activity highlights in CKGR include the following:
- Game drives
- Wilderness drives
- Nature walks with the Basarwa (The San)
- Culture based dances