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I Dream Africa

I Dream Africa

Kalahari Red Dunes


Kalahari Red Dunes

It is said that no two visits to the Kalahari are the same. This ancient and beautiful land is not only amazingly rich in diversity; it also reflects an endless variety of moods, making each new encounter refreshingly different from the previous ones

The Kalahari Red Dune Route showcases the Kalahari through a wide range of activities including dune boarding, camel riding and 4x4 trailing for the adventurous, and game drives, guided walks, birding expeditions and other eco-inclined activities for nature-lovers. For visitors attuned to culture and history, the Kalahari Red Dune Route offers the opportunity to experience regional customs and folklore, sample traditional cuisine, and meet the warm and welcoming people of the Kalahari (a glossary of common local words and terms can be found below to assist you during your visit). Accommodation options are as diverse as the landscape, and vary from camping to homely bed and breakfasts to luxury lodges. All in all, the Kalahari Red Dune Route offers something for everyone.

The area covered by the route extends north of Upington in the Northern Cape province of South Africa into the toe-shaped protrusion of South Africa to the Namibian border. The route incorporates the first formally declared Transfrontier Conservation Area in Africa, the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. This park straddles the South Africa-Botswana border and is one of the largest conservation areas in the world.

Why 'Red Dunes'?

The colour of the dunes in the southern Kalahari can be attributed to the high iron oxide content of the sand. In areas of higher rainfall and in shallow areas where water collects, the iron oxide is leached out, causing the sand ultimately to turn white. The gradual effect of the leaching transforms the desert into a wonderful variety of colours. (Hidden from view by the Kalahari dunes are layers of ancient sedimentary bedrocks, formations that are believed to be rich in fossils.) Most of the sand dunes to be seen on the Kalahari Red Dune Route are stabilised by vegetation. They owe their characteristic shape to wind action that exposes the moist sand beneath the dry surface. The damp layer is eroded further and the resultant windborne particles are deposited on the south-west side of the dune, causing a characteristic gentler gradient.

Sociable Weavers:

Besides the red dunes, some of the most obvious features of the Kalahari landscape are the nests of the sociable weaver birds. Their huge edifices often cover entire telephone poles (much to the vexation of the locals, whose telephone services can be interrupted by retained moisture within the nests). The colonies have up to 50 chambers housing as many as 300 birds. The chambers are affixed to the bottom of the nest to make them as inaccessible as possible to predators. The structure as a whole has a unique 'air-conditioning system' that ensures the interior temperature never falls below 15°C or rises above 30°C.

Pygmy falcons, which cannot survive the harsh winter without a nest, borrow the weavers’ chambers for warmth and in exchange offer their hosts protection from lizards and insects. A ring of white droppings around the chamber entrance reveals the presence of the falcon. Both the Cape cobra and the honey badger are enemies of the sociable weavers, preying on the eggs and chicks.

History of farming in the southern Kalahari:

Originally the resourceful hunter-gatherers known as the San inhabited the Kalahari. Experience had taught them that, though there was water in the area, it was mostly saline and thus unsuitable for agriculture. In the 1920's and 1930's, farmers from the west sought grazing permits during the winter months when there was plenty of nourishment for their livestock. The sheep could survive on just a little drinking water as they obtained most of their moisture from plants. Shepherds would lead their flocks to areas where rains had recently fallen, and they would gather tsama melons for additional nourishment for their flocks. When spring came, the animals would need more water and the herds would again be moved west.

Later the government decided that the land was arable, and had it surveyed and apportioned. Farmers who settled in the region would construct dams that supplied water for about nine months of the year. When the water ran out, the farmers either trucked in extra supplies or simply bought or rented another farm. Most chose to buy additional land, and gradually a nomadic style of farming returned to the Kalahari. Shepherds would move the animals by night and rest during the heat of the day.

In the early 1980s, the government laid on a water supply network from the Orange River. Today this scheme serves about 650 000ha, and is controlled by a Water Board and a system of flow-control valves and consumption meters designed to prevent overgrazing.

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