The sun is setting over the Kalahari thornveld as jackals squabble in the distance. The darkening sky already has a sprinkling of stars, hinting at the festival to come. You're in the bush near Kimberley in South Africa's Northern Cape and ready for this first timer’s guide to Mokala National Park.
Some 300-700mm of rain falls in the park, mainly in summer. Winter temperatures can be as low as -4°C, with June and July the coldest months. In summer, the hottest months are December and January, when temperatures can reach as much as 44°C.
Roads, fuel and shop
No fuel is sold in the park so make sure you fill up before you get there. You want to be able to enjoy a couple of game drives around the park. The closest refuelling point is Modderrivier. If you don’t have a 4x4 or a high-clearance bakkie, some of the park’s roads might be a challenge after rain, but you can still go on guided drives. There’s no shop in the park so if you’re camping or self-catering, bring everything you need with you.
Look for endangered roan and sable antelope, tsessebe, aardvark and aardwolf. If you’re keen on birds you might spot pygmy falcon and endangered white-backed vultures. There are also many special indigenous plants in the park, including the endangered devil’s claw with its pink flowers and seed pods with ‘claw-like’ protrusions. And don’t forget to look up at night to enjoy the stars that cram the sky.
Where to stay
1. Mosu Lodge: two- or four-bed units, self-catering or fully catered, with an à la carte restaurant open for breakfast, lunch and dinner – and known for its venison pies. Two luxury self-catering units have air conditioners, the other units have ceiling fans. There’s also a bar and swimming pool for overnight visitors, and a waterhole where animals come to drink.
3. Haak-en-Steek rustic cottage: sleeps four, has gas/solar power and overlooks a busy waterhole. Campsites alongside can be booked only in tandem with the rustic cottage for larger groups.
4. Motswedi rustic campsite: six sites in a semi-circle around a waterhole, with private ablutions where there’s gas/solar power. A low solar-powered fence around the perimeter provides safety from animals like buffalo.
6. Kameeldoorn private treehouse: The latest addition to the Mokala family is a wood-and-thatch treehouse far away from the civilisation of the camps. It accommodates two people and must be booked for a minimum of two nights. It’s unfenced, relying on being raised among the camelthorn trees to keep you safe – though if you’re squeamish about snakes and other creepy crawlies you might be better off in one of the main camps. There’s a large wooden deck to braai and relax on, so no sense of being cooped up in a tiny space as you were in the treehouse in your backyard when you were a kid. As with Stofdam, phone Mokala directly to book, tel 053-2048000.
Join a guided early morning game drive – with coffee and rusks – for a chance to spot some of the park’s rarities. If there are five or more of you, the restaurant can arrange an after-drive breakfast under an old camelthorn tree. Of course, you can self-drive around the park too.
If you’re a keen birder don’t miss the hide at Stofdam for the likes of crimson-breasted shrike, malachite kingfisher, long-billed crombec, swallow-tailed bee-eater, white-backed and lappet-faced vulture. Kudu, nyala, roan and sable also drink here.
At Lilydale there’s catch-and-release fly-fishing for yellow fish, barbel and carp in the river, or you can get your dose of heritage on a guided outing to see rock engravings.
Join a guided sunset drive for a chance to spot aardvark and aardwolf; share your hopes with your guide so the route can be tailored to improve your chances of seeing the animals you’re hoping to find. Mokala is special to me because it remains the only place I’ve seen an aardvark in the wild.
If you’re feeling lazy, enjoy a sundowner on the stoep of Mosu Lodge’s restaurant for a grand view of buffalo, tsessebe, kudu, red hartebeest, eland and blue wildebeest drinking at the waterhole.
The waterhole next to the Haak-en-Steek rustic cottage also draws zebra, warthog and tsessebe like a magnet. Or relax in your camp chair at Motswedi campsite and wait for buffalo, tsessebe, warthog and zebra to visit the waterhole on your doorstep.
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Motswedi campsite at Mokala National Park
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