Having travelled widely throughout the African continent, Lottie had one last South African adventure to tick off before her return to the United Kingdom; the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. With varied accommodation options, she was intrigued by the community development aspect of !Xaus Lodge and jumped at the chance to find out more whilst exploring the region.
Borderless Exploration Inside the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park combines Botswana’s Gemsbok National Park and South Africa’s Kalahari Gemsbok National Park, straddling the two borders. Regardless of where you enter the park, being able to cross country borders within the boundaries makes this a great destination for country counting travelers!
Run by SAN Parks, the park is known for its mixed terrain where red sand dunes, sparse vegetation, sporadic trees and empty river beds combine to home to large mammals and hundreds of species of birds under the intense heat of the sun and the extreme chill of darkness.
For us, it became home for a few glorious days.
The Journey to !Xaus
Having entered the park through the South African gate (Twee Rivieren), we were met by !Xaus Lodge staff at Kamqua Picnic Site. This spot was clearly signed and easy to find.
From there we left our car in secure, lodge owned parking and hopped into their 4×4 vehicle for the last leg of what had been a long journey into the desert! Bouncing over the famous, rolling red sand dunes was a welcome change of pace after watching vast kilometres of flat dusty roads pass us by whilst journeying towards the northeastern corner of South Africa.
!Xaus Lodge is located amidst the red dunes that seem to stretch on forever, making it really hit home just how vast this country really is.
As we came over yet another dune, the Lodge suddenly appeared, sitting on the edge of the heart-shaped salt pan that gives the lodge its name (meaning heart in the Nama language).
We were greeted with a welcome drink and given information on the history of the local communities and their part in !Xaus’s history – as well as prepped for our stay and the quirks that make a stay here ‘a place to experience, not just to observe.’ Finally, we were given our own glass water bottles (used to minimize the need for plastic water bottles) and were provided with details of our exciting 3-day itinerary.
Action Amidst Wilderness
At first sight, you’d be mistaken for thinking there’s not a lot to do at !Xaus other than relax by their stunning pool and keep an eager eye on the salt pan waiting for visitors. However, there are plenty of ways to explore the dunes, the further afield areas of the park and get to know the communities.
Our guide, Koos, was in charge of how we spent the next 3 days during which he shared his knowledge, experiences and culture with us.
For the most part, we were his only guests, giving us a very private experience for each activity, making the whole experience all the more memorable.
Our Itinerary at !Xaus Lodge
- Mid-afternoon arrival
- Free time
- Night drive. Exploring the dunes at night provided us with an opportunity to not only see the nocturnal animals of the national park but also to see the landscapes lit up by moonlight. Wrapped up warm to keep the suddenly cold night air at bay, we cruised over the dunes with eyes peeled!
- Early morning dune walk. Before breakfast, we headed onto the dunes on foot, learning about the plants and desert life around us while Koos ‘read the newspaper of the night before’. We were excited to hear that a male lion had been close by and immediately crossed our fingers that he would come back once we were safely in a vehicle!
- Mid-morning salt pan walk. The heart shaped pan that sits in front of the lodge looks less daunting from the deck but once you get down to the edge, its 1.5km expanse becomes clear!
- Visit the craft stall. Khomani and Mier crafters demonstrate traditional methods of craft making with bones and hot tools. Their craftsmanship is incredible and the attention to detail with such simple tools, awe-inspiring. We spent a few hours chatting with the crafters about their history, culture and modern day lives.
- Free time
- Sundowners. If you’ve ever been to Africa you’ll know that the sunsets on this continent are something else. Watching the transition from day to night is one of my favourite things and doing so in this beautiful location was no exception. Koos took us through the dunes to the other side of the salt pan where we watched the sunset with a gin and tonic in hand accompanied by tasty snacks.
- Game drive. We spent 3 hours exploring the dunes and salt pans in this region of the park. Along the way, we spotted dozens of Gemsbok, a real treat to see as they are only found in this park, as well as countless birds and small mammals.
- Free time. We spent the afternoon enjoying our time away from technology and making good use of the telescope strategically placed to view the salt pan and all of its visitors.
- Free time
The Impact of !Xaus Lodge on Local Communities
There are varied accommodation options across the park ranging from self-catered campsites to 5* resorts so although there are plenty of options to suit all manner of travellers, !Xaus Lodge is one of a kind.
Run as a 4* community lodge, it is the result of a historic land agreement made in 2002 between the Khomani San and Mier communities, and the government. This !Ae!Hai Kalahari Heritage Park Agreement, saw 5,000 hectares of land be given back to the communities who had once farmed the area and then leased to SANParks who are now responsible for its environmental management. As part of the agreement, the two communities were given funds specifically for the construction of a jointly owned tourism facility – what was to become !Xaus Lodge.
Not only does the lodge generate income based on the lodge’s turnover but the staff are recruited from communities with what would otherwise be very limited employment opportunities.
We absolutely love that the lodge provides such a memorable experience for guests whilst ensuring the well-being of the local community and ecosystem.
Luxury Amidst Scarcity in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
Its desert location makes a stay at !Xaus Lodge a perfect chance for real R&R and an escape from reality. There’s no telecommunication signal, forcing visitors to go ‘off grid’ and fully absorb their surroundings and the experience.
The 12 individual chalets sit in a line along the top of the dune, all with their own private decks and views over the salt pan.
The central buildings house the communal dining room, bar, lounge and shop selling locally made Bushmen crafts. The observation deck offers a great view of the pan and its 4-legged visitors throughout the day and star gazing at night. Centrally located, the swimming pool is set on the wooden deck that connects the private rooms and communal areas, making a cheeky afternoon swim all the more tempting.
Each day, guests are provided with fresh purified water and every night, beds are turned down and story cards are left on your pillow, telling traditional Bushmen tales. The nighttime cold is kept at bay with hot water bottles tucked into the beds, ready and waiting to keep your feet cosy and warm.
Water is scarce and, other than drinking water created through reverse osmosis, is saline – making for an interesting bathing experience! In fact, the natural borehole water is packed with minerals and salt and leaves your skin feeling soft and smooth.
In order to increase the water conservation, !Xaus have bought in additional policies and encourage guests to support these; challenge yourself to have shorter showers, take them up on the offer of a local product called Drybath, understand that at times the pool may not be filled to an optimal level and embrace the dust that covers the vehicles.
According to the staff, it is seen as a ‘badge of honour that we accept as part of the Kalahari life.”
Electricity is provided by generators that are turned on two times each day in order to minimise the lodges’ environmental impact. Understandably, guests are encouraged to carry a torch (provided in each room) with them at night to get to and from their room without wandering off the boardwalk – life at the lodge is a bit of an adventure!
Their fabulous food is also pre-planned to minimize the 720km round trips to the nearest grocery stores! Don’t worry though – dietary requirements can usually be met provided you’ve given some notice.
Each day starts off with a continental breakfast buffet alongside a ‘cooked to order’ hot breakfast. A two-course lunch kept us going throughout the day and, believe it or not, I still managed to find room for the three-course meal each evening!
!Xaus Lodge at the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park: A Unique South African Desert Getaway
The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is a very special area of South Africa, vastly different to other national parks.
Although !Xaus Lodge is a little isolated from other areas of the park, it’s a perfect base for exploring the red dunes whilst also allowing you to immerse yourself in luxury and take a break from day-to-day life.
If you ask me though, the Lodge’s biggest draw is the positive impact it has on the local communities – a rare combination of tourism and community development working hand in hand, effectively. What a pleasure to see a lodge like this helping both guests and the community to make the most of their natural resources.