Kalahari Primitive Trail - Review James

In 2023, James joined our Kalahari Primitive Trail. As an experienced field guide, he shares his unique impressions with us.


Kalahari Primitive Trail with James

I love the experience of walking multi-day trails but there is something really special about doing so in a Big Five area and knocking yourself a few links down the food chain. It is humbling and exhilarating. Furthermore, as a qualified FGASA trails guide, I was excited about the involvement of Lowveld Trails and seeing what I could learn from some of the best walking guides in the business. Finally, the prospect of exploring the Kalahari, and hiking through a completely different landscape than the one I was used to was especially intriguing.

An authentic and challenging wilderness experience

As I knew Natucate from previous trips and Lowfeld Trails had a good reputation, I knew I could set high expectations and be sure they would be met - and they were. I was looking for an experience that was not only a reconnection with nature in a true wilderness area but also something honest and challenging; I didn’t want to be mollycoddled. Furthermore, I was expecting that all those involved would take their responsibilities seriously, be those responsibilities towards providing the best possible service to the participants or the greatest respect towards the magnificent land through which we were walking.


The fascinating !Khamab Kalahari Reserve

I can only really describe the !Khamab Kalahari Reserve itself, as we have to remember that although it’s huge, it’s also tiny in the context of the Kalahari Desert overall. What struck me most strongly about the !Khamab was its uniformity. It’s largely flat – a very different landscape to someone used to walking in the rolling terrain of the Lowfeld. Although described as a desert, it’s not a sand sea like some might imagine, but quite densely vegetated – mostly dominated by camelthorn, shepherd’s tree, and blackthorn. The latter was particularly impressive in September, as the blackthorns were covered in buttery blossoms – painting much of the landscape yellow.

While describing the !Khamab as uniform might sound like a negative, but it isn’t. It helped me focus in on my immediate surroundings, and one of the pleasures of the walk was becoming intimately aware of the smallest and subtlest changes to the scenery. The greatest impact was the absence of a human hand on the landscape. Light and sound pollution were absolutely zero, and the tremendous power of the silence and the clarity of a night sky blazing with stars were unforgettable.

Guides: Signposts through and through

Good guides are vital for a successful wilderness trail, but excellent guides can make it a transformative experience. Wayne and Nicolas were both excellent. An understanding of the terrain and the wildlife is expected, and the ability to keep the group safe is fundamental - what I didn’t expect was the philosophizing!
Our guides encouraged us to approach the trail not only as an adventure but also as a spiritual experience. It didn’t require much encouragement – the complete lack of communication with the outside world, the physical hardship, the beauty, and the overwhelming silence were already powerful factors.


"I felt as if I was alive!"

To be honest, the difficulty is part of the allure of the trail. That being said, I’m not especially fit, and the hardships were not overwhelming. Yes, in the day I was hot, and in the night I was cold, and while I was hefting my big bag across the desert I was tired, but at no point was I not enjoying myself. I felt like I was living! Going days without a proper wash left us fantasizing about returning to the lodge for a shower . . . but when that finally happened at the end of the trail I immediately just wished I was back out there.


Showering in the open air: A hiking trail comedy

This is more of an amusing tale than an amazing one, but it’s also a testament to how the trail strips away your self-consciousness and how the comradeship of walking beside people for days engenders trust in one another.

Camp for the final night of the trail was at the calcite pan of Marapo-a-Batho – empty, flat, and treeless. We had all gotten into the habit of taking a bottle of water for a quick washdown shower just before sunset – one of the simple pleasures of the day. But here, the thorny bush that would offer some privacy was quite some walk away, and I just couldn’t be bothered. So I declared to my companions that I would be walking fifty metres out onto the pan to take my shower, that I would be in full view of all, but at this stage, I really didn’t care. The consensus was that this was a great idea all around, so all of us took different compass points, got naked, and got clean. I kept my eyes fixed on the horizon, although I couldn’t speak for anyone else.


Under the starry sky: An unforgettable night on the trail

Probably my favourite specific memory from the trail is one night when I was taking my turn on the watch. Not only was the sky full of stars awe-inspiring, but during my watch a pride of lions began roaring in chorus from the nearby waterhole. They moved towards our camp until the magnificent din was sounding from only about 500 metres away. They never came within the light of my torch, but after some time their roars were echoed by another pride of lions out in the desert, perhaps a kilometre away. I was sitting in the middle of this chorus, lions on both sides, and it was glorious.

Altogether, I would certainly recommend this trail. That being said, I think it’s especially recommended for people who have already had a taste of the African bush or been on a more traditional wilderness trail. This is a very different world, and I really enjoyed having the more ‘classic’ African walking experience as a point of contrast.

Adventures to get you dreaming