Strictly One Way
Words & pics by Wild editor Romi Boom
Twin tracks, a red desert and a roller-coaster drive take you to the original Kgalagadi wilderness camp at Bitterpan. The rewards are evident when you finally gaze across the stark white salt pan, discover the isolation and exclusivity.
The first day involves a 53 km drive from Nossob, the first half of the one-way 120km Bitterpan 4x4 Trail. It’ll take about 2,5 hours. You check in at Nossob Rest Camp, get your permit stamped and leave through a restricted access gate.
Bitterpan Camp and its access roads are for the use of its residents only. High ground clearance is important as some of the ruts are deep. Be sure to tie down absolutely everything, not only outside but also inside your vehicle, as the ruts will throw around your gear.
Although it was not my first time on the trail, I had forgotten about its little surprises. Soon after setting out, there are some steep dunes that wake up nonchalant drivers. Then, just as you get into the rhythm of the trail, you face a number of tricky long dunes.
When you think you have reached the summit, there is an additional slope to negotiate, so it is necessary to keep the momentum up without jumping the crest. You will probably have to take a second attempt at some of the dunes, being more careful to select the correct gear. There is a steep dune close to Bitterpan camp itself. If you plan to arrive around check-in time (14h00), the sand will be hot and this is when it is crucial to have the correct tyre pressure.
Upon arrival, I was welcomed by tourism assistant Willem Vilander, who has enjoyed the solitary lifestyle for the past 11 years. Bitterpan Camp is unfenced and in the middle of the wilderness, apparently forgotten by time. Built on stilts, each unit overlooks the waterhole. At twilight, I was treated to a half-hearted standoff between a lone gemsbok and two black-backed jackals.
The next morning, I set out early and the going was easier as, despite being deep in places, the sand was still cold. After about 2,5 hours, I joined up with the main road at Craig Lockhart, having spotted several steenbok and a healthy herd of red hartebeest.
This 4x4 trail is a fun trip and most of it is easy. Although the track is looked after by the SANParks Honorary Rangers, preventive maintenance by limiting the traffic along the trail has proven the best remedy. If you are careless and unskilled, you could get stuck, even with a serious 4x4. Don’t despair, a search and rescue party will be sent out if you don't report to camp in a decent timespan.
Know Before You Go
• Take your own firewood, charcoal and drinking water.
• No trailers or heavy 4x4 trucks are allowed.
• Driving opportunities once you are at the camp are limited to a one-way 15km game drive.
• Visitors staying longer than one night may use the escape route to Moravet to get onto the tourist routes and back.
• Maximum eight people a night are allowed to retain the tranquillity and exclusiveness of the camp. No children under 12 years.
1. Dune driving can be heavy on fuel, so fill up at Nossob.
2. Pack a hi-lift jack, spade, aluminium sand tracks and tow/snatch straps, just in case.
3. The recommended tyre pressure for dune driving is 1.4 bar.
The reed cabins at Bitterpan Wilderness Camp sleep two, in single beds, and have a separate bathroom with toilet and shower, plus a communal kitchen and braai area. Cost From R1,290 a night for two. Check in at Nossob Rest Camp. Book by phoning Central Reservations on 012-428-9111 or online at www.sanparks.org
Source: Wild Magazine