Spend a night away from your lodge on a sleeping deck in the heart of the Kalahari Desert. Tswalu The Malori lies within Tswalu Kalahari Private Game Reserve and offers a romantic, adventurous night under the stars in the wilderness. It’s one of South Africa’s best safari experiences.
We’d come to Tswalu Kalahari Private Game Reserve for its sublime landscapes and fathomless night skies. My partner and I began our stay at The Motse, the main camp in Tswalu. It’s a beautiful lodge built from local stone, red clay and traditional Kalahari thatch. Our chalet (called a legae) was spacious, with indoor and outdoor showers, an open fireplace, floor-to-ceiling windows, designer decor and a large study area.
The lodge had a lovely swimming pool and a spa for pampering treatments. So luxurious was it, in fact, that the prospect of sleeping out in the wilds, when it was offered as an adventurous extra, appeared a little daunting. Would it drag us away from all the beauty and luxury we were so enjoying?
But we eventually took the plunge and booked a night under the stars at Tswalu The Malori (meaning ‘dreamer’ in Tswana), a sleeping deck set in the heart of the wilderness. We set off late one afternoon in an open 4×4. Our guide, Katlego, told us a little bit about the reserve as we drove through classic, rolling Kalahari dunes and open grasslands.
‘This is South Africa’s largest private game reserve, comprising more than 1,000 square kilometres,’ said Katlego. ‘The Kalahari Desert, covering most of Botswana and stretching deep into Namibia and South Africa, is not a true desert but rather semi-arid, sandy savannah. More than 70 species of mammal and over 240 bird species are found in Tswalu.’
‘Restoration of the region’s unique biodiversity began by buying up farms, stopping hunting and tearing down buildings and fences. Many of the non-indigenous species brought in by hunting lodges have been phased out. We’ve increased the genetic diversity of the desert black rhino and Kalahari lion, renowned for its large size and distinctive black mane. Leopard, brown hyena and raptors, persecuted by stock farmers, have settled in the reserve. Wild dog and cheetah have been reintroduced. Our flagship species is the desert black rhino, listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.’
The journey to the sleeping deck turned into a short, but delightful game drive in its own right. We saw herds of giraffe, springbok, red hartebeest, oryx and rare roan antelope. The silhouette of a kudu bull on a dune crest, a white rhino trotting through the acacia thorn: magical Kalahari moments.
From a distance, Tswalu The Malori looked like yet another sociable weavers’ nest on the horizon. Drawing closer, we could make out a raised platform, thatched roof and weather-proof blinds.
When we finally pulled up at Tswalu The Malori, I immediately realised that this could hardly be called roughing it. The sleeping platform had a king-sized bed provided with Egyptian cotton linen. There was simple, elegant bush furniture – a fold-out table, campaign chairs and a couch. The adjacent outdoor toilet, basin and shower were just a short distance away along a walkway, lit at night by lanterns. There were luxury towelling robes and slippers. This was barefoot luxury at its finest!
Katlego set out sundowners and canapés while we took in the panoramic views of open savannah. He also offered to prepare dinner for us, but we wanted to linger with the sun and the silence and sent him on his way. Then we settled down to making the most of our own private Kalahari as the sun set and an orange moon rose over blond grasslands.
Once darkness had fallen, we enjoyed a delicious hamper supper under a torrent of stars. They were so bright we could almost have read by their ethereal light. Somewhere out on the plain, a jackal began to yelp, then another, then a whole chorus. It raised the hairs on my arms.
Later, the beam of my torch picked out a scurrying aardvark, its rabbit-like ears pinned back and long snout snuffling the ground in search of termites. What a blessed sighting it was! Katlego had told us that these elusive, nocturnal mammals spend the day in underground burrows that they dig with their powerful feet and spade-like claws. At night, they can travel several kilometres in search of termite mounds.
Time for bed. As it was a warm, breathless night, we chose to sleep under the stars and rolled the bed out onto the open part of the deck. We woke off and on through the night to loud roaring. I imagined a black-maned Kalahari lion standing on a red dune, proclaiming his ownership of the land. And who were we, mere humans, to question him?
We woke at sunrise to gentle birdsong and the sounds of the early morning Kalahari slowly waking itself. I made us coffee, and we sat in bed watching the golden savannah come alive. It had been a night I would never forget.