Tag Archives: Nossob river

Botswana 2010: Union’s End

I find that one of the special joys of travel is to visit places that I heard about or read about as a relative youngster. I got a great kick, while visiting the UK, to walk down Harley Street and Fleet Street; seeing Buckingham Palace, and specially finding that “Banbury Cross” actually exists. I find that I am seldom disappointed, as the attraction is just in being there rather than in the expectation of finding something outstanding.
And so it was very easy to make the decision to take the 60-odd kilometre drive from Polentswa to visit the point located at 24o 45’ 55.3” South, 19 o 59’ 58.7” East, the point known as Union’s End, the extreme north-westerly point of South Africa.
The drive from Polentswa in the early morning was an absolute treat, with a brief sighting of a leopard no more than ten metres from the car. We watched a group of four bat-eared foxes as they hunted happily in an open field and were treated to the sight of five magnificent lilac-breasted rollers on a single dried tree stump. Then there were the wildebeest, gemsbok and springbok in large herds. And a lone meerkat that played sentry on a tree stump near his home.
Union’s End. Even the name is an anachronism; South Africa ceased to be a “Union” and became a “Republic” on 31 May 1961. But the name has been retained for this, the northernmost point of South Africa; the point where South Africa meets two of its neighbours, Namibia and Botswana, at the same spot. This is also the spot where the Nossob River (or river bed, really – it is dry for the greater part of its existence) crosses from Namibia into the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and wanders its waterless way for 200 kilometres through the park, officially dividing South Africa from Botswana. It gives its name to the Nossob Camp and later, shortly after its confluence with the Auob River (also dry), it contributes to the names of another two camps, Twee Rivieren in South Africa and Two Rivers in Botswana.
But back to Union’s End.
The point where the three countries meet is marked by a small information board, a pole bearing the longitude and latitude of the spot and nothing else. Namibia is fenced off from Botswana and South Africa, but, as the spot lies in the transfrontier park, there is no fence between Botswana and South Africa at this point. The centre of the Nossob, which is the boundary between the two countries, is marked at intervals by cement bollards with “RSA” and “RB” etched on the appropriate sides.
The South African section of the transfrontier park was previously known as the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park and was established way back in 1931. According to the information boards, the earliest activity at Union’s End took place in the mid 1930s. Imagine what the area must have been like those 75-odd years ago! Imagine how difficult it must have been to reach, and yet there was already a problem with poachers. There was a plan to establish a border patrol post here in 1934 in order to control poaching, but insufficient funds were forthcoming and the post never materialized.
The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park was established in 2000 when the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park in RSA was merged with the Gemsbok National Park in Botswana.

Botswana 2010 : Polentswa

The road from Kaa Gate to Polentswa takes one through the most magnificent savannah and woodland scenery.  With no time pressures and no problems with grass seeds we were able to enjoy the animals that came into view every now and then.  As we neared the dry Nossob riverbed we started to see raptors of every description.  The Kgalagadi is famous for its raptors and one is always assured of good close up sightings of the magnificent snake eagles, tawny eagles and the many falcons and goshawks.

Raptor flying overhead

The many snakes and rats in the area keep these birds well fed.  We came across our first snake shortly after crossing the Nossob river.

Snake on the road to Polentswa

Once on the South African side of the park, we immediately felt a bit restricted as we could no longer get out of our cars to take photos.  When spending time in Botswana, where campsites are unfenced, one tends to forget that there are rules and regulations about getting out of ones vehicle.  It takes the deep resounding roar of a lion close by at night to make one realize that these rules are absolutely essential and one should be very careful.  The sound of a lion roaring outside one’s tent sends shivers up one’s spine.  It truly is one of the classic sounds of the African bushveld.

The Polentswa campsite is on the Botswana side of the park, so once again we had to cross over the Nossob riverbed to get there.  It was a typical Botswana camp with a wooden A-frame construction to give one a measure of shade.  Our site overlooked a pan and we were not far from the Polentswa watering hole.  This proved a wonderful spot for our evening sundowners where we were rewarded by the many animals and birds that came to take their last drink of the day.

Black-backed jackal

On our first evening six black-backed jackals converged from various directions, followed by a herd of hartebeest that gave us a wonderful horn-butting display.

Hartebeest head-butting

The next day the watering hole proved very rewarding as no less than fourteen secretary birds came to drink.  It is always enthralling to see these beautifl big birds in the wild.   To have fourteen of them at once was almost mind-boggling.  Unfortunately they were a bit scattered and we weren’t able to photograph them all together.  Nevertheless it was an unforgettable treat seeing so many.

Secretary birds at watering hole

There was also a resident tawny eagle at the Polentswa watering hole which we  saw on each of our sundowner visits.

Tawny eagle

Visitors to Polentswa will notice an unmarked grave a few hundred metres from the campsites.  We wondered who had been buried here – was it a favourite animal in the Park or perhaps an unlucky visitor who didn’t abide by the rules of staying in their vehicle?    We were later enlightened by Don, a Parks Board officer, who gave us an information leaflet about the grave.

According to the book called “Kalahari Gemsbok National Park” by Gus Mills and Clem Haagner, the grave was that of one Hans Schwabe, a diamond prospector who was passing through the Park on his way to Namibia (then South West Africa)  in 1958.  He enquired whether there were diamonds in the area and didn’t believe it when he was told that there weren’t any.  Schwabe abandoned his car and went in search of diamonds on foot.  He left a note in his car saying that there was no water for the car (which was untrue as the radiator was found to be full) and did some illegal prospecting along the way.  Game rangers later found his unsteady tracks and saw vultures overhead.  It wasn’t long before they came across what was left of his remains.  As it was impossible to remove his body, they buried it where they found it and placed a little wooden cross on his grave.