Tswalu is the largest private game reserve in South Africa and is home to over 80 species of mammals. The Kalahari Desert is an entirely distinctive ecosystem which means that you’ll see unique and diverse wildlife here. It is a place where one heads to see those unusual creatures, the ones often missed in other parts of our continent.
The reserve offers amazing potential for enjoying the incredible desert-adapted black rhino, black-mained rhinos, cheetah, meerkats, aardvark and not to mention, pangolin. Even the humble antelope is celebrated here...you might see gemsbok, springbok, eland, red hartebeest, roan, tsessebe and sable. Tswalu is thus both an excellent destination for the more experienced safari enthusiast as well as the maiden African traveller. Because of its novel landscape, wildlife and safari experience, Tswalu combines brilliantly and easily with the other traditional game reserves, such as Kruger.
A firm feature of the reserve is that of flexibility. Each booking receives their own open-sided, canopied safari vehicle, guide and tracker, resulting in the luxury of privacy. Your private, dedicated team gives you the freedom to choose how you would like to spend your day – on a night drive, on foot to meerkats, game viewing via horse-back, or taking a picnic into the bush for the day - the choice is yours! Tswalu, being within a malaria-free area, also means no prophylactic worries for guests and ensures it's especially family-friendly. The reserve welcomes children and actively encourages them to participate fully in the safari experience. With a variety of superlative dining experiences, including: sundowners on lantern-lit dunes, boma dining and even a Michelin star chef-led restaurant, Klein Jan, on the reserve too; one's appetite, in all aspects, is sure to be more than satisfied at Tswalu Kalahari.
We've taken the liberty to answer everything you may need to know about Tswalu.
Tswalu is located in the southern Kalahari, within South Africa’s borders and is accessible by both air and road.
Light Flight (most popular way by far) Tswalu operates a daily scheduled service direct to the reserve's own airstrip. This is done via shared light charter flight, which depending on passenger numbers, is usually a PC12, a pressurised aircraft. The flights depart once daily from both Cape Town International and OR Tambo International (Johannesburg). The flights are also well-timed for connecting same day onwards from/to Kruger lodges either pre or post Tswalu, should you be looking to combine the reserve with another.
The flights take 2 hours between Cape Town and the airstrip and the journey from/or to Johannesburg is slightly shorter, at 1.5 hours in either direction. Execujet Aviation at Cape Town Airport and Fireblade Aviation in Johannesburg services these flights respectively. On arrival at the airstrip you will be received by an awaiting ranger, have a chance to enjoy a cold beverage and possible loo break at their welcome lounge and from here you will board your open vehicle and begin your safari en route to the lodge!
Very important regarding these light flights, as is the case with most shared light charter flights in Africa and thus something that may come up a lot when wading through travel arrangements to and from safari reserves and camps, the luggage allowance is 20kg / 44 pounds per person (including hand and cargo luggage) in soft -sided bags. But to manage the luggage limits, guests can safely store luggage at the respective hangar until their return from Tswalu, at no charge. Special arrangements can, however, be made, at an extra charge, should you be travelling with slightly more…
Tswalu also has a single-engine helicopter available, based at the reserve and is ideally suited to VIP transport. The chopper is available for private helicopter flips over the vastness of its land, or to facilitate excursions to nearby points of interest and historical landmarks. It serves too as a shuttle service to Upington airport, which is the closest international airport to the property, and the helicopter transfer thus allows for seamless access to its domestic flights and for same day private cross-border travel plans.
Tswalu can be reached by road (exiting Gauteng and Northern Cape), and your consultant will be happy to supply recommended route information within final travel documents, but it is certainly the least popular way to reach the reserve, since its rather remote and results in long road journeys to and from. As an indication, travelling ex Johannesburg would present an approximate 650km journey, and departing ex Kimberley or Upington roughly 370 km in one sitting. Certainly possible, but flying direct to the reserve airstrip is the enviable and recommended start to what will only be a superlative safari!
For Tswalu, this is a particularly difficult question to answer, as a blanket statement, in a way that would apply to all travellers. Some may be keen birders, keen astrologers, others may be keen to view a particular species or have photography as their priority and as such, there is a time that would best suit them all. The easy answer would be “there is no best time to visit the reserve” – it's a year-round destination at its core as each of the four seasons offers unique viewing opportunities and presents ever changing landscapes as the Kalahari responds to the presence or absence of water. Let's explain:
SPRING (September - October)
The mercury begins to climb in the daylight hours, but evenings can still be cool, so come prepared. Blossoms begin to adorn thorn bushes, meerkat pups venture outside their dens for the first time, and barking geckos start calling for mates... There is a palpable sense of anticipation as the reserve awaits the summer rains.
SUMMER (November - March)
Summer is Tswalu's longest and most important season. Hotter days end with mild evenings and spectacular afternoon thunderstorms abound. While rain may typically be an inconvenience elsewhere, at Tswalu it is sought-after, uncertain and breath-taking. During these downpours one could witness the almost instantaneous eruption of colour as the red soil of the reserve transforms into a carpet of golden flowers. The flowers and abundant insect life draw in migratory birds and since birth cycles are phased to suit the coming of the rains, new life is evident everywhere, from wobbly young antelope to irrepressibly curious jackal pups. A popular time for many.
AUTUMN (April - May)
Green is the colour of the season and autumn is marked by milder days and cooler evenings, as the rains slowly subside. Impala rut (the crashing of horns and fighting to establish territory and find mates) reaches its peak, while tortoises, leguaans and other reptiles prepare to hibernate through the winter and start to gorge themselves with the earths remaining bounty. Fruits ripen and provide sustenance for birds departing on their long migrations.
WINTER (June - Aug)
Temperatures can dip below freezing overnight, although the days remain cool, even at times pleasingly warm. The red soil sprinkled with early morning frost, paints the earth white and is a vision to behold. Being the driest season, cloudless night skies mean that stargazing is at its peak and one might glimpse small dust storms dot the dunes. Nests are built by raptors and sandgrouse congregate around diminishing water sources. Nocturnal species change their daily routines somewhat, tempted above ground by late afternoon sunshine which makes winter a wonderful time to look for aardvark, aardwolf and pangolin.
Thus perhaps warranting not just a single trip in one's lifetime to Tswalu, but at least two, so as to compare the reserve and its highlights at differing times of year, since the contract is so extensive and intriguing, and thereby receiving the best of both worlds. After the first visit, you will agree a return visit is inevitable.
Other than what’s been mentioned above already in terms of:
- Being the largest private reserve in SA;
- The fact that every guest has the luxury of flexibility by way of the private vehicle guide and tracker:
- That the reserve is malaria-free and thus very friendly for families;
- The chance to view desert-adapted, as well as rare and endangered, species exists in abundance here it's their conservation ethos, conservation goals and care for the people of the Kalahari that stand out to us. Their ultimate priority is conservation, to leave the world better than they found it and with goals to restore the environment, re-establish biodiversity and to maintain the Kalahari’s characteristics, they are intrinsically linked to the past, the present and future of the southern Kalahari.
The word "Tswalu" means “a new beginning" and this drives its creed. Hospitality, which is how they can achieve these goals, and pure conservation sit in perfect harmony as each guest contributes directly to the sustainability of the reserve in a true model of eco-tourism. The ecotourism model recognises too that the people of the greater Kalahari are an integral part of the ecosystem, and crucial to solving the conservation challenges. They are able to create upskilling and employment opportunities for people from their closest settlements and provide them with meaningful careers as well as enhanced health and education services.
Tswalu is a labour of love for the Oppenheimer family, who took responsibility for the remarkable reserve in 1998. Since then, their commitment to conservation has seen indigenous species re-introduced, strides made towards the restoration of the Kalahari, and the undoing of years of neglect. Whilst the Oppenheimer family have in the years since sanctioned numerous projects, most notably since 2008, the Tswalu Foundation (a platform whereby visitors can contribute and involve themselves in pioneering research on the reserve), has done wonders and has shown they too are committed to their community of staff and their families, researchers, visiting doctors that support the healthcare centre, artists in residence, and of course, each of their visiting guests.
Providing the Tswalu Healthcare Centre on-premises that offers services to over 5,000 people a year, as well as the Tswalu School and Vegetable Garden amongst others. A recent addition to the Tswalu Foundation, the Artist in Residence (AiR) program was initiated to highlight local South African artists. Visiting artists are encouraged to gain inspiration for their work from the Kalahari and the artist has the opportunity of exhibiting their resultant work at the prestigious Everard Read gallery in Johannesburg. A key feature of the AiR program is that all proceeds generated from the sale of artwork produced go towards funding environmental research on Tswalu and as such close the loop between environment, skills development and community.
Being a private reserve, means that Tswalu's land is not shared with guests from other concessions or lodges. This is always a great bonus in the safari world, as it signifies that there are no areas that are off-limits, and you can spend as long as you wish at sightings since there are only just over a handful of safari vehicles on the entire reserve. The world is your oyster here in that your days are your own to devise in consultation with your private guide on arrival. On offer are the following:
Each booking receives their own private open-sided, canopied vehicle, guide and tracker (whom are specially trained in the unique Kalahari ecology) for the duration of your stay. Game drives are never standard and are tailored to guests' interests. You may want to focus on cheetah, as its undoubtably one of the best places in southern Africa to see these magnificent creatures in the wild. And since the reserve offers great potential for sightings of species that prove elusive elsewhere, you can zone in on trying to find aardvark, pangolin and more.
Not many places in the world can offer encounters on foot with meerkat colonies, certainly not like they are experienced here. Their gregarious nature and amusing antics (think early morning sunbathing and playing chicken with scorpions) have made meerkats extremely popular. Tswalu's two habituated colonies have accepted the presence of humans without letting it disrupt the important business of grooming and foraging. For adult guests, Tswalu can also arrange night walks which uncover the magic of the Kalahari after sunset.
The reserve has a number of horses on premises to choose from and an experienced horse guide and backup rider that accompany all rides. Even children and those novice riders are catered for, not only the experienced equestrians.
Tswalu is certainly one of the best places to stargaze in South Africa.
Exploring archaeological sites
Pack a picnic and explore the Korannaberg hills where the extraordinary San rock art dates back 380,000 years
The Malori Sleep-out (extra charge)
Imagine sleeping in a luxury king-size bed on a raised deck, surrounded by the calls of nocturnal animals, with nothing between you and the brilliant stars of the Kalahari night sky…Tswalu's original sleep-out deck, The Malori (meaning ‘dreamer’ in Tswana), offers guests the unique experience of a safari sleep-out The Malori deck boasts a raised platform with a thatched overhang for protection should it rain. Guests can choose to sleep under the thatch or further along the deck where it is completely open. The quaint bush suite also has weather-proof blinds which can be rolled up or down according to preference and an adjacent outdoor toilet, basin and shower are just a short distance away along a lighted walkway. The Malori deck is built to maximise the exquisite surroundings and has panoramic views of the vast plains of the Green Kalahari. It is orientated to showcase the incomparable Kalahari sunsets.
The Naledi sleep-out experience is Tswalu's newest guest activity. Naledi, which means ‘star’ in the local Tswana language, is Tswalu’s back-to-nature star bed experience. Elevated above a valley with wraparound views, Naledi is for the true adventurer who yearns to sleep beneath the southern Kalahari’s brilliant blanket of stars in safety and seclusion. Spending a night in a star bed, with nothing between you and the night sky, has become increasingly sought after as travellers search for authentic, unfiltered experiences immersed in nature. Naledi has purposely been kept very simple so as not to detract from its private and remote setting in the southern reaches of the reserve. Naledi is designed as a romantic sleep-out experience for two adults, but is also ideal for a family of four. Camping stretchers are layered with luxurious bed linen and a few steps from the main Naledi deck is an open-air shower, basin and toilet on its own timber platform.
There is no doubt that the solitude of being marooned in the middle of the southern Kalahari without noise or light pollution, wifi, mobile reception or any other modern-day distractions, is bonding time at its best for couples and families.
Yes, yes yes!!! Tswalu is a malaria-free destination and welcomes children of all ages. The reserve is perfect for families with kids as it offers an array of experiences and allows parents a chance to introduce their children to nature, wildlife, conservation principles and of course along the way, all kinds of fun!
In terms of accommodations and dining, at Motse Camp, families are accommodated in their 3 family suites. At 246 square metres, each has two separate bedrooms with their own en-suite bathrooms. The reserves children’s menu caters for any individual likes and flexible dining times can easily be provided for and complimentary child-minding services are offered at any time to allow parents to enjoy more formal or private evenings.
Junior Ranger Programme
On arrival, every child is welcomed with a backpack full of guides and tools; they get their own opportunity to chat with staff about what they would like to do. This programme has been carefully designed to meet the interests of a broad age range. Activities include, baking, guided horse trails, archery (beginning by making your own bow and arrow), spoor identification and casting as well as tracking on foot. Children’s bush walks are hugely educational and often end with a fantastic picnic – parents can come too. And at Tswalu, very importantly (and often NOT the case at many reserves), Tswalu is very happy to include younger children in private game drives.