Don’t underestimate the dangers of getting lost in the Kgalagadi

Don’t underestimate the dangers of getting lost in the Kgalagadi

On 17 July 2010, Ruth and I almost lost our lives because of an impulsive decision. It was after our third night in the Park, our first trip after retirement and on a long-awaited visit to the Kgalagadi. 

We woke up early, prepared a flask of coffee, took a few snacks and hurried to be the first to leave camp. It was freezing and Ruth kept her warm gown on. At the gate we collected our permit and duly reported our destination as ‘going south’, and off we went.

Our enthusiasm was great, but the animals were nowhere to be seen. We had our coffee and rusks at Marie’s waterhole and before long we were back at camp. It was still early and we decided to carry on north in search of the elusive wildlife. We should have notified the office that we were now going north but never thought it was important.

Kilometre after kilometre northwards – but no animals. At Langklaas waterhole we decided to turn back. Still nothing. Before we reached Nossob Camp we turned off on the Matopi road (the access road to Mabuasehube). There was no signpost saying that it was a restricted entry road and we thought that perhaps if we could see into the riverbed we might find where the animals were. We turned off and carried on for about eight kilometres when we realised that we’d better turn back. But it was already too late. Without warning something in the innards below the bonnet of our Jeep snapped and we were stuck.

All our efforts to get the vehicle going were in vain. The fear of predators reigned supreme as Ruth kept watch while I fiddled with the vehicle. We both panicked but understood we’d better get a grip on ourselves and calm down. At this stage, we still hoped that a vehicle on its way to or from Nossob would turn up. 

As time dragged on, the silence and solitude became overwhelming. We took stock of what we had in terms of food and drink. No water, only a few mandarins, several sticks of droëwors (dried sausage) and a little bit of biltong. That was it. It was unwise to eat either of those as it would contribute to dehydration. Then Ruth came up with the idea of a fire; surely somebody would see the smoke and come to our rescue. The plan did not work – instead of rising high into the sky, the smoke was trapped in the dune valley. We extinguished the fire, prayed for help and waited.

Back at Nossob Camp, Park officials noticed that we had not returned and a search party was sent south. When they could not find us, they continued the search north. Eventually the search had to be called off for the night.

Meanwhile Ruth and I were getting desperate. We used the vehicle lights for an S.O.S. but the dunes blocked the way and the battery started to fail. Back home we had removed the back seat of the Jeep for extra packing space and we therefore had to make do with the two front seats for sleeping. The temperature dropped and we used everything we could find for insulation against the cold. The night became a true life-challenge. 

Dawn brought new hope but also thirst and hunger. We shared the last mandarin and waited. Minutes and hours were dragging past. All that was left for us was prayer. Morning became noon and soon noon turned to dusk.

Back at camp the staff and our camping neighbours were becoming seriously worried. They then had the idea to look for the tyre tracks of our Jeep starting from where we had parked at our tent to see if they could find where we had gone off the road. It worked. We were rescued on the second day of our ordeal; dehydrated and hungry. This was a life-changing experience for both of us but not one we would want repeated.

Our advice to all visitors is to stay on the official roads and make sure the office always knows in which direction you are travelling. Have enough water and emergency rations with you. You certainly do not want to experience what happened to us. Nevertheless, the Kgalagadi remains a great place and a wonderful destination.

Story: Fanus and Ruth Geldenhuys

This photo story features in the book Kgalagadi Self-Drive – Routes, Roads and Ratings

Click here to order the book.

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1 comment

I know exactly the place where you went off, having been in the Kgalagadi last year. All the small wildness camp rangers make sure they know where you are going but we were never asked what are plans were during the 3 nights we spent at Nossob even though we went to the office before and after our drives. It’s an amazing place though and we are looking forward to going back next year.
They say not only take emergency rations for yourself, but also for anyone you may encounter who is stranded, so that you can give them something without putting yourself in danger on the long drive back to camp.


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