Dune 91 is a remarkable address for !Xaus Safari Lodge. Undoubtedly Xaus, meaning heart, is a destination for the ultimate bucket list. In the heart of the Kalahari Desert, the luxurious lodge is a jolting 70-minute drive, along a red sand rough track, from the nearest tarmac road.
Temptingly remote from hectic 21st-century life; no mobile-reception, no Wi-fi, no TV – and dependent on a generator for electricity – this is the ultimate digital detox destination. !Xaus overlooks a three-kilometre circumference salt-pan which for centuries has drawn cheetahs, hyenas, leopards, lions and oryx and boks.
Hidden amongst sand dunes, the sand-red walls of the 12 rooms, the muted green paint of the woodwork and the eucalyptus timbers of the boardwalk – all ensure that !Xaus is merely a dot in the landscape of the world’s largest National Park. With temperatures peaking just shy of 50 centigrade the Kgalagandi Transfrontier Park, that includes swathes of both South Africa and Botswana, literally translates as “The Place Of Thirst.”
A canapé and wine welcome, accompanied by a chilled flannel, sets the tone for a personal welcome from Richard, the Acting Manager.
“This is Lion Country. Do not leave the camp. Be careful at night. Around midnight a leopard visits the swimming pool for a drink. Check your floor for scorpions. If you find one don’t touch it. You are three hours from the nearest hospital,” he warns.
Intimidating. But dinner served on a white-clothed table, on the sand-dunes, is an Out-of-Africa moment for anyone privileged to stay at this tranquil but thrilling Safari Camp. As we sipped a Kalahari Gin, gently spiced with local botanicals, a blood-red sun rapidly sank below the horizon. Around us fire-braziers burnt to keep lions at bay.
At !Xaus you book in for the full experience. After dinner there may be a night game-drive seeking out cheetah, lions, leopards and porcupines. Wildlife is scarce in one of the harshest environments on Earth. But when you find a purring trio of lions, on an sunrise game-drive, gorging on a recently caught Oryx, patience is rewarded. A jackal forlornly waits for the leftovers.
Life at !Xaus takes on the rhythms of the desert. You are up early for a walk with a guide to spot tracks and to be introduced to the desert: a Shepherd’s Tree whose roots can be dried and roasted to make coffee, the Social Weaver birds’ huge nest which leaves a room free for a Pygmy Falcon to swoop on predators seeking Weaver eggs and chicks, a Hemsbok pawing the sand in search of a Hemsbok Cucumber.
There’s a siesta feel to the heat of mid-day, as you relax by the pool. Then it is a late afternoon game drive, with a stop for a Sundowner in the dunes. Three minutes of silence as the sun sets, is a spiritual moment: whatever your beliefs.
What !Xaus may lack in mod-cons, showers are salt-water from the borehole, it compensates for in quality of service and food. Staff live on site and a warm bond unites guests and staff in this tiny outpost of humanity.
My Bushman’s Breakfast of spiced mince and potatoes topped with a poached egg was cooked to order. Our evening meal of a Poetja, a mini-cauldron of tender lamb, tastily evoked the spirit of the bushman’s fire. You may be far from civilisation but the food is civilisation at its best.
Already boasting an award for responsible tourism !Xaus plans to install solar panels in to provide silent sustainable energy throughout the day and night. Not only does the Lodge profit-share with the Khomani San people, who originally lived on the land, it also supports a tribal craft village where the tribes folk create jewellery from beads, ostrich eggs and porcupine quills.
Kgalagandi, unspoilt by light pollution, is applying for Dark Skies Reserve Status and !Xaus has plans for an observatory. Frequent clear sky evenings allow guests to view a night sky of the Southern Cross, the Milky Way, countless stars and comets shooting through the firmament.
At turndown, the maid leaves a flask of hot water for your morning beverage as well as a bedtime story. You can read “How the porcupine got its quills” or “Why the aardvark lives underground”. Such charming details, in a brutal environment, make !Xaus an unmissable experience.
Tell me more about !Xaus Lodge
!Xaus lodge is located in the South African sector of the Kgalagandi Transfrontier Park and access is via the Auob River Road. The lodge is situated 30km into the desert, reached after driving over 91 sand dunes.
Standard rate is around £290 per night, depending upon currency fluctuations, based on a shared room. There are reduced rates for South African and SADC residents.
Included in the rate: Full board Accommodation Game drives
Wilderness walks (for the Over 12s) Night sky star-gazing
A visit to the Bushman craft village
Return transfer to the Kamqua picnic site on the main road