At !Xaus Lodge the Milky Way arcs over you like a giant swathe of smoke. An old African myth tells the story of a girl dancing around a fire. She throws glowing embers high into the sky to light hunters’ paths home and this, this created the Milky Way.
It gets truly dark here. It’s practically 100% pollution free and the !Ae!Hai Kalahari Heritage Park that surrounds !Xaus Lodge has one of the world’s darkest skies. On a moonless night it’s so bright you can use the Milky Way to walk unaided in the desert. Like the hunters of old. And, by the way, the lodge has two large telescopes.
So where exactly are you? You’re in the desert amongst grass covered sand dunes. To even reach this place you have to drive over 91 of them. Wow, somebody counted! Brilliant. Eighty eight, bump, eighty nine bump, ninety.
!Xaus Lodge is in the South African sector of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and access is via the Auob River road that connects Tweerivieren with Mata Mata. The park is over 3.5 million hectares, and is jointly managed by the South African and Botswanan wildlife authorities. Oh and in case you’re wondering, it’s pronounced ‘kaus’.
One of the best things about being out here is there is no cell phone coverage, no Wi-Fi, no TV signals. Telecommunications signals simply don’t reach the Lodge. It’ll be a tech detox. Sure, you may get withdrawal symptoms at first but just think about the sudden sense of freedom, hours of silence, hours of chat, hours of chilling. And zero stress. You’re safe though - the lodge and vehicles have 2-way radio links with SANParks facilities and there is a satellite phone and email available in case of emergencies.
There are 12 en-suite chalets, each with their own deck, overlooking the vast salt pan and waterhole. Winter sheets and gas heaters for cold nights, ceiling fans for hot ones. There’s one family unit which sleeps 4 people.
The main lodge has a lounge, fireplace and library. The dining area overlooks the pan and furniture is hand-made locally. Wood is a precious commodity in the Kalahari, so the fire in the boma is made in the traditional way with three or four crossed sticks around which everyone huddles.
You’re in the desert so water is scarce. You’ll find purified drinking water in a flask in your bathroom. Electricity is scare too. The lodge has a generator but it’s only on between 7 and 10 in the morning and 5 and 10 at night. They make an effort here and have won a Silver award at the World Responsible Tourism Awards for their work with the local community.
Swimming pool; boma; lounge and fireplace; art and craft shop; large observation deck; free parking;
There’s a lot on offer. Game drives, guided dune walks, bird watching, stargazing and the Bushman craft village.
A free (yes, free!) six to seven hour drive through the dunes is available to guests staying four nights or longer. You’ll travel along the Auob River and they’ll throw in a packed breakfast and picnic lunch too, which is rather smashing. If you’re only staying two or three nights you can still go but you’ll have to pay an additional charge.
Guided dune walks are rather wonderful too. Leave at day-break with the guides and Bushman trackers. You’ll be shown how to identify animal spoor, birds, trees and plants, and discuss their medicinal uses. You can also go on a shorter guided walk to see the ‘heart’ of the pan. But no children under 12.
Being in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, bird watching is a good option. There are thought to be 264 species of birds here, and the majority are tourists. Many can’t survive all year round in the Kalahari and fly to areas where there are more favourable conditions.
If you want to see some of the cultural traditions then you can walk to a recreated village and see how Bushman crafters work.
And, of course, there’s the night sky... And during the new moon the sky is at its darkest. Hundreds of stars and constellations leap out of the blackness. And since !Xaus Lodge lies in a remote desert, there’s no pollution.
The best way to appreciate the sky here is in the company of locals. To many Bushmen, the sky is a spiritual realm, and stars are human and animal spirits - either departed from this world or yet to arrive. So, just enjoy the dark silence.