Brilliant white sand dunes surrounded by red Kalahari sands, against the backdrop of the Langeberg Mountains... the Witsand Kalahari Nature Reserve is one of the wonders of the Northern Cape. Not to be confused with Witsand Nature Reserve in the Western Cape, the reserve spans around 3500 hectares, and is known for its “roaring” sands (Brulsand in Afrikaans).
During hot, dry conditions, the dunes emit a strange roaring sound when disturbed by man, beast or wind, which can be heard up to 400 metres away. Another natural phenomenon that occurs here is the creation of fulgurites — tubes or crusts of glass formed by sand – during thunderstorms.
Activities in the reserve include sandboarding, hiking, cycling, star-gazing, game viewing and bird-watching. The landscape is surreal and the reserve is a national treasure. It’s a pity that it’s not taken better care of though.
Firstly, making the booking was a mission. Because I deal with so many establishments, I prefer corresponding on email in order to keep accurate records. The reserve was slow to respond on email and some of my queries were never responded to.
The road leading to the reserve was really bad. I had been told that it was suitable for a sedan, and although it was possible to drive it with a sedan, the damage to the vehicle could be considerable. The road hadn’t been graded recently. It was also wet and muddy due to the rain, which made it even more difficult to drive on. Our car almost got stuck several times and my heart nearly stopped just as many times. It was the worst 75 km we had ever driven. Fellow guests who came in from the alternative road with a caravan and a 4x4 said that they almost got stuck as well.
Once we had finally checked in, we were surprised to see the accommodation. The thatch-and-stone chalets are set in thick bush under large camel-thorn trees. But for want of a better word, they are deconstructed.
They consist of 3 bedrooms, an open-plan living, dining and kitchen area, a bathroom and a toilet. However, instead of all these being housed in one unit, they were individual units surrounding a courtyard with each one being separately lockable. I’d never seen that before. Although I prefer my toilets en suite, this was not a train smash, and we decided to relax and enjoy ourselves.
At night, after dinner, we got ready for bed and settled down in our rooms – my son in his room and my husband and I in ours. It had been a long day and we were looking forward to a good night’s rest. We tried to ignore the warning signs -- like the black grain-like substances on the bed but once we switched off the lights, they were impossible to ignore any longer. High-pitched squeaks pierced the air accompanied by swooshing, flying sounds. Bats!
Now, I don’t know about you, but bats freak me out! There were 3 small, dimly-lit bedrooms and we moved from room to room, but the bats emerged in each room in turn, as they were inter-connected. In desperation, we moved the mattresses to the living room where we had spent the rest of the afternoon, thinking that it was safe. My son took the couch.
But yet again, when we dimmed the lights, the shadows began flying across the wall accompanied by the awful sounds. I went to the light switch to turn it back on and a bat flew right past my head.
At our wits’ end (no pun intended), we called the manager, who was fast asleep, and told him about our predicament. His response was that this was a general problem at Witsand, including the staff quarters, and that they had tried many remedies to get rid of the bats but were unsuccessful. All the chalets had them so sleeping with the lights on was our only solution. That’s how he slept too. This wasn’t comforting at all. I was terrified that if there was a power failure, or loadshedding, we’d be doomed, and resigned myself to a sleepless night. My son wanted to sleep in the car, but eventually we all succumbed to fitful sleep.
We were keen on leaving the reserve the next morning even though we had paid for another night there – in fact, the manager said that he had been expecting us to do so – but the thought of navigating the muddy, 75 km gravel road so soon again while it was raining was too daunting so we spent another night on the living room floor with the lights on. The manager told us that there was a staff member who had worked there for 30 years and she had slept with the lights on for all those years because of the bats.
During the day, we climbed the dunes and saw wildlife. We attempted to hike the botanical meander but the path was overgrown with grass and weeds so we couldn’t do it. The road to the bird hide was damaged with the rains so we had to park our car and walk for a while to get there. And we didn’t get to hear the sands roar, because they were too wet. Nevertheless, the reserve is peaceful and picturesque, and we would have still enjoyed our visit there if it weren’t for the bats.
Sleeping with bats was an unpleasant experience but it does make for a good story. We’ve been regaling shocked friends and family with accounts of our stay at Witsand Kalahari since then.
Good to know
Would you sleep in a room knowing that there were bats there? Let me know in the comments below.