Witsand Kalahari Nature Reserve – Sleeping with bats

Witsand Kalahari Nature Reserve Review

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).

Witsand Kalahari

Sand dunes

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.

Witsand Kalahari

Information at the viewpoint

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.

Witsand Kalahari

Red sand in front, dunes at the back

Firstly, making the booking at Witsand Kalahari 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.

Witsand Kalahari Nature Reserve

Road to Witsand on a sunny day

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.

Witsand Kalahari accommodation

"Deconstructed" chalet

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.

Witsand accommodation

Living room

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!

Witsand accommodation

Main bedroom

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.

Witsand accommodation

Sleeping on the living room floor while a monkey looks in

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.

Witsand Kalahari

Visitor at our chalet

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.

Witsand Kalahari

Swimming pool

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.

Witsand Kalahari

View from the viewpoint

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.

Witsand Kalahari

Huge weaverbird nests

Good to know

  • The reserve is managed by the Northern Cape Economic Development, Trade and Investment  Promotion Agency (NCEDA), which is part of the South African government.
  • It is located between Kuruman and Upington.(Around 2 hours 15 minutes away from each town.)
  • There is no fuel or restaurant at the reserve. However, there is a convenience store.
  • We booked a single unit cottage but we were told that they were under renovation while we were there.
  • There’s a camping area too and the reviews I’ve seen from the campers were positive.
  • There is MTN reception in the chalets. Vodacom and Cell C only work at the viewpoint.
  • The credit card machines are often offline, so if you haven’t paid before arrival, then take cash.
  • Look out for the huge weaver bird nests near the bird hide. There’s a viewpoint there where you can get a great view of the camp too.

Would you sleep in a room knowing that there were bats there? Let me know in the comments below.

Have you been to Witsand Kalahari Nature Reserve ? What was your experience like?

Witsand Kalahari Nature Reserve

8 comments on “Witsand Kalahari Nature Reserve – Sleeping with bats”

  1. Oh my word I would be so freaked out!
    Funnily enough my son prefers to sleep with the lights on and couldn't sleep so well last night because his little night light wasn't working...

    1. Your son should be fine then 🙂 For me, just knowing that the bats were somewhere in the room was enough to freak me out.

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