Tswalu Kalahari Reserve is South Africa’s largest private wildlife sanctuary, covering an area of over 100 000 hectares in the so-called ‘green Kalahari’ of the Northern Cape.

Tswalu means ‘a new beginning’ in Tswana. This vast and astonishing landscape is the ancestral home of the San people and a place where conservation has become a priority. The name Kalahari is derived from the Tswana language: kgala means ‘the great thirst’, and kgalagadi means ‘a waterless place’.

The Kalahari may have a menacing reputation because of its formidable climatic excesses. Rainfall is so erratic that in some years it receives none at all, while in other years it is drenched. Temperatures are extreme: night temperatures can drop way below freezing, while daytime temperatures can exceed 40 degrees centigrade. Heat and drought have focused the overriding attention of fauna on water which is often found as hidden moisture in the ground and air, as well as in plant and animal material. In an area of high evapo-transpiration and low annual rainfall, deep soils are needed for trees and shrubs to survive. When rainfall increases and evapo-transpiration decreases, shallower soils can also support the growth of trees and shrubs. Read More...

The deep red sand resembles an ocean of rippled plains, interspersed with islets of light-coloured pans. These sandveld dunes and plains play interlocking roles in the cycles of climate, the dunes sometimes converging and crossing like waves in a turbulent sea, blanketing a bed of sandstone, calcrete or conglomerate. Strong red shades, which vary from pink through orange to crimson, originate from the minutely thin coating on every sand grain of iron oxide that leached out of the earth millions of years ago by slow geological and climatic processes. The bounty of the sand is that it quickly absorbs and holds precious rainfall, saving it from evaporation and thus giving life to an abundant growth of edible grasses, flowers, shrubs and trees that in good seasons covers the countryside in a multicoloured patchwork of pale gold grasses and vibrant flowering plants. It is also so good an insulator that when its surface is roasting at 70 degrees centigrade, the temperature a few centimetres beneath the soil can be 15 degrees lower, thus making it possible for wildlife to survive in their own micro-ecosystems.


San hunter-gatherers inhabited this desert region for thousands of years in a harmonious relationship with the environment. In the nineteenth century newcomers from Africa and Europe eyed the area, but due to the harshness of the terrain and climate, they concluded that it was unsuitable for farming. Even if borehole water was procured, keeping livestock would be a very difficult pursuit. Thus modern humans have had almost no impact on the land, and the Kalahari is today regarded as one of Africa’s last wilderness areas and probably one of the largest relatively undisturbed arid savannas in Africa. Due to its location and specialized climate, the southern Kalahari receives somewhat more rain than the central Kalahari, and the southern part is thus frequently referred to as ‘green’ because it can support a large diversity of wildlife. It is owned by the Oppenheimer family and here Nicky Oppenheimer’s vision is simply to ‘restore the Kalahari to itself’. The property was purchased from Bill Schneider, however new farms were acquired over the period Tswalu has been owned by the Oppenheimer family.

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Catering for a small number of guests in two luxury lodges, the emphasis is on privacy, flexibility and exclusivity, and we tailor your experience to suit you. Design your own itinerary with game drives, bush walks and horseback safaris, animal encounters, star-gazing and sleep-outs. Indulge in spa treatments in the Indigenous Spa Garden. Dine in the bush, the Boma, or on your own private deck. Enjoy sundowners in the dunes. Families are welcome and children will revel in the special children’s programme which includes bush walks, picnics and tracking lessons. Take an early morning game drive and don’t rush back for breakfast. Request a delicious gourmet picnic – breakfast in the bush is a memory to savour. Bond with the meerkats before they go foraging for the day. Spend the morning tracking the Desert Black Rhino with arguably the best trackers in Africa. Enjoy an early evening safari tracking the elusive Aardvark and Pangolin – probably one of the best places in the world to view these rare animals and much much more. Read More...



Accommodates up to 24 guests in eight individual legae (suites) made from desert sand, rock and thatch • Two especially designed families legae comprising two bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms with an outside shower, sharing a spacious living area • Open fireplace, separate dressing and study area, telephone, safe, wireless internet, & a private sun deck with stunning views of the Kalahari • The main lodge is designed with elevated decks, a spacious lounge & dining area, a library, a fully-equipped gym & adjacent spa, an impressive wine cellar & traditional Boma • Large, outdoor pool, & smaller solar heated pool with views of a waterhole & the game it attracts.


Set amid two rolling mountain ranges, Tarkuni offers an oasis of serenity with beguiling views on every side. The villa accommodates a maximum of 10 guests with five luxurious bedrooms, each with en-suite bathrooms, a vast open-plan lounge and dining room, and an intimate library. A covered deck leads to a private sala and a swimming pool. Tarkuni comes complete with a private vehicle, dedicated guide and tracker. In addition, your personal chef creates the luxury of total flexibility in dining choice.

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The varied habitat has resulted in an extremely diverse animal population: approximately 80 mammal species and about 240 bird species. Antelope species include Gemsbok, Springbok, Sland, Red Hartebeest, Roan Antelope, Sable Antelope, Tsessebe, Hartmann’s Mountain Zebra, Southern White Rhino and the Desert Black Rhino. Tswalu is home to several larger predators, such as the Black-maned Kalahari Lion which is no different genetically to other African Lions, but famed for its size and beautiful mane. The extensive grasslands of the Kalahari wilderness make for excellent Cheetah habitat, the large and open areas being perfect terrain for these swift cats to outrun their prey. Leopards are present, and regularly encountered on night drives. Spotted Hyaenas are rare but Brown Hyaenas are fairly common. Tswalu’s small carnivores are diverse, and include the more common small predator species such as Jackal, Meerkat and African Wild Cat, as well as rarely seen species such as the Honey Badger, Cape Fox, Bat-eared Fox, Aardwolf, Caracal, Striped Polecat, Aardvark and Small-spotted Genet. At night the Kalahari is alive with the activities of some of these lesser-known animals. In the winter months, Aardvark appear in the late afternoon: Tswalu is considered to be the best location in South Africa to view this species. There is also a huge diversity of reptile, amphibian and insect life, which flourishes especially after rain.

To observe an amazing diversity and abundance of semi-desert bird species, Tswalu excels as a venue. Birds are attracted to the many watering points where they drink and bathe to escape blistering heat. Among the rarities recorded are the Rufous-eared Warbler, Grey-backed Cisticola, Layard’s Tit-babbler and a variety of Waxbills. Tswalu is also home to several large raptors, including breeding populations of Secretary Birds, Lappet-faced Vultures, and Black-chested Snake-Eagles. The huge nests of the Sociable Weaver are noticeable across the landscape, some built in exceptionally low-slung positions. These nests are utilized by Pygmy Falcon which take over and occupy nest chambers within the massive structures. Clear night skies, pristine landscapes, and desert-adapted fauna and flora all combine to make Tswalu a spiritual experience that only the unique Kalahari can create. Perhaps this spirituality is induced by the wide-open spaces and remoteness, the sense of an ancient land, the lack of human activity and the vision of brick-red, rolling sand-dunes, dotted with camel thorn-trees. These vast areas of red sand, shrubs and tall trees are home to an amazing variety of wildlife, specially adapted to survive in harsh, dry conditions. Even seemingly sterile dunes are home to many creatures and plants, this being demonstrated particularly after the first rains of the season when there is a veritable explosion of life. Small rivers and streams start flowing and for a time the area can be described as a ‘wonderland’. Rain is the driving force behind the Kalahari ecosystem, with fauna and flora responding to it dramatically when it eventually arrives. The timing and amount of seasonal rainfall in summer, the existence of relatively long rainfall and drought cycles, and the seasonal flow of streams are key elements. Here, fires are infrequent, but fires ignited by lightening do occur, especially after years of above-average rainfall and resultant good vegetation growth.

An important aspect of our conservation ethic lies in the principle of reducing our impact on the land as far as possible including the design of buildings, the management of water resources and the education of staff. Waste management is a priority for Tswalu with most refuse being recycled. Our field guides also fill an important role in creating an awareness of the Kalahari system to guests that are exposed to Tswalu Kalahari.


The Tswalu Foundation was founded by Jonathan Oppenheimer in 2008 with a single purpose, for visitors to involve themselves in Tswalu Kalahari’s ambitious research programme. Through the Foundation, benefactors may contribute to existing projects or even suggest and fund new research on a subject of their choice. The Tswalu Foundation’s research programmes create a precious understanding of the Kalahari’s unique and under-examined flora and fauna. New knowledge is fundamental for the management and conservation of this unique part of Africa, as well as the development of a greater public appreciation for the elemental beauty of the Kalahari and the life it supports.

And such knowledge is shared here at Tswalu, just as it is being uncovered. Over the years, we have learned that the success of a project is usually determined by how interactive it is; so, researchers are encouraged to share their progress with our many guests who often then contribute to further work. We actively encourage applied research on the reserve that in turn can lead to informed decisions being taken. Collection of baseline data on many different species is an ongoing and integral part of our management, enabling us to track changes over time. For more information on current research or to register a project through the Tswalu Foundation visit