The South African Kalahari has always been known as a harsh environment, with few places to stay and little to do. But De Beers Diamond magnate Nick Oppenheimer turned it into something much more with a little place called Tswalu.
Reaching its sunset arms across the endless space of Botswana, Namibia, and even South Africa, the Kalahari is an impressive expanse of an atypical desert. In fact, it really isn’t a true desert in the normal sense of the word. Most of it is just an arid plains region with sparse grass, coarsely spotted in thorny trees and dried up waterways that look more like old scars. To the untrained eye, the Kalahari would simply be a barren waste of time; but there are those who can see beneath the surface and Nicky Oppenheimer is one of them.
Yes, the Oppenheimers, as in De Beers. Diamond’s royal family first purchased the Tswalu Game Reserve in 1999 with the simple goals of “restoring the Kalahari to itself,” and to make Tswalu one of the premier wildlife destinations in Africa. Prior to the Oppenheimers, the land surrounding the Tswalu was poorly managed with little care for the environment, making it almost indistinguishable as authentically African. However, thanks to the restoration of land, the destruction of dams, the removal of houses and fences, and the reintroduction of indigenous game including the rare desert black rhino, sable and roan antelope, lion and cheetah, it now resembles the heart of a real Africa that nature itself intended.
As with anything else you could expect from the Oppenheimers, Tswalu is nothing shy of palatial, with two options for accommodation in the Kalahari. The Motse is comfortably set at the foot of the Korannaberg Mountains, consisting of eight spacious legae (a Tswana word for small house/suite), all of which have been designed to blend inconspicuously into the mountain range. The other choice, Tarkuni, is the De Beers chairman’s private house, a luxurious five-bedroom home with en suite bathrooms, outdoor heated showers, open lounge and dining room, library, covered patio and swimming pool. There are plenty of horses and game vehicles for exploration along the sandy plains, rocky paths and mountain cliffs to see incredible game and ancient cave etchings left behind by natives. Tswalu is proof that there is unlikely beauty and luxury to be found amid the harsh Kalahari.