Makgadikgadi, the name of which implies a vast open lifeless land, is not without its folklore.
There are stories of people setting out from Gweta to explore the land that lay between them and the Boteti River to seek a favourable environment in which to settle. They entered these great thirst lands at the driest time of year, drawn by what they perceived as large lakes of sparkling water on the horizon. Suffering badly from thirst, the lakes kept drawing them hurriedly on in their attempts to reach the life-giving water that always remained just ahead of them. Gradually, one by one, they fell and died.
But Makgadikgadi is not always dry. The pans, which are situated in half the south, east and northeastern areas of the park, fill with water during the rains from mid-November and mostly retain their water into April or May. The "thirst lands" are then transformed into great sheets of water, which attract a spectacular array of waterbirds and trigger dramatic migrations of wildebeest and zebra. It is unfortunate that this huge water spectacle becomes practically inaccessible by road at this time, but anyone fortunate enough to fly over the area during the wet season sees a water wonderland of incredible scenic beauty.
Makgadikgadi was initially state land. People have never been resident in its waterless interior, but in times of drought, surrounding villagers were permitted to graze their livestock within the area, withdrawing them to their homes when conditions improved. The area was declared a game reserve in 1970 and in December 1992, the boundaries were extended and National Park status was attained. The present park covers some 4,900 square kilometres.
Four wheel-drive is recommended throughout this area, as even in the dry season the pan surface can be treacherous with the unseen water table lurking often just inches under the hard-baked surface. Once on the pans the exhilaration of speeding across the flat surface in unforgettable.
While there are no fixed lodges or bush camps in the park, there are several designated campsites as for example the Kubu Island Campsite in the east. This limits access to all but the fully equipped self-drive visitor, or those on tailor-made safaris.