As I sit and watch the kingfishers hunting at the edge of the Marico river, it’s hard to remind myself that four short hours ago I was in the heart of the urban jungle, full of stress after a long week at work.
It’s amazing what a few hours of driving can do, transporting me in this instance to the beautiful Madikwe Game Reserve in North West Province.
Bordered by Botswana in the north, the Dwarsberg Mountains in the south and the Marico in the east, Madikwe, at more than 70,000 ha, is one of the largest reserves in South Africa and home to the Big Five and more than 12,000 animals, including 66 mammal species.
The reserve has a diversity of habitats from acacia savannah to riverine woodland, and is distinctly different to its other game reserve cousins in that it was not always a wild area.
Indeed, the reserve was proclaimed in the early 1990s purely because turning the former farmland into a game reserve was the most appropriate and sustainable way of using the land.
Since its proclamation, and the lands return to its wild state, the running of the reserve has been along the lines of a joint venture between state, private sector and local communities. It’s success has made it a role model for other similar ventures elsewhere in South Africa.
There are regular viewings of predators such as lion, leopard, cheetah and wild dog, and the lack of malaria has made it a popular option for holidaymakers.
Unlike its near neighbour – the Pilanesberg Game Reserve – an hour’s drive away, Madikwe is not a self-drive game viewing destination. In order to gain access to the park you have to be booked into one of the various camps or lodges inside the park, all of which provide fully guided game drives as part of their accommodation packages.
All budgets are catered for in the park when it comes to accommodation, from rustic catered bush camps to self-catering lodges, luxury tents and exclusive upmarket safari destinations.
At the lower end of the scale is Mosetlha Bush Camp. Nine double cabins with partially open sides to maximize the experience of wild Africa can accommodate a maximum of 16 people.
The amenities are simple, with duvets, pillows and blankets provided but guests requested to bring their own towels. There are communal ablution facilities and the tariffs include all meals, tea and coffee, snacks and two game drives and walks each day.
Madikwe Mooifontein, set in the western section of the reserve, offers a similarly cost-effective self catering option for groups of up to 10 people, and is booked exclusively as a complete camp.
It’s a great idea for groups of family and friends. The main lodge has its own lapa and private swimming pool overlooking a waterhole where game regularly comes down to drink. And game is what it’s all about, especially when it comes to sightings like African wild dog, which den regularly in this region of the park.
Further up the scale are Thakadu River Camp and Madikwe River Lodge.
Thakadu is a wholly-owned community-based tented safari camp run by the Batlokwa Boo Kgosi Traditional Community of Molatedi Village. The community originated from a place inside the current reserve known as Tshwene-Tshwene.
The camp is located between the Marico and one of its small tributaries where 12 large tented suites can accommodate a total of 24 people. Each tent has a sliding door that opens onto a private deck overlooking the river.
Madikwe River Lodge is also located on the Marico and has 16 secluded split-level thatched chalets set in the riverine forest along its banks. It has a special children’s programme which makes it a great destination for families.
Children have their own safari guides and are invited to complete a “mini-ranger’s” course, complete with booklets and study guides.
This gives children under 12 the chance to “escape” mom and dad for a while and go off on their own guided bush walks and game drives, specifically tailored for what they are interested in and learning really cool stuff while parents join the other adults on their own game activity.
It’s a great concept and one which I hope other lodges will eventually pick up on. It is possible to enjoy a safari-style holiday and keep all members of the family happy and satisfied! And the amazing lion activity around the camp while I was there was also a bonus!
Certainly, exploring Madikwe is enough to satisfy me. Seeing wild dogs denning, with very small cubs, was a highlight, as was the magnificent coalition of three male cheetah spotted on the hunt early one morning.
There are still some signs of Madikwe’s farming past – straight roads and plains areas which have still to recover – but it is a magnificent piece of country, with low, ranging hills and endless vistas.
There are plans afoot to join Madikwe with the Pilanesberg via a corridor, which will further enhance this beautiful area, allowing for the movement of game species between the two reserves.
In the meantime, Madikwe is firmly up there with the best bush destinations in South Africa. And well worth a visit.