The aptly named Marakele National Park is most certainly a “place of sanctuary” to much of South Africa’s indigenous wildlife, as the translation of the Tswana name suggests.
Located in the Waterberg mountain range in the Limpopo Province, there are two main reasons for the park’s extraordinary diversity of plant and animal life. Firstly, it is located in the transition zone between the country’s drier western and wetter eastern climatic zones. Secondly, it has an impressive altitudinal range between 980 and 2100m above sea level. Thus the park has a rich variety of habitats housing a wide variety of fauna and flora – many of which is endangered or unique to the area, and as a result it forms a core area of the Waterberg Biosphere Reserve.
The Waterberg cycad (Encephalartos eugene-maraisii) is one example of a rare plant species finding sanctuary here at Marakele. This plant was named in honour of naturalist, author and poet Eugene Marais who spent much of his life here in the Waterberg, his work inspired by the beautiful landscapes, fascinating wildlife and warm people of the region.
Marakele may be home to Africa’s Big Five, but pride of place certainly goes to the population of Cape Griffon vultures that have made their home among the towering cliffs – at 800 breeding pairs it is one of the biggest colonies of these endangered birds left on the planet.
The best place to see the vultures are from the Lenong viewpoint located high on a cliff edge, where they soar by in breath-taking proximity. The very narrow road leading up to the viewpoint may be one of the steepest and most hair-raising drives in South Africa, but the spectacular views from the top is a sight to behold and treasure.
The Park was originally proclaimed in 1986 (then named Kransberg after a prominent peak in the Waterberg range) and has been continuously expanded to its current size of almost 650km². Accommodation is available at Tlopi Tented Camp while the Bontle Camping Area provides decent facilities for caravanners and campers. Guided activities are on offer, and other facilities include a hide next to a waterhole that provides excellent opportunities to photograph birds and game, and two rustic picnic spots.
Visit Marakele National Park and you will soon realise that humans too can find sanctuary from the humdrum of everyday life here.