A “Place of Sanctuary”; that Marakele National Park certainly is. As its Tswana name suggests, this Park of around 650km² in size offers protection not only to some of the most awe-inspiring scenery one could hope to find, but also to an impressive variety of fauna and flora. Humans too can find a safe and peaceful haven here in the malaria-free Waterberg range, as we were reminded again on our recent visit.
A public road splits Marakele into two sections. Kwaggasvlakte in the south-western corner is much smaller than the main portion of the Park lying to the east. Kwaggasvlakte is where the Park’s entrance gate and Bontle Camp is located, and is characterised by flat, sandy plains on which mixed bushveld is the main vegetation type.
Overlooking a waterhole in the northern corner of the Kwaggasvlakte section, Bollonoto Hide offers a great place from which to enjoy the constant stream of game and birdlife arriving to quench their thirst.
A subway connects Kwaggasvlakte to the bigger, eastern portion of the Park. It is in this more mountainous section of the Park where elephants, buffaloes and lions also occur, just some of the 91 species of mammals that the Park hosts. Tlopi Tented Camp is available to guests who’d like to overnight in this section of the Park, which is dominated by a wholly different type of vegetation, described as “Waterberg Moist Bushveld”. A good network of roads allows visitors to explore widely – some of Marakele’s roads are only accessible to 4×4 vehicles, but most of the Park’s 80km road network can easily and comfortably be traversed in a sedan.
A very narrow tarred pass leads to Marakele’s most impressive attraction, the Lenong View Point on top of the Waterberg massif. Lenong lies at an altitude of 2050m, over a kilometer higher than Bontle on the Kwaggasvlakte below – a fact you become well aware of when your ears pop on the very steep and winding ascent. From the viewpoint you normally have fantastic views over the plains below and the mountains around, and perhaps get a close-up glimpse at Marakele’s prized colony of Cape Vultures soaring on the thermals. Unfortunately the weather didn’t play along when we went up to Lenong on our latest visit, the top of the mountain being cloaked in a thick and teeth-chatteringly cold fog. However, dipping below the clouds on our way down we did get glimpses of the wonderful views to be had from up there.
Our latest visit to Marakele was just 3 nights long, and honestly we found that too short to fully savour all the Park had to offer. The broken terrain does make game-viewing a little more challenging than in many other parks and reserves, especially if you are mostly after the “Big 5” (which we luckily aren’t, we just enjoy being “out there” and enjoy anything we find along the way), but as far as spectacular scenery and serenity is concerned Marakele has few equals.
Marakele National Park is managed by South African National Parks, and the access gate is located just 12km outside the town of Thabazimbi, which offers most of the modern conveniences. Thabazimbi is easily accessed from Gauteng along the N1 and R516 via Bela-Bela or via the R511 through Brits.