Looking back at all the places we stayed in while exploring South Africa’s wild places in 2019!
If you thought we were a bit quiet over the Easter Weekend you’d be right, as we disappeared into the Marakele National Park in the Waterberg Mountains of the Limpopo Province, celebrating the cornerstone of our Chrisitian faith with good friends and family surrounded by awesome scenery and beautiful wildlife.
Marakele’s such a treasure chest of diverse wildlife that it is hard to decide what to show and what to leave out. Let’s start then with a few of the “creepy crawlies” that we encountered while exploring the Park.
WIth Autumn now in full swing in South Africa most of the summer visiting migrant birds have departed for warmer environs already, but bird watching at Marakele over Easter was still a special treat!
What would a National Park be without some charismatic large mammals? Marakele certainly didn’t disappoint on that score, even though the lush vegetation following the rainy season did make game-viewing a bit trickier than usual.
Altogether we spent 4 nights in Marakele on this trip, arriving late on the 18th and departing again on the morning of the 22nd of April 2019. When visiting Marakele in a big group there’s no better option than to stay at the Thutong Environmental Education Centre (as we did) in a remote corner of the Park.
We’ve covered Marakele extensively in previous posts on de Wets Wild, so why not have a read through all of them if you are interested to learn more about this magical piece of our country.
Looking back at the places we stayed at during another year of enjoying South Africa’s beautiful wild places.
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In South Africa, we celebrate the 24th of September as “Heritage Day”, and of course to us de Wets our country’s natural heritage is our biggest pride. What better way then to spend the Heritage Day long weekend than at a place as beautiful as Marakele National Park, accompanied by a group of wonderful friends?
Marakele’s varied landscapes makes for such a diverse experience – from the top of the Waterberg massif to the plains of Kwaggasvlakte below. A few fires passed through the area some days before our visit (a quite natural occurrence in African savannas, to which animal and plant life alike are perfectly adapted) and as soon as the first rains of spring fall Marakele should be transformed into a green paradise again.
There’s no doubt in our mind that Marakele’s populations of the popular “Big Five” animals must be growing at a good rate. We’ve never seen so many elephants on any of our previous visits to this Park, and this latest visit also delivered us our first encounters with both Marakele’s buffaloes and lions. It is now only the Park’s leopards that still elude us.
By now our regular readers will know that we love walking around after dark looking for nocturnal creatures, and in this respect the Thutong Environmental Education Centre where we stayed delivered a range of arachnid species!
We’ve already shared with you a series of photos of a wasp dragging a paralysed caterpillar to a nesting tunnel for its young to feed on – have a look here for the complete set.
Marakele means “a place of sanctuary”, and it is as true for human visitors as it is for the immense collection of wildlife that calls this gem of a place home!
A big group of people needs a big place to stay. Marakele’s Thutong Environmental Education Centre is a dormitory-style facility built purposely to accommodate visiting school groups, however it is available for private groups when not being used by school children. Provided is six double rooms with en-suite bathrooms for the teachers, with a maximum of 128 children that can be accommodated in 16 seperate rooms with 8 bunk beds in each. Thutong also has a decently equipped kitchen to cook for that many mouths, and a large hall and fireplace. It is securely fenced – the necessity for which we clearly understood when we found lion tracks right outside the gate one morning!
Want to learn more about Marakele National Park? Why not scroll through all our posts about this special place, here.
Just to prove that a visit to a game reserve isn’t all about the “hairies and scaries”, one of the most memorable sightings of the trip we took to Marakele National Park last weekend wasn’t of one of the “Big Five” or another large mammal, bird or reptile. Instead, we watched in awe as a wasp carried (sometimes through the air, but mostly along the ground) a large, paralysed caterpillar to a specially prepared tunnel. In there, the wasp’s young can grow to adulthood by feeding on the hapless immature insect.
If you thought we were a little quiet the last few days, you’d be right. We spent the Heritage Day long weekend enjoying our natural heritage and the company of good friends at Marakele National Park. Here’s just a little sample of some of what we experienced, with a promise of more to come later in the week.
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.
It seems only fitting that we should start the report back on our recent visit to Marakele National Park at Bontle, the beautiful little bushveld campground set on the plains below the imposing Waterberg mountains, and that we called home during our three night stay.
Bontle actually means “beautiful” in Setswana, and surveying the place from beneath a shady tree you can’t help but agree. Just outside the camp a waterhole attracts a constant stream of birds and animals, with a range of low hills to the south forming a beautiful backdrop to the scene.
Wildlife has open access to Bontle, which is unfenced. While you don’t have to be concerned about being trampled by an elephant or eaten by a lion (these species occur elsewhere in Marakele, but not in the Kwaggasvlakte-section where Bontle’s located) you may well find yourself at close quarters with a variety of birds, various species of antelope, warthogs, zebras, giraffes, monkeys, baboons, bushbabies, springhares, jackals, ostriches and even white rhinos when you pop your head out your tent!
The campground accommodates 36 tents and caravans (all the campsites have electric plugpoints) around three communal ablution blocks (one of which is accessible to campers in wheelchairs). Ten safari tents are fairly recent additions to the offering at Bontle. Four of them sleep 4 guests each and the others 2 each. One of the two-bed tents have also been built with the needs of guests in wheelchairs in mind. The little kiosk at the entrance gate and reception office, about 1.5km from Bontle, conveniently stocks firewood, ice, sweets and cold drinks. Stock up on fuel and groceries in the nearby town of Thabazimbi.
This was our first stay at Bontle (managed by South African National Parks); on previous visits to Marakele we stayed at Tlopi Tented Camp in the bigger portion of the Park where the “Big-5” roam. But now that we’ve had a taste of Bontle’s beautiful tranquility it is hard to imagine that we’ll be able to resist the urge to return for very long.
More on Marakele in upcoming editions of de Wets Wild!