PLANNING A MADIKWE SAFARI TOUR
Madikwe Game Reserve is located against the Botswana border in a malaria-free region and only a three-hour drive from Johannesburg and Pretoria. It has grown in stature to become one of South Africa’s premier safari destinations and is home to the Big 5 (elephant, rhino, buffalo, leopard and lion). It spans an area of some 75 000 hectares with twenty luxury lodges nestled in the lush bushveld.
Madikwe Game Reserve has been developed as an ultra-luxury safari destination and most of the lodges and eco-camps are priced above the ordinary safari travellers budget. This means Madikwe Game Reserve is a lot quieter and more exclusive than the more popular reserves like the Kruger National Park and the Pilanesberg Game Reserve.
Madikwe Game Reserve is located on the basin of the Marico River and is known for its spectacular scenery. Riverine nirvana blends with open savanna grasslands and wooded thickets. The river vegetation is lush and game viewing along the banks is excellent. Most guest lodges at Madikwe Game Reserve are positioned for guests to enjoy breath-taking views of the valley and the Dwarsberg Mountains.
The reserve is managed in a three-way partnership where the state protects the land and wildlife; private enterprises run the exclusive lodges and the local community benefit from job creation and money raised through levies.
Places to stay at Madikwe range from privately-owned lodges to high-end luxury resorts. It’s home to the Big 5 and an impressive array of predators, antelope and birds. A Madikwe safari is restricted to guests staying at one of the luxury lodges and day visitors are not allowed.
HOW MADIKWE GOT ITS NAME
Madikwe was inhabited almost a million years ago and is an area rich in cultural history. Historical sites with fascinating archaeological finds are found throughout the area. Some have been dated back to the early Stone Age and confirm early man lived and hunted in the Madikwe basin.
Other archaeological finds in Madikwe have been dated to the Iron Age and paint a picture of a larger, more stable civilisation that subsisted on grain and livestock farming, making pottery and smelting metal.
The first Sotho-Twana people to inhabit the Madikwe basin were the Hurutshe who settled on the Marico River. Their main settlement became one of South Africa’s largest towns, although most of its original inhabitants moved further south to the Magaliesberg.
Madikwe has suffered from long periods of tribal conflict and unrest, fuelled by territory wars between the indigenous people and the European settlers. The Difaqane was a period of serious unrest which forced the Sotho-Tswana people to relocated their homes to the top of mountains where they were more protected. The root of the conflict stemmed from the introduction of a maize variety that was easier to cultivate than traditional African maize which led to fights over land that was needed for farming.
In 1810, the region experienced one of the worst droughts in its history. It had a devastating impact on grain farming which led to wide-spread famine that resulted in pillaging and the annihilation of neighbouring clans. Together with the Difaqane period, the Sotho-Tswana culture was virtually illuminated and left the Marico River Valley in ruins.
The name Marico comes from the Tswana word “malico” which means “drenched in blood” and refers to the worst battle that destroyed a large settlement in 1823.
GEOLOGY OF THE AREA
Madikwe Game Reserve lies in a unique location; a transition zone on the edges of the Kalahari Desert where several rare species occur naturally in the indigenous bush. The climate is generally mild to hot with a lush sub-tropical environment.
The game reserve is relatively close to the more famous Pilanesberg Game Reserve and the government has given the go-ahead to develop a protected area that will create a wildlife corridor between the two major national parks.
The game reserve takes its name from the Madikwe or Marico River. It is graded as a river least impacted by environmental litter and is one of the few remaining such rivers in the country. The water is clear and safe to drink and most farms and households along the course source water directly from the river. The waters of the Marico River flow through a few large dams and, at the confluence of the Crocodile River, becomes the mighty Limpopo River.
The catchment area in region is spectacular, made up of wild bushveld area with koppies (small hills), kranse, ancient indigenous trees and lush vegetation. Property owners in the area are dedicated to its preservation and wildlife conservation initiatives, safeguarding its status as a premier safari destination in South Africa.
Madikwe Game Reserve is the only place in Africa where two unique antelope can be found in the same habitat; Springbok usually found in the dry Karoo region and Kalahari Gemsbok from the northern desert region.
THE DEVELOPMENT OF MADIKWE GAME RESERVE
Madikwe Game Reserve is located 90 kilometres north of the town of Zeerust on what used to be farm lands. The soil was poor and farming was not successful in the area and after extensive research by the government was declared a national park. The wildlife relocated project started in 1992 under the codename Operation Phoenix and involved relocated entire breeding herds of elephant, Cape buffalo, black and white rhino and species of antelope.
Operation Phoenix was also responsible for the re-introduction of rarer predatory species such as the Transvaal lion, cheetahs, spotted hyenas and Cape wild dogs. When the re-location project was complete, the game count at Madikwe Game Reserve stood at over 10 000 large mammals.
A small group of six wild dogs was introduced into the reserve in the mid-1990s. They were hit by an outbreak of rabies and nearly wiped out in territorial clashes with lions and hyena but the wild dog population is thriving. There are three hunting packs roaming the game reserve to the delight of tourists on a Madikwe safari.
The game reserve has been expanded in recent years by bringing down fences between neighbouring private farms. There are 30 lodges on Madikwe Game Reserve and additional 6 lodges on the neighbouring private farms. Madikwe has also established Community Lodges which local villages own and run for a profit. Madikwe Game Reserve is now the fifth largest game reserve in South Africa but less well-known as its premier safari status precludes it from being accessible to everyone.
WILD DOG AT MADIKWE GAME RESERVE
Wild dogs are special feature of Madikwe Game Reserve and their numbers have grown through focused conservation efforts. These rare and fascinating predators make up the “Big 7” at Madikwe along with a cheetah.
A century ago, packs of African wild dogs more than 100 members strong roamed free the Serengeti Plains. Over time, African wild dog populations in central and northeast Africa were wiped out, and across Africa their numbers continued to decline. Wild dogs are now an endangered species with fewer than 5 000 wild dogs living behind fences in African reserves.
A founding group of six African wild dogs was introduced to Madikwe Game Reserve in 1994. The small group suffered lion attacks and a rabies outbreak but the good news is the hardy canines survived and established a strong resident clan
Wild dogs are also known as Cape hunting dogs or painted dogs because of their black, white and tan coats. They are formidable hunters and thrive through co-operative hunting and food sharing. They travel long distances while on the hunt which has been a problem in the past where they have crossed over onto livestock farming land. They were almost shot to extinction but valiant attempts to preserve the species have seen the packs of wild dog in South Africa slowly but surely growing.
The quirky canines are highly sociable animals and live in packs ranging from 5 to 15 members. A strict hierarchy exists within the packs which are led by an alpha male or female. The young pups and their “babysitters” are fed regurgitated meat from the hunting dogs and the old and sick are taken care of by the females in the pack. Wild dogs have a kill success rate of 80% compared to lions who manage about 30%.
The close-knit social structure of wild dogs has many advantages but the major issue is an entire clan can be wiped out if there is an outbreak of rabies or distemper. Wild dogs have been cruelly persecuted by man but are now under their protection but disease and loss of habitat are still a threat. Wild dogs need a large area for hunting and are often restricted by the game range fences.
BEST TIME TO VISIT MADIKWE GAME RESERVE
Madikwe Game Reserve is located in a semi-arid region on the edge of the Kalahari Desert. The weather is generally mild to hot all year round, getting slightly cooler in the winter months. Game viewing at Madikwe Game Reserve is good all-year round and a visit to Madikwe depends on what climate you prefer.
Rainy season (October to April)
It’s a summer rainfall region and dramatic thunderstorms in the late afternoons are spectacular. The vegetation is thicker in the summer months which is not ideal for game viewing but the days are gorgeous and hot. The evenings are warm which is fantastic for late night game viewing.
Dry season (May to September)
The winters are dry and mild, although quite chilly at night. This is the best time for game viewing as the vegetation is sparser which is better for game viewing and more animals congregate at the dams and water holes.
ECO-TOURISM IN MADIKWE GAME RESERVE
Many of the places to stay in Madikwe Game Reserve adhere to the main principles of eco-tourism where the aim is to operate having a minimal impact on the natural environment and working with local communities on sustainable conservation initiatives that are mutually beneficial.
The eco-tourism principles include:
- Work with the local community to conserve and sustain its natural flora and fauna
- Offer educational programmes to employees and tourists on conservation initiatives
- Reduce water consumption
- Dispose of solid waste and sewage in a responsible way
- Conserving energy usage and using renewable energy resources
- Use eco-friendly materials for building
- Limit impact on the natural environment during the construction of the lodges
- Buildings should blend in with the natural environment and the design should reflect the local traditional culture
- Operations should support sustainable local community development
PLACES TO STAY IN MADIKWE GAME RESERVE
Madikwe safari tours are restricted to guests staying at the luxury guest lodges and private camps. No day visitors are allowed in the reserve which means there are only a few safari tour operators operating in the area and a lot less traffic than the bigger national parks in South Africa.
Accommodation at Madikwe Game Reserve varies from self-catering private guest lodges, hi-end luxury lodges and exclusive eco-bush camps.
Mosetlha Bush Camp Eco Lodge
Eco-lodge accommodation at Madikwe Game Reserve for 16 people
The family-owned and run eco-lodge is a rustic and intimate experience and caters for a maximum of 16 safari guests. The bush camp is unfenced and lies nestled in a lush valley in the heart of Madikwe Game Reserve.
There are nine rustic wooden cabins at Mosetlha Bush Camp positioned around a lapa and camp fire area. The facilities are simple but comfortable and serviced by attentive staff.
Mosetlha offers an authentic bush experience so there is no electricity or running water. The water for showers is heated using a traditional African boiler but you are guaranteed a hot shower any time of the day. The bathrooms are not en-suite but still private; the toilet and shower facilities are tucked discreetly between the camps.
Meals are authentic bushveld cuisine prepared by a local chef on an open fire. And there’s always hot beverages, rusks, fruit and snacks for hungry guests after the daily walks and drives.
Daily activities at Mosetlha Bush Camp include game drives in an open safari vehicle and bush walks for the more adventurous.
Motswiri Private Safari Lodge
Self-catering accommodation at Madikwe Game Reserve for 10 guests
The luxurious self-catering safari lodge caters for a maximum of 10 guests in an intimate setting with well-appointed villas nestled under a canopy of leadwood trees. The camp can be booked by individuals or taken over by a group.
The main lodge overlooks a busy waterhole with common sightings of the Big 5 visiting the area. There are 5 luxury bush villas; each luxuriously decorated with its own gas fireplace to warm up chilly nights and air-conditioning for hot summer days.
The luxury villa blends into the bush with wrap-around wooden decks and a divine outdoor rock shower. Each has its own private plunge pool and boma. Guests can dine under the stars on warm evenings and cosy up to a roaring fire on chilly winter nights.
Motswiri Private Safari Lodge has a spacious, well-equipped kitchen for a self-catering safari holiday which makes it more affordable for families and big groups. A housekeeper comes in each day to make beds and tidy up and someone makes sure the fire is lit while guests are out on a game drive. Morning and evening game drives with a professional safari ranger are part of the package.
Buffalo Ridge Safari Lodge
Luxury accommodation at Madikwe Game Reserve for 16 guests
The luxury lodge is positioned on Tweedepoort Ridge and guests enjoy spectacular views of the western corner of Madikwe Game Reserve. Buffalo Ridge Safari Lodge was developed as a community-based initiative and is wholly-owned by the Balete Ba Lekgophung Community. The venture means the community benefit from joint conservation initiatives and generate much-needed income to support their families.
There are 8 luxury thatched chalets at Buffalo Ridge Safari Lodge, beautifully constructed with earthy tones and natural finishes and designed to blend into the surrounding bushveld. Guests can relax on the upper and lower deck or at the swimming pool.
Guests staying at Buffalo Ridge Safari Lodge are kept busy with earning morning and evening game drives, and birding safaris. Dinner is served under the stars at the boma in the company of a professional safari guide.
Children of all ages are welcome and the lodge offers babysitting services at an extra charge. Children under 6 years aren’t allowed on game drives but a morning’s game drive for young kids can be arranged.
Luxury accommodation at Madikwe Game Reserve for couples and family groups
Jaci’s offers two unique safari experiences, catering for families and couples. Both offer guests the ultimate luxury bushveld experience with tailor-made guided wildlife safaris.
Jaci’s Safari Lodge is nestled in the tranquil bushveld with a selection of luxury tented suites and two exclusive family suites. Nare Suite sleeps up to 6 guests and the Safari Suite sleeps up to 8 guests. Both have a private plunge pool and a viewing deck that looks onto the waterhole.
Jaci’s Lodge has 8 suites custom-built on wooden stilts and connected by raised walkways. The views are spectacular and a magnificent retreat.
Guests are taken on an early morning and later afternoon game drive every day. A popular attraction at Jaci’s is the Terrapin Hide which has been built in the middle of a waterhole. You reach the hide via a submerged tunnel and has viewing windows at the water’s level which gives photographers a unique angle to photograph the best of the waterhole visitors.
The Terrapin Hide is located in the middle of a waterhole, with easy access from Jaci’s Tree Lodge and within walking distance of Jaci’s Safari Lodge. The hide, which is accessed via a submerged tunnel and features a water-level viewing window, has established Jaci’s Lodges as a premium photographic safari destination.
Jaci’s specialises in photographic safari tours catering for novice and advanced photographers. The lodge also caters for conservation safaris and walking safaris with professional and knowledgeable safari guides.
Dinner is cooked on open-pit fires and served at the boma under the stars. A visit to Jaci’s Lodges is a unique blend of luxury and a real African bushveld experience.
Impodimo Game Lodge
5-star accommodation for a select number of guests
The 5-star luxury game lodge is located in a spectacular setting against a rocky ridge at the source of natural spring. Guests enjoy panoramic views of the lush bushveld valley below. Accommodation at Impodimo Game Lodge is intimate and private, catering for only a select number of guests.
Impodimo Game Lodge was the first lodge in Madikwe Game Park to use qualified Shangaan trackers on open-vehicle safari tours. Their knowledge of the bush and tracking skills ensure guests have excellent game sightings.
Guests are taken on early morning and evening game drives and can spend the time in between relaxing at a stunning pool, birdwatching and walking in the bush with an experienced guide or enjoying a luxurious spa treatment.
Tau Game Lodge
Luxury accommodation at Madikwe Game Reserve for 60 guests
The 5-star luxury lodge overlooks a spectacular waterhole and guests can see as much game from the comfort of their villa as they can see on a game drive. There are 30 African-inspired standard and deluxe chalets; each with an en-suite bathroom, air-conditioning, an open-air shower and a private deck. Children of all ages are allowed at Tau Game Lodge and there are a selection of family suites available.
A safari holiday at Tau Game Lodge revolves around delicious meals with scrumptious buffet breakfasts, lazy lunches on the deck and dinner served under the stars at a cosy boma.
There is an early morning and evening game drive each day on an open safari vehicle, accompanied by professional safari guide who’ll do his best to find the Big 5 on Madikwe. Children under 6 years aren’t allowed on open safari vehicles but they can join the Cubz Club and enjoy their own private game drive with a guide. While the kids are busy, you can enjoy a decadent pamper day at the wellness spa.
Thakadu River Lodge
Luxury tented safari camp at Madikwe Game Reserve for 24 guests
The tented tree-top safari camp is nestled under the canopy of a riverine forest on the banks of the Marico River in the eastern corner of Madikwe. Each unit blends into its natural surrounds and guests wake up to the early morning nattering of the bushveld birds. The views are spectacular.
Thakadu River Camp is a joint venture between the Molathedi community, African Hotels and Adventures and North-West Parks. The unique community-orientated concept is an excellent example of ecotourism, offering guests an unrivalled bushveld experience with substantial benefits for the local people and the conservation of Madikwe’s natural resources.
There are 12 luxury tented chalets, each with an en-suite bathroom, air-conditioning and a private deck that overlooks the Marico River. The tents are large and spacious and beautifully decorated in an Afro-Asian style. Thadaku River Lodge caters for families with four large suites.
Activities include morning and evening game drives in an open safari vehicle and stunning walking trails with a professional safari guide. Birding, stargazing and pamper sessions at the wellness spa are just some of the things to do at Thadaku River Lodge. Dinner is served under the stars at the boma.
The Bush House
Private accommodation at Madikwe Game Reserve for up to 8 guests
The Bush House is an old farmhouse that has been beautifully renovated and offers guests a 4-star intimate safari experience. The property is located in the western corner of Madikwe Game Reserve.
There are 6 rooms, each with an en-suite bathroom and air-conditioning. Four of the suites have a private wrap-around veranda that overlooks the Madikwe valley. The main lodge is a short walk away but the rooms have their own coffee and tea facilities if guests want to enjoy a lazy afternoon in their room.
Guests are taken on early morning and evening game drives and can join a professional safari guide for a private bush walk. A fun way to spend the afternoon is playing a game of cricket or soccer on the massive lawn.
Madikwe River Lodge
Luxury accommodation at Madikwe Game Reserve for 32 guests
The elegant river lodge is situated on the banks of the Groot Marico River in the heart of Madikwe Game Reserve. Guests are accommodated at Madikwe River Lodge in 16 split-level thatched chalets that blend naturally into a secluded piece of bushveld. Each luxury suite has an en-suite bathroom, air-conditioning, a separate lounge area and an outside shower.
Madikwe River Lodge caters for families and children of all ages are welcome. There are 6 family suites and a babysitter can be requested.
Guests are taken on early morning and evening game drives in an open safari vehicle with a professional safari guide. The time in between can be spent relaxing at the lodge or you can opt to join a group on a guided walking trail and birdwatching safari.
Motswiri Private Safari Lodge
Luxury self-catering accommodation for 10 guests
The luxury self-catering safari lodge caters for up to 10 guests in a simple, intimate setting. It is only one of two self-catering lodges in Madikwe and is more affordable for a family or large group.
Motswiri Lodge is nestled under a canopy of leadwood trees overlooking a busy waterhole that is frequented by the Big 5 and an array of antelope.
There are 5 gorgeous villas that have been decorated beautifully, offering guests the ultimate blend of luxury and a real African bushveld experience. Each unit has an en-suite bathroom, air-conditioning and a gas fireplace, and a wrap-around wooden deck. They also each have a stunning outdoor rock shower.
Dine under the stars at the boma; enjoy star gazing while cosying up next to a roaring fire. Morning and game drives include sightings of the Big 5, an array of antelope and birds and the usual predators that follow the mix.
Etali Safari Lodge
Ultra-luxury accommodation for 16 guests
The ultra-luxury lodge is privately owned and run, and provides guests with the ultimate blend of 5-star indulgence and a real African bushveld experience. It is known for its exquisite cuisine, using only the finest and freshest ingredients and prepared by a world-class chef.
There are 8 thatched chalets that are spaced well apart from each other for extra privacy. Each suite is beautifully decorated with an en-suite bathroom and air-conditioning. Each unit has a private deck that overlooks the lush valley and a waterhole, and a private plunge pool.
Guests are taken on an early morning and evening game drive. You can opt to spend a relaxing day at the lodge or you can join a professional safari guide for a bush walk. The Etali Spa is the perfect spot for a pamper session or you can sweat it out in the open-air gym. Dinner is usually a gastronomic delight, served under the star on the outlook deck in summer or inside where its warm and cosy on colder nights.
Luxury private accommodation for 10 people
The exclusive 5-star lodge is run by the private owners and offers guest the ultimate luxury safari experience. The lodge is beautifully decorated with a unique blend of colonial-style elements and traditional African safari features.
There are 5 well-appointed villas that provide guests with the ideal private retreat. Special features include a stunning rim-flow pool, separate outdoor showers and wrap-around decks with panoramic views of the bushveld and the Jamala waterhole.
Guests are taken on early morning and evening game drives in an open safari vehicle and accompanied by a professional safari guide. The rest of the day is spent enjoying delicious meals prepared by an award-winning chef, relaxing at your private plunge pool or sipping sundowners of your outdoor deck.
Madikwe Hills Game Lodge
5-star accommodation for 40 plus guests
The private 5-star lodge is nestled in a stunning cluster of ancient Tamboti trees. There are 10 luxury suites at the main lodge and accommodation for an additional 24 guests at Little Madikwe Hills. Each unit has an en-suite bathroom and air-conditioning with unique luxury features such as a private glass-fronted deck, its own plunge pool, a gas fireplace and underfloor heating and a stunning outdoor rock shower.
Bush dinners served under the stars are prepared by an internationally-renowned chef and are a gastronomic delight. Accommodation at Madikwe Hills Game Lodge is the ultimate blend of luxury and a real African bushveld experience. Certain suites even have their own personal butler.
Guests are taken on an early morning and evening game drive for excellent sightings of the Big 5 and an array of antelope and birds. Children under 6 years are not allowed on an open safari vehicle and can join the lodge’s kids camp to learn more about wildlife and the bush.
Madikwe Safari Lodge
The 5-star premier safari lodge offers an exclusive wildlife safari experience, tailor-made to each guest’s unique needs. Madikwe Safari Lodge is positioned on the side of a mountain, with panoramic views of the valley below. It offers an exclusive wildlife safari experience in a malaria-free region.
Each luxury suite at Madikwe Safari Lodge has an en-suite bathroom and air-conditioning aswell a private plunge pool, a gas fireplace and an outdoor shower. Lelapa is a family suite suitable for children of all ages, while Kopano is a more intimate option for couples on a romantic getaway.
Guests are taken on early morning and evening game drives in an open safari vehicle with a professional safari guide.
WHY PLAN A MADIKWE SAFARI TOUR
Madikwe Game Reserve is an exclusive wildlife reserve in South Africa. Here are the top reasons you should plan a Madikwe safari tour.
- Madikwe Game Reserve is located in a malaria-free region
- It is one of South Africa’s most important conservation areas and is managed in a three-way partnership between the state, private enterprise and the local community.
- Game viewing and bird watching is excellent. A mammoth project in the 1990s to stock the reserve was one of the largest translocation programmes handled in South Africa, with some 8 000 animals settled in the reserve.
- Professional safari guides refer to Madikwe’s Big 7; there is a thriving population of wild dog and cheetah on the reserve as well as elephant, rhino, buffalo, leopard and lion. Through a focused conservation initiative, there are now several hunting packs of wild dogs in Madikwe which are offshoots of the original 6 wild dog translocated to the reserve.
- Access to Madikwe Game Reserve is strictly limited to visitors staying at one of the 20 luxury lodges in the reserve. No day visitors are allowed which means there is less congestion around game sightings.
- Accommodation at Madikwe Game Reserve ranges from luxury to ultra-luxury. Guests are treated to the very best in décor, cuisine and service. Children of all ages are allowed in most of the luxury lodges and many of them offer a kid’s club of sorts to keep children under 6 years entertained while their parents are on a game drive.
Moafrika Tours is a leading safari tour operator in southern Africa and offers an exciting choice of safari tours in South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Mozambique. Popular tours include a Johannesburg tour, a Soweto tour, a Kruger National Park safari tour and a Pilanesberg Game Reserve safari tour.
References – Dave’s Travel Corner