There’s a saying in South Africa about the game reserves; “Kruger is bigger, Pilanesberg is closer but Madikwe delivers” – and it’s so true! Regarded as one of the prime conservation areas in South Africa, Madikwe covers some 75,000 hectares of grassland and open woodland, bordered on the south by the Dwarsberg Mountains. Because I grew up in South Africa, I’ve been lucky enough to visit six or seven game reserves but there’s something special about Madikwe – it’s lesser-known and therefore less crowded. Another major bonus (especially for families travelling with children) is that it’s malaria free – as a result of a drier climate and different vegetation. Madikwe is relatively easy to get to – it’s just three hours’ drive from both Johannesburg and Pretoria – and we definitely recommend it to anyone keen for a real African adventure.
I have always known how special South Africa is – but it was so lovely to return with my husband and see it with a new perspective and through fresh eyes – he absolutely loved it!
The Lion King
Not a day passed where someone on the safari didn’t say, ‘this is like a scene out of Lion King!’ Everywhere we looked from the grasslands, the lone tree or the wallowing warthog reminded us so much of the Walt Disney movie. When Madikwe was opened in 1991, more than 8000 animals of different species were released and a 150km electric fence put up around the perimeter. It is less crowded than other reserves I have been to and there is a rule only two vehicles are allowed close to the animals at any time – another truck can’t venture forward until one moves away. As a result, the wild animals are less intimidated, and more at ease. A highlight for me was the constant interaction with animals who are relaxed and in their own natural habitat– it’s so different from seeing these animals in the zoo. We witnessed everything from the aggression of the mating season, mothers looking after their babies, and tiny lion cubs calling to their mum who was on a hunt. There’s a real sense of anticipation when you go on safari– you can drive for hours just driving around with the rangers – but when you come across an animal the reward is such a thrill!
Up close and personal
We stayed in Madikwe Safari Lodge, which has three intimate camps and 20 luxury suites – each with a comfortable sitting area, beautiful circular fireplace in the bedroom, spacious dressing area, lovely en suite bathrooms as well as an outdoor shower and French doors that open onto a wooden veranda with its own plunge pool – amazing, and just what we wanted after a hot and dusty day in an open-air truck. The lodge pool was about 5 metres from a watering hole that every day was visited by herds of elephants, zebra, impala and the like. One day I watched a few lioness drinking as I sat by the pool, it was incredible! Given there is only an electric wire between me and the watering hole, that day the wardens came over to check we were safe!
The difference between Madikwe and many other reserves is the depth of knowledge of the people who work there – you are constantly being informed about everything from the footprints in the sand, to the markings on the hide, to the dung the animals leave behind so regardless of the species you get to see you leave the reserve much better informed about the animal kingdom. We often had free time in the afternoon where if you didn’t want to do a bush walk and needed a bit of pampering after the early starts you could head to the spa for a massage or treatment – a spot of luxury in the desert!
When you are on safari in South Africa, it is early starts and full days – which can be tiring, but there is so much to take in you just want to make the most of it. Each day we would get a wake-up call at 6am, and would go onto the deck for coffee, tea and a muffin. By 6.30am we were climbing into an open aired safari truck with hot water bottles and blankets to ward off the morning chill! After a few hours of driving and looking for the various exotic animals on offer we are back to the lodge by about 10am to freshen up and then straight to breakfast – and it really is a breakfast to die for! I loved the personal touch – each day our personal waitress ensured we were seated in a different area of the restaurant to get the most out of all the views from the lodge deck. In the afternoon you can you could listen to an informative lecture inside the lodge by one of the guides. By about 3.30pm each afternoon we were loaded back into the safari truck with our ‘sundowners’ and again searched for animals that may have hidden during the heat of the day. How fantastic to enjoy a well-earned reward - a sundowner, or cool drink to enjoy while the sun sets over the South African landscape!
Madikwe's 'Magnificent Seven'
Most game reserves talk about the ‘Big Five’ (elephant, rhino, buffalo, leopard and lion) but Madikwe boast the ‘Magnificent Seven’ – it is one of the few places you can also see the rare brown hyena and the even rarer aardwolf, which is pretty special. The park boasts a staggering 66 different animal species and a further 300 bird species, including the ostrich, vulture and the strangely-named kori bustard, which is one of the largest flying birds in the world – and can stand up to nearly 5 foot tall and weigh nearly 20kg! Before we left we thought, we would be lucky to see the big 5, but we managed to see all the magnificent 7! We felt so humbled and blown away to witness some of those animals in the wild, especially when they are so close to extinction.
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