Back in January, we returned to one of my favorite little parks for a weekend getaway. Marakele National Park is located in the Waterberg Mountains, north of Gauteng in the Limpopo Province. It is about a 2.5 hour drive from the Joburg northern suburbs, perfect for a quick weekend away in the bush. Strangely enough, it seems this park is relatively undiscovered by Joburgers as many of our friends and coworkers have never even heard of it. This is actually one of the pluses; I have never seen this park crowded so if you are looking to avoid the masses, come here.
Marakele National Park
Marakele is a Big 5 park, though sightings of the big cats can be somewhat scarce. Don’t let this put you off; the park is beautiful and if you take the time to enjoy some of the smaller creatures, I am sure you will have an amazing stay.
Yellow-billed hornbill tapping on our kitchen window
The park is divided into 2 sections. The predators and other big game (such as elephants) are separated out into the eastern section, while the western part is home to only grazers. Each section contains one camp. Tlopi Tented Camp sits on the predator side and has 10 permanent tents beautifully arranged overlooking a large dam. We stayed here a couple of years ago on our first vist and the tents were really nice and include kitchen and bathroom. The camp is unfenced and, being on the predator side, you could end up with lions at your doorstep (literally), so these may not be suitable for very young children who may like to wander.
Bontle Camp is located on the non-predator side of the park and contains both a traditional camp site and a newly opened section of 10 permanent tents. This is actually my preferred camp of the two. It is also unfenced and sits overlooking a watering hole. On our 2nd visit to Marakele we camped here and we saw more animals as we were sitting in front of our tent than while out on our drives in the park. As there are no dangerous predators, it is safe to walk around inside the camp here.
Bontle Camp, new permanent tent
This last visit, we decided to try out the new permanent tents at Bontle. They have both 2-sleeper and 4-sleeper tents for the same price of 1030 ZAR (approx 67 USD) per night (for 2, additional person charge of 220 ZAR each) so we booked into a 4-sleeper. These new tents are really, really nice and comfortable too. Our tent had one bedroom containing a double bed and another with 2 twins. The bathroom is spacious and there is a separate toilet room. The very nicely equiped kitchen (even a toaster and microwave) is located outside the tent in a caged-in and lockable room, leaving little hope for pesky primates to sneak a snack.
The permanent tents all sit with views out to the bush and are very private. Unfortunately there are none with views of the camp water hole, but it is a short walk through camp where you can then relax on one of several benches to watch the goings-on.
View from tent #3
Water hole in front of the camp site
Female Ostrich, many were wandering through the camp
The two sections of the park are separated by a tunnel with an electronic gate. Most of the roads are accessible with a normal sedan car but there are some 4×4 only routes as well. During our visit in January, there were some road works happening and some of the roads in the predator section were closed however there were plenty still open to keep us busy for the weekend.
One of the highlights of a visit to Marakele is the drive up to the Lenong Viewpoint on the predator side of the park. The route is windy, narrow and scary but you absolutely must do this. A colony of endangered cape vultures makes its home at the top of this viewpoint and if you are lucky you can see them gracefully soaring over the mountains (we did see them on our first 2 visits but unfortunately not this last visit).
Lenong Viewpoint. This is your reward for that white-knuckle drive up the mountain.
Mountain Reedbuck on the way up to the viewpoint
As I mentioned earlier, the predator side is also home to elephants. This visit was the first that we have seen them in the park, but we saw so many that they more than made up for our first 2 visits. On our first drive over to the predator side, there was a large breeding herd feeding on both sides of the road. Most of the eles were calm and busy eating but one adolescent seemed to be in charge of guarding the road and not letting us by. One little baby was particularily cheeky and did a lot of head shaking and foot stomping, acting like he wanted to charge us. We couldn’t help but giggle at him but in a few more years I am sure he will be a force to be reckoned with.
Not letting us by. We would try and quietly pass while he was eating but as soon as we tried, he would come back out in the road.
Baba putting on a show for us
While we didn’t see any of the big cats, we really didn’t mind as we love all the creatures we can spot, big and small.
Warthog mama, she had several babies with her
Impala Lambs about 2 months old. They were already getting quite big.
Giraffe taking a break in the summer heat
Cute and fuzzy
Elephant on a mission (reverse, reverse)
Don’t forget to look for the little guys; it was so interesting to watch these 2 beetles rolling their ball of dung across the road.
Can you see the insect so well camouflaged on the tree bark? This little guy was making a horrible screeching noise that made our heads want to explode. After a bit of searching, the Frenchie finally spotted him and he didn’t even know what he was looking for!
Deep in thought
A very large beetle outside our tent. Hand only to show perspective.
Tree Agama in camp, I love his colors
Crested Barbet in camp (one of a pair)
We throughly enjoyed our quick weekend away at Marakele and can’t wait to visit again sometime soon. If you are looking for a place to get away from it all near Jozi, be sure to visit this park, I hope you will love it as much as we do.