If I had the opportunity to visit a place twice, it would be the Marekele National Park in Limpopo. There is something about its rustic setting coupled with the sheer pleasure of being so close to the world’s greatest creatures that warms my heart.
Home to the big 5 300 bird species and the largest concentration of Cape vultures in the world, Marekele National Park is the epitome of what a truly African holiday should be.
We arrive late on a Thursday night as we manoeuvred through busy Johannesburg traffic, heading towards the N1 through the town of Bela Bela and unto Thabazimbi, a small town that connects to Marekele.
In true glamping style we were escorted to our Tlopi safari tents where we spent our first night, almost 18km from the main office. Outside our tents a lion roared in the distance.
By morning, the chirping of birds and the sound of monkeys running about, trying to get into tents and kitchens, woke me up. There was a strong winter chill in the air when I unlocked the door to my tent. Waiting outside was a francolin bird to welcome me to his majestic home.
Standing on the porch of my tent, I felt a true sense of what a bush holiday should be. Before me was the Apiesrivierpoort Dam.
While I was admiring the setting, a sneaky vervet monkey crept into my tent and decided to help himself to my left-overs from the previous night.
I tried to chase it away, but it was defiant. After enjoying a scrumptious breakfast, in haste I might add, we drove up to the Lenong Viewing Point.
Lenong Viewing Point
An experience hard to describe, unless you see it for yourself. Kilometres of mountains and uncharted land lay before us. Far ahead flies the Cape vulture, who is the mascot of Marekele.
A tourist from Cape Town was gracious enough to offer us his binoculars to view the Cape vultures as they flew around waiting for their next meal. One can literally spend hours watching nature’s beauty here and take countless photographs.
Sunset game drive
I had never been on a sunset game drive before so I was quite looking forward to having the sunset on my face as I tried to spot the big 5.
Our guide, Sidney Mikosi, the winner of 14 national awards since he came to the park in 2009, was brilliant.
He is a walking textbook with his vast knowledge of animals, birdlife, the habitats and the fynbos. The sunset drive is divided into two sections, one filled with game and the other with the big 5. Mikosi educated us on the tamboti tree that is so poisonous that those who touch it can get severe illnesses. Ironically enough, the kudu and giraffe use it for medical purposes as an antiseptic. The tree is also used as a special diet for the rhino.
Along the way we spotted impala, kudu and the rhino. We spent a good 20 minutes watching a white rhino and her baby in the bushes.
4x4 off-road experience
A half-day 4x4 off-road experience has now been introduced at the park. Previously campers would spend a two-day 4x4 adventure throughout the park.
Mikosi was our ranger, leading the convoy of six off-road vehicles.
We got to visit places in the park that were never possible with a game vehicle or a motor vehicle.
The landscapes are marvellous, showcasing the towering mountains, fynbos and hidden wildlife.
This experience is definitely for the adventure seeker at heart, providing a platform for fun and plenty of adrenalin rush.
In between the riding, we got to stop at select spots where Mikosi educated us on animals by tracing their prints and daily habits.
The group stopped at the Modikela Bush Camp, a vacant accommodation setting that staff of Marekele hope to revive soon.
The much-needed stop was the perfect setting to interact with other guests, some were gracious enough to share their food.
On the wild ride, we got to see nyala, which Mikosi said was rare as they tried not to be seen.
Also the equally shy kudus also made an appearance, leaping in the air as they ran across the road.
We traced fresh lion and the black rhino’s prints but the sneaky animals hid themselves well from us. Thankfully, we managed to spot the white rhino and got up close to them.
SANParks treated us to a bush braai at the Ikhutseng Picnic Site on our last night at Marekele. The darkness and the stillness of the night provided surreal ambiance for the evening. The picnic site is filled with braaing spots and picnic tables. We sat around the fire, sharing stories of life and camping tales. I heard tales of encounters with lions and hyenas and also heard another camper’s 6-month New York experience.
One of the highlights of my trip was being so close to the rhinos during one afternoon’s bush walk. While I didn’t get to see any of the other big 5, watching the rhino brought a huge smile to my face. Our ranger walked with us, trying not to alert the rhino or upset it.
Beside it stood another rhino, hiding its face.
One of them lay in the grass, calm and serene, while the other remained vigilant.
On my next visit I’m hoping to see the leopard, one of the big 5 that I never got the chance to see.
If you are looking for a full bush experience, staying at Tlopi is recommended. You are so close to the big 5 that, if you are lucky, you can see them drinking water at the river.
Each tent has two beds, private bathroom and a fully equipped kitchen. Outside the tent is a veranda with table and deck chairs as well as barbecue facilities.
It’s no coincidence that bontle means “beautiful” in Setswana. This pleasant rest camp consists of 36 camp sites with power points.
It also has 10 tented units for those who would prefer a permanent structure than putting up their own tent.
The site consists of four family units and six two-sleeper units. All these units have a private veranda and are self-catering with their own fully equipped kitchen and outdoor braai stand.
The rest camp, with unobstructed views of the unspoiled bush and mountain, is located in close proximity to the park’s main entrance gate.
For more information, phone +27 (014) 777 6928 / 29 / 30 / 31
Fax: +27 (0)86 650 3051
Take a look at some of the highlights at Marekele National Park: