The national park of Marakele is located in the far north of South Africa, within the Limpopo Province. It forms part of the Waterberg Biosphere, a region of dramatic mountain ranges, sprawling bushveld, and deciduous forest. The word ‘Marakele’ means ‘place of sanctuary’ in the Tswana language, a reference to the wealth of wildlife that thrives in this beautiful park! As it is malaria free, it is an excellent option for families.
Marakele is accessible via road transfer from Johannesburg, a journey of about 250 kilometres. Alternatively, visitors may fly in. Most of the roads that run through the park are well laid, and a narrow tar track takes you up to the summit of the Waterberg Mountains for spectacular views!
However, the park was not always as attractive to safarists as it is today. The area had achieved national park status in 1994, with the purchase of 150 square kilometres of land. Five years later, a further 520 square kilometres were bought, but subsequently a general lack of funding led to neglect. Feeding ranges, access roads, and fences were all in dire need of repair, and there was hardly any accommodation for visitors.
Fortunately, a team of investors stepped up, among them the late Paul van Vlissingen, Dutch businessman and philanthropist. Mr van Vlissingen recognised the need for his team to enter into a public–private partnership with the company South African National Parks in order to restore Marakele to the place of sanctuary it had once been.
An enthusiastic group of South Africans was brought in to realise the project, and in just two years an amazing amount of work was accomplished. This included the purchase of further land, the improvement of feeding facilities and fences, the maintenance of access roads, and even the construction of a village! Accommodation options were developed, placing the park back on the map for keen safarists. And with wildlife numbers on the rise, culminating in the reintroduction of buffalo in 2013, Mr van Vlissingen could count Marakele among his many success stories.
Our favourite part of the park is the Marataba Reserve, a private concession covering 230,000 hectares. The reserve is home to two superb properties. Marataba Safari Lodge provides luxurious accommodation for all types of traveller, whereas Marataba Trails Lodge is designed for particularly keen hikers! Both lodges offer game drives, bush walks, and river cruises, but Safari Lodge also has a children’s programme of activities. At Trails Lodge, as you would expect, the emphasis is very firmly on walking!
Whichever lodge you decide to visit, you are guaranteed first-rate service and opportunities to check out a vast array of wildlife. Predators in the area include lion, leopard, and brown hyena, while herbivores such as elephant, buffalo, zebra, wildebeest, kudu, eland, reedbuck, and the rare tsessebe may be seen grazing the grasslands. The rivers are home to hippos, frequently viewed from the lodges’ own boat, the Miss Mara. And the birdlife is also impressive, featuring one of the biggest colonies of Cape vulture in the world! There are plenty of other raptors too, as well as songbirds and waterbirds.