Madikwe Game Reserve is currently the fifth largest game reserve in South Africa – and one of my personal favourites. Although it is not as well-known among South Africans as the national parks, it is very popular with international tourists, who are lured by its malaria-free status, great wildlife sightings, and luxurious all-inclusive lodges.
Larger than Singapore, the 75 000 hectare reserve is located in the North-West province, approximately 90 kilometres from the town of Zeerust. It borders Botswana and is close to the Kalahari Desert. The drive from Johannesburg will take around 3.5 - 4 hours making it one of the closest Big 5 game reserves to Johannesburg.
The reserve has 5 gates. The Molatedi and Abjaterskop gates are the nearest to Johannesburg. However, the Molatedi gate will take you through Molatedi Village and you will have to drive on a lot more gravel, which may be a problem if you are driving a low-clearance vehicle.
It is possible to fly in as well.
History of the area
The history of the area goes back to the Stone and Iron ages. Artefacts and settlements from these times have been found in the reserve.
In the 19th century, battles took place there between the local Tswana people and the Zulus, and a huge Tswana settlement was reduced to ruins. Subsequently, Mzilikazi, the Zulu king, was driven out of the area by the Afrikaner Voortrekkers and he used the Derdepoort Road, currently in the reserve, to flee to Zimbabwe.
David Livingstone, Cecil John Rhodes and Sir William Cornwallis Harris (an English engineer, artist and hunter) also travelled through this region.
Cattle farming became the main activity in the area and the Vleisfontein Mission, a recovery mission for malaria victims, was built in the centre of the current reserve. A school attached to the mission operated for a century, and author Herman Charles Bosman, who taught there, wrote much about the area and its inhabitants in his books. The mission and school are now the North West Parks Board headquarters.
A number of historical sites can be seen in the reserve.
One of South Africa’s most successful conservation stories, Madikwe Game Reserve was formed as a result of a partnership between the government, the local communities and the private sector. It was created from reclaimed poorly performing farmland, which the national government decided would be put to better use as a national park to help economically uplift the disadvantaged area, and the reserve was declared in 1991.
Madikwe means “Place of blood” and Marico means “Drenched with blood”. Both names refer to the bloodshed caused by the Zulu chiefs. These days, the kind of bloodshed you’re most likely to find there would be caused by lions and other predators.
From 1992 to 1997, over 8000 animals, consisting of animals that previously lived in the area, were brought in from other reserves. Named Operation Phoenix, it was the largest relocation of animals in the world.
The reserve is now home to 66 large mammal species including the Big Five, wild dogs and cheetahs, collectively referred to as the Magnificent 7 or Super 7 – of which we have seen all there. It also has over 300 bird species, as well as rarer creatures like aardvarks, pangolins, and aardwolfs. Wildlife sightings are phenomenal with surprises around almost every bend and game rangers are allowed to off-road for special sightings.
A strong anti-poaching team is in place to protect the rhinos.
The diverse landscape consists of grassland, bushveld, Kalahari veld, rocky outcrops and pointed hills known as the Enselbergs. This varied vegetation allows for a rich variety of wildlife and bird species to thrive in the reserve.
The Tweedepoort Mountain Range (Rant Van Tweedepoort) divides the park into Northern and Southern regions, the Dwarsberg Mountains border the reserve in the south, while the Marico River lies on the Eastern boundary.
This depends on which lodge you’re staying at although most lodges do offer the first two activities on this list.
The best time to visit Madikwe Game Reserve is between April and September, when the weather is cool and dry and there is an abundance of wildlife. October and November are also good months to visit, although the temperatures can be quite hot. December to February is the rainy season, so the game viewing can be more difficult.
Self-driving is not allowed in the reserve. The only driving guests can do there is from the gates to their pre-booked lodges. If you are driving to your lodge, you can do it in a sedan however a higher clearance vehicle will be more suitable as most of the roads in the reserve are gravel.
I recommend spending at least 3 days in Madikwe Game Reserve to make the most of your safari experience.
Choosing where to stay on safari is almost as important as the safari itself. Madikwe Game Reserve has more than 20 lodges ranging from community and eco lodges to ultra- luxurious lodges. I’ve stayed in 6 of them and written about 5. Each one was special in its own way.
Molori Safari Lodge
This ultra-luxurious, exclusive lodge has hosted international celebrities, lawyers and world leaders including Nelson Mandela. It has one of the largest privately owned telescopes in Southern Africa and an elegant underground hide.
Morukuru Family Owner’s House
This ultra-luxurious family-friendly lodge is situated in its own private concession and can be booked on an exclusive use-basis. You can expect your own butler, chef, game ranger and tracker.
Madikwe Safari Lodge
This is a collection of three luxurious lodges perched on the side of a mountain. One of them is family-friendly and offers junior safari programmes, as well as an eco-house. The swimming pool overlooks a waterhole.
Tau Game Lodge
This family-friendly lodge is the largest lodge in the reserve. It has an amazing location overlooking a busy waterhole which is frequented by wildlife all day.
This family-friendly lodge consists of a luxurious safari lodge, tree house suites, and starbed suites. Photographic safaris are offered in addition to normal safaris, and there’s a lovely underground hide too.
Do you have more questions about Madikwe Game Reserve ? Let me know in the comments below.
Things you must do in South Africa
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