A few weeks ago I packed our SUV for another amazing trip. You know, when Jozi becomes a little hectic and your souls needs to rest. When you decided “ we can and will only do 1 more week of the chaos” and then it is time to recharge, take your birding guide and binoculars and find that koppie where you can take in the views, the absolute quietness and tick a few more sightings off the list.
Packing for a trip had now become an easier process, as we know what to pack and a lot of items are always ready. I selected the appropriate tracks on the iPod, he checked that we had enough gas in our loyal little 3kg gas bottle and we checked the rest we would need for 3 days in the bush!
Finally we were ready to head off to Marakele National Park.
This time we headed to a park situated between Pilanesberg National Park and Kruger National Park. A little piece of heaven situated in the awesome, majestic Waterberg region, and perhaps not so well known, which adds to its charm and attraction. As mentioned, the park is situated in the Waterberg mountain range in the Limpopo Province near Thabazimbi, approximately 250km north of Jozi. Thabazimbi is also the closest major town where you can top up on last minute provisions and batteries for your Camera, and a USB card ‘cause it was not on the list?”
We chose the route from Brits, following the R 511via Beestekraal to Thabazimbi, a journey of about 4 hours. (editors note: we suggest you check for roadworks on route, so you can factor those in to your travel time)
As is tradition in our blogs, we always impart a little bit of Park history for the inquisitive one’s and this park is not different. It was originally called the Kransberg National Park, and was shortly thereafter renamed in 1994 as the Marakele National Park. The Waterberg mountain region was also interestingly the area where acclaimed poet, naturalist and Author Eugene Marais lived for most of his life, and this region was the inspiration of most of his award winning works. The park was originally about 150 square kilometres, and by 1999 the park had expanded to 670 square
We arrived at the entrance to the park at about 4pm, and the paperwork and entry to the park was easy, with great friendly staff. Then it was there before us, we entered one of the most beautiful parks we have seen in a while. Whilst we are still in the grips of a severe drought in Southern Africa, this park was a sight to behold!
Approximately 55% of the park is characterized by the Waterberg Moist Bushveld – vegetation type and another 42% by Mixed Bushveld, with less than 3%of Sweet Bushveld.
The moist Bushveld occurs in the intermediate to high lying areas in the southern and south-eastern portions of the park. Seeing that this area is characterised by relatively high rainfall,the resultant leaching of the soils results in a fairy low soil nutrient state. This limiting factor in turn results in a fairly low carrying capacity and only ubiquitous species such as kudu and common reedbuck are common in these areas. The Mixed Bushveld is mainly found in the northwestern and isolated southwestern pockets of the park. It occurs predominantly on the undulating to flat plains and the soils are generally clay like, deeper and more nutrient-rich. Most of the charismatic game species such as black rhino, elephant and wild dog will be associated with this vegetation type. The vegetation around the camping site and tented camp is typical of this vegetation type.
As mentioned less than 3% of the park is comprised of Sweet Bushveld .This veld type is mostly found along the banks of the Matlabas River and forms an important winter refuge area for game particularly during limiting periods at the end of the dry season.
Our accommodation for the first evening was in the Bontle Camp.This absolute stunning camp consists of about 36 campsites, making it not to small and not to big, with wonderful services and all the necessary services such as powerpoint and one clean communal ablution block per cluster.
Now, whilst we are all for going 100% camping mode 80% of the time, this was not to be one of those weekends….and we opted to stay in one of the 2 sleeper tented units.
All these units have a beautiful private veranda and are self-catering with their own fully equipped kitchens and outdoor braai stand, and believe me we quickly got the fire going for an epic evening of listening to the quietness and a smooth single malt on ice.
Rising very early the next morning, it was time for a quick coffee and rusk, to ensure all the snacks for the day were ready and in the backseat along with our cameras and binoculars and to make sure we packed our SUV in breakneck speed – remember sightings waits for no one! We finally set off on our route marked out the previous evening.
With the radio off, and the seat belts in the car neutralised by the old trick of clipping it in behind your back (Editors note: Only attempt this in a National Park, I would not be a responsible editor if I did not mention this) we set off, completing several loops, and seeing so many amazing sightings, such as kudu, eland, impala and waterbuck, and also some of the smaller species such as vervet baboons and the like.As mentioned before, we never have a specific list of animals we want to see, as each sighting is so special in its own way (and little did we know the following day we would have the most special moment, but more on that later)
By early afternoon we had made our way to Bollonoto Hide, to settle down for an afternoon of bird viewing and so much more.
The Park’s biggest birding attraction must be the largest colony of Cape Vultures in the world (around 800 breeding pairs). However the park is also appealing to birders as it falls within the transition zone between the dry western regions and the moister eastern regions of the country.
Thus it is possible to see certain closely related species alongside one another. These include Southern Boubou and Crimson-breasted Shrike, Arrow-marked and Southern Pied Babbler, Tawny-flanked and Black-chested Prinia,some Dark-capped (Black-eyed) and Red-eyed Bulbul to name a few.
The park is also the most excellent place to look for and view raptors, with many raptors using the uplift generated off the cliff faces of the Waterberg to ride thermals. Apart from the vultures, you should be on the look out for African Harrier Hawk (Gymnogene), Jackal Buzzard and several eagle species, including Verreaux’s (Black), African Hawk, Black-chested (breasted) Snake and Brown Snake Eagle. In summer Wahlberg’s Eagle becomes prominent. Rock Kestrel are prominent on the mountain plateau, while Peregrine and Lanner Falcons should be watched for.
We realised rather quickly that sitting with a flask of tea, made for a great afternoon of bird watching. It is important to mention that one should be on the look out in the lower lying bushveld and broadleaf woodland regions for the better known Purple Roller, Black Cuckoo-shrike, Southern White-crowned Shrike and White Crested Helmet-shrike and the exquisite Blue, Violet-eared and Black-cheekedWaxbills.
As the sun was now close to setting, we had to make our way to Tlopi Tented Camp, our home for the next 2 nights, passing underneath the main road to Hoopdal, we were greeted with so much more, and we knew the evening would be spent planning the next 2 days in eagerness. We opted to stay in the Tlopi tented accommodation. Each tent has two beds with a private bathroom (shower, wash basin and toilet), and a fully equipped kitchen with a refrigerator/freezer, two-plate stove and electricity. Each tent has a veranda with table and deck chairs and barbecue facilities. and views like no other camp we have stayed in thus far. Here the waterbirds make for an unique viewing. bFor instance Black Crake may be seen in the rushes close by in front of the units. A steady stream of woodland species uses the foliage around the safari tents to drink from the water’s edge. At night Spotted Eagle and African Scops Owls compliment the pulse of crickets and smaller creatures.
After unpacking, we quickly settled into an evening ritual of sitting by the fire, just listening to the bush sounds and discussing the surprises of what we saw. I must admit, the best sightings are those which are not planned or listed, and this could not be more evident the following morning, even if we gave our list to the ranger to go on an early morning track for us.
Now about that sighting….we set off at about 5:30 am with a ranger…coffee in hand to explore and about an hour later we had the absolute blessing to see a mother rhino and calf cross the road in front of us. Having spotted the pair lower in the bushes, we knew they would cross the road up ahead.… engine switched off we waited….patiently,…..and yes….we were blessed with mom and calf walking slowly across the road in from of us. Now sometimes the camera is left on the seat, the moment just to big. That day, the moment was all that was needed to remind us of the little gems in the bush… in this case 2.
We spent then next day and a half exploring the eastern side of the park, this included several sightings of elephant, giraffe, zebra and wildebeest. The afternoons were spent looking at birds and enjoying the quietness of the park.
It was with a very heavy heart that we had to pack everything into the SUV on Sunday afternoon to return to Jozi. But here are a few things you need to know about Marakele National Park. It is a small gem in the portfolio of Sanparks, and absolutely worth the visit. The camp sites are clean, well maintained and if you are looking for diversity in sights, including animals and birds, this National Park’s GPS co-ordinates should be saved on your GPS.
Credits: Thank you to Sanparks for the images, and all parties credited.