Expert Reviews – Madikwe GR

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Fantastic rhino and leopard sightings at marvellous Madikwe
Overall rating
4/5

I only stopped over briefly at Madikwe en-route from Jo’burg to Botswana and did not really have immensely high expectations for sightings on what would be our first day in the bush. However, we set off on the game drive the next morning and almost immediately I spotted rhino spoor. Seems that this is almost a guarantee at Madikwe and we spent some time watching the rhinos grazing around a waterhole. On the way back we had several other good sightings but the unforgettable highlight (especially for my father who had never seen wild leopard before) was surely our sighting of a female leopard and her adolescent cub high on a rock kopje above us. Not bad for day 1 before breakfast!

A Private Park without a Soul
Overall rating
2/5

Just reading the title of this review you could probably already tell that I’m not their biggest fan! I really like the concept of converting unproductive farmland into a viable conservation area and in this regard Madikwe has been a huge success. However, the park was only established in the 90’s and it feels too new and raw to have developed a genuine wilderness feel. To call it soulless might be too harsh, but I feel that despite the rehabilitated farmland having been stocked with a diverse range of indigenous wildlife (and plenty of lodges too), it lacks a true wilderness vibe and I don’t get that feeling of being in real African bush when I’m up there. Bordering Botswana, the topography of the area is interesting with large volcanic Inselbergs, wide-open plains and a riverine environment along the Marico River. But, I like (and would recommend) this reserve for one main reason: it has the big attraction of being malaria-free, making it a great choice for families with small children or pregnant woman who still want to go on safari.

Malaria-free Big Five viewing
Overall rating
4/5

Set in the far north of Northwest Province, the 750 sq km Madikwe is a provincially managed entity, but it operates much like a very larger private reserve, being closed to day visitors and dotted with luxury lodges offering all-inclusive guided safaris. Rather underpublicised, it is rapidly growing on popularity thanks to its location in a malaria-free are not too far from Johannesburg. Game viewing is really very good. If it is the Big Five you are after, lion, elephant, white rhino and buffalo are likely to be seen, and while leopards are less common, this is compensated for by the opportunity to see the localised likes of cheetah, African wild dog and brown hyena. Other wildlife includes giraffe, zebra, greater kudu, springbok, red hartebeest and tsessebe. Scenically, the rocky hills associated with the rugged Rant van Tweedepoort escarpment dominate the west, but the east if flatter and less pretty. It is also a good place for birders to seek out localised ‘Kalahari specials’ such as pied babbler (referred to by rangers as the flying snowball!), violet-eared waxbill and crimson-breasted shrike.

Big Five safaris with wide-reaching benefits
Overall rating
4/5

Much is made of the fact that there’s practically no risk of catching malaria in Madikwe, a Big Five reserve just south of Gaborone. While this gives Madikwe a useful advantage over Kruger National Park and the northeastern reserves, for me it’s just one of many good reasons to visit.

There’s inspiration all around: the scenery includes some dramatic escarpments, the wooded savannahs are great for watching elephants, lions and, with luck, wild dogs (the reserve was painstakingly stocked in the 1990s) and there are some excellent, ethically designed and managed lodges. It’s not possible to drop in for the day – you have to stay overnight – but this is no hardship, since the lodges provide a fantastic safari experience for a good deal less money than the places in the luxury safari belt. My favourites are Jaci’s and Madikwe Safari Lodge, comfortable, organically-designed lodges where you feel close to the wilderness.

I rather like the fact that Madikwe is relatively little visited, despite being so accessible. It has an appealing, frontier feel. But what I like most about the reserve is the fact that the local community benefits directly from tourism and plays a very active role in conservation.

The Born Again wilderness
Overall rating
4/5

Back in the 1980s Madikwe was nothing but a vast stretch of clapped-out cattle country lying up against the Botswana border. Then it was found that wildlife-based tourism would generate 20 times more revenue than ranching, and so in 1991 it became a game park the size of the Isle of Wight. The first step was to ring-fence it. The second was to stock it with wildlife, and Operation Phoenix, as it was called, brought in 10,000 animals of 28 species, including elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion, wild dog, giraffe, zebra and numerous antelopes – the world’s biggest-ever game translocation exercise. Other animals, including leopard, were already there, so that Madikwe is a genuine big-five destination, and it is one of only two places in Africa where I have seen a caracal.

Today there is nothing to remind you of Madikwe’s ranching past. Instead what you see are red earth trails winding into the distance between thorny thickets of acacia and combretum, and its waist-high expanses of bleached blond grassland and rolling blue hills give the reserve a sense of enormous sense of space and freedom. And of course what has also boosted Madikwe’s popularity is the fact that it is malaria-free.

Elephants, wild dogs and leopards at luxurious Madikwe
Overall rating
4/5

This popular private reserve on the edge of the Kalahari is home to more than 10,000 animals, including all of the Big 5. In particular, Madikwe has developed a reputation as the best place in South Africa to see wild dogs.

On my last visit, I was lucky enough to see a new litter of wild dog pups playing around their den, while a rather tired looking adult, who had obviously drawn the short straw and been assigned babysitting duty, looked on disinterestedly.

Madikwe is also gaining a reputation as a leopard hotspot, with sightings near guaranteed these days, and it has an increasingly staggering number of elephants too.

There is an excellent range of top notch luxury lodges here, and they won’t set you back as much as some of Sabi Sands’ finest. My personal favourite is the colourful Jaci’s Tree Lodge. It is a particular treat for wildlife photographers, with a unique semi-submerged photographic hide that pops up in the middle of a waterhole, and state of the art dual camera mounts and gimbals on the lodge’s safari vehicles.

Luxury in the Bush
Overall rating
5/5

To meet the Big Five and experience the wilderness in luxury, there's nowhere quite like Madikwe. Conveniently located between Sun City and the Botswana border, exclusive lodges scatter the reserve's 760 sq km of bushveld. Safaris here are conducted by rangers with radios; if one spots a predator at the waterhole, they notify the other groups. A commendable queuing system, in which a few vehicles view an animal while the rest wait their turn, avoids the logjams seen at popular parks.
The five-star lodges are expensive, but well worth it if this is your only opportunity to experience an African safari. Most operate on an all-inclusive basis, offering a day or two of dawn and dusk wildlife drives and dinner under the stars. I spent a wonderful night at the eco-lodge Mosetlha Bush Camp, which is more basic and earthy than the other lodges, but highly atmospheric. Paraffin lamps light the unfenced camp's open-fronted cabins, and the bush is so enthralling that you barely notice the lack of electricity and running water.

Madikwe Game Reserve, an alternative option to Sabi Sands
Overall rating
4/5

Madikwe Game Reserve is the best park in the North West Province. Four of the big 5 are quite easily seen, but leopards are as elusive as they tend to be in most places. Wild dog sightings are quite common in the park and I was lucky to see them chasing an impala unsuccessfully. I also managed to have a distant view of a brown hyena. Madikwe is one of the few places where there are regular sightings of this very shy nocturnal predator. Accommodation is only available at private safari lodges, which include open vehicle game drives in the package and there are no day visitors allowed in the park. Off-road driving is allowed and the experience is close to what you get in some of the very popular private reserves in Sabi Sands and elsewhere. Game viewing is more hit and miss, but there are few vehicles on the ground and if you’re lucky, you might be able to have a good predator sighting all to yourself.

Madikwe: An Exclusive Big-Five Safari
Overall rating
4/5

Hard up against the Botswana border, Madikwe Game Reserve is one of South Africa’s most rewarding safari experiences. In wildlife terms, the Big Five are relatively easy to see – I saw rhino, buffalo and elephant all drinking from the same waterhole at the same time on one wonderful late afternoon. Lions are plentiful, there’s a reliable pack of African wild dogs, and there’s also a small but growing population of cheetah, as well as springbok, klipspringer, giraffe, zebra and other iconic southern African savannah species. More than 350 bird species, too, add to the appeal, while the scenery is also rather special, with a fine mix of habitats – bushveld, distant red-walled mountains, parched desert plains – that turn magical at sunset. But above all, Madikwe is an exclusive park; to visit here, you must have a confirmed reservation at one of the reserve’s fabulous lodges.

Elephants, wild dogs and leopards at luxurious Madikwe
Overall rating
4/5

This popular private reserve on the edge of the Kalahari is home to more than 10,000 animals, including all of the Big 5. In particular, Madikwe has developed a reputation as the best place in South Africa to see wild dogs.

On my last visit, I was lucky enough to see a new litter of wild dog pups playing around their den, while a rather tired looking adult, who had obviously drawn the short straw and been assigned babysitting duty, looked on disinterestedly.

Madikwe is also gaining a reputation as a leopard hotspot, with sightings near guaranteed these days, and it has an increasingly staggering number of elephants too.

There is an excellent range of top notch luxury lodges here, and they won’t set you back as much as some of Sabi Sands’ finest. My personal favourite is the colourful Jaci’s Tree Lodge. It is a particular treat for wildlife photographers, with a unique semi-submerged photographic hide that pops up in the middle of a waterhole, and state of the art dual camera mounts and gimbals on the lodge’s safari vehicles.

Average User Rating

  • 3.9/5
  • Wildlife
  • Scenery
  • Bush Vibe
  • Birding

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star 1
  • 4 star 8
  • 3 star 0
  • 2 star 1
  • 1 star 0
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