Expert Reviews – Marakele NP
Christopher is a British travel writer and has contributed to various Fodor's guidebooks and a range of travel magazines.
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An underexplored gem in Limpopo
Marakele National Park is possibly the most underrated South African national park. It is a perfect microcosm of the Waterberg region in which it is found, with ruggedly beautiful landscapes, ancient rock formations, lush vegetation, plenty of wildlife, few tourists and stacks of potential.
The Big 5 are all here, though sightings of predators are rare. Elephants and rhinos are a better bet, while there are very healthy populations of various antelope species. This is also the only park in South Africa where I’ve seen a black mamba – something that still haunts my bush nightmares.
Marakele’s vulture-viewing point affords the rare opportunity of seeing relatively large numbers of the endangered Cape vulture, while the difficult road to get there ensures that you won’t share the spectacle, and the panoramic view, with many other visitors. In fact, most of the park remained characteristically quiet on my recent visit – while Marakele undoubtedly deserves more visitors, this was a large part of the allure for me.
Philip is an acclaimed travel writer and author of many guidebooks, including the Bradt guides to Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa.
Large Mammals & a Scenic treat
This large and dramatically scenic national park is part of the Waterberg Biosphere Reserve. The park is focused on a range of sheer-sided sandstone mountains known as the Kransberg (literally ‘Cliff Mountain’). All the Big Five have been reintroduced and it also protects a wide variety of other large mammals, from cheetah and brown hyena to giraffe, Burchell’s zebra and a wide variety of antelope.
Our visit was focused on the public sector of the park, where a short road circuit ascends through grassy slopes studded with pink-flowering protea bushes to the Lenong Viewpoint. We drove this road on two successive days and saw a single white rhino (at a distance) and a herd of elephant (close up) on the first day, but none of the Big Five on the second. Other wildlife we saw en route included Burchell’s zebra, baboon, greater kudu and impala.
The viewpoint itself stands close to the highest point of the Kransberg, and is very scenic, despite being overshadowed by a copse of satellite towers. Wildlife highlights on the plateau near the viewpoint included the goat-like klipspringer and large numbers of Cape vulture soaring overhead. A few pairs of Cape rock thrush, mocking cliff-chat and buff-streaked chat also hopped photogenically around the carpark.
We made a short lunch stop in the Marataba concession, a 230km2/89mi2 annex to the main 540km2/208mi2 reserve. Marataba effectively functions as a private Big Five reserve, hosting two exclusive eco-friendly small lodges that offer packages inclusive of guided game drives in open 4x4s. The lodges are truly sumptuous. Marataba looks very promising for wildlife, but I cannot comment definitely as we didn’t do a game drive there.