​Overview – Waterberg Biosphere Reserve

Philip Briggs
By Philip Briggs

Philip lives in South Africa and has authored many guidebooks to African destinations, including the Rough Guide to Game Parks of South Africa.

Philip lives in South Africa and has authored many Africa guidebooks, including the Rough Guide to Game Parks of South Africa.

Philip is the author of many Africa guidebooks, including the Rough Guide to Game Parks of South Africa.

Philip is author of the Rough Guide to Game Parks of South Africa.

The Waterberg, a massif in the little-visited Limpopo province, is home to the ambitious UNESCO conservation project: the Waterberg Biosphere Reserve. This is a partnership between different reserves and settlements in the area to create an ecosystem reconciling conservation with sustainability and human development. In short, a less pristine wilderness area that allows some sort of human presence. For tourists, the Biosphere encompasses the highly regarded Lapalapa wilderness area, Marakele National Park, the upmarket Welgevonden private game reserve, and many smaller reserves and safari lodges.

Best Time To Go May to September (Dry season)
High Season Never (The reserve is little visited)
Size 6,540km² / 2,525mi²
Altitude 807-2,100m / 2,648-6,890ft

Pros & Cons

  • Beautiful, rugged scenery
  • Many bush camps, private reserves and parks to choose from
  • Several outdoor activities offered, including horseback riding and mountain biking
  • Waterberg Meander self-drive route available
  • Excellent birding
  • Malaria-free
  • Some smaller reserves and ranches are lacking wilderness appeal

Waterberg Biosphere Reserve Safari Reviews

  • Wildlife
  • Scenery
  • Bush Vibe
  • Birding
  • Wildlife
  • Scenery
  • Bush Vibe
  • Birding


The Waterberg Reserve is home to different parks and reserves offering very different wildlife experiences. Marakele and Welgevonden are the largest reserves and offer Big Five safaris. Marakele is mostly a self-drive destination, and Welgevonden is a classical Big Five private game reserve. There is talk of removing the fences between these two reserves, which would be a step forward in conservation and preserving the ecosystem. Several other small game farms offer a less authentic wildlife experience. Some of them are home to the Big Five, but most of them have plains grazers only and offer outdoor activities such as horseback riding and mountain biking aside from game drives. All of the private reserves have been stocked with animals and, if not all of the Big Five, most have included white rhino. All of the small reserves have leopard on their checklist, but these are leopard that live in the greater wilderness area and aren't kept in or out with fences. They are seldom seen.


The Waterberg is a scenic mountain range with an average height of 600m and several peaks rising to 1400m. The extensive rock formation was shaped by hundreds of millions of years of riverine erosion. The area contains three broad habitat types: sour bushveld, wetlands and mountain slopes. It is known as the Waterberg Moist Mountain Bushveld Savanna.

Places to Stay

Marakele National Park can be visited on a day trip, but all of the other reserves are visited on overnight packages. Some are fully inclusive, and some are self-catering.

  • Welgevonden Private Game Reserve
    Classic safari, Big Five present, second largest private reserve in Waterberg, several independent lodges offering affordable, mid-range and upmarket options, most include all meals and wildlife viewing activities, and some also include beverages
  • Lapalala Wilderness Area
    Classic safari, Big Five present, one of the largest and most ruggedly scenic private reserves in South Africa, one small lodge offering a super-exclusive safari experience inclusive of meals and wildlife viewing activities
  • Marataba Mountain and Safari Lodges
    Classic safari, Big Five present, in a vast and exclusive northern extension of Marakele National Park, two upmarket lodges fully inclusive with meals and wildlife viewing activities
  • Entabeni Safari Conservancy
    Classic Safari, helicopter flights, Big Five present, upmarket, fully inclusive options with meals and wildlife viewing activities
  • Ka'Ingo Private Game Reserve
    Classic Safari, canoe on Makolo River, Big Five present
  • Mabula Game Lodge
    Classic safari with Big Five present, self-catering villas and lodge accommodation including game drives, restaurant on the premises
  • Ants Nest & Ant's Hill Private Bush Homes
    Horseback riding, rhino and endangered antelopes (sable and roan), no lion and elephant, upmarket safari packages including accommodation, all meals, drinks and wildlife-viewing activities
  • Izintaba Game Farm
    Game drives, but none of the Big Five, plains grazers only, mid-range self- catering accommodation, dinner, lunch and breakfast available at extra costs
  • Shelanti Game Ranch
    Classic safari, no lion, affordable accommodation including self-catering and fully catered options, activities are extra
  • Jembisa Lodge
    Game drives, plains grazers only, self-catering and upmarket fully inclusive options
  • Lindani Game Farm
    Affordable, self-catering houses to rent to groups and families. No dangerous game, wildlife-viewing activities extra
  • Mokabi Lodge
    Game drives, mountain biking, horse riding, plains grazers only, mid-range accommodation, game drives by arrangement, restaurants available just outside the reserve
  • Kololo Game Lodge
    Game drives, mountain biking, hiking, plains grazers only, mid-range accommodation includes dinner and breakfast, one game drive included

Weather & Climate

The weather and climate of the Waterberg Biosphere is comparable to that of South Africa in general. More info:

Best Time To Visit

The best wildlife viewing in the Waterberg is in the drier winter months from May to September. The vegetation thins out as it gets drier in winter and animals tend to congregate around water sources. To simply enjoy the bush atmosphere – including bush breakfasts, sundowner drinks and nighttime barbeques – the warmer summer months from October to April may be better.

Getting There

The Waterberg is located about 250km/124mi north of Johannesburg. You can drive here with a rented car, but 4WD would be recommended for a self-drive safari in Marakele National Park. Most of the other parks will provide game drives, and you can drive up in a 2WD car. It is possible to organize a charter flight to Welgevonden Game Reserve.

Health & Safety

The Waterberg is a malaria-free area. Please read our vaccinations and malaria page for South Africa and our general wildlife viewing safety precautions page for more info:

Want To Visit Waterberg Biosphere Reserve?

Waterberg Biosphere Reserve Safaris

Waterberg Biosphere Reserve Safari Reviews

  • Wildlife
  • Scenery
  • Bush Vibe
  • Birding
  • Wildlife
  • Scenery
  • Bush Vibe
  • Birding
Most Helpful Expert Review
Lizzie Williams  –  
South Africa ZA

Lizzie is a reputed guidebook writer and author of the Footprint guides to South Africa, Namibia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

A fledgling but rewarding Big Five safari destination with an excellent wilderness vibe

The Waterberg Biosphere Reserve is wide basin of bushveld and rivers ringed by dramatic escarpments. It’s a magical part of South Africa with a rare wilderness quality and home to some of its most charismatic and sought-after wildlife....

Full Review

Latest User Review
rudyerasmus  –  
South Africa ZA
Reviewed: Mar 24, 2017

Mountains and Rivers very Good, Bush veld , with quite a few Private Reserves , with the necessary facilities. Photography, Vulture, breeding colonies and Rehabilitation, Big 5 Rehabilitation and Breeding , Hot Air Ballooning

Full Review