South Africa’s Waterberg is pure bushveld. It’s also known as Africa’s Eden.
You’ll find the Waterberg immediately north of Pretoria, with its northerly reaches snug up against the country’s border with Botswana – declared both a biosphere reserve and an indigenous forest in its own right.
Yet it remains surprisingly under-explored by those who head to the Kruger and Botswana for their bush experience (why, when there are so many malaria-free Big 5 game and safari lodges so much closer to home?)…
The Waterberg Meander zigzags between Marakele National Park and Wonderkop Nature Reserve, a feast of mountain peaks, dense forests, and sandstone rock formations over 8 000 square metres of savannah.
Included in the route are a feast of nature reserves, private game reserves and lodges, bush camps and wilderness reserves.
Almost all the feedback about the Waterberg includes the beauty of the place and how staff go the extra mile to make your time in lodges and game parks a perfect experience.
Why wouldn’t you add a bush experience so close to Johannesburg to your itinerary?
Best places to stay on the Waterberg Meander…
Not too much of a journey from either Pretoria or Johannesburg, Clifftop Safari Lodge is a wow.
Perched, quite literally, on the edge of a cliff it overlooks the Big 5 Welgevonden Private Game Reserve in which it lies. Its exclusivity extends to its limited offering of eight suites, each with its own deck and plunge pool. Rates include meals and selected beverages.
Another Vaalwater stay, Kaingo is said to far exceed visitors’ expectations. The lodge lies on the edge of the Mokolo River in the centre of the 8 800 hectare reserve, surrounded by bush and mountains.
With 12 safari rooms, and an additional family unit with its own patio and plunge pool, you’ll get your fill of lion, hyena, elephant, buffalo and possibly leopard, as well as plains game, with ease. Rates are full board.
Based in a really accessible part of the southern Waterberg Biosphere Reserve, Phumelelo Lodge Hotel lies on the edge of 12 000 hectares of savannah plains its invigorating decor, large sundeck and exclusive four chalets, each with its own private deck, playing second fiddle to its Big 5 access.
The cozy open-air boma and elevated upper deck – with views over the river and bushveld – make for that true out of Africa experience.
The Kwalata Wilderness is a 13 000 game reserve right in the heart of the Waterberg Meander, in amongst the mountains. There are two lodges within the reserve.
Valamanzi offers the choice of either fully catered or self-catering in reasonably priced chalets, whilst Zingela Lodge is better for groups with its three en-suite bedrooms in amongst huge fig trees. Both lodges overlook or have views of the dam.
If you’re at all fond of zebras (and who wouldn’t be) then Zebra Crossing is where experience them up close and personal (they’ll literally loom over your shoulder whilst you eat, if you let them).
The bush boutique hotel is completely dedicated to zebras and its six suites, two of which have additional lofts, are light and airy and surrounded by bush where it’s safe to escape for a bush walk or mountain bike ride.
Also in the Welgevonden Private Game Reserve (the other venue is Clifftop Safari Lodge above) Moonriver lies in the north of the reserve up against the mountains offering the full safari (including game drives) experience in five chalets surrounded by wild seringa trees.
Even sitting down to breakfast is a memorable experience, as you can see animals come to drink at the waterhole. If you get a moment to look up at the sky, you’ll remember your place in the universe.
There are a couple of options at the Legend Golf and Safari Resort in Entabeni Game Reserve (the place of the mountain).
Surprisingly affordable, you’ve a choice of one delux suite, five luxury suites, and an executive suite that adds a kitchen and braai area to the mix. The villa sleeps 8 and is a good option for a family group. Modern, clean lines with bush all round.
What makes Kwafubesi a win-win safari experience is it size – just 5 tents – beautifully equipped and with access to game drives and a peaceful camp experience (there’s even a plunge pool). You’ll see most, if not all, the Big 5 whilst here.
And when not out pursuing game the camp is tucked away in the tree line of the Mabula Private Game Reserve with access to giant eagle owls and a night sky that is only contested by the sunsets.
Itaga is one of SA Venues’ tried and tested luxury lodges – it’s stood the test of time and still comes up tops. It lies close to Bela Bela in the Mabalingwe Nature Reserve with access to the Big 5.
Best of all is its intimacy – only eight climate controlled African themed rondavel chalets with private patios and outdoor ‘bush showers’. The surrounding bushveld is breathtaking. When it comes to affordable luxury, it doesn’t get much better than Itaga.
If you’re going to treat yourself to a bushveld stay then Zwahili is a strong contender only 2 hours’ from Johannesburg.
A variety of suites, excellent food, the clear dome of the night sky and game drives and animals practically on the front lawn, there are also guided bush walks, walks up Witkop and over 400 species of birds in the reserve.
Which is your favourite place to stay on the Waterberg Meander?