Said to be the fourth largest game reserve in South Africa, the ever-increasingly popular Madikwe Game Reserve is also the country’s best kept secret. Despite this, the name is increasingly on people’s lips – perhaps because of its close proximity to Johannesburg (it is but a 3.5 hour easy drive on well-tarred road), or the fact that despite being practically on the Botswana border its Big 5 game viewing is in a malaria-free zone.
Whatever the reason, it was with ‘oh, so you’re off to Madikwe!’ ringing in my ears that I hopped on a plane and headed off for Gauteng, the envy of my colleagues. Despite a flight that was anything but effortless, my hired car and I made it with a half hour to spare on the journey to the North West and Impodimo Game Lodge …
One cannot enter Madikwe as a day visitor, and accommodation in Madikwe comes in a range of lodges that vary in budget from the height of luxury to the Mosethla Bush Camp, which is one up from camping, lacks electricity but does have hot water. My accommodation at Impodimo, on the other hand, was heavenly.
I’ve been fortunate, as this was not my first stay in Madikwe. I was also here, some years ago, to assist on the set of a film at Tau Game Lodge, who were incredible hosts and, despite the stay being fraught with the usual filming politics, was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever stayed.
But back to this visit. Impodimo was slightly closer to Gauteng than Tau, and I was later to learn that one can actually catch an air transfer from OR Tambo Airport to and from Madikwe, but the thought of getting on one of those tiny aircraft, given the recent airlink crash, was enough to leave me grateful for my air-conditioned hire number.
I arrived at Wonderboom Gate just as the sun was beginning to think about bidding adieu until the following day, already imbued with a new sense of calm as the surrounds had begun to expand into effortless open grasslands and bushveld plains, the odd rocky outcrop and hillock but a blip on an otherwise flat landscape. I was looking forward to the smells and sounds of the bush and at least a sighting of one of the big 5 if at all possible.
Madikwe supports a rich amount of life, both mammalian and vegetative. Vast open plains and open woodlands dominate, whilst the Rant van Tweedepoort cuts through the reserve and the Dwarsverg Mountains verge on the southern borders. An historical translocation exercise, called Operation Phoenix, saw the successful release of some 8 000 animals released into the reserve that included elephant, rhino, lion, buffalo, giraffe, spotted hyena and various antelope. Today there is an ongoing conservation policy throughout the reserve to maintain the beauty of the reserve and the health of its animals.
And it isn’t just the big game one can spot here. There are any number of hippos, African wild cats, cheetah, aardwolf, bat-eared foxes, jackals, hyenas and wild dog, never mind mongoose, Cape clawless otters, honey badger, striped polecat, warthog, aardvark, zebra, scrub hares, pocupines and tree squirrels. So starved for wild life you will not be, when staying here.
I found myself, in no time, with a fancy cocktail in my hand after being shown around the lodge. I had missed the afternoon game drive, but in a sense did not mind as I sat in the still that is twilight in the bush, the air rent only with the intermitent cry of bird, a waterhole within my peripheral view, the odd buck flicking its ears in interest at the slightest sound. Just then a herd of elephant effortlessly came into view – incredible how graceful these huge creatures can be! I had struck gold just moments after arriving! I might have missed out on a game drive, but who gets to sit, virtually alone, and watch elephant at a water hole?
My accommodation did not fail me either. Impodimo is a series of glass fronted chalets virtually carved into a hillside. Each one of them looks out into nature with views as far as the eye can see, whilst the interior is luxurious and incredibly comfortable.
That night in bed, my sleep was woken by the roar of a lion that I discovered, the following morning early on being woken for my game drive, was a young male thought to be one of the Sereti males – one of a coaltion of three young males that are but three years old and direct competition for Ditaba and Sepedi, the current rulers of Madikwe, now that the Batia brothers, Ditaba and Sepedi’s fathers, have died.
The game ranger was quite excited about getting on the drive so that we could catch up with the young lions. And I needed little encouragement after having missed my game drive the night before. After a piping hot cup of exceptional coffee and snacks that, despite the time of the morning, were delicious, we hopped into our open top vehicle and were off with little time to spare if we were to track down the lions.
Our knowledgeable ranger entertained us to the history of the lions of Madikwe whilst we drove. The Batia brothers, two phenomenal 16-year old lions, had died late in 2008 after reigning supreme in Madikwe, despite the threat of the Tsholo Mateya males. The Batia’s oldest sons, Ditaba and Sepedi, are now the ruling force, and manage the eastern half of the reserve. But new on the scene are the Sereti males who might only be three years old, but they’re large and have not yet been in many territorial disputes. There are over 70 lions in Madikwe, but these guys apparently are the ones to watch.
And watch we did. Within moments it seemed our landrover was hot on the trail of last night’s lion, and we spotted him in the distance not long afterwards. Unfortunately he was too far away to distinguish whether or not he belonged to any of the aforementioned males, but for me it was exciting enough to say that I’d seen a lion at all, and quite frankly, I was a little relieved that he was a safe distance from the vehicle.
My stay at Madikwe was over all too soon and I found myself back on a plane entering the fray that was civilisation with more than a pang at how far removed we are from nature and the sheer force and beauty of life in the bush.