Madikwe Game Reserve is located on the border between Botswana and the North West province of South Africa. It is a malaria-free Big Five-hosting reserve and was created by merging low-yield cattle farms into a high-yield conservancy. This was done in order to create jobs, as cattle farming is not labor intensive. The reserve today is a model for other innovators who want to create jobs, generate income and conserve nature at the same time. Madikwe is a popular reserve with a large amount of accommodation options that literally attracts thousands of visitors every year.
Madikwe Game Reserve does not allow day visitors unless they have pre-booked through one of the lodges, as there are no picnicking or camping facilities in the reserve. Private vehicles may only be used to access or exit the lodge. All other driving in the reserve is conducted by experienced rangers and guides in open safari vehicles.
Madikwe has 15 public access lodges and 16 privately-owned lodges . The public lodges range from very luxurious chalets to fully-equipped safari tents and the accent is primarily upmarket. All the public lodges are fully catered and serviced. Every lodge in Madikwe has its own unique character, whether set beside a river, sheltered in the bush or overlooking a cliff.
Game drives are conducted at dawn, dusk and in the evening. Visitors who have never been on a night drive may find themselves astonished at the amount of interesting sights discovered under cover of darkness. Guided game walks are also offered and the experienced guides harbor intimate knowledge of the terrain and its inhabitants.
If you’d like to see lions, do yourself a big favor and visit Madikwe. The reserve almost has too many lions, and even had to transfer some of these magnificent creatures to other parks and reserves to keep the population at bay. A whopping 60 lions - the most the reserve can sustainably conserve – can be found in the park.
Unlike many other parks and reserves, Madikwe doesn’t have a "keep to the designated roads policy", which means that if the animals aren’t coming to you, the rangers will take you off the beaten track to the animals you wish to see. The bundu-bashing ride can be a bit bumpy, but it’s worth it every single time.
Madikwe is the fourth largest reserve in South Africa and encompasses a diversity of biomes, which include bushveld, savanna grassland and riverine forest. Game drives are the favorite pastime, and there are many opportunities for guests to experience these different habitats and their inhabitants.
Guests to Madikwe Game Reserve must travel to the northern reaches of South Africa. Traveling to Madikwe is easiest from OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg. Upon arrival at the airport, guests will be assisted in transferring to a charter flight which takes visitors directly to the game reserve in the North-West province.
If Madikwe is not the first destination on your itinerary you will be transferred to the reserve via a private, air-conditioned vehicle. The reserve is approximately 150km from popular destinations such as the popular Sun City Resort. The drive through the North West offers visitors a wonderful opportunity to spot wildlife, as game farms are prominent in the area.
Madikwe is one of the rare reserves that does not really have a best time to visit, as the animals do not undertake any major migrations and, no matter how thick or thin the vegetation, they may be encountered somewhere in the area. For birders, however, the rainy summer season is the best time to visit, as the migratory and local birds are present.The dry winter months make spotting wildlife a bit easier as the vegetation thins, and the cooler temperatures during the day are great for outdoor activities such as hiking and bush walks. The summers in Madikwe can become hot, but it is not as humid as parks situated closer to the coastal regions.
Madikwe Game Reserve has its roots in the political history of South Africa. During the apartheid years, the South African government created ‘Bantustans’ or self-governing homelands for indigenous black people. One of these was an area named Bophuthatswana. The area where Madikwe now lies was used for low-yield cattle farming which neither created jobs, nor stimulated the economy for the people of Bophuthatswana. Economists realized that another plan had to be made in order to generate jobs and money. In 1991, they started creating a game reserve from scratch. The result is a model for what conservation can do. Bop Parks, as it was known, established a situation where land and wildlife was managed by the Bop Government while the private sector built lodges and the local community received employment and income.
Bop Parks launched Operation Phoenix in 1991 and started bringing in individual animals. By 1997, more than 8 000 animals had been translocated to Madikwe. The reserve, which comprises 75 000 hectares, also has a number of very successful lodges that were set up by private companies and the three villages around the park have blossomed because of the many opportunities presented for employment. Women are doing particularly well, as a large number are employed by the park and the lodge owners. Madikwe exists as one of the more exclusive private reserves because of the cooperation between the public and private sectors. Madikwe is a model for the benefits of conservation – its job creation and social upliftment programs have had far-reaching benefits for the park, its management and the people that it employs.
All of the Big Five animals occur in Madikwe Game Reserve. Big herds of elephant and buffalo are common place. The reserve has both the black and white rhinoceros, with the white rhino being quite common and the much rarer black rhino is seen occasionally. Prides of lions are seen frequently and there is also a very good chance to spot the elusive leopard. A highlight of Madikwe Game Reserve is the wild dogs that are now common in the reserve and have become habituated to the game viewers. This allows for amazing close up photos of this endangered animal. Another animal not seen often would be the brown hyena that is accustomed to this dry environment.
The list of large mammal species just goes on and on, there are 66 large mammals in total. Cheetahs occur at relatively high density so there is always a chance - however small – that a lucky guest could see the world’s fastest land mammal chasing down a small antelope. There are plenty of giraffe and zebra that make for brilliant photography against majestic backdrops. Hippos are common, as well as a variety of antelope such as springbok, gemsbok, eland and sable. You might come across a black-backed jackal or even spot the rare pangolin. There is an abundance of birds with more than 300 species recorded, some highlights being the yellow-billed hornbill and lilac-breasted roller.
The Madikwe Game Reserve encompasses a diverse range of terrains which include mountains, seasonal wetlands, bushveld, savanna, Kalahari veld and thornveld, to name but a few. The reserve is still very young, and the farming and hunting activities that took place on the land severely damaged the natural ecosystems and vegetation that occurred naturally. The varying veld management systems that have been used over the years can be thanked in part for the different vegetation types that can be found. The reserve's success with Operation Phoenix has seen a miraculously quick recovery in terms of both animal and vegetative species that belong in the area.
Geologically, the park is also home to various geological formations that, over millions of years, created a multifaceted basis on which the various vegetation types can grow. Similarly, the varying climate is another element that creates dissimilar environments for numerous categories of plants to prosper. The terrain can, to a large extent, be classified as open grasslands and bushveld, which include mixed bushveld, Kalahari bushveld, arid sweet bushveld and turf thornveld. In an effort to further conserve the natural environment, Madikwe and the nearby Pilanesberg Game Reserve have teamed up to create a natural corridor between the reserves.
Madikwe is the epitome of ease and caters for all types of guests. If you are traveling with children, for example, you can rest assured knowing that the malaria-free reserve has their best interest in mind. Specially trained expert guides can take the kids on a kiddies game drive, and the lodge is equipped with educational entertainment and fun activities such as painting and arts and crafts. If you are not traveling with children, a more secluded and intimate experience is offered at various other lodges found in the reserve where guests can enjoy the scenery from their private deck and relax in their private plunge pool.
Game drives at Madikwe are the best way to cover as much territory as possible and in doing so viewing more of the abundance of wildlife found in the reserve. Drives are guided by experienced rangers who share their intimate knowledge of the animals and the landscape with guests. There are also opportunities to interact with local villages and learn more about the indigenous people of the area. Short walks and bush breakfasts are also available at some of the lodges, which is great for birding enthusiasts. In the evenings, guests can enjoy a traditional bush fire, or what some would like to refer as a 'Bush TV', or gaze at the intensity of the stars.
Experiences in the Madikwe Game Reserve are all about the game viewing experience, as the reserve is known for its sheer abundance. Big Five sightings are the norm rather than the exception. Remember to savor the smaller things too, like stargazing.