Marakele National Park stretches across the unique wilderness of the Waterberg in Limpopo.
The Tswana name 'Marakele' means ‘place of sanctuary', and you could not find a better one than this secluded reserve in the heart of the Waterberg Mountains, 250km north of Johannesburg. A road takes visitors right up to the top of the Waterberg, where they can experience the most magnificent views. The Marakele National Park lies in the tranquil zone between the arid western and the wetter eastern parts of South Africa and therefore serves as a home to an abundance of mammals and bird species common to both regions.
Marakele offers diverse landscapes, from the imposing mountains to deep, lush valleys where huge cycads, ferns and cedar trees are found. The park enjoys a huge variety of animals and birds. Visitors to the park will appreciate the fact that the rest camps is unfenced, allowing the animals to move around, and Chacma baboons as well as vervet monkeys are regular visitors to the camps. Comfortably furnished tents can be found on the edge of the Apiesrivierpoort Dam. The tents are completely self-contained and there is one that has been adapted for the mobility impaired.
Lions, elephants and rhinos are some of the larger mammals that inhabit the Marakele National Park. The park boasts the largest population of breeding pairs of Cape vultures in the world - 800 individuals. The Marakele National Park has beautiful landscapes covering mountains, hills and valleys. and is home to towering yellowwoods and cedar trees. You will also find giant cycads and tree ferns. Access to the park is via the town of Thabazimbi.
Marakele National Park is idyllically located within the folds of the Waterberg Mountains. The location offers marvelous views of this mountainous region. From here guests can observe not only the diverse landscapes such as the valleys and grassy plains, but also the animal inhabitants grazing or making their way to watering holes.
Many visitors to Marakele National Park come specifically for the population of Cape vultures, which is the largest in the world and can be seen from the Vulture Restaurant. Be warned, however, that the journey to the vulture feeding grounds, set high on the escarpment, is not 'a walk in the park'.
The presence of the mountains, especially at dusk or dawn, combined with the diverse range of animals, from small to large, creates boatloads of opportunities for photographers. It is advised to bring a macro lens if you are interested in documenting the smaller wildlife or details of the park.
Guests will start their journey to Marakele at OR Tambo International in Johannesburg. Upon arrival, you will be welcomed and assisted in transferring to a charter flight to a private landing strip in the park. If Marakele is not the first stop on your itinerary, guests will either be flown to OR Tambo or driven to the park, depending on your previous destination.
Marakele is situated approximately 250km from Johannesburg, The drive to the park can take up to three and a half hours. If you prefer to travel overland to Marakele or are en route from another destination by road, you will be transported in a private, air-conditioned vehicle driven by an African Sky guide.
The best time to visit Marakele for wildlife viewing is during the dry season from May to September, when the vegetation is thinner and the animals stay in close proximity of the remaining water sources. The area does get cold in the winter evenings, and early morning drives require some warm clothing. The air at times seems hazy because of the dust.
From October to April, when the annual rains start falling, the park is transformed into a lush green African bush, and whilst this makes wildlife viewing harder than in winter, it is the absolute best time to see the birds. New-born animals can also be observed around the park. The peak summer months from December to February can be uncomfortably hot.
Marakele National Park was first known as Kransberg National Park when it was established in 1994, but changed its name to Marakele National Park a short while later. The area has seen some awe-inspiring people in recent history. The naturalist and poet Eugene Marais lived here and is best known for his work in the novel ‘Soul of the White Ant’. Another local, Ramolefe Boy Maotshe, became famous for fighting a leopard with his bare hands, and surviving. The leopard caught a calf from the herd of cattle that he was watching. He then surprised the leopard in an attempt to retrieve the calf. He survived the 15 minute fight and then made it to a hospital 10 hours later.
The Marakele National Park is also known for a number of prehistoric sites that were occupied by iron-aged people. As the name suggests, they had the ability to work iron, they did this by building clay furnaces to make the metal workable. Evidence suggests that these eastern Bantu-speaking people originated in what is now Nigeria between 200 BC and 200 AD. They moved east and south and eventually settled on the Limpopo River around 450 AD. They had the ability to make an iron hoe to work the land and planted crops such as sorghum and millet. They also kept livestock such as cattle, sheep and goats and therefore could settle in an area.
Marakele National Park contains all of the Big Five, but the buffaloes are very rare and shy. The only Big Five animal that one is almost guaranteed to see is the rhinoceros. The other large species one is likely to come across will be giraffe, Burchell's zebra and blue wildebeest. Elephant and hippopotamus are seen occasionally. Large predators such as lion, hyena, leopard and cheetah are present but some patience and perspicacity are necessary to find these. The interesting behavior of the Chacma baboon and vervet monkeys can entertain visitors for hours. Due to varied habitats, there are as much as 16 species of antelope, including: sable, eland, tsessebe and mountain reedbuck.
If you were to go on a night drive, there is also a chance of spotting cryptic insectivores like the aardvark and aardwolf. Marakele National Park is one of the best birding destinations in the country. One of the main attractions of the park is the 800 breeding pairs of Cape Vultures that make this the largest colony of Cape vultures in the world. The park is right in the middle of the transition zone between the arid western zone and the much wetter eastern area, which allow a vast amount of different bird species to occur in this area. More than 280 bird species have been documented here and it is a favorite location for birders to visit on the Big Birding Day.
In the northern reaches of South Africa, situated in the Limpopo Province, Marakele lives up to its Tswana name, meaning a ‘place of sanctuary’. It is unique in the fact that it is situated in a climate and vegetative transitional region, with drier western and wetter eastern areas. The diversity of the park is further amplified by the fact that it is located in the Waterberg Mountains, with over half of the park's vegetation belonging to the Waterberg Moist Bushveld group, which occurs on the higher areas of the mountainous landscape. These parts of the park usually receive a relatively high amount of rainfall throughout the year.
The reserve rises to 2088m above sea-level and tumbles to 1 050m above sea-level. The other major vegetation type that occurs within the park is the mixed bushveld that lies in the north, and southwestern reaches of the park. Rainfall is significantly lower than in the elevated areas and the soil is therefore more nutrient rich and most of the wildlife can be found in these zones. The Sweet Bushveld covers a very small area of the park, and is a very important vegetation type for the conservation of large predators, especially during the dry winter season. Luckily the planned western expansion will incorporate more of this crucial component.
Marakele National Park is a birder's heaven, and it’s a very popular location for birders to visit on the Big Birding Day, so don’t forget your binoculars. The main birding attraction is the largest colony of Cape vultures in the world. A strategically positioned mountain pass takes guests up the Waterberg massif to a vantage point in very close proximity of the breeding pairs. Many other birds can be seen as you hike up the escarpment, but Marakele’s wildlife should not be passed over. Game drives into the Waterberg offer guests the opportunity to encounter the full Big Five contingent. The black and white rhinos are two of the main attractions.There is also an abundance of flora to be examined, and bush walks are the perfect way to gain insight into the vegetation of the landscape. Bush walks are accompanied by experienced field rangers. If you have young children, this is the ideal safari destination for you. The Marataba Safari Lodge caters specifically for children with activities such as family safari drives, arts and crafts and Bug CSI. The lush moist bushveld on the higher slopes of the mountain range are picturesque, and the contrast between the dry and wet regions in the park are wonderful opportunities for landscape and wildlife photography.
Savor the views, savor the wildlife, savor the incomparable tranquility. Marakele is a one of a kind park that leaves visitors in awe time and time again. The Waterberg is a truly special wilderness that is criminally under-explored.
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