Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Madikwe Safari Lodge


Madikwe Game Reserve. October 2010
I have been wanting to visit the Madikwe Game Reserve for a number of years. Situated in North West province and on the Botswana border this recently protected area hosts a rich diversity of species. Something any keen wildlife enthusiast should really appreciate, and it’s Malaria free.
Semi-arid Kalahari bushveld with a broad mix of habitats and diverse geology sustains species not found or easily seen in the eastern game reserves of South Africa. Springbok, gemsbok (oryx), brown hyena, bat-eared fox, African wild cat, tsessebe, red hartebeest and eland were the special species I was keen to see along with the Park’s reputation for excellent sightings of Cape wild dog and black rhino.

Enthusiastically, Lana and I packed our camera equipment and a mix of clothing to cater for the changing season. We were not sure what the weather was going to be like? So possibly something warm enough for the early mornings / evenings and cool clothing and hats for the heat of the day.
An early flight out of Durban to Lanseria Airport, Johannesburg, had our hosts waiting to collect us at 07h30 for the 3,5 hour drive through to Madikwe Safari Lodge, our home for the next three days.

Madikwe Safari Lodge consists of 20 suites - divided into three camps. The larger 12 suite east camp, the 4 suite north camp and then the intimate 4 suite west camp ‘Villa” that should be booked by one party at a time. Brick under thatch with high ceilinged public areas made for delightfully cool rooms open to the lovely shimmering vistas over the bushveld and to the Dwarsberg Hills in the distance. 



Delightful lunch, relax – a massage? and then back for refreshments, teas and cake before heading out on the afternoon game drive. Marc, the head ranger and guide for the duration of our stay, gave a security briefing and short description on how in early 1991 “Operation Phoenix” swung into gear and the largest translocation of wildlife ever, commenced. Since then some 12,000 head of game , 28 different species, have been reintroduced to an area where farmers struggled to raise their crops and cattle.
An environmental impact study had been undertaken that showed that wildlife based tourism was the most beneficial option for this remote and economically depressed region. It certainly appears to be the case and expansion to the 67,000 ha reserve is already being implemented and further numbers of specific species are to be added. What exciting news. This is a special place.



The Rangers here have such a wide rounded knowledge of the bush and its inhabitants. Not only the wildlife but occasionally we would stop at some interesting herb to smell and feel. Sage never smelt as good. Care too is taken that the guests are as best aligned for photographs. Marc, an accomplished photographer added value and assisted for aspirant photographers with comments like “make sure you don’t cut off his tail in the picture” and such !

Madikwe Safari Lodge has chosen ‘open’ Toyota Landcruiser game drive vehicles, which were really comfortable with individual bucket seats for guests. So with bottles of water hastily grabbed from a large ice-filled ‘cooler’ we climbed aboard, cameras and binoculars at the ready and we were off. Along with management controlled burning there had been a fire caused by a lightning strike which had burnt ‘hot’ and affected quite a large area. The rains had barely begun and consequently only small sprouts of green were visible – dramatic countryside! Despite the burn, many of the animals seemed to favor feeding on the blackened branches. It seemed the fire had created toffee-apple like flavoured foodies which the elephant and black rhino in particular, seemed to relish.


Storm clouds in the distance, an eerie silence and something was up. The animals seemed to sense something was awry and were not as visible as we had hoped for our first drive. Having said that, a number of antelope, zebra, buffalo, baboon, jackal and warthog were all seen before Marc decided it was time for “sundowners”. A stretch of legs, a drink and the bright orb settles in the west. Something about the sunsets here - I remember from my numerous visits to the Botswana game parks just over the border -how the sunsets there were just so amazingly red. Madikwe too has this good fortune, is it the richness of the Platinum in the area, the Kalahari red soil dust?



Darkness, stars and a spotlight to find the nocturnal species. Our ranger, would use a red filter over the light when viewing the animals, particularly the diurnal species and was careful not to shine in their eyes. It could temporarily blind them somewhat, long after we had left them, and this could compromise their safety. A spotted hyena on the prowl, then an African wild cat. I hadn’t seen one for ages, super! So close and unconcerned, on the hunt. A barn and then a spotted eagle owl too. Slowly back to the Lodge and dinner. We arrived back to fresh face cloths for a quick wipe down and a delectable cocktail? Gin Fizz ? Why not?

We were ushered through to an enclosure just beyond the lounging areas and there roaring fires, a huge barbecue and much lively chatter greeted us in the boma. Drinks all round and we settled down to our feast under the stars. Starters and mains, what with braaied fillet and chicken done to perfection with veggies and all necessary accoutrements . This followed by the staff singing for the guests. Such harmony and enjoyment. Imagine ending with a divinely decadent chocolate tort – it did not take much to lull us to sleep that night.

In anticipation of the early morning game drive offerings, had us bathed and dressed before the security proffered his wake-up call knock on the door. Packed our gear and off to the main Lodge. The bush lining our path was alive with birdlife, all seemingly trying to outdo the next, what an awesome chorus. So many calls reminiscent of past visits to Botswana and some new ones too. Freshly squeezed orange juice, teas, coffee biscuits and rusks readied us for our morning sojourn into the bush. Marc was there bright and early, rifle and vehicle clean and ready.




We departed slightly after the other vehicles only to hear that they had found a pack of wild dog on a kill. As the number of vehicles at a sighting is limited Marc chose a slight detour in order to get there once the first vehicles had had their fair share of viewing. How advantageous, right there next to this winding track through the burnt bush was a black rhino and her calf. Her head stuck deep in a delectable Sicklebush chomping at the fronds did not produce the best of photographic images but the calf was active and made up for this. Eventually our presence was felt and off they trotted. We trotted off to the wild dog and what a super sighting. A pack of 5 adults and some 5 healthy pups who regularly squealed and called for the spoils of the kill to be regurgitated for them.



While we were watching this lot, a brown hyena snuck up and then settled down watching the energetic interaction – hoping to secure some discarded tit-bit? Then a small breeding herd of elephant hastened past whilst the pups put on a brave show of hunting a flock of helmeted guineafowl who voiciferously challenged their approach.




An so the day went by with some rather excellent sightings, smells and tastes. Marc was regaling us with the history of the region, early and middle stoneage artifacts have been discovered in the Park. Then let us know that he and some rangers had discovered some ancient food caches, still in the clay pots, secreted away in the inselbergs to the north west. Well that made for an excellent afternoon game drive destination. Out across the open plains with sightings of springbok, gemsbok , a pride of 5 reposing lion, along with other antelope and giraffe, warthog and zebra. Geomorphogically the inselbergs are not as expected and are actually a mass of jagged boulders. Amongst this lot is where the caves and hidy-holes are to be found, an anthropologists dream. We were taken to some caves and there were the pots, mostly still intact. One can only conjecture as to what relics and secrets from the past are to be found here.

The sun was on its way to the horizon as we made for the nearby ‘amphitheater’ for sundowners. We marveled at how the rocks retained the heat absorbed during the day and now radiating out at an ideal temp for our sundowners, as overhead the clouds billowed and gathered threatening rain.

We had quite an interesting stop at a dam on the way back, where we found two black rhino sparring, 2 white rhino were in close attendance seemingly cheering them on with the flash of lightening doing its own sparring to Earth in the background. Further on and just before reaching the Lodge, the first of the rain fell, quenching some of the persistent fires still smoldering on the Leadwood stumps and a rather parched earth .

Dinner that evening was on the expansive deck at the Lodge. Candle lit and what a menu – even prawns in the bush. The Lodge certainly caters well and there is always an alternative choice . The Lodge house wines are really excellent too. This became a rather festive evening - thanks to security who escort one to the rooms after dark – a safety procedure at most Big 5 bushveld venues.

The following morning was clear and fresh with an exciting range of sightings, possibly jackal trying to secure their share of a lion kill, the highlight. A brave little fellow managed to sneak in and make safely off with a section of the lower colon from the zebra, which he proudly brought over to us, so that we could witness his enjoyment, much to the chagrin of the two large blackmaned felids.


 

Sadly we left this very friendly, professionally run venue. Our stay was over, but in that short space of time we had learnt so much, realized the game viewing potential of this special place Madikwe, and created a yearning to return and explore this rather divers venue further. I can see now why Madikwe Safari lodge enjoys such good game viewing as it is so well situated in the reserve and is so easily able to access the Park in all directions.
Thank you for a most rewarding few days in your care Madikwe Safari Lodge.
The region is also imbued in history and has seen the passage of Mzilikazi and a range of explorers, traders, hunters and missionaries, including Dr David Livingstone, Sir Cornwallis Harris and the famous South African author, Herman Charles Bosman. A copy of his Mafeking Road is to be found in each suite at Madikwe Safari Lodge. In line with &Beyond Africa’s vision, Madikwe Game Reserve is run as a joint venture between the North West Parks Board, the private sector and the local communities. &Beyond supports the local community and a village close to the Park. Their wildchild program allows students from these communities to experience an &Beyond Conservation Lesson on the reserve. Hopefully to become tomorrow’s guardian of Africa’s wilderness.

3 comments:

  1. Great blog about a great place ! We love Madikwe and with Marc as your Ranger you got the best deal !!!
    Checkout our blog at http://madikwe-phinda.blogspot.com/

    Best wishes
    Brian & Diane Warren
    Abu Dhabi

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