Bushveld Wildlife Safari (Full Itinerary)
This wonderful 8-day Bushveld Wildlife Safari experience is guided by our expert guide with visits to Marakele National Park, Pilanesberg Game Reserve and Madikwe Game Reserve as some of the highlights. The excellent experience of your personal guide offers that once in a lifetime safari.
Next departure date: May 2021
Start of safari in Johannesburg; drive to Marakele National Park
Welcome to the “rainbow nation” of South Africa! Your fantastic Bushveld safari will start today in one of the most vibrant cities in Africa!
You will be met by your Nature Travel guide at the O.R. Tambo International Airport on the outskirts of Johannesburg, South African biggest city and the economic hub of the continent. Johannesburg, affectionately called Jo’burg, Jozi, and E’Goli, the “city of gold,” is the financial and industrial metropolis of South Africa, built on a rich history of gold mining. We will pack our bags in the comfortable, airconditioned vehicle that we will be using for the duration of the tour, and then set off.*Please note that we advise an early arrival into Johannesburg, as this ensures an almost full afternoon at Marakele National Park. Alternatively, you can arrive a day or two before the official start of the tour to enjoy Johannesburg and its many attractions at your own pace. If you would like us to arrange extra activities for you (like a visit to historic Soweto and the Mandela Museum, theme park rides at Gold Reef City, or the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Cradle of Humankind nearby) please don’t hesitate to ask. We will gladly assist.
From O.R. Tambo we will drive about 3 hours to our first exciting destination of the tour. We will pass the city of Pretoria, the capital of South Africa, and make our way north on the N1 highway. We will have some time to get to know each other and find out what each person’s main sighting priorities are for the safari. At the town of Bela-Bela we will enjoy a quick lunch before we turn in a westerly direction and reach the Marakele National Park on the outskirts of the iron mining town of Thabazimbi.
Marakele National Park lies in the heart of the Waterberg Biosphere Reserve, a 650,000 hectare mountainous area in the Limpopo province. The average height of the spectacular mountain range is 600 metres (2,000 ft) above sea level, with the Geelhoutkop rising to 1,830 metres (6,000 ft) above sea level.
The 670 km2 (260 sq mi) park was established in 1994 as the Kransberg (literally meaning “cliff mountain”) National Park, but the name was soon changed to Marakele, a local Tswana language word meaning “place of sanctuary”. It is characterised by rugged mountain landscapes, rolling hills and deep valleys. Magnificent yellowwood and cedar trees, five-meter-high cycads, and tree ferns are just some of the botanical delights.
The malaria-free park lies at the transitional zone between the dry western and more moist eastern regions of the country, and as such holds some fascinating and unique flora and fauna species, and is of great interest to birdwatchers in particular. Marakele is home to Africa’s famed Big Five, as well as 16 species of antelope and various other smaller mammals; 91 different species have been recorded in the park. Over 350 species of birds have been recorded in the park, including the largest colony of endangered Cape Vultures in the world.
Depending on what time we reach Marakele, we could go for a late afternoon game drive in the park or do a birding walk in camp if there is not sufficient time for a drive.
We will stay at Bontle rest camp during our time in Marakele. The camp has unobstructed views of the unspoiled bush and mountain surrounds; it’s no coincidence that Bontle means “beautiful” in Tswana. The camp has 10 self-catering tented units, all featuring a private veranda.
We will enjoy a traditional South African “braai” (barbeque) tonight, and enjoy our first evening together on our exciting Bushveld Bonanza tour.
Marakele National Park
Today we have a full day to explore the spectacular and varied mountain scenery and animals of Marakele!
The area that the park is situated in, was home to famous South African naturalist, lawyer, poet and writer Eugene Marais (9 January 1871 – 29 March 1936). Marais studied nature in the area and wrote in his native Afrikaans language about the animals he observed. For instance, his studies of termites led him to conclude that the colony ought to be considered as a single organism, a radical theory at the time. Marais also studied snakes and baboons extensively. He is acknowledged as the father of the scientific study of the behaviour of animals, known as ethology. He also discovered the Waterberg Cycad, which was named after him (Encephalartos eugene-maraisii).
There is much to do in Marakele, including official morning and afternoon game drives, bush walks and even 4×4 trails. We will have an early morning coffee with traditional South African rusks (a sort of dunking biscuit that you will grow to love on this safari!) before we set off into the park. We will have a morning drive, return for lunch and a short siesta, before setting off in the afternoon again for another drive.
Mammals we will look for include carnivores like Leopard, Lion, Spotted and Brown Hyaena, Cheetah, African Wild Dog, Caracal, Serval, Bat-eared and Cape Fox, Honey Badger and several genet and mongoose species. Antelope species include Sable Antelope, Greater Kudu, Common Eland, Impala, Waterbuck, Tsessebe, Common Duiker, Steenbok, Klipspringer, Gemsbok, Nyala, Bushbuck and Springbok. Other mammals include African Elephant, White and Black Rhinoceros, African Buffalo, Giraffe, Aardvark, Temminck’s Ground Pangolin, Cape Porcupine, Chacma Baboon, Vervet, Rock Hyrax, Bushpig, Common Warthog, and various shrew, mongoose and squirrel species. A treasure trove of species indeed!
From a birding perspective, Marakele is an excellent place to look for raptors. Apart from the world famous 800 breeding pairs of Cape Vulture, we will look out for Verreaux’s, Wahlberg’s, Tawny, Brown Snake and Black-chested Snake Eagle, African Hawk-eagle, African Harrier-hawk, Jackal Buzzard, Rock Kestrel, Peregrine and Lanner Falcon, and many others. Non-raptor special species we will search for include Short-toed Rock Thrush, Buff-streaked Chat, Gurney’s Sugarbird, Southern Boubou, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Arrow-marked and Southern Pied Babbler, Tawny-flanked and Black-chested Prinia, Pin-tailed and Shaft-tailed Whydah, Dark-capped and African Red-eyed Bulbul, Grey and Cape Penduline Tit and White-browed and Kalahari Scrub Robin, and many others.
There are also over 60 reptilian species to look for, including Lobatse Hinge-backed Tortoise, Black Mamba, Puff Adder, Nile and White-throated Monitor, Waterberg and Common Flat Lizard, and many others.
We will return to camp late in the afternoon for another meal around the fire and a good night’s rest thereafter. Remember to look up at the stars when you walk to your tent tonight – they are spectacular out here in the remote African bush.
Marakele National Park to Pilanesberg Game Reserve
This morning we say goodbye to the mountains of the Marakele area and start the next chapter of our exciting trip.
We will have a quick breakfast and do a game drive in the park before heading out at mid-morning. We will drive almost straight south, crossing into the North West province of South Africa to reach the Pilanesberg Game Reserve’s Manyane Gate after only about an hour. You will notice the terrain flattening out as we leave the mountains during our drive, however, as we reach the Pilanesberg area they start rising again… you will soon learn why!
We will enter the park and immediately start exploring the area surrounding Manyane resort.
We will return after a short drive and have lunch at the restaurant in the resort. We will then check into our accommodation in Manyane for the next three nights and have a short siesta or a walk around the ample resort grounds. The chalets all offer en suite bathroom facilities, air conditioning, a fully equipped kitchen and a patio. The large resort itself boasts two swimming pools, walking trails, a walk-in aviary with indigenous birds, a small shop, a mini golf course and a restaurant offering a la carte and buffet options.
In the afternoon we will go out again and do our first game drive proper in the park.
The 572 km2 (221 sq mi) Pilanesberg Game Reserve (or just “Pilanesberg” to the locals, but named after the Tswana chief Pilane) rises up out of the surrounding Bushveld, the result of being the crater of a long extinct volcano’s eruptions some 1,200 million years ago! This ‘Pilanesberg Alkaline Ring Complex’ is the park’s primary geological feature, and one of the largest volcanic complexes of its type in the world. The park is in a Bushveld transition zone between the dry Kalahari and wetter Lowveld vegetation, resulting in varied and interesting fauna and flora species.
We will be able to explore the park on nearly 200km (124 miles) of roads. For ‘out-of-car’ experiences, there are a number of bird hides and scenic picnic sites available. The “Pilanesberg Centre” is a restaurant and shop, as the name suggests, in the middle of the park and is a famous place to meet friends and nature lovers alike. There are several accommodation options in and outside the park, ranging from camping to ultra-luxurious lodges. There are also hot air ballooning options for the adventurous, and guided walking safaris are offered too. Pilanesberg is also right next door to the glamorous Sun City holiday and entertainment complex with its gambling arenas and numerous 5 star hotels. Sun City is home to the Nedbank Golf Challenge, an annual golf tournament hosted by sporting icon Gary Player. The tournament is affectionately known as “Africa’s Major” and is one of eight premium tournaments on the Race to Dubai.
We will return to Manyane in the late in the afternoon for dinner in the resort’s restaurant and a good night’s sleep.
Pilanesberg Game Reserve
Today we have our first of two full days in Pilanesberg.
We will have breakfast at the resort and then enter the park on our first morning game drive. We will take it slow and enjoy the incredible natural beauty and fantastic fauna and flora of this gem of a park. We will return to the resort for lunch and a short siesta in the heat of the day, before setting off on an afternoon game drive again.
Thanks to an ambitious game translocation programme called Operation Genesis in 1979, involving 110 km (70 mi) of game fencing and the re-introduction of many animal species, Pilanesberg’s generous grasslands, rocky outcrops, sloped hills, dense pockets of vegetation and thickly wooded gorges now has in excess of 7,000 individual animals. Virtually all of the animal species native to southern African can be found in Pilanesberg, a mere two hours from Johannesburg!
In terms of mammal species, we will look for Africa’s Big Five (Lion, Leopard, Black and White Rhinoceros, African Elephant and African Buffalo), as well as Brown Hyaena, African Wild Dog, Cheetah, Caracal, Serval, Bat-eared Fox, Giraffe, Common Eland, Greater Kudu, Plains Zebra, Common Wildebeest, Red Hartebeest, Waterbuck, Tsessebe, Hippopotamus, Springbok, Impala and even Sable Antelope if we are very lucky. Many smaller mammals like mongoose and hare species also occur, and it is worth keeping an eye out in our resort grounds for these.
The reserve is also a photographer’s dream, with the sunrises and sunsets over the rim of the volcano especially striking. Some of the most beautiful scenery is to be had at the huge artificial Mankwe Dam in the middle of the park with its recently refurbished game viewing hide. Many wildlife documentaries and award-winning photos have been shot in the area of the dam. Recent polls conducted by the South African Tourism Board showed that Pilanesberg is now the most popular game reserve in the country, and you will see why during our stay here.
We will return to our resort late in the afternoon and enjoy dinner and another good night’s rest on our fantastic safari.
*Please note: there is an option for you to enjoy a hot-air balloon ride on one of the mornings that we are in Pilanesberg. It is the only balloon operation in South Africa to launch from within a National Park, providing a truly unique flying experience over the pristine Bushveld wilderness. It is undoubtedly the finest way of viewing the park. Please let us know well in advance of the safari if you are interested in this activity.
Pilanesberg Game Reserve
Today we have another full day in malaria-free Pilanesberg.
We will have breakfast at the resort and then enter the park. We will stay in the park the whole day today, enjoying lunch and an hour or two of relaxing at the Pilanesberg Centre in the middle of the park.
We will of course still encounter many mammal species, but we will focus on the other fauna today too. Birdlife in Pilanesberg is excellent, with over 360 species having been recorded, some from the eastern Bushveld and some from the arid Kalahari to the west. Special species we will try to tick include Cape, White-backed and Lappet-faced Vulture, African Fish Eagle, Tawny and Martial Eagle, Black-chested Snake Eagle, Western Osprey, Rock Kestrel, Pale Chanting Goshawk, Secretarybird, African Grass Owl, Spotted Eagle-owl, Pearl-spotted Owlet, Marabou Stork, Kori Bustard, Northern Black and Red-crested Korhaan, Temminck’s Courser, African Crake, Hamerkop, African Spoonbill, Southern Yellow-billed and African Grey Hornbill, African Cuckoo, Lilac-breasted Roller, Magpie Shrike, Red-billed Oxpecker, Emerald-spotted Wood Dove, Short-toed Rock Thrush, Flappet, Long-billed, Sabota and Rufous-naped Lark, Barred Wren-warbler, Black-faced and Violet-eared Waxbill, Long-billed Crombec, Shaft-tailed Whydah, Marico Flycatcher, Desert Cisticola, Great Sparrow and many others.
We will also try to fit a camp walk into our plans during our stay. Manyane’s grounds is a great place to spot Crimson-breasted Shrike, Southern Pied Babbler, Kalahari Scrub Robin, Chestnut-vented Warbler, Groundscraper Thrush and many more.
Pilanesberg also boasts at least 60 reptile species, and we will try to see Nile Crocodile, Southern African Python, Nile and White-throated Monitor, Southern Tree Agama, Leopard Tortoise, House Gecko and many others. We will return to our resort late in the afternoon and enjoy our last dinner and overnight stay in Pilanesberg.
Pilanesberg Game Reserve to Madikwe Game Reserve
Today we move onto the final part of our Bushveld tour.
We will enjoy a last game drive in Pilanesberg after breakfast and exit the park at the Bakubung Gate in the southeast of the park. We will then drive northwest for about 2 hours, reaching Madikwe Game Reserve’s Molatedi Gate in the early afternoon.
Our accommodation for the next two nights (Mosetlha Bush Camp) is right in the middle of the 750 km2 Madikwe Game Reserve, often referred to as just “Madikwe”. We will see our first animals and birds on our way to the camp, even though it will be in the heat of the day.
The family owned Mosetlha Bush Camp and Eco Lodge is well known for its exclusive and private wilderness encounters. The traditional bush style cuisine prepared by the renowned chefs leaves nothing to be desired. The rustic but beautiful camp is unfenced and offers accommodation for a maximum of 16 guests. This guarantees a personal and private atmosphere. The genuine safari-style wooden cabins are situated in the midst of the Madikwe bushveld around a common fireplace and lapa area. Mosetlha also caters for children from the age of 8 and older, so it is the perfect place for a first safari for older kids and teenagers.
We will check in at our bush camp and have a late lunch, then retreat to our cabins and join up again in the late afternoon for a game drive on an open 4×4 vehicle, with the help of the expert local guide and tracker. We will be out for about 4 hours and halfway through pause at a picturesque spot for drinks and snacks at sunset. After dark, spotlights are used to ensure that you are able to witness our more secretive, nocturnal animal and birdlife.
Named after the Madikwe or Marico river, on whose basin it is located, Madikwe Game Reserve was opened in 1991 and comprises a beautiful tract of Bushveld on the edge of the Kalahari, stretching all the way up to the Botswana border. Madikwe is run as a joint venture between the State, the private sector and local communities. The success of this approach has made Madikwe the role model for similar ventures elsewhere in South Africa. The reserve is actually relatively close to Pilanesberg and there is currently a long term plan to eventually establish a wildlife corridor between the two parks.
After establishment of the park the process of reintroducing wildlife to the area began in 1992 under the codename Operation Phoenix, which relocated entire breeding herds of African Elephants, African Buffaloes and rhinos along with various species of antelopes. Following Operation Phoenix, Madikwe has also successfully reintroduce rarer predatory species such as Lion, Cheetah, Spotted Hyaena and African Wild Dog, bringing the total large mammal population of the reserve to over 10,000.
Madikwe is currently the fifth largest game reserve, but also one of the lesser-known parks in South Africa. Together with the fact that no day visitors are allowed, Madikwe really is a hidden gem in the country’s vast portfolio of wildlife conservation areas. The park offers a number of luxurious lodges as well as community lodges in a malaria- free zone. The terrain is mainly open grasslands and Bushveld plains, interspersed with rocky outcrops and single mountains, in the transition zone between the Kalahari and the Bushveld. There is also a perennial river and seasonal wetlands, resulting in a wide variety of animals and birds.
After our afternoon game drive we will return to our bush camp for a late dinner. After this, you can take your drinks or coffee to the camp fire and share your experiences of the day before collapsing into bed, to sleep as you can only do in the silence of the Bushveld, under the stars.
Madikwe Game Reserve
Today we have a full day to explore the wonders of Madikwe.
We will have breakfast and lunch at Mosetlha and enjoy morning and afternoon guided game drives on open vehicles.
Madikwe is possibly best known for the fantastic sightings of the endangered African Wild Dog, but there is a lot more to see here than just these fascinating and beautiful “painted dogs”. On our game drives we will search for other predators like Lion, Leopard, Cheetah, Brown and Spotted Hyaena, and Caracal. We will also search for the other members of the Big Five, as well as Hippopotamus, Giraffe, Common Wildebeest, Common Eland, Greater Kudu, Red Hartebeest, Plains Zebra, Bushbuck, Waterbuck, Impala, Gemsbok, Tsessebe, Springbok, Common Duiker, Mountain Reedbuck and Klipspringer.
Smaller mammals we might see include Common Warthog, Vervet, Bat-eared and Cape Fox, Black-backed Jackal, Honey Badger, South African Large-spotted Genet, several mongoose and squirrel species, and even Cape Clawless Otter.
Rare mammals we might see on our drive after sunset include Aardvark, Aardwolf, Temminck’s Ground Pangolin, Cape Porcupine, Serval and African Civet.
As with the mammals, there is a nice mix of avian species from the Kalahari with those from the more typical Bushveld. Over 310 species have been recorded in the reserve up to date. Special species we will look for include Cape, White-backed and Lappet-faced Vulture, Verreaux’s, Martial, Tawny and Wahlberg’s Eagle, African Hawk-eagle, Gabar Goshwak, Montagu’s Harrier, Spotted Eagle-owl, Southern White-faced Owl, Pearl-spotted Owlet, Kori Bustard, White Stork, Water and Spotted Thick-knee, Double-banded, Temminck’s, Burchell’s and Bronze-winged Courser, Yellow-throated, Burchell’s and Namaqua Sandgrouse, Natal and Swainson’s Spurfowl, Crested and Coqui Francolin, Crested and Acacia Pied Barbet, Freckled and Fiery-necked Nightjar, Brubru, Orange-breasted Bushshrike, Black-crowned Tchagra, Black-backed Puffback, Southern Boubou, Lilac-breasted and Purple Roller, Karoo and Kurrichane Thrush, Mocking Cliff Chat, Swallow-tailed and Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Southern Pied Babbler, Barred Wren-warbler, Green-winged Pytilia, Marico Sunbird, 5 species of sparrow, 4 species of bunting, Red-billed Buffalo Weaver, Blue, Violet-Eared and Black-Faced Waxbill, Black-throated Canary, African Firefinch and many more. Madikwe is also one of the best places to see the very rare yellow form of the Crimson-breasted Shrike.
Reptiles we will look for include five species of tortoise and terrapin, 26 snake species, 22 lizard species and some huge Nile Crocodiles. There are also 20 amphibian species and at least 50 different butterflies to be seen on the reserve.
We will return after our afternoon/evening game drive and have a last wonderful Bushveld dinner together under the African sky.
Madikwe Game Reserve to Johannesburg and Departure
Unfortunately, this is our final morning together after an excellent Bushveld Bonanza tour.
We will do a game drive again this morning after breakfast, maybe seeing something spectacular to stay in our memories forever!
The drive back to O.R. Tambo International Airport is about 4 hours long, and we will pass some beautiful savannah scenery on our way back.
We will say our goodbyes at O.R. Tambo International Airport after an unforgettable tour.
*Please note: Extensions to Kruger National Park, Botswana or any other attraction in Southern Africa can easily be arranged.
For more information on this or any of our other safaris, talk to a specialist at firstname.lastname@example.org.