Everyone needs to get away from the concrete jungle and what better escape than to the bush? I am often asked which game reserve in South Africa is my favourite and although it is difficult to say - as each one has features I appreciate - I particularly like Madikwe, in the North West Province. And a recent stay at Madikwe Safari Lodge confirmed my fondness for this beautiful reserve.
A fly-in safari is always a great treat and I jetted into Madikwe in a Federal Air Cessna Caravan. It is good fun game-spotting from the air; watching impala scatter as they dash off the runway. A handful of giraffes, with enviable eyelashes, even showed up as our welcoming party.
An aerial view shows that Madikwe is a vast, dry area with scattered thorn trees and just a few dams to provide water for the game. There is only one river, the Groot Marico, on the edge of the reserve.
I noticed a large area had been burned and heard that there are frequent controlled burns to prevent wildfires spreading too far. Fires are part of the natural cycle in this bush, and some seeds depend on them to germinate.
Madikwe Safari Lodge is ideally situated to explore the reserve. The line of suites that comprise the lodge hug a hill, so all have a splendid view of the savanna and hills in the distance. My suite was no exception and I thoroughly enjoyed the private deck area, with its plunge pool – ideal for a skinny dip - and an alfresco shower.
Glass of iced sauvignon blanc in hand I waded gingerly into the cool pool to gaze at the view. Several pretty birds were foraging in the trees next to the deck, amongst which were long-billed crombec, white-bellied sunbirds and the vividly colourful crimson-breasted shrike.
After lingering in the outdoor shower I sat on the deck chair and read Herman Charles Bosman’s legendary short stories. Being in the hot and dry Groot Marico – where the stories are set – somehow brought them alive for me.
Our game guide, Kenneth, had worked in the Kruger for many years and enjoyed it there, but says he loves the biomes that make up Madikwe. The reserve lies within a transition region between Lowveld bushveld and the Kalahari thornveld.
Toward the Kalahari edge there were some delightful surprises for us. We heard a shrill, high-pitched yell and Kenneth told us it was the call of the brown hyena. An adult was foraging, then pausing every few minutes to paste on grass stalks and bushes with secretions from its anal glands. Charming! We then came to a den with two adorable young hyena play-fighting. What a special sighting!
The semi-desert conditions also support ground squirrels, which we saw hoisting their bushy tails to serve as an umbrella in the harsh sunshine.
I was particularly interested to see the Stink Shepherd’s tree (Boscia Foetida) in full flower. As the name suggests, a strong fetid odour emanates from the small yellow-green flowers that are borne in abundance against the trunk. The sweet rotting odour draws hundreds of flies and other insects to ensure pollination. While all the trees near it were still brown, boscia was lush and green.
Kenneth is a relaxed and kind guide who shared his knowledge with humility. I was trying to learn the tracks of the animals and he showed me some interesting ones; including leopard, hyena and giraffe. He tracked two male lions and found them lying in the shade next to Tlou Dam.
As I had expressed my interest in birds, Kenneth pointed out a flock of yellow-throated sandgrouse, which swooped down to the water’s edge to gather water in their breast feathers for their young.
At Madikwe Safari Lodge everything is beautifully presented and staff are attentive. Even for the sunset drink in the bush, a table with pretty cloth was set out for us and we were served snacks and the drink of our choice. Kenneth showed us some interesting features of the magic gwarry bush, whose twigs can be used to make a toothbrush, should one be stranded in the bush without one.
At the lodge itself, both high tea and supper were served on a deck, open in front with magnificent view of the surrounding bush. There was great excitement when a civet came foraging . We clustered next to Kenneth to hear about this nocturnal creature. I saw a slender mongoose and a group of browsing kudu, as I strolled along the path connecting the rooms, and realised one does not even have to leave the precincts of the lodge to spot game.
Somehow one visit is never enough, and I know I will be back to discover more of Madikwe game reserve.