From the top of Lenong Viewpoint, you may spot soaring Cape vultures and take in some of the most spectacular panoramic scenery of the surroundings. It is an ideal spot for a small picnic, or just some quiet time taking in the scenery. Yes, Marakele National Park is definitely worth a visit! It may not as famous as the Kruger, but this does not matter. It is the closest South African National Park to Johannesburg, so great for a weekend away, or a longer visit. The park lies in the shade of the Waterberg Mountains near the town of Thabazimbi and means ‘place of sanctuary’.
On paper, the park is home to the Big Five (elephant, leopard, lion, rhino, and buffalo). I would not visit the park with the expectation to spot them all on a single trip. I would visit Marakele any time because you don’t have to see every animal to get the most out of your trip.
Wildlife in Marakele National Park
Marakele National Park is home to a wide variety of animals. Look out for the klipspringer on the way to Lenong Viewpoint. It is said that a resident leopard lives near the top of the mountain. Maybe one day I will be lucky enough to see it. Giraffes call the Marakele National Park home, and they are always special to see. Sable, tsessebe, and waterbuck occur in the park too, while kudu and impala antelope are frequently spotted on game drives. Chacma baboons and vervet monkeys can be a nuisance and must be watched, especially near the accommodation and picnic areas. I once had a run-in with a vervet monkey and got bitten, so is so important not to feed wildlife, ever.
Birding in Marakele National Park
Birders will love the variety in the birdlife in the park. The park is most famous for its large Cape vulture breeding colony, one of the largest in the world. Apart from this, Marakele National Park falls in a transition zone. This zone splits South Africa’s dryer western side, and the wetter eastern side of the country. The park is a great birding destination with many different species. Apart from a few great raptor sightings, I also spotted my first crimson-breasted shrike in Marakele. If you stay at the Tlopi Tented Camp chances of seeing the African fish eagle are great. I once watched a fish eagle hunt, or that is what I thought. Instead of grabbing the fish and flying off, it simply fell into the water. It then swam to the side using its wings. Unfortunately, it was a bit far to capture on camera.
Game drives in Marakele National Park
For a self-drive getaway, there are a few points of interest in the park. Lenong viewpoint is not to be missed. Apart from spectacular views, it brings you in close proximity to the Cape vulture colony. This is one of the largest breeding colonies in the world. Most roads in the park are accessible by a sedan. I have been to the park with a Hyundai i10 and a Suzuki Celerio. After heavy rain, the road may be rough. Take it slow and you will be fine. There are a few offroad tracks in the park and for this, you need a 4×4.
Book a guided game drive if you have it in your budget. This is a great option as you get to sit back and relax in a raised open safari vehicle, with a knowledgeable guide to educate you about all aspects of the Marakele National Park – fauna and flora. Marakele also offers guided walks, which is a brilliant way to explore the park.
Things that make the Marakele National Park special
The park also features other special things, such as unique vegetation. One is the Waterberg cycad (Encephalartos eugene-maraisii), named after poet and author Eugene Marais. The plant is endemic (native/restricted to an area) to the Waterberg region and occurs nowhere else in the world. These cycads are not just visible in large numbers in plain sight. This is probably good since cycad poaching is so prominent in South Africa. The Matlabas Wetland is home to another special plant, a predator plant. I once wrote an article about this when I was still a journalist at the SANParks Times. The wetland is visible in the distance as you drive down from the Lenong Viewpoint.
Where to stay in the Marakele National Park
There are a couple of accommodation options in the park. A special option is Tlopi. You can unwind next to tranquil waters at this tented camp. You can sit back and watch the surroundings, including elephants and other wildlife visiting for a drink. It is my favourite accommodation option in the park. It offers an equipped kitchen, braai area, and two single beds in a tent. The accommodation is on the water and sunset can be something special.
Bontle Rest Camp is situated near the reception and entrance gate. It offers tented camps and a campsite for those that want to spend a night under the stars. The site is lovely and animals (not those in the Big Five area) can move through the camp. You will frequently find zebra grazing nearby, or an ostrich paying the campers a visit.
For groups seeking privacy and peace of mind, the fenced Motswere guest cottage (an old farmhouse) is a great choice. I have been fortunate to have stayed at every single option mentioned in this blog post.
Marakele National Park is a great destination for families. As a smaller park, there is no playground facility for young children, but families staying at Bontle can walk around in the camp area. The area gets extremely hot in summer, and the park does not have a swimming pool. If it gets too hot in summer, you can always visit the pub across the road from the park entrance, order lunch, and cool down in their pool.
Plan a break in the park for a lovely getaway. The driving distance is not too far from Johannesburg. The easiest way to get to the Marakele National Park from Johannesburg is via the N1 highway to Bela-Bela. From here, take the R516 via Mabula and Thabazimbi. The park entrance and office are approximately 12km outside Thabazimbi. Visit www.sanparks.org for details and bookings.
Have you ever been to the Marakele National Park? Tell us about your best experience by leaving a comment below. Liked the article? Remember to share it with your friends on social media.
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