Madikwe Game Reserve - South Africa

Helene Kirkham on 22 June 2015
Arriving in Johannesburg after an 11 hour flight we boarded a 14-seater propeller plane for our 50 minute flight north to the malaria-free Madike Game Reserve which borders Botswana. There aren’t many airstrips where giraffe line the runway as you come in to land!

Our first experience of the game reserve was on the drive to our first lodge, Madikwe Hills. Airport transfers here include sightings of zebras, impala and giraffes!

Madikwe Hills Lodge is a beautiful property consisting of luxury lodges all stunningly designed and with your own private deck and plunge pools overlooking the watering hole. Elephants and buffalo are regular visitors each day to the watering hole for your own personal viewing! Rising early the next day our ranger and guide (Raoul and Johannes) took us into the reserve where we encountered elephants, rhino, zebras, giraffe, impala and also a wide variety of birdlife. Refreshments are provided and hot chocolate with a splash of Amarilo is very welcome on a cold morning! On returning to the lodge you can then enjoy a superb and well earned breakfast. The rest of the morning can be spent relaxing in your lodge or perhaps the spa, before lunch is served in the main restaurant. High tea follows at around 3pm before you head out again on your second game drive at 3.30pm. Our experienced rangers ensured we were not disappointed again and we came across two lions (brothers) who were enjoyed the last rays of the sun. Coming so close to them was such a privilege and we were very grateful to Raoul and Johanes for their experience in knowing where to look to find them! More refreshments were served in the bush before we headed back to Madikwe Hills for a wonderful evening meal.

The following morning we enjoyed another early morning game drive and breakfast before leaving for the short drive to our next lodge at Tuningi. Tuningi is a friendly and intimate lodge where the staff quickly learn your name and are very much concerned with ensuring your stay with them is comfortable and memorable. Families are very welcome here and children are well looked after by babysitters and can go on their own treasure hunts and walking safaris. The thatched chalets (complete with outdoor shower) are very well furnished and comfortable and again have a private deck where you can view the elephants, buffalo and wildebeest that come down to the watering hole. Following lunch, our afternoon game drive with Cornelius was very enjoyable and he even threw in a puncture to demonstrate his skills weren’t just limited to flora and fauna – he can change a tyre in pretty good time too! On returning to Tuningi you can enjoy a pre dinner drink in the main lodge ( the game drivers also double up as bar staff!) followed by a home cooked, varied and plentiful evening meal. A choir consisting of the kitchen and waiting staff surprised us with some wonderful African songs after dinner that we all talked about for days after!

Our early morning game drive the following morning was delayed by rain and we weren’t sure whether we would see much when we finally got going. How wrong we were! Madike Game Reserve is famous for its wild dogs but due to an outbreak of rabies seven months earlier, only five dogs remained in the whole of the reserve and it had been some months since any of the rangers had seen them. We had resigned ourselves that it would be very unlikely that we would see any when Cornelius received communication that they had been seen very close by with a kill. We put our foot down and arrived (along with other jeeps) very soon after they had killed an impala. We spent 20 minutes or so viewing them, along with the hyenas and jackals and were then privileged enough to be able to follow them back along the road as they looked for somewhere to sleep off their big meal. What an experience that was and how much we valued our knowledgeable ranger for getting us there in time! We all enjoyed our morning coffee that morning for sure – Cornelius picked up another puncture in pursuit of the dogs so he got some extra practice in again and had to change another tyre!

After a hearty breakfast back at Tuningi Lodge, we set off for the 90 minute drive to Thakadu River Camp which consists of 12 tented lodges set in the forest on the banks of the Marico River. The tents are air conditioned (as well as heated in the winter) and have sliding doors which open onto a private deck with river views.

We enjoyed a fine lunch before we set out on our afternoon game drive with our ranger Patience. We were all still on a high from seeing the wild dogs that morning but little did we know how our game drive would end. After some very close encounters with a group of elephants and our afternoon refreshments, it began to get dark and conversation turned to the only one of the Big Five we hadn’t yet seen…a leopard. There are over 40 leopards in the park but they aren’t so easy to come across so you can imagine how we felt when Patience explained that we were about to drive into an area where a leopard had been spotted in a tree with his kill. In the dark and so close that you could almost touch the tree, we were able to see this wonderful leopard in all his glory, relaxing and very much at ease with the game drive vehicles. After a few minutes of viewing he slowly made his way back down the tree right beside us and disappeared into the bush again. We were all so grateful for this experience and it meant that in three days we had seen all of the Big 5 thanks to our amazing rangers. On our way back to Thakadu we still had time to see hippos, a rhino with her baby calf and of course, one final puncture which Patience took in her stride…and in the dark!

We had a wonderful meal back at Thakadu, down in the private Boma which was lit up with a huge fire and lights and it was incredible to be able to dine outdoors in the middle of the forest! Our electric blankets had been switched on when we returned to our tents and on a very cold night in June, it was most welcome! A very cold game drive the next morning yielded no sightings of wildlife sadly but our stay in Thakadu will always be remembered for that wonderful sighting of the leopard.

We left Madikwe Game reserve the following morning for a four hour, scenic drive to Johannesburg which was to be our home for the next two nights. Johannesburg is undergoing a revival and redevelopment and our hotel, the Protea Fire and Ice was situated in an area called Melrose Arch which is a very cosmopolitan area made up of shops, bars and restaurants and is very safe to walk around in. Close by is Nelson Mandela square (five mins taxi ride) which is also great for shopping and eateries.

The Fire and Ice Hotel is a modern and contemporary hotel and is popular with business and leisure guests alike. Great attention to detail is given by the friendly and helpful staff and it has a real buzz to it! The hotel is famous for its milkshakes and we were happy to test them out of course!

Our only full day in Johannesburg included a visit to the Apartheid museum which must be on everyone’s list of things to do here. You could easily spend several hours in the museum but sadly we only had an hour but it was still a very moving experience. We then enjoyed a cycle tour of Soweto which I have to say was incredibly enlightening and really enjoyable. If you are staying in Johannesburg and looking for something a bit different to do then I would definitely recommend this. Our guide Jazz was very passionate about Soweto and we learned a lot in the hour – hour and a half that the tour lasted. On returning to Johannesburg we then enjoyed a brief walking tour of the downtown area and learned more about some of the street art/graffiti that you can see in this part of the city.

After another wonderful meal in a local African restaurant in Melrose Arch we retired to our hotel for our last night in Johannesburg.

South Africa is an incredible country and my experiences were much different to what I had expected, especially in Johannesburg. If you are thinking about SA for the first time or even if you have visited a different part before then I would highly recommend that you follow in my footsteps and consider a visit to Madike Game Reserve and Johannesburg.