Marakele National Park: An easy bush getaway


Marakele National Park, near Thabazimbi, in Limpopo, has a variety of landscapes from mountains, grassy plains, valleys and forest. The most unique part of the park is a winding mountain pass that takes you to the top of Kransberg Mountain, where you might get the opportunity to spot a Cape Griffon Vulture. The park contains the largest Griffon Vulture population in the world. 

Marakele is an easy weekend away from Joburg, as it is only three hour drive on good roads. So even if you struggle to get out of work on time, like we did, you can still get there before 7pm when the main gate closes. The park has a variety of accommodation options on offer, including camping and self-catering.  

We got out of work late and struggled up the N1 through the usual Friday afternoon traffic, but once we got to the other side of Pretoria it felt good to be out on the open road and we started to feel that unique sense of freedom and relief that only a weekend out of the city can offer. We got off the N1 at Bela-Bela and started heading west towards Thabazimbi and the park. Late afternoon sunshine shone golden on the bush, which was thinning out after a relatively dry summer. 

We arrived at the park entrance 15 minutes before closing time. We weren’t the only ones who were getting there late after the drive up from Joburg 

We checked in with the friendly park staff and drove the short gravel road to Bontle rest camp. In the fast fading light we managed to find a quiet campsite set in the Mopane forest away from the other campers and with privacy. We set up camp using Jolene’s headlights and started the braai. Despite the late start we both couldn’t stop smiling as we sat around the fire sipping our beers admiring the stars. There is nowhere else in the world we would rather be. 

The camp has excellent toilet facilities. Showers are hot and have good pressure.  

The next morning, we got up a little later than we would have liked and took our time getting ready for a morning game drive. We left too late for the game. We drove to a hide near the campsite, and although we didn’t see any signs of life, it was beautiful just sitting taking in the site and sounds of the bush. After getting slightly lost on a 4x4 track we were probably not meant to be on, we returned to camp for a mid-morning siesta and a picnic lunch. 

In the mid-afternoon we set off again for a drive to the summit of Kransberg. It is a spectacular winding mountain road that takes you through the various biomes of the park. It took us over an hour to reach the top, but the drive is well worth the effort (4x4 not required). The view at the top is stunning and the grassland there, which is not dissimilar to the type of vegetation found nearly 1000km away in the Drakensberg, waves in the breeze giving the summit an almost surreal feel as you look down on the bush below. We walked around the top for nearly two hours and enjoyed a bottle of champagne.  

With the sun getting low in the sky we made our way back to camp. About 15 minutes from the campsite, with the sun set, a hyena dashed across the road in front of us against the night sky. We felt extremely privileged to have experienced such a rare sighting. 

The same routine followed that evening, around the fire with cold drinks, meat, the sounds of the bush and stars. We also chatted with the honorary rangers staying in the camp who gave us some good tips for our game drive the next morning. Tip number 1 was get up early.  

We woke up before sun rise to head out on a game drive. Encouraged by our sittings the night before we headed out in Jolene with rusks and coffee in a flask. We were rewarded with sightings of rhino, elephant and an absolutely ginormous male lion, sitting in the clearing just off the road 

We returned to camp mid-morning packed up and headed home. This time avoiding the N1 and going via Brits. It is a more difficult road and not recommended for driving at night, but was marginally quicker.  

This post is part two of our two-part blog on our favourite places the in the Waterberg. Our first post about Jemisa can be found here.  

Jembisa: Palala River & Kingfisher Cottage

The Waterberg is a region north west of Johannesburg and consists of pristine bush and rugged mountains, which has made it a UNESCO biosphere. The best thing about is it is a relatively easy weekend getaway from Johannesburg. 

The two places that Kate and I like best are Palala River Cottages and Marakele National Park. 

The Palala River Cottages are in the Jembisa Private Reserve, which forms part of Lephalala Wilderness. This was the first weekend away Kate and I did when we moved up to Joburg from Cape Town 

It is a large bush estate with game but nothing that can eat you - so it is possible to hike throughout the 7000 ha unguided. Kate and I have been twice, both for birthday weekends. 

Whenever you go up north from Joburg and the M1/N1 for a weekend away it is important to leave work early. Early is way before 3pm.  

When we first went to Palala we left at 4.30pm and it took us 5 hours to get there and most of this time was spent fighting traffic to get out of Gauteng. It wasn't a great start to Kate's birthday weekend. 

Fortunately, we arrived at the cottage and the staff had left the lights on for us, making us feel welcome. The cottage is on its own in the bush and has its own entrance. It is set on the bank of the Palala River, away from prying eyes, apart from those of the crocs in the river. 

I always love waking up in a new place, which you arrived to the night before in the dark. The sound and smell of the bush in the morning is always breath-taking and at Jembisa it is even better because you are on your own and it feels like your own piece of heaven 

We spent the weekend exploring the reserve on foot, having picnics in the bush and just enjoying being outdoors. We saw Zebra, Wildebeest, Impala, Graffe, Warthog (plus many more) and variety of birds. You are also free to drive the reserve in your own vehicle, but a 4x4 is required.  

The cottage has one of the best braai spots I know, right on the bank of the river, where there is a resident crocodile (Kate: so there is something that can eat you!). More than enough wood was supplied so we could enjoy the clear sky and stars late into the night around a roaring fire.  

There is also a larger, three-bedroom cottage for rent at Jembisa, called Kingfisher Cottage. We returned a year later to Jembisa and stayed here with family and this time for my birthday.  

This cottage is at the other end of the reserve to the Palala Cottage, but is no less spectacular and even has its own pool. The braai spot is again in a brilliant set in a boma and shaded by enormous trees. 

We tried our luck fly-fishing in the river. Despite getting some tips from the farm manager we were unsuccessful. It may have had something to do with the hippo crashing in and out of the river in front of us. 

If you're looking for a good picnic spot ask the staff how to get to the big baobab tree in the reserve. We headed over one afternoon with sandwiches and beers and it was great. We were entertained by a large herd of wildebeest huffing and puffing at us about 300 metres away. 

Thank you to the team at Jembisa for a wonderful stay.  

More Information  

Cost: From R470 Per Person Per Night 


The route we took: