Five reasons to visit Madikwe Game Reserve
Offering not just the Big Five but also its own specialized Top 10, Madikwe Game Reserve is one of South Africa’s largest and most exclusive reserves. Guests of the luxury lodges get the run of Madikwe’s 750 sq km of open plains and classic bushveld, making this conservation success story a memorable experience – from animal sightings to sundowners.
By James Bainbridge
1. Meet the Madikwe Top 10
Many reserves have the coveted Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo) and some offer sightings of the Super Seven (adding wild dogs and cheetah), but Madikwe Game Reserve is so packed with animals that its rangers came up with a Top 10. This list also includes hippo, giraffe and hyena, and visitors soon learn from Madikwe’s knowledgeable rangers that the Big Five are not the only kings here. Along with big cats, packs of wild dogs and spotted hyenas are the apex predators of the savannah, thanks to their highly developed group hunting skills. Madikwe is famous for its populations of both lions and endangered wild dogs, so you are likely to spot a four-legged alpha male…or female.
2. Exclusive experience
During peak periods, popular reserves can feel like safari parks, with cars queuing to see a lion lounging about with the air of a beleaguered celebrity. The Madikwe experience is a world away from that, as self-drive safaris and day visitors are not allowed in the 75,000-hectare reserve. Only the lodges’ trained guides are allowed to run tours here, and they all keep in touch by radio, making sure that no one misses an impressive sighting. Not only do the open-sided safari vehicles give each other space, avoiding any traffic jams, but the animals have also grown accustomed to the vehicles, providing more opportunities to snap those prides and packs.
3. Conservation at work
Madikwe Game Reserve has a fascinating history of pioneering conservation, which guests learn about on sunset wildlife drives and around the campfire. This was the site of Operation Phoenix, which saw more than 8000 animals of 28 species reintroduced to the reserve, following its establishment on degraded farmland in 1991. The seven-year re-wilding project featured one of history’s largest animal translocations, including such firsts as moving entire elephant herds and reintroducing wild dogs to a fenced reserve.
Today, there are around 65 large mammal species and 350 bird species, but, equally inspiringly, visitors see Madikwe’s benefits to impoverished local communities. It was decided to establish this reserve due to the area’s potential for wildlife tourism, and young locals now train as guides with opportunities to work far and wide. The reserve’s model conservation work continues, including a wild-dog breeding program, occasional animal introductions and, more tellingly, translocations from its burgeoning population to other parks.
4. Stunning landscapes
As is always the case when on safari, visiting South Africa’s fifth-largest game reserve is not just about spotting the Big Five but about the whole picture. The backdrop to those electrifying predator sightings is a varied landscape, stretching from bushveld and grassland to riverine forest on the fringes of the Kalahari. Bumping along in safari vehicles, guests can gaze across the open plains, rugged cliffs and kopjes between the Marico River and Dwarsberg Mountains.
Part of this serene setting is Madikwe’s 20-odd lodges, which match the exclusive wildlife-watching experience with their luxurious bush chalets, swimming pools and dinner under the stars. Most offer packages including meals, wildlife drives and conservation activities, such as buffalo collaring, lion contraception and rhino notching.
5. Location, location, safari
To experience this chunk of African bush, you don’t have to brave potholed roads leading deep into the wilderness. Malaria-free Madikwe Game Reserve is a straightforward 350km drive along the N4 motorway from Johannesburg and Pretoria. Along the way, you’ll pass Pilanesberg National Park, another reserve with the Big Five; and Sun City, a surreal Vegas in the bush with a Lost City theme. This creates some excellent long-weekend potential in the North West Province, before you zip back along the N4 to Johannesburg’s Lanseria or OR Tambo airport for that flight to Cape Town or home. Madikwe is also a handy staging post for Botswana, as it’s just across the border from the Botswanan capital, Gaborone, with sealed roads to the Kalahari and Okavango Delta.