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Wild WINTER 2016
Is this the most scenic of all our national parks? Visit Marakele to see for yourself.
56 4 8 10 12 15 16 93 94 96
WILD BITES Letters Keurbooms canoe trail New Camdeboo guesthouse Tankwa guest complex Trip planner Birding Beat Grey go-away bird Get a Wild Card Map of the Wild parks Competition Win a stay at Mokala
PARKS 18 Must-visit Marakele Big game, big views, big ideas ... why this Waterberg park is tops 28 Travel by the book See Addo, Camdeboo and Mountain Zebra through the eyes of famous writers 40 KZN double delight Spend the weekend at Oribi Gorge and Vernon Crookes 56 Family adventure in Mokala Try your hand at fishing and stay in an unfenced camp
WILDLIFE 50 Here be dragonflies Inside the fascinating world of these tiny predators 64 An elephant-sized problem Do ellies have enough space? 76 Raptor ID Know your way around large brown jobs
Wild WINTER 2016
“Around us, the unending landscape, a terrain that requires constant patrol.”
36 82 84
PEOPLE IN PARKS 36 Kruger ranger diaries Behind the scenes in South Africa’s flagship park 90 Parks protocol What should you do if you see a snared animal? Plus: Putting a stop to speeding
BOTANY 82 Apple-leaf A sweetly scented treat for giraffe and other browsers PHOTOGRAPHY 84 Poetry in motion A fresh take on flower pictures KIDS 88 The whole gang These animals flock together in huge colonies, herds and shoals
Marataba South Africa / More
Connecting the City to the Bush. Experience the heart of the African bush with daily direct flights from Johannesburg and Cape Town to Nelspruit KMIA as well as the iconic Skukuza Airport, gateway to the Sabi Sand, the Kruger National Park and the private game lodges. A short apron transfer connects you onward to the doorstep of your safari destination on Airlinkâ€™s Lodge Link service to the Ulusaba, Arathusa and Londolozi Airstrips. You also have the freedom to enjoy a short open safari vehicle transfer from the Ulusaba and Arathusa Airstrips to adjoining private game lodges in the reserve. A short air transfer from the lodge airstrips or Skukuza Airport to Nelspruit KMIA connects you conveniently to Livingstone (Zambia) and Vilanculos (Mozambique), gateway to the Bazaruto and Benguerra Islands.
Visit www.flyairlink.com or www.skukuzaairport.com or contact your Booking Agent.
INSIDE TRACK EDITORIAL BOARD HAPILOE SELLO, SANParks SHERAAZ ISMAIL, CapeNature JEFFREY MAKWALA, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife RAY NAGURAN, Msinsi Resorts ANN REILLY, Swazi Big Game Parks HEIN GROBLER, Wild Card
FROM THE EDITOR
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The editor in Tankwa Karoo National Park.
arakele is the most scenic of all our national parks, I was recently told by camper Elvira Wiemann at Bontle. Her friend, Rina Drotsky, also from Swellendam, concurred. “I rate the park 12 out of 10 for its natural beauty,” she enthused, and I couldn’t agree more. The new safari tents in Bontle’s woodland setting, with even more in the pipeline, attest to the park’s growing popularity. On my visit to this jewel of the Waterberg I also spent a few days in Marakele Contractual Park, known as Marataba. The two sections of the park are committed to sharing environmental management and collaborate by means of a joint operations committee and a science forum. At Marataba I learnt that the single most numerous nationality as represented by their guests is South African. So if you thought luxury travel and five-star game lodges are the exclusive domain of international visitors, you’d be quite wrong. A unique attraction at Marataba is a water safari, right here in South Africa. No need to go to Botswana’s Okavango Delta or Chobe, or Zimbabwe’s Kariba Dam, to watch ellies from the waterside. Although the enchanting behemoths did not put in an appearance on my sunset cruise, it was unforgettable to watch kudu at peace with the world, submerged to shoulder height, grazing on succulent grass as if the audience did not exist. Speaking of elephants, their numbers and the closure of waterholes in the Kruger National Park remain a controversial subject at many a Bushveld braai. The way forward entails an entirely new way of thinking (page 64). I would strongly urge anyone planning a trip to Addo, Mountain Zebra and Camdeboo National Parks to do some background reading. We’ve re-read the best companion books by Palmer, Schreiner and Pringle (page 28) to reveal the charms of the Great Karoo. Still in the Karoo, this time the Tankwa region, do consider a stay at the quaint Guesthouse Complex near Oudebaaskraal in the southwest of the park. The fortress-like structure reminds of the majestic forts in Namibia. You’ll be transported to another world altogether (page 12) plus it’s the ideal stopover en route to the Kgalagadi from Cape Town. Your Wild Card is your passport to 80-odd southern African parks and reserves. Explore. Conserve. Enjoy.
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4 WILD WINTER 2016
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ZEBRA IN DISTRESS LETTER
During a visit to the southern Kruger National Park (KNP), my husband and I were driving on the S28 about 2 km north of the Ntandanyathi Hide when we came over a blind rise and found a zebra lying on the road. At first we assumed it was road kill, but soon noticed his legs kicking — he was trying to get onto his feet. We were worried that another vehicle would appear at speed and hit the zebra, so decided to phone the emergency number. Within minutes a SANParks helicopter arrived, landing on the road between us and the animal. Four uniformed personnel alighted and went to the aid of the zebra. Unfortunately the zebra did not survive for long and was pulled to the side of the road out of traffic’s way. The vet with the rescue party said they had seen a herd of young males close by and that it was likely that the zebra had been kicked on the head and had sustained the mortal injury during fighting. We are proud of the KNP staff for their fast and compassionate work. Barbara Gordon, email Read more about parks protocol and what visitors can do to assist the authorities on page 90. — Ed.
SERVICE EXCELLENCE Harriet Nimmo’s letter in the Wild autumn issue regarding service excellence at SANParks is spot on. My family spend as much of our leisure time as possible in the Kruger National Park and without fail encounter efficient service, smiling faces, clean accommodation and willing staff who enhance the holiday experience with their cheerful and helpful attitudes. Patrick Ellis, email
HAVE YOUR SAY What makes you return to a park again and again? Share your thoughts on Facebook or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Barbara Gordon wins a pair of Storm waterproof women’s boots (R999) from HI-TEC. Send us your letter for the chance to win. Take hiking in your stride with a pair of HI-TEC Storm boots. The rubber outsole helps you achieve a firm footing while the suede and mesh upper is breathable and hard-wearing. Thanks to Dri-Tec waterproof technology and a moulded foot bed, your feet will stay dry and comfy on the trail.
WINTER 2016 WILD 5
Rina van Rooyen showing her Wild Card at the entrance to the Gardenia Bird Hide in the Kruger National Park.
We planned a trip to Cape Town via back roads through the Eastern and Western Cape, including Route 62 through the Little Karoo. We used our Wild Card to stay at Mountain Zebra National Park and Bontebok National Park. Both were wonderful choices, and we especially appreciated the friendly warmth and initiative of the staff. John Inglis
GARDENIA BIRD HIDE As day visitors we entered the Kruger National Park at Malelane Gate and worked our way to Lower Sabie using the gravel roads. We stopped at the Gardenia Bird Hide, on the S119, between Malelane and Lower Sabie. The waterhole at the hide was dry due to the drought, but it was nice to have quiet time in the wild. We prefer the national parks for our holiday destinations as we trust the quality of the accommodation and ablutions. For this reason we have an All Parks Wild Card and use it whenever we can. Ig and Rina van Rooyen, email
Nasheeta Robinson (8) enjoys reading her family’s Wild magazine on the way to school.
FAMOUS LANDMARK As part of my husband’s surprise 50th getaway, we decided to, for the first time in his 50 years, visit Cape Point. It proved to be far more than a famous landmark. We want to go again and have already researched accommodation possibilities in the park. This time we’ll be prepared: binoculars, camera, lens and tripod, Robert’s bird app, walking shoes and good wine. What a fabulous gem right on our doorstep! Tanya Stergianos, email It sounds like you would enjoy Olifantsbos cottage in the Cape Point section of the Table Mountain National Park. From personal experience I can recommend it most highly. — Ed. 6 WILD WINTER 2016
Where did you go with your Wild Card? Send us a picture of your card in the parks and you could win free renewal of your membership. Email your image to email@example.com (subject line: Card). For rules, visit www.wildcard.co.za/competitions. Pat Ladds wins free renewal with this picture of her Wild Card showing the way at Cape Point.
A BRAND NEW GUIDE TO TREE ID!
BEST BY FAR During a recent visit to fabulous Kgalagadi, we spent our first three days at Kieliekrankie. On arrival, the resident ranger, Willem Pearson, told us to always keep the bottom door closed. Why? To keep snakes out, he informed me. The second day we were chilling out on the deck when I went to the fridge for a beer and Willem shouted: “Bly binne, meneer, daar is ’n pofadder by die deur!” There it was, not a metre from the door and me, a puff adder. The unwelcome visitor was soon caught and taken to the dunes by Willem, who told us later that it would be back at the huts in a few days. We spent a fantastic 10 days in Kgalagadi and saw the most lions we have ever seen in a game park during our 50-odd years of visiting parks. One of our highlights was that for the first time ever we saw a brown hyena at a waterhole. We sat and watched it for 10 minutes before it loped off. This was our third visit to Kgalagadi and, having visited most of the parks in South Africa, we believe it is the best game park by far. Barry and Jeanette Burger, East London
Guide to Trees Introduced into Southern Africa covers nearly 600 of the most common and familiar non-native trees –those seen growing in gardens, parks and along roadsides. An essential tool for gardeners, landscapers and all tree enthusiasts.
Companion volume to this best-selling guide
Baobabs of the World: The upside-down trees of Madagascar, Africa & Australia is a photographic masterpiece … a fitting tribute to the enigmatic baobab.
We really enjoy Wild magazine and use our back copies extensively in planning our several trips around the country. Now that we have retired, we can enjoy our exploration of the reserves to the full. – Peter Hahn
GET THE WILD E-READER Want Wild magazine in your pocket? Download the Wild e-reader, available for Apple and Android devices. The digital version of the magazine is enriched with extra photos, trip reports and route information. Individual issues cost R49.99 a copy; the printed magazine remains free to Wild Card members who pay annual fees. Join the Struik Nature Club to hear about our new releases, special discounts and event invitations. It’s free to join! www.wildcard.co.za
INSIDE TRACK The Whiskey Creek Canoe Trail leads past verdant hills with large yellowwoods.
While cheese sandwiches grilled on the fire and lanterns glowed warmly, we raised glasses and toasted the blessings of nature.
Docking at the Whiskey Creek jetty. You donâ€™t need to be an experienced paddler to tackle the trail.
8 WILD WINTER 2016
The cabinâ€™s large wooden deck is inviting.
WHISKEY CREEK CANOE TRAIL
Girls have fun
HO SPOT T
A gentle paddle up the Keurbooms River takes you to a secluded waterside cabin. By Ron Swilling
o you know there’s a speed limit?” a member of our party shouted as we glided through the golden, whiskey-coloured water of the Keurbooms River. We glanced at the map and the 10 km/h speed limit. “Think we’re doing okay,” we shouted back, novices in the art of paddling, laughing as we tried to synchronise our movements to progress forwards. The gentle 7 km Whiskey Creek Canoe Trail led us past vegetated hills with large Outeniqua yellowwoods strung with old man’s beard like Christmas decorations and past families lunching happily on Sunday picnics along the riverbank. We found a sandy shore midway to beach the canoes for a leisurely swim stop before we continued upstream, moving with the incoming afternoon tide to dock between the water lilies at the Whiskey Creek jetty. A short walk, laden with our heavy dry bags packed to the brim with firewood and delicious supper ingredients, took us to the fair-sized wooden cabin, surrounded by leafy hills. Soft river song greeted us as the water tumbled merrily over small rapids below. We eased into evening, enjoying the
seclusion and pleasure of having the well-equipped cabin to ourselves. A sizzling fire, a sprinkling of stars and the waxing moon did the rest. The large wooden deck and open outdoor kitchen provided ample space for kitchen preparations. While cheese sandwiches grilled on the fire and lanterns glowed warmly, we raised glasses and toasted the blessings of nature. During the night the clouds cleared and we awoke to bird song and a clear blue sky. After coffee, breakfast, hot showers and a lazy morning we were prepared for the paddle back. This time we were all quiet. It was only the soothing, soft splash of paddles against the glittering water as we pushed off downriver through the lily pads. Gliding along, we saw the flash of red wings as Knysna turacos flitted between the trees. At a picnic site, we waded into the warm water for a final swim. A low tide and a head-on breeze kept our mouths shut and arms working on the last leg, never detracting from the peacefulness of our river sojourn. When the caravan park, bridge and N2 came into view, we weren’t quite ready for civilisation.
TRIP PLANNER The overnight Whiskey Creek Canoe Trail involves a 7 km (3 hour) paddle to the Whiskey Creek jetty and a 400 m walk to the cabin. It is suitable for the whole family and no previous paddling experience is necessary. Canoes, dry bags for belongings and life jackets are provided. Water shoes are recommended. The cabin sleeps 10, in four double-bunks and two single beds. It has solarpowered lights and hot water, a small fridge and a gas hotplate, crockery and cutlery, plus pillows and pillowslips. Bring your own bedding, towels, food and firewood. At off-peak times the cabin costs R1 450 a night for the first four people, R365 an extra person. The peak season rate is R2 180 for six people. BOOKINGS CapeNature reservations 021-483-0190, www.capenature.co.za www.wildcard.co.za
Keurbooms River Nature Reserve is 8 km east of Plettenberg Bay.
WINTER 2016 WILD 9
INSIDE TRACK C A M D E B O O NAT I O NA L PA R K
Lord of the Manor
In spitting distance of the Valley of Desolation is Winterhoek homestead. Experience the timeless grace of the Karoo while staying in a 170-year-old homestead with views to forever. By Nick Dall
The Winterhoek homestead is 170 years old but has recently been spruced up.
Camdeboo National Park lies around two-and-a-half hours’ drive from Port Elizabeth. 10 WILD WINTER 2016
our dreams of going back in time to the grand old days of 19th century Karoo hospitality just came true. Whether you’re after a week of rest and relaxation for the whole family or want to commemorate a special occasion with a few good friends, the historic Winterhoek homestead will not disappoint. It features gorgeous details such as brass light switches and antique furniture sourced from the immediate surrounds, but the restoration team has also made a few concessions to modern expectations. The bathrooms are opulent, the fourposter beds are made up with fine linen and the mattresses are certainly not stuffed with straw. There’s a vast farm-style kitchen
and dining room, and a portable braai that can be enjoyed in half a dozen locales. There’s even DStv if you want a break from the captivating show put on by nature. An escape to Winterhoek is about the simple things. Enjoy your morning coffee and rusk with only the birds for company. Spend your days reading a book (turn to page 28 for suggestions) or play cards in the elegant living room. Sip sundowners on the stoep while pinks turn to grey over the Ouhoek, Goewermentskop and Groothoek mountains in the distance. Plains game roam the area surrounding the homestead and the Valley of Desolation is so close you’ll be able to check it out at sunrise and be back in time for breakfast.
TRIP PLANNER GETTING THERE Winterhoek is located in the Valley of Desolation section of the Camdeboo National Park, a few kilometres from Graaff-Reinet on the Murraysburg Road (R63). ACCOMMODATION At the time of going to print, the guest house was due to open. Please check rates with the park on 049-892-3456.
S A N PA R K S F U N D R A I S I N G
As aerial support to the rangers on the ground, the SANParks Airwing assists with game capture, wildlife census, telemetry tracking and veterinary support. But the increase in poaching has shifted their focus. They now also fly for surveillance, patrols, resupply missions, transfers and as fast response to poaching activity. This means flight hours have shot up, along with the costs for fuel, maintenance, crew, and ground and logistical support. We need your help to keep this dedicated team in the air.
SANParks Fundraising | Use reference: Skyward fundraising First National Bank, Account no: 62411915054, Branch code: 210554
Larger than life The fort-like Tankwa Guesthouse is an 800 m square double storey building.
TRIP PLANNER GETTING THERE From Cape Town, travel through Ceres and take the R355 towards Calvinia. RATES There is one unit that sleeps up to eight people. R635 a night for two people, R1 100 for four, R220 an extra adult, R110 an extra child. CONTACT SANParks Central Reservations on 012-428-9111, www.sanparks.org 12 WILD WINTER 2016
Flower season is a good time to explore the ancient landscape of Tankwa Karoo National Park. Stay in style in the Tankwa Guesthouse Complex. By Romi Boom
hen you first approach the was in full swing. Among the famous Tankwa Guesthouse Complex, guests were several writers. Elsa Joubert your eyes will pop. Is it an is said to have written Die Swerfjare van optical illusion? Is it make-believe? A Poppie Nongena at Oudebaaskraal. Heart figment of your imagination? surgeon Chris Barnard stayed for a weekThe homestead is impressive by anyend, with a photographer in tow. Burger one’s reckoning. The fort-like structure, himself was internationally esteemed and situated on the southern boundary of consulted in the United States. the park and a stone’s throw from The Tankwa Karoo National the Oudebaaskraal Dam, imPark is one of South Africa’s Did you know? poses itself on the landscape. driest reserves. Farmers in The R355 between In the heat of midsummer this part of the world conCeres and Calvinia is the it must float like a mirage sidered it a good year when longest road in South above the surroundings. they received a couple of Africa without a town It appears grandeur was centimetres of rain. Using or a filling station. synonymous with Oudebaasflood irrigation, the Burgers kraal. Until it was incorporated raised crops of wheat and luinto the park in 2007, the farm, one cerne. A desert icon, the date palm, of the oldest in the area (early 1800s), was was imported from California and a grove home to the biggest private dam in southstill flourishes alongside the house. ern Africa. Holding around 28 billion At the right time of year, a humble gift litres of water, the immense, earth-wall from the skies will blossom into a carpet Oudebaaskraal Dam was conceived and of flowers. Go see for yourself! Simply built by Alewyn Burger, an attorney spefollow a game path through the Karoo cialising in water law and later Supreme bossies or hike along a gravel road. Court judge in the 1960s. The guesthouse complex is off-limits to Built for entertainment, Alewyn and anyone but residents and offers a range of Ria Burger’s farmhouse now hosts visitors accommodation. The fortress is a quaint to the park, in separate units sharing the setting for weddings, team-building exerlargest kitchen I have seen and a stylish cises and film shoots. A 900 m air strip is lounge. I could just imagine the preparasituated next to the main building, allowtions of yesteryear when a house party ing fly-ins by guests.
TA N K WA G U E S T H O U S E
Conserve. Explore. Experience.
WINTER OFFER BOOK NOW AND SAVE 40% ON YOUR STAY
Discover all that makes the winter season special at CapeNature reserves. Whether you are in search of adventure or tranquillity, a physical challenge or a peaceful getaway, CapeNature reserves are the ideal destination to explore the great outdoors. When you really have to go inside, many of our overnight spots have a cosy fireplace where you can unwind and keep warm. Come and experience the beauty of the wild. It will change the way you think about winter.
www.capenature.co.za 021 483 0190
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Nature is a great healer and an even smarter teacher... but for so many of us, this powerful man-nature connection has been lost or fractured. Spend a day outside with your family. Somewhere away from the stresses of work, the tensions of the city, the bombardment of technology, and soak up the feeling that washes over you when life becomes simple. Reconnect with nature... and life very soon becomes richer, simpler and more satisfying.
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Travel smarter in Wild Card parks and reserves with our curated guide.
The Culture Vulture recommends
The Naturalist recommends
The Foodie recommends
The Sportsperson recommends
What: The Golden Rhino, Interpretation Centre Where: Mapungubwe National Park and World Heritage Site
What: Stone Camp Where: Mkhaya Game Reserve, Swaziland
What: Two Oceans Restaurant Where: Cape Point, Table Mountain National Park
What: Golden Gate Challenge, a 3-day staged trail run Where: Golden Gate Highlands National Park
It was on Mapungubwe Hill in 1933 where the famous Golden Rhino, together with other evidence of a wealthy African kingdom, was discovered. The rhino, which has captured the hearts of many in and out of southern Africa, symbolises the power of the African Kingdom. The king, like the rhino, was destined to live a solitary life. Artefacts from the hilltop fortress testify to trade with Egypt, India and China. The Interpretation Centre, which houses the rhino, won the World Building of the Year competition in 2009. Sip sundowners at the confluence of the Limpopo and Shashe rivers while overlooking Botswana and Zimbabwe. Stay in Leokwe Camp, in spectacular sandstone hills. Spoil your tastebuds in the à la carte restaurant, which also caters for small weddings and special-event celebrations.
For a glamorous safari, Stone Camp gets our vote because there are no walls between you and nature. The luxurious semi-open stone and thatch cottages are laid out along the banks of a picturesque dry river bed. The entire internal structure of these cottages is open to the external bush, with the outer walls being built to hip height only. The four-star camp oozes romance, especially after sunset, when the meandering pathways are lantern-lit. Dense subtropical vegetation adds to the magic. Packages include dinner, bed and breakfast. Mkhaya is known for intimate encounters with wildlife. Photojournalist Stephen Cunliffe, on assignment for Wild, rated his experience as being “on par with a mountain gorilla encounter in Central Africa”.
Sitting on the deck of the restaurant with arguably the most stunning view in the Cape, you could imagine yourself relaxing on an ocean liner with the sea spread out before you. The beauty of this setting is complemented by a stylish, airy interior and a menu of mainly fresh fish and seafood. Where else can you cap your visit to a natural wonder with a beautifully presented plate of sushi?
Run through some of the most rugged yet scenic mountains of the Free State. The off-road race traverses restricted parts of the reserve such as Little Serengeti and Cathedral Cave. Participants will cover just over 70 km in three days, conquering high altitudes on dirt tracks and hiking trails. Proceeds go towards ensuring the survival of the bearded vulture. Participants stay in private tents in the race village at Glen Reenen Rest Camp. Creature comforts include showers and full catering, with a 24-hour snack and coffee bar. The last day starts with an early morning night run, which promises to bring out the adventurer in you. Spoil yourself post-event at the Golden Gate Hotel with its classy décor, stateof-the-art facilities, cocktail bar and coffee lounge overlooking the foothills of the Maluti Mountains. Event date: 21–23 October 2016. Entries close: 30 June 2016.
Visit www.wildcard.co.za for contact details. www.wildcard.co.za
Trendsetter If you can’t get enough of elegant seaside living, the setting of Tintswalo Atlantic Lodge at the base of Chapman’s Peak will take your breath away. This five-star luxury lodge — one of the SANParks Golden Kudus — is nestled on the shore of the ocean between Hout Bay and Cape Town. Expect exclusive accommodation in individually designed suites and five-star fine dining, all a stone’s throw from the ocean.
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The birds feast on fruit and will gather in groups in fruiting trees.
Also known as the bushveld whistle blower, the early warning the grey go-awaybird sounds has ruined many a raptorâ€™s hunting attempt.
HEADS UP! Like other turacos, the grey go-away-bird has a striking crest.
It’s a riot! The grey go-away-bird is a raucous mobster synonymous with the bushveld. By Albert Froneman
he tranquillity at Ngirivane Pan near the Timbavati Picnic site in the Kruger National Park is rudely interrupted by a harsh nasal “Go away” call that causes havoc. Birds and animals scatter in all directions, even the large bull elephant standing at the edge of the water seems startled and stops his leisurely drinking routine. Then all of a sudden, as if it appeared out of nowhere, an African hawk-eagle swoops in from between the low shrubs and settles on a low branch of a large marula tree. The grey go-away-bird that sounded the alarm is still perched conspicuously on top of a small thorny shrub with its raised crest and long tail moving up and down slowly. It is keeping a watchful eye on the avian predator. Had it not been for this early warning alarm call, one of the doves or guineafowl at the waterhole might now have been in the talons of the eagle. The grey go-away-bird is a common resident in the northern areas of South Africa. Its preferred habitat is drier savanna bushveld and it is particularly fond of dry Vachellia (previously Acacia) woodland. Some 40 years ago, they were rare vagrants to the suburban gardens in Gauteng, but during the drought of the late 1970s they colonised the area and have remained. They usually occur in groups and are known for their inquisitive, alert
behaviour and tendency to sound an alarm of impending danger. Grey goaway-birds are very agile, climbing around and jumping from branch to branch in trees while constantly raising and lowering their crests. They are known to mob birds of prey, owls and large cats such as lions or leopards. Large groups of grey go-away-birds often gather to mob the would-be intruder with their characteristic loud and raucous calls. The diet of the grey go-away-bird consists primarily of fruit, flowers, buds, new leaves, nectar and invertebrates. In winter, when fruit may be scarce, you often see them feasting on nectar from aloes. They nest throughout the year on a solitary, flimsy nest built of interlaced twigs, usually in a thorny tree or tall shrub about five metres above the ground. Two to three eggs are laid and several adults of the group may assist in raising the young. The youngsters leave the nest after about 20 days. This is well before they are able to fly. They clamber around awkwardly in the branches for another 15 days before they are able to fly properly. To me no day in Kruger would be complete without hearing their nasal “kwê” like sounds [which incidentally is where their Afrikaans name kwêvoël originates from – Ed.]. Watch out for them when next you are in the bushveld. They are hard to ignore. /
WINTER 2016 WILD 17
PARK IN THE SPOTLIGHT
The distinctive Waterberg Mountains dominate the views in Marakele.
18 WILD WINTER 2016
A magnificent kudu bull among water hyacinths.
Lured by exciting developments at Marakele, Wild revisited this national park in the heart of the Waterberg. Like us, you’ll be captivated by the breathtaking scenery, and come back for more! By Romi Boom
OUTLOOK/ LOOKOUT PICTURE SUPPLIED
Marakele National Park is located about 250 km north of Johannesburg.
ain has draped a grey cloak over the spectacular cliffs of Kransberg over the past two days. The mountain, which dominates the park, dazzled in rosy tints on my previous visit. The rain is welcome, it having been a dry summer, although not as severe as in Kruger. The winter of 2016 is expected to be challenging as Marakele National Park doesn’t receive a single drop of precipitation for six months of the year. When the sun finally breaks through, I happen to be making my way to the Lenong viewpoint. My eye is drawn to an unforgettable sight: in a clear sky, hundreds of Cape vultures are catching the thermals above Kransberg cliffs, having waited out the dismal weather in their breeding colony, one of the world’s largest. There are said to be 800 pairs, but the numbers
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PARK IN THE SPOTLIGHT
of these highly endangered raptors fluctuate as they move to and fro to another breeding colony in Limpopo, at Blouberg Nature Reserve. In Marakele, where much of the park is mountainous and sicklebush encroachment is dense, you occasionally see Cape vultures on the flat areas where kills have taken place. The best chance of an encounter is the drive to the top of the mountain since these enormous birds, like an aeroplane, need open area to take off. From the Sentech Towers, near the colony, you’ll be able to watch the birds gliding and soaring. Guided outings to the vultures are one of the adventure activities in the park’s management plan for the next decade. In the future, visitors who make their way up Lenong Drive to the towers will be able to walk along viewing decks to appreciate the scenic beauty without impacting on the flora.
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MU M N
Science WHIZ KIDS
Marakele means ‘the place of herding’. The historical context, in Tswana, refers to the herding of cattle to a place of safety.
Up-and-coming young scientists at Groenvlei Secondary School in the hamlet of Sentrum in Limpopo province now have an R800 000 science laboratory, thanks to SANParks’ corporate social investment. The lab, opened in March this year, is a project undertaken by Marakele and the provincial education department. “This rural school in the middle of nowhere, halfway towards Botswana, is a worthy beneficiary,” explained Marakele’s park manager, Johan Taljaard, “especially because we do not have local communities directly adjacent to the park.” Also in March, two similar centres were opened in the north and south of Kruger, subsequent to the launch of a science lab in Clarens outside Golden Gate Highlands National Park. Marakele reaches out to the Lephalale, Vaalwater, Modimolle and Thabazimbi communities, through structured programmes such as Kids in Parks and Walk in the Wild. Wild Card members contribute directly through the tourism levy and conservation fee. Thutong, the park’s Environmental Educational Centre, which opened in 2011, is a state-ofthe-art R10 million, corporately funded project.
YEAR MARAKELE WAS PROCLAIMED.
The park was established in 1988, when it was known as the Kransberg National Park.
1.7–2.2 MILLION HA 14 500 km2 YEARS SIZE OF THE WATERBERG BIOSPHERE RESERVE
Area covered by the seemingly impenetrable Waterberg mountain range = 80% of Kruger National Park
AGE OF THE WATERBERG, about half the age of the Earth.
Join a guided bush walk to experience the breathtaking views from Lenong on foot.
[infographics] 1994 Year when Marakele was proclaimed. The park was established in 1988, when it was known as the Kransberg National Park. 1.7 - 2.2 million ha Size of the Waterberg biosphere reserve 14,500 km2 Area covered by the seemingly impenetrable Waterberg Mountain Range = 80% of Kruger National Park 1.8-2.2 billion years Age of the Waterberg – about half the age of planet earth
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PARK IN THE SPOTLIGHT
At Bontle, you can choose between safari tents (above) or the unfenced campsite (top).
TRIP PLANNER GETTING THERE Marakele National Park is around three-and-a-half hours’ drive from Gauteng. The nearest town is Thabazimbi. ACCOMMODATION Pitch your tent in the unfenced campsite at Bontle, from R245 a night for two people, R76 an extra adult, R38 a child. Bontle’s safari tents start at R1 145 a night for two people. The safari tents at Tlopi overlook the dam, from R1 260. Motswere Guest Cottage, which can sleep up to eight, is from R2 000 a night for four people, R220 an extra adult, R110 a child. CONTACT Book with SANParks Central Reservations on 012-428-9111, www.sanparks.org. 22 WILD WINTER 2016
SANParks’ responsible tourism development plan has identified Marakele as an underdeveloped park with huge potential. “Even though we recently purchased adjacent farms,” explained park manager Johan Taljaard, “we do not necessarily have to own more land. We can collaborate with our neighbours on a contractual basis so that we have sufficient space to protect even wild dogs with the right kind of fencing. After dropping the fences to new sections, the wildlife moved in immediately.” Year-round occupancy of 75 per cent in the 10 units at Tlopi Tented Camp prompted the opening last year of 10 more safari tents adjacent to the Bontle campsite. Their great attraction is being secluded and unfenced, in a woodlands section of the park that is not home to the Big Five. “We may open more of these units,” said Johan. “Our plans include a lodge with 30 rooms and we have already identified a ‘wow’ terrain on the periphery of the park.” The Marakele road network will be developed to give tourists access to larger sections of the park. A R17.5 million roads project is in the works, making provision for sedans. Short 4x4 routes will be opened, in view of the fact that more than 80 per cent of the vehicles passing through the gate are 4x4s. To keep visitors off the roads, two new picnic areas, modelled on the popular ones in Kruger, are in the pipeline. “A tourism hub is to be established at the gate, in line with SANParks’ policy of connecting to society. It features an activities centre to attract day visitors who do not necessarily have to enter the park. There will be a swimming pool and braai area for people whose leisure pursuits are not necessarily the same as nature lovers, but who can benefit from the park’s existence nevertheless.” Mining and environmental conservation are the two aspects central to the local community’s life. They are keen to develop tourism in an attempt to make up for the 1 400 jobs lost when Kumba mine closed last December. Adventure activities such as mountaineering and kloofing are likely to be outsourced, which will satisfy a very real need in the community. “We hope to achieve most of our goals in the next five years,” said Johan. Marakele seems set to rival Kruger!
Bontle leads the way
What about wildlife?
Iconic wildlife such as giraffe and elephant can be seen.
Earth, wind and fire The Waterberg is situated in the middle of the African tectonic plate and has moved around with this plate for millions of years. As a result, it has endured varying climatic changes. The range was formed by deposits of sediment in inland lakes. Because it is so old, there are no fossil remains. Igneous rock scattered throughout the range suggests volcanic activity early in its development.
Conservation manager Mphadeni Nthangeni is passionate about protecting nature.
Marakele is Big Five country. In 2013, TB-free buffalo were introduced, initially 15 bulls, with females being added gradually. The buffalo now number 70, with a sizeable herd of 40 plus calves spotted recently. “We need them for the vegetation,” explained conservation manager Mphadeni Nthangeni. “They break down the tall grasses and trample them for grazing by the zebras and wildebeest, among others. We also need them for tourist purposes. We dropped them off in areas that were not utilised in the past. Once they number 100 to 120, we will start managing the population growth.” Although the park has a large number of elephant, about 200, they are just being monitored at present. “It is a challenge,” admitted Mphadeni, “but fortunately they have not damaged trees much. Perhaps on the floodplains, where there is sweetveld, but not in the mountains, in the sourveld areas.” Although the home range of each species differs, migrations follow a 32 km corridor through the mountain. (The corridor runs directly in front of Motswere guest house, as well as two to be developed from existing farmhouses.) In a thinning project to prevent overgrazing, some plains game such as impala, zebra and wildebeest which graze in the same places were removed from the contractual section, while others were sold off on auction. The next aerial census is to be conducted in July, when the entire park will be covered over two days in an R44 helicopter. And the rhinos? “As far as poaching is concerned, the Waterberg is becoming a closed area,” emphasised Johan. In addition to being surrounded by game farms and private nature reserves, the park has 24-hour visibility on the ground and four tracker dogs. In addition to security guards, Marataba, the contractual park to the north, has 18 guides who also serve as eyes and ears on the ground. Counterpoaching engages in very specific actions and security is tight, with booms on public roads and more in the pipeline. The Greater Marakele Security Cluster aims to implement measures similar to those in gated estates, where a mobile scanner will be used to scan vehicle licences and driver’s licences before the boom opens. Information will be transmitted to reaction forces and the police. WINTER 2016 WILD 23
PARK IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Update from Marataba I’m sipping an early morning cuppa on the veranda of the brand new Trails Lodge in the Marataba section of Marakele. The view embraces infinity. This is as exclusive, as quiet, as deliciously remote as it gets. There’s accommodation for 10 guests only. I want to stay a week. The name Marataba means ‘where the plains touch the mountains’ and refers to the vista from both the Trails Lodge and the main Safari Lodge. The setting for the new camp was chosen to avoid light pollution from nearby Thabazimbi at night. This is the perfect digital detox for those who can go without Wi-Fi and cellular reception. If you have to, you can use the lodge’s solar power to recharge camera batteries. Trails Lodge specialises in hiking trails, either on animalworn paths along grassy plains or through semi-tropical gorges, where crystal clear rock pools feed straight out of sandstone cliffs. Longer trails traverse the mountains into neighbouring valleys. For a completely different perspective on game viewing, I’m invited on a water safari, a leisurely sunset cruise on Python Dam in the Matlabas River, on MS Mara. This is a novelty in South African game reserves and I cannot imagine a more leisurely and romantic indulgence for a special occasion. Sipping on chilled white wine as the sun turns into a pot of gold, I admire a kudu bull wading among hyacinths, study a herd of waterbuck in their natural element, chuckle at baboons foraging in the shallows and take close-ups of bee-eaters and kingfishers scrutinising the water for their next meal. My fellow passengers enthuse about hippo grunts and scan the verges for thirsty elephant.
This is as exclusive, as quiet, as deliciously remote as it gets. I want to stay a week.
I propose that creature comforts of this ilk and five-star lodgings are for foreigners only. “Not at all,” replies Gawie Grobler, general manager of Marataba Safari Lodge. “South African guests represent the single most numerous nationality.” Business is booming. Safari Lodge is fully booked over the weekend and runs almost at capacity during the high season. The public-private partnership with Marakele Contractual Park owes its existence to a conversation between Paul van Vlissingen, Dutch businessman and ardent conservationist, and Nelson Mandela. Van Vlissingen’s vision was to expand Marakele, which Mandela explained would be tricky. The people were not going to vote for zebras, he said. Van Vlissingen rose to the challenge. He approached SANParks management in 1999 with a plan to use his own money to help fund the acquisition and development of much-needed ecologically 24 WILD WINTER 2016
Maratabaâ€™s Trails Lodge welcomes just 10 guests at a time.
The water safari is a novelty in South African game reserves and I cannot imagine a more leisurely and romantic indulgence for a special occasion.
Marataba offers three game-viewing cruises a day.
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The view from Trails Lodge is across the plains to the Waterberg.
valuable land to the north of the core area of the park. In two years, Van Vlissingen and other Dutch investors purchased over a dozen farms, constructed over 150 kilometres of new game fencing and removed 7 000 kilometres of barbed wire. The enlarged park was launched in 2003. Today’s consolidated Marakele National Park incorporates the original Marakele Park and the Marakele Contractual Park, known as Marataba. Directly adjacent to the park is Welgevonden Private Nature Reserve. Together these three form a ‘golden horseshoe’ of protected areas in Limpopo province’s northwest, north and northeast. Marataba offers luxurious accommodation and guided activities.
FIVE REASONS TO VISIT
* To read more about this five-star conservation experience, go to www.wildcard.co.za and type Marataba in the Search box.
A Big Five, malaria-free destination, just 250 km from Gauteng. The park, as its Tswana name suggests, is a sanctuary for an impressive array of wildlife. Marakele is part savanna bushveld, part Kalahari, and part Okavango swamps. Situated in the transitional zone between the dry western and moister eastern regions of South Africa, the park has sweetveld, camel thorn trees and spectacular scenery. The unique topography comprises plains to the north and a basin in the 2 000 m mountain. Both sites offer rewarding sightings. The biodiversity is astonishing. In a very small area there are unique differences in height above sea level. You’ll even find fynbos.
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Guided activities include game drives and walks.
Marakele, Marataba and Welgevonden form a ‘golden horseshoe’ of protected areas in Limpopo.
Marataba’s lodges cater for comfort.
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Published on Jun 29, 2016
Wild Card's wildlife environment and travel magazine containing top wildlife, park and reserve stories; illustrated with world-class photogr...