I felt my soul draw back towards me as I sat on our private deck deep in the heart of the South African bushveld at Tlopi Tented Camp in the Marakele National Park. In the local Tswana language, Marakele means place of sanctuary. Ice clinked gently in my glass as the final rays of the sun gently kissed the sandstone cliffs of the Waterberg goodnight before the coming of the African night.
Little did we know what a treat Mother Nature had in store for us. As the twilight faded, huge cloud banks rolled in over the Waterberg mountains, followed by an awe inspiring pyrotechnic display that continued for hours. Strong gusting winds. The unique smell of rain in the bush. Lightning flashes creating a stop frame sequence of afterimages on our retinas and an almost physical wall of thunder rolling over us time and again, was a primordial sensory experience that I will never forget. Before you think that I have embraced my inner cave woman, we enjoyed this spectacle from the comfort of our dining / kitchen tent with a bottle of red wine, snug and well protected from the elements.
‘Please don’t let us meet another car coming down!’ was our constant mantra the next morning as we wound up the side of the mountain on the single car’s width tar road to the Lenong View Point at the very top of the Waterberg. We made it without meeting a single other car! At the top, we were astounded to find a land of delicate fynbos complete with flowering proteas and the most breath-taking views. On one side, layers of Waterberg Mountains as far as we could see and on the other, a drop down into the valley and across the infinite ‘vlakktes’ or flat plains. My soul took another step closer.
We were happily sunning ourselves like lizards on a rock admiring the view from Lenong View Point when we noticed a single vulture soaring up above one of the peaks … and then another … and another … soon there was a slow-motion cyclone of over a hundred vultures soaring higher and higher together. Eventually, one by one they peeled off in different directions as they went about their daily vulture business. One or two flew directly over us and the sound of the wind rushing through and over their powerful wings defies my limited vocabulary but will live with me forever.
The epic vistas and fynbos disappeared from view as we descended back into the valley, our mantra still going strong, to be replaced by new and staggeringly beautiful bushveld views of the Waterberg’s towering sandstone cliffs in the green season.
Back in camp and ensconced on our patio we heard that most quintessential of African sounds, the cry of a fish eagle who had obligingly perched at the top of a dead tree nearby. A large herd of impalas with wobbly young ones came down to the dam for a drink. A warthog brought her babies for a mud bath while a francolin scolded her. The cloud banks rolled back in for another evening display and my soul said this is good, this place of sanctuary, this Marakele.
Good to know:
Tlopi Tented Camp is in SANPark’s Marakele Nation Park a couple of kilometers from the town of Thabazimibi in the North-West province. It is a small, intimate camp with ten two-sleeper safari-style tents each with its own deck and dining/kitchen tent on the edge of a dam. Do be aware of the dexterous and cunning vervet monkeys who stealthily open the kitchen tent sliding door and then the fridge door, selectively picking out an item from your fridge while you are sitting on the patio a couple of metres away. Keep the door locked!
Marakele is a relatively small park with limited infrastructure and no shops or restaurant so do bring everything that you will need. It is a recently established Big 5 Park so don’t expect to see massive herds of game like in the Kruger but for us Joburgers, who are used to the endless Highveld plateaus the impressive Waterberg Mountains rising out of the flat plains comes as an unexpected surprise and the rich diversity of vegetation more than makes up for the fewer numbers of game.
DISCLOSURE: I have no commercial relationship with SANParks or any of its affiliates. All photographs, experiences and opinions expressed in this blog post are my own.