Nestled between the dry west-half and humid east-half of South Africa, Marakele National Park in Limpopo has a distinct character with a combination of both regions. The word Marakele means place of sanctuary, so it is no secret what the park holds.
The magnificent mammal profile aside, Marakele is famous for two things. Not only it houses the largest population of Cape vultures in the world, but it also keeps an impressive historical value dating back to the Iron Age.
Situated in the malaria-free Waterberg Mountain Range in Limpopo, Marakele offers a safe and easily accessible safari experience for every budget.
Marakele was initially founded under the name Kransberg National Park in 1994. While it initially occupied only 150 squared km, it later expanded to 670 squared km and was renamed to Marakele in 1999.
The Waterberg biosphere is characterized by moist bushveld vegetation covering deep valleys, plains and the bordering mountain ranges.
Flora And Fauna
The bushveld is concentrated in the southern part of the park that receives an annual rainfall of over 700 mm. The soil in the region has a reduced amount of nutrients, therefore it is more suitable for Transvaal beechwoods, protest, and stem fruit trees. This part is sparsely populated by wildlife with mainly kudu and reedbuck inhabiting it.
Mixed bushveld dominates the northwestern region and some isolated areas in the south. Because it is more nutrient-rich, many game animals are drawn to here. The most common tree types are silver cluster leaf, sickle bush, and round-leaved teak.
A small part of the park contains a sweet bushveld near Matlabas River. This is where prey species come to hide, hence predators come to look for them.
Considering the many types of vegetation, it’s no secret that animals like to hang around.
There used to be no buffalos in the park, but that changed when 20 disease-free buffalos were brought in. Now that they are in, the gang (with herds of lions, leopards, caracals, hyenas, black and white rhinos, and elephants) is complete. The antelope gang consists of sable, kudu, waterbuck, eland, and impala species. Chacma Baboons and Vervet Monkeys are the mascots of the park.
Bird-watchers will be even more pumped to find out that the park has the largest colony of Cape Vultures in the world. In addition, the park has territories that are part of many bird migration routes. So, you will get to watch them along with 250 permanent species. Look out for African Harrier Hawk, another endangered bird species.
Game drives are arranged for early mornings and sunsets. As an alternative, bush walks are available at the same time of the day. For thrill-seekers, two nights 4×4 eco-trail provides an unforgettable experience in nature.
You can visit the Cape Vulture colony via special tours taking you up a mountain pass with perfect sighting spots.
Self-driving is another possibility and 80 km of the roads inside are proper for sedan vehicles, although some parts can be challenging.
See the “Tips” section if you are a day visitor who wants to self-drive, as there are some regulations for day visits.
The nearest town to Marakele National Park is Thabazimbi in the Waterberg region. The town is 250 km to the north of Johannesburg and can be accessed by a 4-hour drive. The main accommodation sites are built just outside the town to avoid the distraction of wildlife.
From Johannesburg, you must take N1 to Bela-Bela and take R516 via Mabula and Leeupoort. This should take you straight to Thabazimbi. To reach the reception, take the road to Alma for 12 km.
Note that the gates are closed after 18:00 to day visitors.
There are two main seasons throughout the year.
The dry season is between April and October. This is when the rainfall is at a minimum. As a result, the vegetation thins out and the water resources dry up, exposing the wildlife that seeks out water. The temperature is around 24 degrees during the day, but nights can be extremely cold at about 5 degrees.
From October to March is the wet season. Although the humidity and rainfall are certainly at a higher rate, it is not as overwhelmingly humid as the coastal region. This is thanks to Marakele being in a transitional zone between the dry and the wet terrains. The average temperature is around 30 degrees with a dropdown to 16 at night.
December is the worst time to visit not only because of the climate but also because of the school holidays that draw packs of youngsters to the park.
Tips And Things You Might Need To Know
Despite the increasing humidity in summer, the Waterberg Mountains including Marakele National Park are malaria-free.
Occasionally, some parts of the park are closed to game drives and tourists for the recovery of the vegetation and reintroduction of animals. You might want to enquire about roads at the reception If you end up entering a restricted zone and stuck, you will have to pay for towing charges. This applies specifically to day visitors who are self-driving.
The general speed limit within the park is 30 km/h.
If you decide to stay at the campsite, remember to bring headlamps since lighting at night is limited.
Besides certain spots indicated on the map that you can obtain at the entrance, you should not leave your vehicles.
Baboons and Vervet Monkeys can be aggressive and demanding if you try to feed them. Also, they were previously spotted roaming around the tents at the campsites. So, you must keep your tents closed and hide the edibles.
Remember that pets aren’t allowed.