Photo Credit: Tim Randall

Northern Tuli Game Reserve, a hidden gem wedged between South Africa and Zimbabwe

Botswana’s eastern tip, the Tuli Block, is a hidden gem wedged between South Africa and Zimbabwe. The area has iconic geographical features that once provided shelter for the ancestors of the San People. Today, most of the area is taken up by a few private game reserves. The region is part of a more general foundation called Limpopo-Shashe Transfrontier Conservation Area, which incorporates nature reserves at the intersection of Botswana, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. The most popular safari destination in Tuli Block is the Northern Tuli Game Reserve that takes up a large portion of the region.

Impala, Zebra and Wildebeest Renate’s Mate Licence: CC


Tuli Block borders Zimbabwe in the north and South Africa in the south. It is surrounded by the rivers Shashe and Limpopo in the north and Notwane in the south. With 72000 hectares of land, Northern Tuli Game Reserve takes up the northern half of the Tuli Block. It comprises three private concessions of Mashatu Game Reserve, Tuli Safari Lodge, and Nitani Private Game Reserve.

The area has a distinct landscape compared to the rest of Botswana. While Botswana is mainly a flat country, the Tuli Block contains rocky outcrops with red sandstones, big pebbles, and basalt cliffs. The habitat surrounding the rocky terrain consists of riverine forests, marshland, and mopane forests.

The most notable geographical feature is the Solomon’s Wall, a 30-meters-high basalt cliff, along with the hills Tswapong and Lepokole defined by granites and kopjes. The two hills are quite rich in cave-rock-art that belonged to the San people, who once practiced shamanic trance sessions inside the caves. Besides the rock art, Solomon’s Wall has evidence of a prehistoric lake that dried up, leaving traces of minerals, precious stones, indigenous fever trees.

Rock formations Tim Randall Licence: CC


Although buffalo and rhino species are absent from NTGR, the other members of the big five are quite easy to spot thanks to the scarcity of thick bushes.

Elephants are quite high in numbers and seen lurking around the riverbed throughout the day. You will also find large herds of giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, and eland.

Elephant with baby digging for water Nils.Voxholt License: CC

Predators such as lion, hyena, and cheetah are regular visitors of the riverbeds, but the highlight of NTGR is the high concentration of leopards. The reserve is considered one of the best places to spot these elusive creatures. Although the predators can be seen at any time of the day, they come out more frequently at night for hunting. Other nocturnal animals in the reserve include aardwolf, civet, African wild cat, and aardvark.

A Leopard in Mashatu Game Reserve, located in the Northern Tuli Game Reserve Claudine Daemen Licence: CC

Wild dogs have recently been reintroduced to the area, so their population is growing quite fast.

The riverbeds and exposed rock formations offer a special bird-watching experience. There are about 350 permanent bird species in the reserve, but the number increases with the arrival of migratory birds in summer.


Like any private game reserve, NTGR offers a range of activities around comfortable and luxurious facilities.

A typical day begins early in the morning with a tea and coffee service that will prepare you for the morning activities. The morning safari is a combination of a game drive, bush-walk tour, and wildlife-watching at the designated hides.

Following this, you will be free until the afternoon safari. This is the perfect time to explore the hidden corners of the park through self-guided hiking, horse-riding, and mountain biking, all of which have well-marked trails.

Hatari sunset stop Andrew Deacon License: CC

Afternoon activities are similar to morning safaris, except you can find some rare species that come out before dusk.

Night drives and bird-tracking can be organized, but you need to contact the reserve in advance.

Equitrekking’s Botswana Episodes Visite Botswana License: CC

One of the biggest advantages of visiting NTGR is its proximity to the local Mothlabaneng Village. By joining the community visits, you can get a grasp of the local life. The village has a big collection of community projects such as local schools, wine cellars, and rock art exhibitions, which are founded by the locals. Half the tour fee gets donated to the community for sustaining the projects, so you will do them a big favor by visiting their village.

Climate & Best Time To Visit

Tuli block experiences a semi-arid climate with very little rainfall.

The dry season is between May and September, characterized high-temperature gaps between day and night. Although the day temperature is around 26-27 degrees, the nights can get quite cold. So, you should bring warm clothes to wear during the early morning safaris.

The wet season is between October and April; however, it is not as humid as northern Botswana. The temperature range is between 15-33 degrees, so nights can still feel a bit cold. The rainfall occurs mostly in the afternoon and lasts 1-2 hours.

The best time to view wildlife is the dry season because the animals tend to migrate to the riverbeds in search of water, so you will know where exactly to find them.

Giraffe at a waterhole Jordan Barab Licence: CC

Getting There

Unlike the popular safari destinations in Botswana, the easiest way to get to NTGR is from South Africa. The Polokwane Airport in South Africa is only two-hour-drive from the game reserve. You can also fly to Maun, Kasane, and Sir Seretse Khama International Airports in Botswana.

From Polokwane, the quickest way of transfer is via a charter flight to Limpopo Valley Airfield, which is a very short drive from the entrance. You can also rent a car at the airport and cross the Pont’s Drift border to Botswana.

Tips & What You Need To Know

If you are driving from South Africa, you must keep in mind that the Pont’s Drift border is only open between 8 am and 4 pm. The opening times are very strict and there are no exceptions for those arriving late.

The minimum age limit for participating in bush walks is 12.

The two hides in the park, Lentswe, and The Swamp Hide, are both suitable for predator-watching. However, you shouldn’t forget to bring binoculars because the animals will be far out in the open areas.

Limpopo River can sometimes flood during the wet season, which makes border crossing by car impossible. In that case, you can leave your car at Pont’s Drift border so that the lodge can arrange your transfer. A cable car has recently started operating and made the river-crossing much more entertaining.

Northern Tuli Game Reserve is in a no-risk malaria zone, but you should still consult your doctor for recommended medication if you are planning to visit the other parks in the country.