Up in Limpopo province with the majestic Waterberg mountains as its backdrop is one of South Africa’s best-kept safari secrets. Now under the management of the MORE group, Marataba Safari Lodge and its new sister, Trails Lodge offer stunning value for money in a superb Big 5 setting. And it’s malaria free…
The moment you first enter the 20,000-hectare Marataba Concession, part of Marakele, you know you’re in a special place. The ancient, eroded, deep red Waterberg mountains provide a constant backdrop, it’s remote plateaus and ravines lure you closer. Once a tobacco and cattle farming area, the Concession now has a fenceless border with Marakele National Park and healthy bird and mammal populations. Best of all, you have the whole place to yourself.
“We are the only commercial lodges here”, manager Natashja explains as we sip our welcome drink. “Only 5 vehicles on the whole concession. It’s not uncommon to not see another vehicle on your game drive. Our guests love that.”
Such a low vehicle density is rare in South Africa – including in premier reserves such as Sabi Sand. Nor does it have the same road densities as Sabi Sand, nor such habituated game, which makes it an altogether far wilder experience. But how does this translate into actual sightings?
“We have great sightings”, our guide Adriaan explains, “Regular elephant, rhino and lion while leopard is becoming more frequent as they become habituated to vehicles”. We had fantastic lion sightings on all of our drives, and on the last evening they roared all night just metres from our luxury tent. Game numbers support remarkably high predator densities and the quality of sightings will only get better with time. And as often as not, you’ll have the sightings to yourself.
The quality of hospitality at Safari Lodge is just as impressive as the reserve itself. Staff are exceptionally friendly, efficient and professional without being over-familiar and the three course plated lunches and dinners were of a very high standard. Small little details, from a welcome note to a freshly-run bubble bath after a chilly evening game drive, were always there: the standard is what we normally see in a much higher price bracket. The guiding too, is world class – dedicated and passionate, Adriaan is part of a highly professional guiding team, one of the best we’ve seen in Southern Africa.
Marataba is so wild and beautiful it would be a waste to see it only from a vehicle. We opted for a post-breakfast walk with Adriaan in addition to our twice-daily game drive. There’s a good chance of encountering any of the Big 5 on foot and we enjoyed a close-up white rhino sighting in addition to all the small things that make walking in bush such a pleasure. And if walking is your thing, there’s yet more.
“Some of the ravines are so inaccessible, we’re not even sure exactly what’s up there”, our Adrian explains. “But we know there are plenty of black rhino. And lion and leopard that may never have seen humans before”.
Enter the brand new Trails Lodge, with exactly this in mind – to properly explore this wilderness on foot. The setting for the Trails Lodge is superb – in a remote corner of the concession, nestled among the lower slopes of the mountains with sensational views out over the plains. The design is modern, luxurious but with nature at its centre: here you feel as though you’re part of the mountains. The concept is simple – the trails themselves may be tough, but when you return to the lodge you can expect comfort in style. Rough it during the day and live it up afterwards – this is a place of contrasts and extremes.
Just how tough the hiking is depends on the group and your preferences and the days can be tailored to your requirements. Although you can and might encounter almost anything on foot, the game is still relatively unhabituated and this combined with the experienced trails guides means you can enjoy the experience in safety.
There are few places in Africa where you can do serious walking in Big 5 territory with expert guides, and Marataba is one. Combined with a couple of days at Safari Lodge for a traditional, vehicle-based safari, this is an experience with a twist, one you’re not likely to forget.
Marataba can also be combined with other stunning MORE group properties in Madikwe, Kruger, Sabi Sand and Cape Town for a fantastically diverse safari circuit.
You’ll most likely fall in love with Marataba as we did, the blood-red mountains leaving a lasting impression. This is a world-class reserve with a top-notch family friendly lodge to match anything in South Africa.