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Magical Madikwe and Friends


lmSA84

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Magical Madikwe and Friends

 

It’s maybe worth me starting with a little bit of my background, as it sets some context for our trip.

 

I was fortunate enough to be born in South Africa, living mostly in Durban until my parents immigrated to England when I was 13. It was a brilliant childhood, not least of all because one of our annual holidays would be a safari, mainly to the Zululand parks and occasionally Kruger or Mana Pools (my dad is Zimbabwean so we spent most Xmases in Harare.)

 

These safari’s were wonderful and have really defined my life-long love of birds and wildlife but they weren’t not necessarily that productive (certainly not by the standards of Safaritalkers!).

 

To explain a bit more, across all of these safari’s I’ve seen most of the antelope of Southern Africa (excl. Roan, Gemsbok, Sharpe’s Grysbok, Grey Rhebok and Liechtenstein’s Hartebeest) but excl. lions I’d seen comparatively few predators. I reckon before this trip that I had seen only 1x leopard, 4 x cheetah, 2x Bat- eared fox, 1 x Cape fox and 6 or so Spotted Hyena. I put this down mainly to the ecology of the Zululand parks which historically have been light on predators.

 

Now despite my love of the country, the people and its wildlife I haven’t been back often – there is just simply so such of this wonderful world to see!

 

This December / January though we decided that it was time to return. My wife had never been and had always wanted to go - plus she hadn’t met many of my family members.

 

So it was set. Our itinerary was orientated mainly around seeing my family but we would have plenty of time for wildlife. The plan was:

 

Jan 18th – 21st Cape Town

22nd – 26th – Mooi River

27th – 30th – Underberg

31st – Durban

1st – 7th – Kruger National Park (KNP) self-drive

8th – 10th – Victoria Falls

 

We had booked a long time in advance so we had our choice of the KNP camps and inspired by the success of the Safaritalker’s I was determined to ensure knock it out the proverbial park! I chose to focus on the Southern region of the park, which I knew would be busiest but would likely offer great gaming viewing. We booked an ambitious schedule with 6 nights spread across Berg-en-dahl, Crocodile Bridge, Lower Sabie and Pretoriuskop and I began to research diligently!

 

I got a series of maps and guides from my parents, I studied the publically available research on Wild Dog and Cheetah densities and I spoke with my cousin who is a former ranger at KTP. I even downloaded the “Latest Sightings” app and kept a log of the daily major sightings by camp / road location – this actually proved very useful in showing where the Sable were typically found, a spotted hyena den, Eagle Owl nests, the location of regular leopard sightings at new Lower Sable and the typical sighted movements of the Berg-en-dahl and Pretoriuskop Wild Dog packs.

 

Then one month before we were due to go we got some fantastic news – my wife was pregnant! Yippee…..and then it dawned on me….no malaria tablets!

 

It was over! All my research….worthless! L

 

Now we could have taken a chance given the region is suffering a terrible drought and the infection rates are low in even in a normal rainy seasons, but honestly the risk isn’t worth it. So it was with a heavy heart that I cancelled our bookings at Kruger and Vic Falls, deleted my sighting apps, shelved my research and began frantically emailing the malaria free parks in Northern South Africa.

 

This late in the year I thought we would have no options at all but luckily we had a few slim pickings - they were:

Pilanesberg – Kwa Maritane Hotel - Jan 1st – Jan 4th

Madikwe – Motswiri Camp – Jan 2nd – Jan 8th

KTP – Twee Rivieren 2nd – Jan 5th

 

The above was it across all of the camps in Northern SA – excluding GKNP.

 

In the end we went for Kwa Maritane from the 1st – 3rd and Motswiri from Jan 3rd – Jan 8th.

 

This itinerary worked out really well for us, by allowing us to break up the drive from J’burg on the 1st and giving my wife a chance to sleep in for at least two days prior to Motswiri.

 

Pilanesberg

 

Kwa Maritane, for those who haven’t been, is really more of a holiday complex then a bush lodge. It sleeps at capacity 180 people, it has a conference centre, two pools, a small putt-putt course and an all-day buffet restaurant. Despite the above, it does try hard to emphasise it’s wildlife credentials with a ranger centre, showcasing South African reptiles, and a waterhole hide in the park which is connected to the main building by a long underground tunnel.

 

The hid is quite active with a resident hippo, good birdlife, Impala, Kudu, White Rhino and a regular stream of Elephants. I had a great photographing this bull enjoying a mid-day bath.

 

Kurrichane Thrush in the Kwa Maritane grounds

 

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Egyptian Geese at the hid

 

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Resident hippo and has Hammerkop companion

 

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A young bull elephant coming down for a drink and a frolic

 

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Magical Madikwe and Friends   It’s maybe worth me starting with a little bit of my background, as it sets some context for our trip.   I was fortunate enough to be born in South Africa, living mos

As I mentioned above, our trip to Pilansberg was about both wildlife and relaxing so we actually only made one afternoon excursion into the park. The afternoon we chose was on Jan 2nd and by 3pm it lo

Afternoon drive   That afternoon we would head out at about 15.00, in the blistering 42c heat!   We headed into the South West of the park towards the Tau Dam and unsurprisingly, given the heat, t

Tom Kellie

~ @@lmSA84

 

This trip reports starts strong!

Your clear, vivid photographs are outstanding!

Thank you so much for providing your background.

It's very nice that your wife was able to become acquainted with your relatives.

The bird images are something else, as are the lovely elephant photos.

I really like this!

Tom K.

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Tdgraves

Congratulations on your news and good for you not cancelling the trip completely. I really like madikwe, so I hope you enjoyed it too

Edited by Tdgraves
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@ImSA84

 

South Africa having so many National parks will be on our radar for a long time, so reading TR about those places-to-go is always rewarding!

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Marks

Great start with the eles.

Looking forward to seeing some more Madikwe after some other recent threads caught my interest.

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michael-ibk

Now that´s a good reason to change safari plan, congratulations! Glad you still found an itinerary which suited you. Very good start to the report, like the picture of the Egyptian Geese especially.

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lmSA84

@@Tom Kellie - thank you for your kind words, your posts are always so encouraging for those writing reports

 

@@Tdgraves, @@michael-ibk - thank you for the congrats - we're very excited!

 

@@Marks, @@xelas - you'll see I would really recommend it - particularly the waterhole at Motswiri which at night is a stunning spectacle of rarely seen wildlife

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lmSA84

As I mentioned above, our trip to Pilansberg was about both wildlife and relaxing so we actually only made one afternoon excursion into the park. The afternoon we chose was on Jan 2nd and by 3pm it looked like a horrendous choice!

 

All that afternoon a storm had been slowly rolling in and by 3pm it hit us will full force.

 

You have to imagine this scene.....there we 6 cars all loaded with 8-12 passengers (half of them kids) each parked up ready to take the short trip into the park. As we were all sat there the storm came through with a huge blast of wind, driving rain and lightning! The real nadir was when a lightning bolt touched down inside the camp no more than 100m from the cars. At this point half the kids burst into tears (I don’t blame them!!) and at least 50-60% of the people bailed out of the cars.

 

My wife though was not so easily scarred - this being her first African safari trip, she was determined to go. And so we did and no sooner than the now half full cars pulled out the storm begun to abate and by the time we were in the park proper it had passed.

 

The passing storm made her attempt to put on a plastic poncho in a moving car a bit pointless!

 

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Despite the heavy storm rolling through the drive was quite good, starting with a small herd of Tseebee – the only ones of this trip that we would see.

 

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A white rhino and her calf…

 

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…and a small family of lion with two lioness…

 

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…and an immature male.

 

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The rest of the drive was largely uneventful with a few hippo, giraffe and waterbuck…

 

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…the highlight of the rest of the drive was the lovely light at the Mankwe Dam.

 

 

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Tom Kellie

~ @@lmSA84

 

I must say that your camera settings are consistently near-ideal for your subjects.

Photo after photo, they're sharp, vivid, exceptionally attractive.

While I don't mean to diminish the value of your commentary, your photos hit the bulls-eye as far as I'm concerned.

What a wonderful trip report!

Thank you for posting this.

Tom K.

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TonyQ

@@lmSA84

Congratulations - a very good reason for changing plans. And well done for braving the storm - and your excellent sightings justify that decision

I love your elephant sequence, the rhino, and the light on the dam

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@lmSA84

 

Excellent shot of the rhino in the bushveld above!

Edited by PT123
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Alexander33

Looking forward to your report very much. Your landscapes are lovely.

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Congratulations! Happy you could work out your trip so you still had a wonderful safari. Lovely photo of the tseebee and I especially like the golden light on the Mankwe Dam. Looking forward to more.

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lmSA84

The next morning we got up and after an early brunch headed to Madikwe.

 

From Pilanesberg there are two main options – you can either head to the West of the park and enter at the Waterboom gate or enter in the East at the Malatedi Gate. Even though Motswiri is located in the West we were tempted to enter in via the East, given its proximity to Pilanesberg and also we so could maximise our time in park, awe would then drive through it rather than around it.We chose not to and I’m glad that we didn’t! A Dutch couple that arrived after us, chose to do it this way and they paid a price with an incredibly uncomfortable journey for two hours on bumpy dirt track roads – it didn’t help that they were in a Ford hatchback and the wife was 18 weeks pregnant (crazy tourists :P!)

 

Our ~2hr drive was uneventful and we arrived at the Waterboom gate at around 13.00. From there it is about 30mins to Motswiri which is one of the last camps on the road from the entrance gate.

 

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The drive in gave us our first taste of Motswiri wildlife with plenty of Kudu, Giraffe and a loan Buffalo.

 

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When we stopped for this Buffalo I told my wife that I was certain this guy would be gone by morning and I mentioned it to the lodge, thinking it might be worth keeping in mind in case there was a kill. They told me that apparently he’s there every day and is such a fixture that it is part of the reason why one of the lodges is named Buffalo Ridge. He must be a seriously mean dude when he's awake.

 

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Motswiri is a small luxury camp with a maximum of ~15 guests. They have five 2 person chalets which are arranged around a small waterhole / the main building. Separate to these is a larger family chalet.

 

The camp is very well appointed, with the chalets positioned so that you don’t have direct views of each other, so you very much feel as if you in your own private space.

This design though has a drawback – namely being that only chalets 3 and 4 have a clear view of the watering hole. The other chalets can only see the foreground of the watering hole. This difference would prove to be critical!

 

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This is the waterhole - it might look innocuous but this little pond would bring me three sightings off my African wildlife bucket list! :D:D

 

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The bird life at lodge is also excellent - in total I observed circa 80 species whilst at the lodge

 

Shaft-tailed Whydah

 

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When we arrived we were allotted chalet no.1 which is probably the most private of the chalets and I also felt was slightly bigger. We were perfectly happy with this original allocation.

 

After settling in we had lunch, a quick wonder round and then headed out on our first game drive at about 14.30. Motswiri is typically of most safari places in that it offers twice daily drives leaving at ~6am and 14-15.00. They don’t expressly offer night drives but with a bit cajoling they will offer them.

 

Afternoon drive

 

In our first drive we would head South of Motswiri down to the Tau Dam and the surrounding areas. It was a gentle introduction to Madikwe with an elegant Kudu and a few other typical plains animals.

 

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The main highlights were in and around the dam which is pumped with fresh water and given the heat (it was 36c that day) and drought, unsurprisingly it attracts numerous herds of game.

 

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You can see in the above image how dry Madikwe currently is. Talking with the rangers at the lodge they explained that they had only a quarter of their typical rainfall for December and on the year they were dramatically down.

 

We stopped at the Tau Dam, pre-sun downer and watched this herd of elephants come in and enjoy the water and mud.

 

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This little baby ele is clearly very loved and cheerished but when it comes to mud it's clearly every elephant for herself. :lol:

 

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Ohh - that is one way to get a good spray and then to add injury to insult - mom just flat out sat on her

 

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Other then elephants, we were surrounded by three or four small families of white rhino and their companions.

 

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What you looking at....who you looking at.... <_<

 

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As we watched the rhino, the elephants moved on with a light rainbow in the background

 

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We eventually moved on to find a quiet spot for a sun downer in the fading light. Whilst we waited a shrub hare came out to say hello and then the unmistakable sound of calling hyena's rolled in across the veld.

 

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The calling appeared to be coming from the dam so we packed up and headed there but a queue had already formed, so we waited our turn in a virtual line, just on the other side of the dam.

 

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All of the vehicles across Madikwe are connected by radio to share sightings and locations. The system is simple - the first vehicle that arrives at a scene has the lead position and they can call in up to two more vehicles (the max is three per sighting at anyone time). Other vehicles, if they chose to wait, are then assigned numbers in a virtual queue and as others leave they can take their place. The exception to the above rule is leopard sightings where the maximum appears to be two vehicles. I have to say that I observed everyone as being rather considerate and obedient to the rules.

 

I should also probably mention that the rangers have permission to go off road to follow a sighting, however they can not go looking for sightings off road i.e. trying to flush animals out if they haven't already been spotted.

 

Whilst we were waiting, listening to the hyena calls, this hyena surprised us all and shot straight past our vehicle

 

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We didn't have to wait too much longer before it was our turn again and we took up position over looking the dam.

 

The sight, it turned out, was quite typically for the Tau Dam in the evening with a group of 6 or so hyena circling and calling in the back while small groups of rhino dozed or play fought.

 

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I have to say that Madikwe is a paradise for both rhino species

 

Cape Turtle Dove

 

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Sunset over the watering hole

 

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Once the sun had almost dropped we begun to make the drive back, spotlighting as went, and we came across a new lifer for me and first off my Africa wildlife bucket list! :lol:

 

Large Spotted Genet

 

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I was thrilled!

 

And it didn't stop there....as this evening was the weekly braai, which is served down in the little boma next to the main lodge, over looking the small waterhole.

 

Whilst we waited for dinner I got chatting to Zebe the head ranger, who was also our main ranger for the trip. He was telling me that the small watering hole is a hive of activity at night, particularly in the dry season. He knew this because they had setup a camera trap and on a regular basis they would download the results. The camera trap showed that a plethora of wildlife made use of the watering hole and including some which had a regularish routine.

 

Regular visits included, black rhino often coming between 7pm and 10pm and a large male leopard who came twice a night, the first time normally around 10-11pm and then again at 1-2am. The trap also showed lion, spotted and brown hyena on a more infrequent basis. Zebe was also convinced that serval, caracal and honeybadger had been using the waterhole but the camera trap wasn't sensitive enough to capture them, so he wasn't sure.

 

Almost to punctuate his point whilst we were talking a bull black rhino appeared. Unfortunately, in the light conditions I just wasn't able to get a half decent shot but still it proves it was there.

 

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lmSA84

@@Terry - thank you. I really enjoyed your Madikwe report and it was a big part of my motivation to start my own trip report.

 

@@TonyQ, @@PT123, @@Alexander33 - thank you and I hope you enjoy the rest of the report as much as I've enjoyed some of your own

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Alexander33

Madikwe really seems to produce when it comes to elephants and rhinos.

 

I love that shot of the genet peering from the crook of that massive tree. Genets actually strike me as very elegant creatures.

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Kitsafari

@@lmSA84 congratulations to you and your wife, and good on you both not to give up your safari plans! and good on her for wanting to brave the rains for the game drive.

 

I too love that genet face peeking out of the tree, and the scrub hare is so cute! i saw loads of them in SLNP but sadly all in the dark, so it's been great seeing them for the first time in the light!

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deano

@ImSA84 - Great stuff. We have a few nights at Madikwe at the end of the year so I will be following this one. Great expression on the face of your "immature lion" - (don't think he liked being called immature) and the animals by the waterhole are really nice especially the elephants. Your kudu looks like he stepped out of a salon...immaculate and definitely a candidate for "best in show".

 

Looking forward to more.

 

kind regards

 

deano.

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Excellent pictures of the elephants at the waterhole. I think it is the same waterhole which was near where we saw the new-born elephant calves. It is interesting how the baby elephant in your pictures just kind of disappears into the mud. Maybe some of the bank fell on top of it. They all seemed to be having a great time, especially him.

 

It is great that you got to see the black rhino and a genet! And it is good to see Madikwe green! It was so desperately in need of water when we were there.

 

Great trip report!

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lmSA84

@@Kitsafari - thank you for the congrats! We had waited so long for this trip that we just couldn't bear to miss it.

 

I thought that the storm would push the game undercover but rangers claimed that the storms tend to encourage the lions towards the roads as they use their radiating heat to warm up after the storm

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lmSA84

@@deano - great to have you along! Where in Madikwe are you planning to stay?

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lmSA84

@@Terry - thanks, I think it almost certainly is the same dam. I really enjoyed reading your report and contrasting the state of the vegetation and wildlife only a few months apart.

 

Apologies, if I missed it in your report but what dates were you in Madikwe?

 

Madikwe had received some rain by the time that we arrived but only about 20mm for the month of December which was roughly less then a quarter of their monthly average.

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deano

@ImSA84 - we will be staying at Madikwe Hills for 3 nights. The landscape looks amazing from all of the trip reports I've read and the sightings equally amazing.

 

kind regards

 

deano.

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@ImSA84 We arrived at Madikwe on the 27th of October and left on the 31st. Facebook postings now tell of two new male cheetahs living free at Madikwe. May they thrive and prosper.

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pomkiwi

@ImSA84 Great start and lovely images - what camera / lens are you using?

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