When I first caught glimpse of the towering rock mountains of the Marekele Nature Reserve, I knew I was about to experience something truly special. I have never before encountered a safari destination with such dramatic scenery. Ancient, gigantic cliffs watch over a valley where the age-old drama of survival in the African wilderness plays out for the creatures that live in this surreal, beautiful place. The mountains are always visible, always reminding you of their gaze. I was reminded of classic shots of mount Kilimajaro’s snow-topped visage as a backdrop to the hot African savannah below. But Marataba certainly has it’s own character, it’s own voice and it’s own spectacles that can’t be found anywhere else.
The Stunning Mountains at Marataba are always visible
Situated only about 3 hours drive north of Johannesburg, Marataba occupies the northeastern corner of Marakele National Park, that region of the park marked for its exclusive use. Covering an area of over 670 square kilometers, the reserve is larger than the more well known Pilanesberg National Park. In the heart of the Majestic Waterberg Mountains, the foliage is a almost equal split of Waterberg Moist Bushveld Vegetation and the slightly drier Mixed Bushveld vegetation type. There also exists a microclimate of Sweetbush along the Matlabas river. To read more about the different types of habitat, Click Here. This diversity of habitat is home to over 700 different plant species, including Waterberg cycads, native to this region of South Africa only.
I can continue speaking at length about how many different species of plants there are and the diversity of life set against the incredible geological features. But this doesn’t convey the feelings one experiences seeing the beauty of Marataba for the first time. Marataba itself is perched on a rise overlooking the colossal Waterberg mountains in the distance and the endless tracts of wilderness that lay between the lodge and the mountains. Animals frequent the small watering hole near the lodge’s front lawn, where guests can enjoy 5-star luxuries, the most amazing of which is the view.
Marataba Safari Lodge, operated by the More Group, is a masterpiece of opulent luxury, nestled deep within the reserve, overlooking the north facing cliffs of the Waterberg. The main lodge building is designed in sleek, modern lines, whilst still retaining a well-defined sense of African safari influence. The restaurant overlooks the nearby waterfall, with the best viewing spots being the lawn immediately in front of the building. Elephant and Impala often frequent the watering hole, alongside the occasional zebra, blue wildebeest, and other fauna.
The suites are all laid out in a large semi-circle with all of the decks overlooking the watering hole. All designed with the same attention to detail and comfort as the main building, one could be forgiven (almost) for choosing to simply stay at the suite all day and see what animals visit to drink without leaving the comfort of the suite. But the word ‘Safari’ is the Swahili for ‘Journey’, and it is when venturing out into the park that the true beauty of this place makes itself apparent.
Marataba Safari Lodge Entrance at night
We woke up early, well before the crack of dawn. There was a soft, slightly cool breeze blowing from the mountains. For a moment, I stood and gazed at the silhouettes of the faraway hills, listening to the early morning calls of the many bird species nearby, heralding the arrival of another day. I headed off to the main safari lodge building, where our guides awaited us. We went off, into the park as the first few rays of sunlight were just beginning to pierce the darkness.
It was on this first game drive that I realized Marataba is a hidden gem, I was astonished at the beauty of this place, with its abundance of wildlife, from Soaring Eagles to swimming hippos and everything in between. The river was also much wider than I had expected, enough so that Marataba even offers boat cruises down the river on the ‘Miss Mara’, for game viewing from the water. Highly Recommended.
The lions we encountered (more than once) seemed to stick near the river, waiting for the opportunity of a thirsty wildebeest to inevitably need to quench its thirst. There are no crocodiles in the river and the prey animals seem to have become accustomed to that, wading chest deep into the water to cool down, something that would put them in danger in other reserves where crocs are present.
We were also very fortunate to encounter a pair of cheetahs, newly introduced to the park, something our guide was particularly pleased of finding. On the way back to camp we found a pair of Bat Eared Foxes, a rare sight at which even our own guide delighted in, as they very elusive, shy and mysterious animals. Just some of many mysteries that Marataba offers to those who venture to this magical place where the tall mountains meet the savannah.
A Pair of young Cheetah we encountered.
We also had the opportunity to check in at Marataba Trails, the other lodge on the Marataba section of Marakele. This small eco-lodge has 5 units and common dining area. Catering specifically to small groups that lean toward hiking, the Trails lodge is perfect for those adventurers who want to get up close and personal with nature. There are no fences. But there are always Game Rangers nearby to keep guests safe, as well as guide them through this unique landscape.
The pool at Marataba Trails Lodge.
I could go on and on about how amazing Marataba is from my own experience, yet as I write this, I realize this is something that has to be experienced to truly grasp its wonder. Consider talking to us to embark on your own journey in the Majesty that is Marataba.