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Madikwe Safari South Africa

Close your eyes and imagine the safari of your dreams…what does it look like, elephants trumpeting, gathering around a watering hole? Lions guarding their kill from a jackal? Giraffe loping along gracefully eating from acacia trees?  Think about all that in Day 1 and you have our experience in Madikwe Game Reserve.

Road to Madikwe from Johannesburg

Located 4 hours drive-time northwest of Johannesburg along the Botswana border, or a short flight to a small airstrip, Madikwe Game Reserve was established in 1991 covering 185,000 acres. Encompassing a wide variety of terrain – wide savannah, rocky cliff areas, bumpy mountains, and brush Madikwe is famous for its abundance of wildlife including 66 mammal species including all of the Big Five and is popular with families because it is one of South Africa’s few malaria-free reserves.

Our drive from Johannseburg takes us through small villages where people still make their living farming.  Young kids gathered around the water pump wave and smilie as we drive by. Goats wander the sides of the road. A small outpost marks the entry where a sign holds the park “unaccountable for death or injury”…hmmm – should we be worried.  But the guard at the gate offers a warm welcome and we’re off down the bumpy dirt road.
As I look out over the trees, my mind plays a trick on me…every tree looks like a giraffe or elephant – what great camouflage for them. But then, I do a double take, it is a giraffe! It’s slim, graceful neck raising its head to the tallest tree where it delicately nibbles the leaves with its extremely long tongue.  Around the next bend we find a watering hole where a couple of elephants and zebras take an afternoon drink.  Soon the rest of the elephant herd arrives – about 30 in all – and they take to chasing the zebras and impalas from the water leaving a dusty cloud behind them as they trot around the hole.  Within our first mile into the reserve – and not yet technically out on safari, just on our transfer from Johannesburg to the lodge – we have seen elephants, giraffes, zebras and impalas.
Safari Lodge Room
At Madikwe Safari Lodge we are greeted by friendly staff who offer cool, damp washcloths and juice to refresh us from our journey. After a short rest in the common area, which is open to the surrounding brush, we are shown to our bungalow, which is luxurious. A fluffy white bed and living area open with huge glass doors to a wide porch overlooking the brush.  On the path to the room, the boys spot elephant dung and the attendant confirms that elephants occasionally make their way through camp, which is why we must travel with a  guard at night. Adventure in the making! The boys are ecstatic!
After tea and treats, we head out on our afternoon safari with Andres.  His warm, open style and dry humor gels perfectly with the boys and his unending patience for answering all their questions makes for a peaceful – and quite informative – ride for all the guests. The boys love the open-top safari jeep and the raised seats make it easy for everyone to see.  As we start out over the bumpy road, pounding through the bush Nathan comments that it is like the Indiana Jones ride in Disneyland. He says “I never knew if that was real or just for fun, but now I know that’s really what it feels like on safari”.
Lion with a kill
We “rollercoaster” past impalas and zebras, birds of all types, a bull elephant in musk – a time when they secrete oil to attract female elephants – that the driver stays his distance from because they are unpredictable, and then comes that National Geographic moment… we stumble upon two male lions with a fresh kill – a wildebeest. One lion appears to be dead asleep and the other puts on a bit of a show for us – yawning and grooming himself – then walks to the other side of our jeep to take a rest – laying within ten-feet of Seamus.  As we watch the lions to each side of the jeep – both within ten-feet – we spot a jackal sneaking in from around the other side of the bush trying to get a sample of the wildebeest. As the jackal sneaks closer and closer, darting forward and then back in a jittery dance, the lion who had looked to be dead asleep leaps up and chases the little dog like creature off. It happens so fast it makes us all jump!
Sunset on Safari
As we leave the lions to their resting, we head just down the road and Andres pulls over, sets up a table and offers us “sundowners” drinks and and appetizers in the bush. We enjoy our treats as the huge red sun ducks down the horizon beside an acacia tree – an idyllic African scene. The boys wonder what the lions are doing – since we left them less than 1/2 mile back up the road. I joke that they should walk down the road and find out. Luckily they didn’t because within 100 feet of driving back down the road, one of the lions walks towards us from the other direction. Andres says they too use the road as it’s easier than walking through the bush. We find the other lion busy chowing away pulling the wildebeest into the bush for better protection – guess he didn’t want to share. I’m glad they gave us blankets and told us to bundle up because as soon as the sun goes down it gets really cold! We are received back at the lodge with a steaming cup of hot chocolate.
Up close with rhinos
Day 2 of safari starts out bundled under thick blankets with warm water bottles. We plow through the thorny bush and down a dusty road across wide swaths of tall grass turned a golden hue by the rising sun where we happen upon four rhinos – a male, two females and a calf. The bull steps forward to protect his brood and stares down the front of the jeep. He walks towards the car kicking dust along the road coming within ten feet of where Seamus sits in the front seat. Andres says not to worry…he’s just marking his territory – showing us who’s boss. And sure enough after a few minutes of cold stare-down, he turns back to his family. Just down the road, Andres pulls up to a cliff where baboons scamper through the trees. He jumps from the jeep and scouts the area on foot, a rifle strapped over his shoulder for safety, telling us that an old bull buffalo, who can be quite dangerous, sometimes hangs around. Upon the “all clear”, we jump off the jeep and the kids have a blast exploring the area on a mini-foot-safari.
During the afternoon break, Andres gives parents a chance to relax at Madikwe Safari Lodge while he teaches the boys how to shoot their catapults (slingshots) and how to track animals using their dung. There is also an Eco Center with snakes, spiders, scorpions and more so that kids can learn about some of the smaller animals in Africa.
Giraffe Crossing
The afternoon safari offers giraffes and warthogs. We cross a bridge covered with about three-feet of water where impalas and zebras drink lazily in the sun. Up another hill, we are arrive in an entirely different terrain – a forested area lining a stream – where monkeys and baboons swing through the tree creating all sorts of havoc.  After watching some elephants gathering around the watering hole, we break for sundowners and an amazing sunset view with some friends from home who are staying at a nearby lodge.  The kids have fun playing together, exchanging stories and roasting marshmallows.
With Rosenbaums having “sundowner” overlooking
the African plains
Breakfast in the Bush
Day 3 of our Madikwe safari finds us tracking a lion who is apparently roaming his whole territory and moving very fast. After watching warthogs muzzle into the ground for food with their prickly snouts, we break for a bit of food ourselves with brunch in the bush. Madikwe Safari Lodge has set up tables and barbecues in a clearing and is serving up eggs and bacon in style.  After brunch, we head over to the dog den where twelve wild pups chase their tails, topple over each other and rest in the shade. In the afternoon, we find our lion who lazes in the shade of a tree, barely bothering to lift his head for a glance as we pull up.  We end the night watching a rhino and a bunch of guinea fowl at a watering hole. During sundowners the kids pretend to be animals as other safari jeeps going by comment on the “wild animals”.  At dinner that night in the boma – a sandy area surrounded by campfires and lanterns – Andres tells us other stories from safaris past and growing up in the bush.
The safari is everything we expected. But more importantly in the new way of “plan every moment of a trip” way of travels, it was so much that we didn’t expect… and that creates the most memories, the best stories. The spontaneous and unplanned is what travel is all about. The kids have an amazing time learning about all the animals – and getting to see them so close-up and their wild habitat – we are all fascinated watching the majestical wildlife, and most importantly of all we enjoy a true adventure together!

For more information on a family safari adventure in South Africa, contact Destination Southern Africa.  Terry, the owner, is from South Africa and has traveled there many times with his own children and knows all the best places to stay and things to do!

Playing with new friends from London at the lodge. No video games or TV!
Driving to the lodge in our taxi!
Looking for lions



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