Marakele National Park – A Bigger Adventure
Marakele National Park is a special place. Three hours from OR Tambo Intl airport it is just the right distance for a comfortable two night getaway and as with every visit before now, we left with our souls refreshed and our minds at peace.
We spend a fair amount of time camping at Marakele National Park and so this post is going to focus on what and why we did things differently for this trip and how the trip was structured.
What was different?
We have been talking for some time now about having a larger, informal, trip where a group of like minded people could head out into the bush and spend time together sharing in the beauty of Mama Africa with the added possibility of raising funds for one of our annually nominated charities. This trip was the first step in reaching that goal.
Usually the trips we write about have three people on them and this time we doubled that amount. While six people are not many by most standards, it did give us a chance to tackle logistics, planning and catering and we’ve come away with a solid plan for the next trip.
We chose Marakele National Park because of its distance from Johannesburg, ease of access as well as distance to a nearby town (Thabazimbi) in case of any planning mishaps and we know Marakele National Park well enough to be confident in having enough for a short trip to keep everyone happy.
Arriving at Marakele National Park
We arrived at Marakele National Park in two groups: The two, regular, vehicles left OR Tambo just after 06:00 on Tuesday morning with the three regular “trippers” and one extra passenger and the last vehicle left around 13:30.
When the first of us arrived at Marakele we booked everyone in and paid the conservation fees so when the other vehicle arrived, they just had to get the entry and exit permit and could then head straight to Bontle and join us.
Checking in at Marakele has always been a pleasure, friendly staff and a quick process. Sadly, that was not the case this time. The receptionist was a miserable fellow who seemed to go out of his way to take his time. The same applies to the gate guard.
We made the short drive to Bontle Camp and were very happy to see it was fairly empty. We made our way to our preferred camp site at the top and found the braai knocked over and camping there would also have meant blocking the view of a caravan not far behind us. With so many open campsites we opted to set up camp somewhere else and moved to our next favourite site in the bottom corner.
It was perfect, we got the view we wanted and were far enough away from everyone else so as not to disturb, or be disturbed by, anyone.
Even though we were only six people on this trip we set up a small city for the two night stay. Tentco has their March Madness sale on at the moment and we all had exciting new goodies we wanted to try out.
In the end our campsite consisted of four tents and two gazebos, one as a kitchen and one as a lounge, although we didn’t spent much time in the lounge but rather sat in the shade under one of the many trees surrounding our site.
Because there were six of us, we spread out quite nicely making optimal use of the two sites we’d booked.
One of us unfortunately forgot his chair so he spent the better part of the trip sitting on various other pieces of furniture such as cooler boxes, small braai table and a tiny step ladder.
One group did not have a tent, but thanks to Tentco, we had a spare and lent them our now spare tent, however, they forgot a mattress, or padding for their bedding, so had a slightly rocky sleep.
Setting up camp was a quick affair and we then sat in the shade, had a few beers and waited for the other party to arrive. We didn’t set up their tent for them as we first wanted to make sure they arrived. They had to leave Johannesburg a few hours earlier than they planned due to gate closing times and we weren’t sure if they would pull it off, add to that the fact they both have quite a nasty case of flu we were very happy to see them arrive, and in time.
Cuisine (Food, for us regular peeps)
To avoid everyone scampering around to get their meals cooked/prepared on limited cooking space and having everyone eat at different times as a result we set about delegating various meals to various groups.
- Jason took care of the first dinner, Cobb Chicken and wors rolls.
- We took care of the second dinner, regular braai and garlic bread
- Gerard took care of lunch
- Byron and Roxi took care of breakfast.
The idea was sound in principal with one minor exception; As a group, we hardly ever have a full-on breakfast. Usually, whoever is hungry will munch a bowl of cereal with their morning coffee before we head out on a drive.
We took this into account and said to Byron to cater for one large breakfast. The plan was to head up to the mountain lookout and have a skottle.
We didn’t take the above into account when telling Gerard to cater for two lunches. You see the problem is, we only had our skottle breakfast in the late morning of our only full day there. So when we got back to camp, everyone was still full and we held out until dinner. One wasted lunch.
The the second morning, our last one, we broke camp, loaded the vehicles and went for a drive. Before leaving the park we stopped at the picnic site and had our first “lunch”. Byron and Roxi had left early due to their flu so after Gerard catered for two large lunches, we barely had half of one.
Oh well, lesson learned.
Marakele National Park Activities
The day we arrived was spent catching up and setting up camp followed by a few drinks and dinner before heading to bed. It had been a long day, two of us worked night shift the night before and then headed straight to Marakele National Park so we called it a night fairly early after a small camp fire.
The first morning we woke up, had our coffee (our tent was too far away for me to be woken up by my regular alarm clock: Jason boiling the water), loaded up all three vehicles and went on our drive. The larger portion of Marakele National Park is not well known for good game spotting and this time was no exception. We made our way up the mountain pass, watched the vultures for a bit and set about getting ready for breakfast, which turned out to be lunch.
After spending some time on the top of the world we headed back and took a small drive around the lower section of the park. Game was sparse but given all the rain across South Africa recently, this was not a big surprise.
We got back to camp and spent the rest of the day relaxing, talking, laughing and watching the game visit the nearby watering hole.
The fire was lit early and we had our braai before all sitting around the campfire until late at night, talking and listening to Byron on the guitar.
Waking up on the last morning there was the threat of rain in the air so we broke camp instead of first going for a drive. Once we were all packed, Byron and Roxi called it a day and left Marakele National Park, by now they really weren’t looking healthy, and the rest of us headed out to do the loop around Tlopi Camp in the larger portion of Marakele National Park.
Thanks to the rains the roads were truly shocking; large rocks, deep ditches and plenty of mud. It made for a very bumpy drive but one enjoyed by all.
We did pass a group of tourists in their tiny rental cars and strongly advised them not to take the route we’d just been on, we found it incredibly difficult to believe that those cars would survived that portion of road and we hope they took our advice.
We stopped at the picnic site in the lower portion of the reserve before saying farewell to Marakele once more.
Marakele National Park is Behind Us
After another amazing trip to Marakele National Park we feel revived and have started putting the wheels in motion for our July trip.
In May we are heading north to Mapungubwe National Park but in July we would like to host a trip similar to this one, with another increase in numbers. The planning has started already but unfortunately we don’t have many details to release at this stage.