Huddling among rocky peaks and valleys in the heart of Limpopo’s Waterberg mountains, Marakele is a place of wild beauty and a refuge for large game species. It’s also home to one of the world’s largest breeding colonies of Cape vultures. Here’s my pick of 15 things to do at Marakele National Park.
6. Drive some of the park’s 4x4 roads to increase your range and explore further afield. If you don’t have a 4x4 check with reception which roads are possible in a sedan and watch out for signs at turn-offs that warn you of 4x4-only sections or else you might get into difficulties or damage your car.
7. Join a morning or sunset drive with an experienced guide who can tell you more about the park’s mammals, birds and trees.
9. See how many birds you can chalk up in your few days at Marakele, which is excellent for bushveld birds. Apart from the large breeding colony of Cape vultures, Marakele is home to some 300 species, including Verreaux’s and Wahlberg’s eagle, wailing cisticola, black crake, African finfoot, orange-breasted bush-shrike, redbilled firefinch and blue waxbill.
11. Go on an early morning bush walk with a guide, a chance to learn about tracks and signs in the bush, as well as the history and geology of the area.
12. Do the three-day eco 4x4 trail at the top of the Waterberg mountains. You’ll need a 4x4 with low range and high clearance. No trailers are allowed and only five vehicles (plus the guide’s) are allowed at a time. Departures are on Tuesdays and Fridays in the dry season (April to October) only. Following flood damage in March 2014, the trail was closed until 2015 and is being rerouted. If the new route is anything like the old one, you can expect a difficulty level of 3 (low-range and some off-road experience needed) to 5 (extremely technical, for experienced drivers only; some vehicle damage a possibility). Get more info here.
13. See if you can find some of the endemic Waterberg cycads (Encephalartos eugene-maraisii) that grow up to 5m tall. Just one of some 765 plant species you might find in this park, they’re named after author and poet Eugene Marais, who lived in the Waterberg for 16 years. They occur on the mountains at altitudes of 1 450m so your best chance of spotting them up close is on the eco 4x4 trail (see 12 above).
14. Ask at reception if you can visit one of the Iron Age sites with a guide. When we visited there was talk of making some of them available to the public.