I am way behind in publishing this final installment of the Blogitects’ December Limpopo roadtrip. (Read the first three installments here, here, and here.) Marakele National Park was our last stop on the journey and Thorsten and I were both running out of steam at that point, so we spent most of our time at Marakele just sitting, reading, and staring at the view from our deck.
But I want to write a quick post about Marakele anyway, as it’s a lovely national park that flies under the radar. Marakele is about four hours from Joburg, easily doable as a long-weekend, and the scenery is extraordinary and totally unique. If Marakele was a national park in America, it would be packed with tourists and booked months in advance. In South Africa, I booked a stay at Marakele about two weeks in advance (over Christmas). Our beautiful tent, with this beautiful view, cost R1750 (less than $100) per night.
Since we only spent two nights in Marakele and definitely didn’t experience everything the park has to offer, I’ll to refer you once again to Roxanne Reid’s excellent and detailed blog post about Marakele National Park. Roxanne included all the activities and logistical details you’ll need to plan a trip and I see no reason to duplicate her efforts. But here’s a less detailed account of our brief stay.
Two Days in Marakele National Park
Logistical note: If you’re coming from Mapungubwe or northern Limpopo, do NOT undertake the R572 between Alldays and Swartwater. (If you’re coming from Joburg, you won’t face this issue.) The R572 might look faster on a map, but this 100-kilometer stretch of road is the worst I’ve ever travelled in South Africa. To call the R572 “potholed” is a drastic understatement; the entire road is like one giant pothole and even the mighty Greylene struggled (although Greylene survived the R572 without a single flat tire). I was near tears on multiple occasions.
Second (related) note: Be sure to fill up with petrol in Lephalale, about two hours from Marakele, if you’re coming from the north. We didn’t do this, unaware that there isn’t a single petrol station between Lephalale and Marakele. This mistake left us low on fuel and hesitant to drive around too much once we reached the park. (We could have driven an extra 10 minutes to fill up in the nearby town of Thabazimbi, but the dastardly R572 delayed us so much that we barely reached the park before closing time.)
None of this mattered once we reached Marakele and headed through the gates toward the Tlopi camp.
Marakele is a Big 5 park, meaning it has elephants and lions and all that jazz. But one half of the park has Big 5 and the other half doesn’t. When driving from the non-Big-5 part to the Big-5 part (Tlopi Camp is in the Big-5 part), you have to drive through this cool concrete tunnel that goes under the road.
The Tlopi Tented Camp has about ten permanent tents with adjoining kitchens. We arrived at the camp just before dark and settled into our tent, the Dabchick.
While not luxurious, the Tlopi tents have everything you need (except a decent frying pan, sharp knives, and a corkscrew — if those items are important to you, bring your own) and you don’t need to be an experienced camper to be comfortable there.
I had read and heard multiple accounts of Tlopi guests watching huge herds of elephants visiting the dam (lake) to drink. We never saw any elephants; in fact we saw very few animals at all during our time at Marakele, maybe because it was rainy season and animals don’t need to come out of hiding to find water. We did glimpse a couple of rhinos, though, including a mother and baby, and we watched a fish eagle hunt a snake right out of the water. Anyway, we weren’t complaining.
Visiting the Cape Vulture Colony
The one outing we did at Marakele was a drive to the Lenong Viewpoint to see the park’s famous colony of Cape Vultures. The drive up the mountain was stunning, albeit slightly harrowing, and it took us a while to actually find the vultures — we arrived early in the morning and vultures don’t start flying around until the sun gets high enough to heat up the air. With some help from another visitor we eventually spotted dozens of them, soaring through the sky on the air currents, and it was quite spectacular.
And that was our trip to Marakele. Highly recommend.
Final note: The main roads in Marakele are a combination of dirt and paving, and are theoretically accessible in a normal car. A high-clearance vehicle is helpful though.