We flew into Or Tambo International airport from Cape Town and were quickly transferred by road to the small air craft departure terminal where our connecting flight; a Cessna Caravan was standing by to fly us off to Madikwe Game Reserve which is situated along the border of Gaborone and the Northwest.
As we started to board the aircraft we could see ominous black skies, rain was coming. Our plane had no sooner reached its place in the queue waiting for permission to take off when the heavens opened. A deluge of rain and heavy fog engulfed us. But take off we did with the rain lashing loudly against the windows, obscuring visibility.
When we reached Madikwe the rain was still plummeting down accompanied by heavy mist. The aircraft circled, and circled desperately trying to obtain a visual of the ground and the airstrip. After some moments the call was to abort the landing which meant heading back to Johannesburg, Or Tambo International airport. However as we passed over Pilanesburg the weather lifted sufficiently for the plane to land which it did. There the pilots made contact with Madikwe Reserve and a land transfer was arranged. We waited and waited but eventually our transport arrived. It was the manager of Jaci’s Safari Lodge, who was transporting connecting passengers to the air craft. He drove us to the Gate entry point of Madikwe (about 2 hours from Pilanesburg ) where we were met by the manager and ranger from the Rhulani Lodge, where we would stay before moving on to our next port of call, Tuningi Lodge.
The drive to Rhulani lodge from the gate was about 45 minutes; by this time we were hungry and tired as we had been travelling since 5:45am and it was now already late in the afternoon. But our somewhat dampened spirits lifted sharply when having driven just a short distance we encountered Giraffe, Elephant, various buck species, zebra as well as interesting bird life along the way.
Rhulani Lodge is very well appointed within the reserve; also has a waterhole which of course encourages game to the lodge allowing one to gaze at the wildlife either from the deck of your room or from the relaxation area of the lodge. We did see elephant walking past our room, but missed viewing them at the waterhole. With all the rain there was abundant water everywhere, so the animals were not so dependent on the dams for their daily drink.
Game drives started at 4: am and lasted for 4 hours and commenced again in the evening at around 4: pm and could last for 4-6 hours depending on the sightings. Our ranger from Rhulani provided us with a very rich experience. We learned much about the trees, insect life, bird life, frogs, and of the general wild game in the reserve. Next stop was the Tuningi.
Tuningi provided luxurious well appointed rooms that blended perfectly into nature. The main area was a delight; the meals were a welcome relief from what we experienced at the Rhulani lodge which sadly was far below par and not in keeping with a 5 star rating at all.
At Tuningi the focus of the game drives were more toward what we had not yet seen, which was rhino, buffalo, jackal and the wild dogs. The drives were a bit rough and hard, but we were rewarded by seeing the rhino, the buffalo and of course more lion, giraffe and buck of various species and loads of zebra. We really enjoyed Tuningi. Compared to Rhulani Tuningi offered the complete package in terms of a 5 star safari experience. And then it was time to move on to the next lodge.
From Tuningi we were transferred to a halfway point where we were met by the ranger from Thukada lodge; the drive between the two lodges took about an hour and a half, but that was o.k. as we got to view game along the way.
Thukada was very different from the other two lodges in that this was tented accommodation, but with all the mod cons; en-suite bathroom and most importantly for me; air-conditioning. The tents are situated on wooden platforms, with balconies that project into the surrounding tree canopies, with a view of the Groot Mariko river down below.
Thukada lodge is a community lodge. What this means is that the people from the community, under the guidance of the management team from ‘The Collection’ ( a group of lodges owned by one consortium within Madikwe) are being trained to run and manage a game lodge and they are doing a fine job.
This partnership is over a 25 year period at which time the community should be able to take the reigns and do it all themselves. I hope it works, however a similar project in Zim failed once the managing company departed. So I really hope this one works out.
As far as the game drives at Thukada go; well they were not up to par. The ranger was thin on knowledge and at times his information was actually wrong. So he definitely needs more training.
Food wise; the food was well balanced, fresh, beautifully prepared; properly plated and served. Compared to the other two lodges, I would say the best. The cooks were trained by Prue Leith School of cookery. And I have to say it is a job well done.
On our last evening game drive one of the rangers radioed in, warning all to be careful of the group of lions which we had observed chasing their dinner along the airstrip the evening before, and in which direction we were now once again heading. Apparently one of the lions tried to attack one of the trackers (he is the person who sits perched on the front of the jeep, to track game). Luckily he lives to tell the tale and needles to say we headed away from the area.
Some of the highlights of the trip were when a lone bull elephant decided to challenge the range vehicle, running toward the front of the vehicle, slapping his mud encrusted ears about generating a whip cracking resonance, sending dust and bits of mud flying toward us. The ranger cautioned us to sit very still, explaining that we needed to stand our ground while he feverishly bashed a noisy salvo against the side of the Jeep door with his fist. The elephant stopped less than a metre away from the front of our vehicle, stomping feet, snorting and shaking his head about. But we sat tight albeit rather nervously, and he eventually moved away all huffed and annoyed.
The other was a heard of elephants with a very young baby which was so endearing to watch as it tried its best to mimicking everything the adults did but getting it all wrong and then just sucking the tip of its tongue, much as a child would its thumb. They are just so human like and for me, so special.
Elephants have approximately 3000 muscles in their trunk, which explains why they are able to use what represents our arms and hands, with laser like precision of a surgical instrument.
Leaving Madikwe was a sad occasion. I will miss the wild pulse of the African bush, its mesmerizing nocturnal orchestra of owls, bats and frogs, punctuated by primeval sounds of lion, jackal and hyena.
Would I go back? Yes.
Lots of photographs to follow.