On the way to Madikwe…I almost got arrested!
The N4 divided highway was great and at 120 km an hour, it proved to be clear sailing…until I got pulled over in Swartruggens at a speed trap. As you enter small towns the speed limit goes down to 60. I was leaving the town and assumed the speed limit had increased again. The highway patrol woman told me I was going 96 in a 60 km zone and showed me the chart with the respective list of fines. When I asked what my fine would be, she said that anything over 90 km was automatic arrest. She said we’d have to go with her to the Police Station which was down the road. At which time Catherine asked whether we should contact the Canadian Embassy. She hesitated, I think having assumed we were locals. Catherine asked whether we could just pay the higher fine. She stated that no there was no higher fine; the penalty was arrest. At this point, I started to cry…This obviously got to her and she said, “Please don’t cry. Oh, just pay me R200 (the equivalent of $20 Can!)”. We thanked her and went on our way, realizing just what happened there. We were just implicated in bribery! Thinking back on the situation, there was definitely something fishy…she didn’t ask for my driver’s license; she didn’t show the picture of our car at the speed limit she asserted and why would she asked for a mere R200 when the fine for going 90 km was R800! She obviously pocketed the R200.
Mosetlha Bush Camp & Eco Lodge
Named after the Mosetlha tree, which grows in abundance in the Madikwe Game Reserve. It’s a very valuable tree providing food and shelter and its flowers are favoured by bees. It’s also know as the “toilet paper tree” because of it’s soft, feathery leaves. But one must beware to not confuse it with the similar Acacia tree, which has thorny spines along its leaves!
Our gracious hosts at Mosetlha. The owner since 1995, Chris is standing and Greg, the Manager is seated. After each game drive they would meet us and debrief about our sightings and experiences. Chris just left the corporate world last year seeking to live a more peace existence..I think he’s found his niche..
The Madikwe Game Reserve is one of the closest game reserves to Johannesburg, about a 4 hour drive. This is the 4th largest game reserve in S.A., with just over 75,000 hectres of land. Bordered by Botswana to the north, the Dwarsberg Mountain range to the south and the Marico River to the east. The unique location supports a rich diversity of landscapes, from bushveld to dry, grassy, savanna plains to rocky outcrops and mountains, to natural streams, manmade damns and troughs running from the Marico River. The rich diversity of land lends to an unusual variety of game sighting. Our reason for being there!
“The little unpolished gem in Madikwe’s crown”
The Mosetlha Bush Camp is off grid, with no running water / electricity. This is the only eco-lodging within the Game Reserve. A maximum of 16 guests are accommodated in 8 cabins located around the perimeter of the camp. Facilities are rustic with comfortable beds in raised wooden cabins, open at the front and back but having canvass covers for privacy and to keep out the rain. The day we arrived it was 38 degrees, so the cross ventilation in the cabin was a godsend. It’s surprising how quickly things cool off once the sun goes done.
Each night when we return from our evening game drive we were greeted with over a 100 oil lamps that grace the paths to our respective cabins and the central area where we share our evening meal together. It is a magical sight. At the centre of camp is the lapa, where the lounge, reference library and bar are located, the boma (fire pit and seating area) where we gather after evening dinners and the dining room with the massive table which comfortably seats 20 people under the thatched roof.
A place to read, relax and cool off in at the lapa.
Our dining area at the Mosetlha Bush camp
The outdoor toilet and shower areas were impeccable given their bushveld rusticity. These are of roofed timber construction and fully surrounded by wire mesh fence (to keep out the animals). There are long drop, ventilated toilets with real wooden seats and never a smell. (Always a point of interest for us housing folk!) The showers used a traditional donkey boiler system.
And if you’re really interested…here’s the link to the UTube video by the owner’s daughter:
Basically here’s how it works: Cold water from the reservoir goes into the funnel, down into the metal barrel which is heated by the fire below and hot water comes out immediately on the other end. The hot water is then taken to the shower room and placed into the safari shower (a hanging metal bucket with a shower head attached to the bottom). That one bucket of water gives a 3 to 5 minutes shower. Amazing, simple technology and conserving water to boot! Do I ever feel guilty about the amount of water I use in my bathtub at home! Catherine and I actually preferred the cold, refreshing showers to cool off between game drives and after dinner before going to sleep
Bush Camp Schedule
5:00 am: wake up and relighting of oil lamps
5:30 am: morning game drive
7:30 am: coffee break on the bushveld
9:30 am: return from morning game drive & hearty breakfast
10:00-2:30: chatting, napping, checking reference library on game, bird, reptile and tortoise sightings and Catherine reading aloud the stories of Herman Charles Bosman: “a feast of S.A. best-loved tales” of the area!
2:30 pm: lunch is served & more chatting, napping, researching & reading
4:30 pm: evening game drive
At 6:30 we stop for our sundowner on the bushveld with our favourite libation. Justice, our trusted guide is on the far right. We shared our lovely vacation with folks from Amsterdam, Moscow and England.
8:30 pm: return from evening game drive & late dinner
10:00 pm: lights out
Sort of like summer camp as a kid! But way better.
4 days, 6 game drives
We were awoken each morning at 5:00 a.m., had coffee and fruit before leaving at 5:30 just as the sun was rising.
Stunning Madikwe sunrise with the unmistakable Leadwood trees skeletons
Perfect bird watching/listening time! Thanks to Richie, I’m always lucky when I wear my crow earrings she made. Although many S.A. birds were similar to ours (finches, starlings, doves, crows, buzzards, eagles, herons, ducks) there were many new birds to me (not that I’m a serious birder though): pied babbler, weavers of all kinds!, kites, hornbills, francolins, louries, nightjars, redbilled oxpeckers (we saw one go into a rhino’s ear!), many different kinds of shrikes, swifts and waxbills. One of the most interesting birds was the male Paradise Whydah. He has this incredible 23 cm tail on his 15 cm body. It’s there to attract the gals. Once he finishes mating, he no longer has need for this long appendage and he loses it.
Yellow billed Hornbill outside our cabin
Besides seeing “the big 5”! (elephant, lion, buffalo, leopard, rhino) we also saw many herds of prey, including: impalas, burchell zebras, wildebeests, kudus, giraffes, warthogs, red hartebeests, steenbok, gemsbok (oryx gazelle). They tend to hang together for protection against their predators: cheetahs, jackals, spotted hyaenas (also sighted) plus lions and leopards.
Red Hartebeest with her baby. Our cabin was named after this mammal.
A small herd of Wildebeests with their young.
Giraffes, a most elegant and regal species….
A Burchell Zebra and her baby. No zebra has the same pattern. Each is unique.
Female Kudu with a Zebra in the background
Male Kudu. Try and get a close up of the unusual shape of the horns. What a perfect setting.
Leopard Tortoise, one of the “little 5” often seen crossing the roads
Justice: Our driver and field guide
He was fantastic. He knew exactly where and when to look for game, birds, reptiles, tortoises and the ever-incredible dung beetle. Catherine liked these guys the best of all!
The male is front centre and the attached female is off to the left.
The male dung beetle positions himself upside-down and uses his back legs to push the ball of elephant poo, while his female partner attaches herself and goes along for the ride. Once the ball gets to a sufficient size, they bury the ball and the female lays her eggs inside. When the larvae hatch they feed on the dung and eat their way out. Fascinating stuff those poop balls and beetles!
We lucked out in seeing a leopard!
There had been no leopard sighting in over 2 months at the Reserve. Justice knew she was around because another field guide spotted an impala kill up a tree; a sure sign of the leopard’s handywork. Leopards do this to keep scavengers, like hyaenas away from their kill. The next day, Justice took us back to the location, the kill was gone but we later sighted the leopard as she took off into the bush and then escaped into the culvert. I was able to get a picture before she escaped our vision; it was fleeting but worth it!
Leopards are solitary and exceptionally strong, having the ability to carry the large carcass of an animal up a tree away from scavengers.
Only 7 cheetahs at the Madikwe Game Reserve
We saw 4 bachelor cheetahs on two separate game rides. The males stay together. Justice told us that there are 2 females that are quarantined on the Reserve and they are just getting ready to release them. Hopefully, more cheetahs in future! Cheetahs are recognizable by their “tear stripe” leading down from the corner of their eye. They also have longer legs than leopards.
Lions: the most social of “the big cats”
They live in groups called prides, usually consisting of a male with several females and their cubs and maybe a few other males. Our first day out we saw a male and female together. Our last day we came upon a pride with 1 male and 4 females. Justice told us they were 2 pairs of twins. The male was getting on, at 10 years. The average life span of a male lion is 15 years. Males are constantly marking their territory by spraying and scuffing. We didn’t see any lion cubs because the females are currently contracepted to keep the numbers in check.
Lions are found in savanna grasslands with scattered Acacia trees, which serve as shade.
Rhinos: endangered species
There is a poaching crisis in S.A. due to the rhino horn demand from Asia. In 2011 alone there were 448 rhinos killed. Word has it that much of the poaching is due to inside jobs or from locals who are offered lots of money. There is quite a lobby effort in place in S.A. and more money has been put into anti-poaching park rangers that do surveillance of the reserve 24/7.
We only saw white rhinos. Black rhinos are now extremely rare. Most Game Reserves no longer publish their numbers to deter poachers. It is heartbreaking to know this cutting off of the horns and the killing of these animals continues to occur on a regular basis.
Rhinos love to roll in the mud. It not only helps them cool off but the mud acts as a sunscreen and insect repellent. I guess we’ll be rolling in the mud come July in Ottawa. I’m sure this is hard to fathom given the deep-freeze temperatures now…
The female rhino has the larger horn
African Buffalo: this guy gets to be on the back of the 100 Rand banknote
There were a few African Buffalo and their babies that roam through the bush camp due to it being unfenced. This aspect adds greatly to the experience of being in a true bush camp. They’re attracted to the watering hole located in front of Chris’ house, the owner of the eco-lodge. Apparently they can be one of the most dangerous animals in the bush. One came crashing through camp one night. Luckily I was sound asleep. Another night, upon arriving from our 4 hour evening game drive, around 9:30 we came upon one almost charging into the Land Rover. Other times we’d see them in the distance, but given I only had a pocket camera with limited zoom capability, I’m afraid I never had the opportunity to get a picture. Pictures of rhinos, however are everywhere…for it’s on the back of R$100 banknote. Worth about $10.00 Canadian. In fact all “the big 5” are on the back of the South African banknotes, with Mandala, of course on the front. Only the leopard rates higher, on the 200 Rand banknote!
Who is the favourite of them all…?
Of course the blog would not be complete without reference to the all time favourite of the big 5, the elephant. We saw many elephants, only bulls, however and no babies…There is a popular folklore that elephants get drunk on the fruit of the Marula tree (which also grow in abundant at the Reserve) but wildlife specialists argue that they could not possibly eat the huge quantities to compensate for their enormous size. Amarula is a popular after dinner liquour made from this fruit tree. It was served on my KLM flight from Amsterdam to Johannesburg. Similar to Bailey’s.
There comes a point when you just need to get from behind the camera and be in the moment with the animals when they are displaying the fullness of their behavioural traits, the things that so fascinate us about these amazing creatures …the elephant bulls playing with one another, interlocking their tusks and wrapping their trunks around each other before heading off to cool down and spray themselves at their favourite watering hole.
… And there was the night display as the “king of the jungle” roared many times as we sat in awe listening and watching. The sound does not come from his throat. It comes from the very pit of his belly and we could see the reverberation of his body as he roared. It was an enthralling experience to be apart of. To see all these animals in their natural environment is such a privilege and so awesome.
Not only can he roar but check out the paws on this king of the jungle…
We are indeed lucky gals…!