Safari getaways and bushveld experiences in the Waterberg
Waterberg – Thaba Meetse – Limpopo – South Africa
UNESCO Biosphere Reserve
The Waterberg is a district in the Limpopo Province with its own biosphere reserve as declared by UNESCO. Archaeological treasures dating back to the Stone Age have been found there. Normally a dry bushveld, the Waterberg looks arid at times but is in fact a catchment area for four main rivers, hence its name. Over the last few decades it has changed from farmland to a conservation area with numerous game reserves and farms which makes it a great destination for a safari and a bushveld experience.
In November 2013 it was Mom’s 80th birthday. Her wishes were to celebrate her birthday with her children. The location, if possible, in the bush. The meal, a braai (barbeque) over an open fire. If she could see wild animals that would be a bonus.
Initially our plan was to take her to the Kruger National Park where we could achieve all her requests. Then about eight weeks before her birthday, our plans went awry when mom needed a fusion of her spine due to two fractured vertebrae.
It turned out she needed to spend a few days in ICU. She went into cardiac arrest and we were more concerned about her recovery. We had visions of flying down to Cape Town to celebrate her birthday around a hospital bed or at best at her house (she lives over 1600 km from us).
Mom slowly recovered and the neurosurgeon who operated on her gave permission for her to fly to us. Mom was also still keen to do her birthday trip, which was most important. I flew to Cape Town to assist her on the flight and help her pack.
By now availability of accommodation was limited and we didn’t want to travel far so mom would be uncomfortable. I found two places in the Waterberg which is only two to three hours north of us. Once we were satisfied that mom would cope we booked.
What type of accommodation is found in the Waterberg?
No matter what kind of accommodation you are looking for in the Waterberg, you will find it. In fact, you will be spoilt for choice. There is a multitude of places to stay as there are so many game farms, lodges, safari getaways and even a national park.
You will be able to choose camping or glamping; little hideaways in cottages to 5-star lodges. There are exclusive private escapes to large resort getaways. We chose a private game farm called Koshari Game Ranch. One of the places I found that appealed to me the most was Matamba Bush Camp but because we would have to bring our own camping equipment, unfortunately due to mom’s back, it was not advisable to camp.
As much as most people want to see the Big 5, [African Elephant, Cape Buffalo, Lion, Black Rhino, and Leopard] and how fantastic it is to see them, South Africa has so much more to offer. Have you heard of the Small 5? These are the elephant shrew, leopard tortoise, antlion, rhino beetle and the buffalo weaver.
I believe you have a good chance of seeing them in the Waterberg, because you get so close to nature. Even if you don’t find those five little critters, there are so many other little animals and creatures to see such as bat eared foxes, bush babies, aardvarks (antbears), civets or genets to name a few. If you are a birder, you won’t be disappointed.
How far is the Waterberg from Johannesburg?
The first destination we were going to was three hours away. We took it easy and broke the journey at Geluksfontein which is on the R33 between Vaalwater and Modimolle. It is a goat farm where they produce cheese and where we ate a light lunch and sampled the cheeses which was delicious, if you like goats’ cheese.
The last ten kilometres to Koshari Game Ranch, was on a gravel road, very corrugated and not ideal for mom. She managed though with no complaints.
At Koshari our welcoming committee consisted of Zebra, Donkey and…Zonkey. Zebra was rescued from a lion when she was young and recovered in a fenced in area near Donkey. Donkey was quite taken by Zebra, and an unusual but natural pairing resulted in Zonkey. A happy family of three, kept apart from other animals on the reserve.
We were shown to two well equipped self-catering cottages that overlooked a dam which was quite empty. In 2012 a huge rainstorm burst a bank on one of the farms above Koshari. This damaged all three dams at Koshari and although the dams were repaired they were waiting for more rainfall to fill them.
Koshari is a private game farm with none of the Big Five. This makes it fairly safe to walk around with no big predators, although on occasion a leopard has been spotted by other guests near the boma and cottages. We stayed there for three nights.
Impala, kudu, and wildebeest came to drink water from the dam. The warthogs were delightful to watch as they regularly wallowed in the mud for ages. Before long they would take off into the bushes.
Although they have guided game walks or drives, we preferred to drive on our own. We thought it would be more comfortable for mom in our vehicle.
I should have known not to put our fruit on the kitchen table, as we had been warned about squirrels that were a nuisance. We woke up the first morning and before we could even focus properly and have our first cup of coffee, we noticed little bits missing from our fruit. It looked suspiciously like little teeth marks.
I quickly put the remainder of the fruit in a place where they couldn’t get to it. As adorable as what they are to watch, we didn’t want them to feast on our food.
During the few days that we were there Mom relaxed on the patio, watching the animals drinking at the dam while we walked around. Wearing a brace for her back wasn’t comfortable and she could only manage very short distances for obvious reasons.
In the evening we’d fill our insulated cups with ice and G&T’s or wine and drive to a water hole or a koppie (hill) that looks down onto the valley. Mom would sit like the queen mother with her ‘sippy cup’ as we nicknamed it and enjoy her sundowner while watching the sun set.
At night we would light a true Bosveld (bushveld) fire in the boma. Mom watched us grill the meat, while she sat with her feet up. I hope she felt it was a good enough treat to celebrate such a milestone birthday. I think she was very brave to endure this trip, because she must have been in pain.
We never spotted that leopard though, even though we watched out for him.
The last morning at Koshari was mom's birthday. After breakfast we left to go to Marakele, about a hundred kilometres away. This is a SANPARKS reserve in the Waterberg. More about that in my next blog.
Would I choose the Waterberg for safari getaways over some of the more well-known game parks? Most definitely. In my opinion it is a more intimate bushveld experience.
Did you know the Waterberg is malaria free? No need for prophylaxis although there are mosquitoes! There are other insects though to be aware of, such as ticks and in the earlier years the tsetse fly, although not as common now. It is a good idea to pack some bug spray.
Koshari and so many other smaller establishments that are found in the Waterberg, are a testimony to the fact that you can have a unique, enjoyable safari experience without spending an exhorbitant amount of money…unless your budget allows you to.