Marakele National Park and mischievous monkey antics
Marakele National Park - Waterberg - Limpopo
In the heart of the Waterberg Mountains lies Marakele, a SANPARKS reserve. A Tswana word, meaning a place of sanctuary and is indeed so especially for vervet monkeys. In fact, they rule the roost. Yes, I realise it is a reserve, but they are exceptionally mischievous. If you’re prepared to risk being harassed by monkeys, it is worth exploring this impressive landscape.
We’d spent a few days in the Waterberg at Koshari, to celebrate mom’s 80th birthday, before we moved on to Marakele. We weren’t aware that the route we took would be about sixty kilometres of gravel road. It was quite jarring and perhaps not ideal considering mom had a spinal fusion eight weeks prior to the trip. However, mom was distracted (as were we) by the game we saw on either side of the road. The scenery in that area made the drive worthwhile.
Where to stay at Marakele
Marakele has two main sections of accommodation.
Tlopi Tented Camp – has fully equipped safari tents and a guest cottage for a large group of people, all self-catering.
Bontle Rest Camp – has fully equipped safari tents and camp sites, both self-catering.
Private concession lodge called Marataba Game Reserve
Tlopi Tented Camp
We stayed in the safari tents at Tlopi Tented Camp for two nights. At reception we were warned that the monkeys were 'very clever'. We were aware that they could be a nuisance, so weren’t too concerned, because we would keep our food out of their sight.
The park is divided into two sections, with a gate and short tunnel linking the two. Tlopi is in the upper section where most of the Big Five are. The dense vegetation hid them from our view though.
The first day at camp we were well and truly entertained by the antics of the monkeys. We had great delight in watching them and managed to take a few photographs.
After a while we decided they weren’t so cute anymore. Or rather cute, but decidedly destructive. I’m sure they sent the entertainment party to distract us, while the rest of them had other ideas. I think they felt they were in need of some grooming and treat themselves to a bit of beauty therapy.
Our initial thought was that they had entered Karen and Clive's tent via an open window, but that was not the case because the windows were closed. We found a tiny gap where the canvas from the roof of the tent and the wall joined – just big enough for them to squeeze through. They managed to unscrew the lids or bite through the tubes and smeared cream everywhere.
It was a nuisance that the monkeys destroyed the toiletries, but at least our enclosed kitchens had sliding doors that we could keep shut. This was also separate from the tents where we slept, so our food was safe. So we thought. We were to be proved wrong.
Pro Tips for Marakele:
Many of the roads are accessible by sedan. However there are some rough areas when a 4x4 vehicle would be advantageous.
There is no restaurant at Marakele, therefore you would have to self-cater.
The nearest town is Thabazimbi, about 15 kilometres away, where you can find restaurants and shops, buy fuel or withdraw money from an ATM. However, you would not be able to go there for dinner as the gate of the park closes at 18:00 in summer time and 17:30 in winter.
There is no wood or charcoal available in the park to light fires.
There is a private concession lodge called Marataba Game Reserve but the cost is way beyond our budget.
It is advisable to bring some insect repellent and antihistamine cream.
There is no ambient light outside so bring a torch or headlamp if you need to venture outside at night.
In case of emergency…
Our drives were truly scenic with a beautiful vista around every bend, but we saw very few animals.
It is worth driving up the narrow and steep mountain pass road that takes you to Lenong view point. If you are nervous about heights you’d be tempted to shut your eyes, but then you’d miss the magnificent views. It is also close to the Cape vulture colony but we didn’t venture there. We had one of the best views when we drove up a narrow steep road to the Lenong view point.
A variety of birds were flitting around at Lenong view point.
View over dam at Tlopi tented camp
Tlopi Tented Camp is situated in a beautiful setting overlooking a dam. Relaxing on the deck at our tents, there was always something to see and although we didn’t have any of the bigger mammals coming to drink there was often impala, zebra, giraffe and warthog. Birds continuously flitted around and a monitor lizard came to quench his thirst too.
A spectacular thunderstorm rolled in on the second night but unfortunately we didn’t take photos of the panoramic view of it.
Thieving mischievous monkey antics
The last morning as Karen and Clive approached their kitchen to make tea, they noticed the glass sliding doors to their kitchen were open. The monkeys had opened the doors and caught them red handed, looting the fridge. The milk carton, in pieces, was strewn on floor, with puddles of milk and the rest of the contents of the fridge scattered everywhere.
While drinking our early morning cuppa, they told us what had happened. Their words weren’t even cold when Paul saw one in mom's tent. It snatched mom's pill box and hot footed outside. We ran circles around the tent trying to get it to drop the pills, while it trapezed from tree to tree. The alpha male appeared and became quite aggressive, so we gave up the chase. As if the beauty treatment and the feast wasn’t enough, they obviously felt in need of some blood pressure and pain pills. Or maybe they were looking for the omega 3 supplements for a glossy coat.
Eventually after opening all the little compartments allocated for every day of the week in the pill box, they tossed out all the pills and scattered them on the ground. We managed to retrieve a few, but we’re not sure how many they devoured. Once again they had found a gap that they could squeeze through.
The office staff were quite correct that the monkeys were clever. When we left we advised them to let other people know exactly what the monkeys were capable of. I do believe that if this matter hasn’t been attended to, it could result in disastrous consequences one day.
The five days that we spent at Koshari and Marakele were over in a flash. We were delighted that mom could still celebrate her birthday the way she wanted and didn’t seem to be suffering too much. After all, she was prepared to share her pain killers with others.
Marakele is such a beautiful place and has much to offer. I’d love to return but I would be hesitant if there are not enough correct measures taken to control the monkeys.
I can only speak from our experience at Tlopi and not Bontle campsite. Even though we can vouch for the behaviour of the monkeys and we took precautions that we felt were suitable, they still managed to wreak havoc. We didn’t even have food visible on the table in the kitchen area, even though it is a closed unit.
I must add that it is not the fault of the monkey. It is brought on by the behaviour of people and not respecting that even though cute, monkeys are still wild animals. Their instinct is survival but their behaviour is habitual. If they know there are easy pickings, they will return, time and time again.
Besides, eating human food is not suitable for their healthy existence and even worse, can cause obstruction and even death. They will go for anything, from bread to fruit, onions to anything else they think could be worth eating.
As cute as what they are to watch and photograph, I also believe that something needs to be done to make the monkeys realise that it is not worth lurking around at the campsites. Isn’t it far better to see them romping around in the bushes instead of in your tent? Let’s start by improving our own behaviour.
What is your opinion?
Where is Marakele?
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