Magical Madikwe – A rival to Kruger Park?

“Industry colleagues and people in the know had been raving about Madikwe Game Reserve for a while so with a wedding anniversary looming I whisked Mrs. Holt away on a five day adventure in the bush.”

“Industry colleagues and people in the know had been raving about Madikwe Game Reserve for a while so with a wedding anniversary looming I whisked Mrs. Holt away on a five day adventure in the bush.”

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When people talk about South Africa and the safari experiences, the name Kruger Park tends to come quickly to mind, but for a while now there has been a new name on people’s lips, so we decided to go and investigate for ourselves.

Industry colleagues and people in the know had been raving about Madikwe Game Reserve for a while so with a wedding anniversary looming I whisked Mrs. Holt away on a five day adventure in the bush. Of course as usual I couldn’t forget totally about work so in the name of research we stayed in four different lodges.

Quite simply Madikwe stole our hearts. We were both blown away by the beauty, the scenery, the sunsets, the stars and the different lodge experiences. It was very authentic and very real and the game viewing was the best and most plentiful we have seen in our time in South Africa. Large numbers of lions, elephant, rhino, giraffe, the only one of the big 5 we missed was the elusive leopard, but our wild dog sighting more than made up for this.


Close to the Botswana border the Madikwe Game Reserve is 76,000 hectares of really diverse landscape and it gives an impression of being much bigger than it actually is, the wide open spaces and the terrain are awesome and the big night skies are just magical. Being a Malaria free reserve is also a huge plus as is the close proximity to Johannesburg airport (a 3 hour drive away).


We actually flew into Lanseria airport from Cape Town on a scheduled flight, which is a good tip (and alternative to Johannesburg) as it is on the North West side the city and an hour closer to the reserve. The roads all the way to Madikwe were generally very good although there were a few potholes and the last 30km is a dirt road.

Although hiring the car is a cheaper option from Lanseria or Johannesburg we found once we were in the reserve itself, we didn’t need it as the game rangers transferred us from lodge to lodge, so in one sense it became a liability, signage in the reserve also not the best. Worth a consideration are the daily charter flights from Johannesburg that land on Madikwes own landing strip, although they can be very pricey.

So getting there was quite easy, but nothing prepared us for our arrival experience. We entered the reserve in the South East via the Molotedi gate, first stop 2 nights at Jamala Royal Madikwe Safari Lodge. We were met by our game ranger to transfer us to the lodge and literally a few hundred yards and several minutes later we came across 3 male lions under a tree sleeping off lunch. From here the adventure just kept getting better and better. Jamala Royal Madikwe was out of this world, a truly memorable 5 star stay of exclusivity and opulence. Everything about it is about luxury and being pampered, with top class service paired with a fantastic fine dining experience. Having a romantic dinner under the stars, whilst watching game drinking at the waterhole a few metres away will be a life long memory. With only 5 spacious suites Jamala Royal Madikwe is very intimate and perfect for honeymooners or a romantic retreat. It is highly recommended but of course not for those on a budget.


In fact all our choices of accommodation were very different and our next stop Thakadu River Camp was in stark contrast to Jamala. Perched in trees high above a river, the rooms were wood and canvas structures, but very comfortable and there really is something special about sleeping under canvas. The camp itself is a partnership between a private management company and the local community, who make up most of the staff. We found it a really friendly and authentic African experience and our local game rangers really made the stay worthwhile.


From Thakadu we headed west to the other side of the reserve to check out Tuningi Safari Lodge a small and secluded lodge on a hillside overlooking a waterhole. The Western side of the reserve was noticeably a very different landscape, much more hilly rather than the flat bush land of the east side. We loved it here too, with only five rooms, plus a large family villa, this was as relaxed and peaceful as it gets and it was here we had our best game viewing experience of the entire five days. We were desperate to see the famous but rare Madikwe wild dogs and early in the morning the hunting pack literally passed by, metres from the lodge. We followed them for two hours and it was the experience of a lifetime. We also encountered another large pack of lions finishing off their lunch of an unfortunate Wildebeest.


Finally our last night was back in the East at the famous Jaci’s Safari Lodge, where we walked over a rope bridge to get to the lodge itself. Known as one of the friendliest of lodges, Jaci’s is all about the family experience so is a great place for the kids, with lots of activities and even separate game drives and things like insect trails. The separate Jaci’s Tree Top Lodge we felt was more stylish and exclusive, but the individual safari lodges were really nice too with authentic African décor and outside showers. We had dinner out in the bush that night with roaring fires and a traditional African braai and it was a great end to our trip.


So its official, Madikwe more than holds itself against Kruger Park, and we are in love with Madikwe and have already booked our next trip!