Madikwe Game Reserve: South Africa’s Big Five Hidden Gem

Published On: July 7th, 2024By Categories: BIODIVERSITY, NATURE, SAFARI, TRAVELS

Why Madikwe Game Reserve Is A Top Safari Destination

There are many “Big Five” game reserves in South Africa. Travellers wishing to see the Big Five—lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and rhino—have options.

The “Big Five” reserves, however, are not the same. There are important differences between them. Some have already been discovered by tourists and can feel crowded. Others may have the Big Five, but not in numbers that make sightings likely. Yet others are so remote that it’s a true test of will to get to them.

When taking all these facts into consideration, Madikwe Game Reserve emerges as an ideal choice—designed to maximize animal sightings, not too crowded, and easily reachable. Here are the Madikwe facts you need to make the best choice for your safari holiday.

Madikwe_Etali_Lions Fighting

Madikwe Has A High Density And Diversity Of Wildlife

The Big Five are iconic African species and are phenomenal to experience in person. There is nothing like seeing an elephant eye to eye, feeling a lion’s roar go right through you or watching a baby rhino’s antics.

There are lots of other animals that will pique your curiosity just as much. These include cheetahs, African wild dogs, spotted hyenas, brown hyenas and plains game like giraffe, blue wildebeest, impala, springbok, warthogs, zebra—the list goes on.

There are only a handful of reserves with this diversity of species. Madikwe Game Reserve is home to all of them. Wildlife sightings in Madikwe are second to none because of the sheer number of animals and the diversity of species.

Guests who stay at Etali Safari Lodge for at least 3 nights regularly see the Big 5 in addition to cheetah, African wild dog, the elusive brown hyena and lots of plains game. This level of wildlife viewing is one of the reasons why Etali, which is located in the heart of Madikwe, is a top safari lodge.

Safaris In Madikwe Are Designed To Maximize Wildlife Sightings

Big Five game reserves come in various sizes. Madikwe Game Reserve is one of the largest, at 75 000 hectares / 750 square kilometers / 289 square miles. To give perspective, Philadelphia, Berlin and Dubai are all about that size. Madikwe is a true wilderness area.

You Can Go On Safari Throughout Madikwe

In some Big Five reserves, game drive vehicles of one lodge can drive only in certain areas of the entire reserve because the game-drive areas are carved out among the lodges. This is not the case in Madikwe. Guests staying at lodges in the east can drive all the way to the other side of the reserve to see sightings in the west. Guests staying at lodges in the west can drive all the way to the east. This is important because Madikwe is so large that there are terrain and ecosystem changes—and therefore different animals—depending on where you are in the reserve.

Lodges Share Information About Sightings On The Radio

The lodges in Madikwe Game Reserve link their game drives via radio. So if you are on safari in one area and there is a sighting anywhere else in the reserve, your safari guide will know about it. This increases your chances of seeing the animals you want to see. It’s a great team effort where everyone participates and benefits.

Safari Vehicles Can Go Off-Road

Not all reserves allow game drive vehicles to drive off road. This is a big deal because animals don’t always walk on the roads! Sometimes they are deeper in the bush and you need to go off-road to see them. Madikwe allows off-roading for the Big Five or unique sightings.

Wildlife Sightings Have Limited Vehicle Numbers

Some reserves—generally ones that allow guests to drive themselves in their own vehicles on safari (like Kruger National Park)—do not limit the number of vehicles in a sighting. That means that you can have many vehicles jockeying for position surrounding an animal that will likely move away.

Madikwe is different. Sightings in Madikwe are limited to 2-3 vehicles at a time, depending on the sighting. This means that you will get the best seat in every sighting you see.

Buffalo looking

Madikwe Game Reserve Is Malaria-Free

Many game reserves in South Africa are located in areas where malaria is present. The general travel advice for those reserves is to take anti-malarial pills, which often have negative side effects.

There is no malaria, however, in Madikwe Game Reserve. You do not need to worry about taking anti-malarial medication on your safari here.

Location, Location, Location!

Most international travellers to South Africa fly into OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg. From there, they may stay overnight or sight-see for a day, but they generally travel from Johannesburg to their next destination in South Africa. Madikwe is a scenic 5-hour drive from OR Tambo, with safe and reputable companies providing road transfers.

Another option is to fly on a short 1-hour flight on Fed Air from OR Tambo to one of Madikwe’s two airstrips.

Etali Safari Lodge can assist you with your road transfers or flights to/from Madikwe.

Madikwe Game Reserve Is Sustainable

Game reserves in South Africa can be publicly owned and managed (like Kruger National Park), or privately owned and managed (like Sabi Sands).

In rare instances, game reserves in South Africa can involve a partnership between the government and the private sector. This is the case in Madikwe Game Reserve. North West Parks & Tourism Board has partnered with non-profit Madikwe Futures Company to support operating the reserve.

As a practical matter, this affects you, the guest, in terms of the quality of the reserve’s wildlife sightings and infrastructure. By visiting Madikwe Game Reserve, you are contributing to the conservation and anti-poaching efforts of the reserve and to the sustainability of the reserve itself.

Madikwe’s Rhinos Are Not De-Horned

The combined public and private efforts have also benefited Madikwe’s significant rhino population.

Madikwe’s flagship species include both black rhinos and white rhinos. Although there is a global ban on international trade in rhino horn, there is a huge illegal market for it. The poaching of rhinos for their horns is a significant problem across the continent of Africa. In response, many reserves have “de-horned” their rhinos, meaning the rhino is sedated and its horn trimmed. This is a procedure that most of the reserves in South Africa have performed to deter poachers.

Madikwe Game Reserve has had success in catching rhino poachers in recent years. The rhinos of Madikwe are still fully-horned, and we remain one of the handful of reserves where you can observe horned rhinos in their natural habitat. This is really an experience not to be missed.

There is a fascinating behind-the-scenes opportunity for guests staying in Madikwe to have a guided tour of the Ops Room and learn more about the efforts to fight poaching.


Madikwe Offers A Variety Of Lodges

There are different types of lodges in Madikwe. Some are tented camps that offer more of a rustic experience. Others, like Etali Safari Lodge, are luxury lodges complete with all the amenities like wifi throughout, plunge pools in each room, a spa, heating, air con and backup power so you do not lose electricity.

Owner-Run Lodges

Another consideration for choosing your lodge is whether the owner of the lodge lives on site and is actively involved in the lodge. Such lodges have an incredible attention to detail and are generally very well operated. Etali Safari Lodge is owner-operated by Koos Potgieter, who built the lodge from scratch and who has lived at the lodge since its opening in 2001.


Etali Moment

I remember my first time on safari in Madikwe Game Reserve many years ago. On the second day, during a game drive at dusk, an elephant approached us. This is the most special experience—when an animal approaches you. We stopped the vehicle and waited. The elephant walked next to us, so close we could have touched him. He made eye contact with each of us with curiosity, through long elephant eyelashes. All of us held our breath. The elephant strolled peacefully by, having no idea what a profound effect he had.



Come visit us and make your own Etali Moments!

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