Caroline Hurry spots cheetah, hyena, lion, and more at Tau Game Lodge in the Madikwe Reserve..
A former cattle region comprising impoverished farmers playing hardscrabble in overgrazed terrain, North West’s Madikwe Reserve is something of a miracle. It’s not just the density of predator species – lion, cheetah, wild dog, hyena, and crocodile among the 8 000 animals translocated here by Operation Phoenix in the 1990s, it’s also the kaleidoscopic birdlife, from giant eagle owls to kori bustards, bee eaters, and crimson-breasted shrikes. The 75 000ha of grassy plains, woodlands, rocky outcrops, and mountains make up South Africa’s fifth-largest game reserve. Zeerust, the nearest town is 100km away, making this a true off-the-beaten-track adventure.
The furthest northwest of 31 Madikwe establishments, Tau Game Lodge offers a remote sense of kinship with the wilderness. With the jowl-jiggling contours of a 33km dirt road – my husband’s idea of a short cut – etched like a sonograph across my frontal lobe, we locate the Tau gate a few hundred metres from the SA/Botswana border post of Tlokweng with some relief. A welcome lemonade later, we are led via lush lawns to our stone and thatch chalet as a baboon skips nimbly out of the pathway.
Overlooking a koppie and waterhole glimpsed through glass sliding doors from our king-sized bed, our chalet had an indoor bath, outdoor shower, Rain toiletries in glass containers, air-con, and a ceiling fan. Soaps shaped like lion cub paws, distressed wooden frames, a carved lampstand in the shape of a giraffe, porcupine quill shades, and green accents enhance the African ambience.
Following the wild
The essential elements of serendipity underpin every excursion and whatever you see on game drives is always down to fortune. On our first afternoon out with our ranger Ernest (Ernie) Maetla, we get impala, wildebeest, zebra, a clan of four hyenas sauntering along the path, and a puncture. A quick wheel change under the watchful eye of a lone rhino and we’re off again.
Ernie, who exudes Buddha-like calm, is a master at reading spoor. After peering at the ground and following the alarm calls of a few guinea fowl, he drives further into the thicket where we encounter a magnificent cheetah. Belly replete from a recent kill, she eyes us seductively over her shoulder as she strolls off with all the nonchalance of a supermodel on a catwalk.
Lightning skitters in the distance and as stampeding clouds begin to cover the vast blue bowl of the sky, the promise of rain lends the wilderness an air of hopeful expectancy, but alas, the few drops that fall are barely enough to moisten the ground.
Feasting in the boma
That evening we feast on lambchops in the boma under a yellow gibbous moon before tottering off to bed, where the cough of a lion startles me from a deep sleep. Brutal and guttural, it travels for miles without losing its power.
In the pale hushed chill of daybreak, we set off on another game drive with Ernie. As the morning heats up and the air begins to shimmy, we encounter a crash of four white rhinos including a mum and baby pulling serenely on the grass. Concession fees support anti-poaching measures with the support of the various lodges and North West Parks Board.
The rhino baby is adorable but even cuter are four hyena cubs we encounter frolicking in a den. Their black baby fur had just begun to give way to spots and I could have watched them romping all morning. On the way back to breakfast at the camp we encounter a few laid-back lions flicking black-tipped tails in the tawny grass.
Between game drives I lounge about on our small wooden deck scouring the surrounds with binoculars. I see an enormous crocodile on the banks, zebra, two elephants, assorted buck, and my husband in his underpants. A shy squirrel peeps out at us from a tree fork just outside our chalet, and every morning we see the same gorgeous male southern Tree Agama with a bright blue head.
A visit to The Spa Oasis overlooking the bush dissolves residual stress and after a soothing back, neck, and foot rub, I even managed to forgive my husband for the dirt road debacle. A quick dip in Tau’s infinity pool, watched by a waterbuck and a baboon with a baby, further cools me down a treat. A second pool at the main lodge area offers more spectacular birding opportunities with abundant sightings of spur-winged geese, white-faced ducks, moorhens and weavers’ nests swaying in the whistling thorn.
Since the lounge, bar, and dining area are all partially outdoors, meals were served on the deck overlooking the waterhole. Head chef Obakeng Kgoleng’s springbok carpaccio starter, duck breast on a bed of mashed potato and beetroot jus, followed by a cheese platter, was as good as anything you might find in a five-star boutique hotel.
While the vibe is relaxed, there’s always a warm welcome back to the Lodge after a game drive, with hot towels and sweet Amarula shots that hit the spot.
Madikwe brings many unforgettable moments, whether it’s a herd of wildebeest pronking alongside us or a giant eagle owl taking flight. Tau Game Lodge’s webcam now means armchair game spotters can log-in from anywhere to observe the passing parade at the waterhole. This really is a place to sit, stare, and wonder. – travelwrite.co.za
Find out more about Tau Game Lodge from www.taugamelodge.co.za
In Kruger National Park