In a privately managed 21,000 hectare portion of the Marakele National Park – an exclusive wilderness at the foot of South Africa’s scenically beautiful Waterberg mountain range, Marataba Conservation Camps host a range of innovative and conservation-themed safaris from their sensitively placed accommodations.
As written for Amadi Travel and appears in Hamaji Magazine.
Rewilding The Land
Uniquely situated where the lush bushveld gives way to the Kalahari sands, Marataba is a public-private partnership that is committed to protecting the area’s diverse flora and fauna through hands-on conservation practices. Formally proclaimed in 2001, Marataba’s first conservation milestone was the rehabilitation of old farmland into a national park. This entailed removing hundreds of kilometres of fencing before being able to reintroduce elephant, black and white rhinos, hippo and buffalo to the land. Healthy populations of antelope had always existed there, something which allowed for iconic predators such as lion and cheetah to be returned.
The name Marataba means ‘place of peace at the mountain’ and the ever-present Waterberg Massif, layers of hills and deep valleys certainly set the scene for stillness. Running through the park is the Matlabas River that carves through dramatic gorges. A striking landscape and as a contractual National Park, one of South Africa’s most innovative conservation models with the focus firmly on protecting the area’s richly diverse flora and fauna through hands-on practices and the opportunity for guests to immerse themselves in conservation practices while staying at Marataba.
Setting up Camp at Marataba
There are two camps to choose from, namely Founders Camp and Explorers Camp, both offering a unique opportunity to enjoy the wild spaces of the reserve. Founders Camp, which can be booked on an exclusive-use basis, has four suites and a dedicated vehicle and guide. Located on the banks of the Matlabas River, it offers views across the valley towards the iconic mountains ahead. The interiors are a sophisticated blend of traditional and contemporary, while the suites have large decks that are ideal for afternoons spent watching the wildlife down at the riverbank. The camp has indoor and outdoor dining areas, an interactive kitchen and an inviting swimming pool that’s perched on the edge of the river.
Explorers Camp has five comfortable canvas tents and one family tent and is available on a semi-exclusive use basis with two guides and two vehicles included. From the camp enjoy views towards the bushveld savannah and a very active waterhole. There are large, shady lawns to stretch out on, and the walkways to the tents are lined with trees. The expansive deck and fire-side are where you’ll gather for meals, drinks, conversations, and to simply while away the hours watching game come down to drink. The large fenced garden, swimming pool and dedicated family tent make this an ideal choice for families.
Star Camp Out, sleep under the stars
An opportunity to completely disconnect from the modern world while reconnecting with nature is the recently added Star Camp Out. Located in a remote and yet unused corner of the park overlooking the craggy Diamant Mountains, the four simple yet comfortable tents are miles away from anything and anyone and offer a perfect escape into the wild. Spend your days exploring the hills and gorges that surround the camp on foot, returning for sundowners and dinner around the campfire – and an opportunity to sleep under the star-studded skies.
Activities and Immersive Conservation Projects
Each booking at Marataba Conservation Camps is allocated a private conservation guide and vehicle, meaning that you control the pace and theme of your stay. As always on safari, guided game drives are the best way to cover large distances and for you to get a feel of the park while enjoying bountiful wildlife spotting and building an understanding of the environment from your guide. Boat trips on the Matlabas are entrancing, and perfect for bird enthusiasts. Pausing while out on the water to sip on a G&T at sunset is an ideal way to soak up the scenery.
Over and above these, the conservation-themed activities include fence monitoring, going out looking for snares with the anti-poaching unit and collecting critical data from the reserve’s camera traps. Partake in the predator management, the main objective being to ensure their balance and wellbeing, and counting and documenting the elephant population, something that does need monitoring. All necessary work and forming part of Marataba’s efforts to balance their game conservation.
For the adventurous, Marataba is of course an escape to the wilderness. Whether wanting to explore the spectacular gorges that cut through the foothills, climb to the mountain tops or taking a relaxed stroll with the family to enjoy a picnic and swim in one of the mountain streams – there’s nothing quite like exploring the land on foot.
Specialist activities and experiences include the 3-day Rhino Conservation Safari (there’s one coming up in August 2021), a Wild Camping Expedition or the opportunity to join one of Marataba’s Mindfulness & Wellness Retreat.
Rhino Conservation in Action
One of the park’s main points of focus remains rhino conservation with Marataba and Marakele National Park home to a critically important population of white and black rhino, which like other rhino populations across the continent are under pressure from several threats – most especially rhino poaching. By arrangement, you can join Marataba’s professional wildlife veterinary team on an ear notching exercise. Ear notching has been adopted as an accurate individual recognition system and is implemented at Marataba who in time hope to have each one of their rhinos identified in this way.
Throughout the year, Marataba runs three-day Rhino Conservation Safaris. On these occasions, the animals are individually located and immobilised by a dart administered by the vet from a helicopter. Once immobilised, the rhino is importantly helped into a safe and comfortable position. The notches are incised into the ears under anaesthetic and microchips are inserted into the horns and the body. The tissue that is removed from the notches is collected and the DNA submitted to the RHoDIS database (Rhinoceros DNA indexing system) with correlating microchip details. Once done, the rhino is brought back to consciousness and completely unharmed, continues with the added protection of accountability.
The whole experience is cutting edge conservation and an absolute privilege to witness, let alone be a part of and contribute to. Not many can say they’ve personally assisted in the preservation of these remarkable yet continuously fragile animals – yet with a visit to Marataba, given their impactful conservation in action, you could.
What we love about Marataba Conservation Camps
- Marataba’s belief that if wild places are to exist for future generations, that more people should be directly involved in their protection, something that can be achieved through their interactive conservation efforts.
- The Marakele National Park’s stunning geography, dramatic escarpments and meandering river.
- The variety of experiences and activities offered, from daily game drives and boat trips to swimming and hiking, tracking cheetah and monitoring the growth rate of elephants.
- The top-quality guides and conservation team that bring the reserve to life – for children and adults.
- Marataba’s exclusive and semi-exclusive booking option allows families and small groups to enjoy complete privacy.
- How staying at one of the Marataba Conservation Camps contributes to the efforts of The Marataba Foundation, established to empower and transform the local community.
- The park’s proximity to Johannesburg, and the fact that the area is malaria-free.
From the Johannesburg OR Tambo Airport, it Is only a 3,5 hours’ drive to the Marataba Conservation Camps within the Marakele National Park. Alternately you can opt for a 45-minute private air charter. Road transfers are easily arranged on your behalf, otherwise you do have the option of self-driving.
As recommended by AMADI, a conscious luxury travel brand that designs journeys for like-minded travellers across Africa. Marataba’s active commitment to conservation aligns perfectly with AMADI’s ethos and client interests. Connect with AMADI for additional details and assistance with your travel arrangements. A minimum of three nights stay is advised, as is partaking in a Rhino Notching experience.
Captions, Pg. 20.1. Embarking from Marataba’s Founders Camp on a tranquil river cruise.Pg 21.1. Marataba’s Founders Camp on the banks of the Matlabas River can be booked on an exclusive-use basis, ensuring complete privacy.2. The morning and sunset river cruises are entrancing and especially popular with bird enthusiast.
Captions. Pg. 23.1. Al fresco dining at Founders Camp naturally follows drinks around the campfire.2. The natural flow of the rooms at Founders Camp ensure uninterrupted views towards the reserve.3. The swimming pool perched on the edge of the river at Founders Camp is the ideal place to cool off.4. Game viewing can be hungry work and the scrumptious lunch at Explorers Camp is a most welcome sight.5. Founders Camp interiors are a sophisticated blend of traditional and contemporary living.
Captions. Pg 25.1. Gathered around the Explorers Campfire pit in anticipation of sunset over the Waterberg Mountains2. At Explorers Camp – lunch is served!3. The spacious two-room Family Tent at Explorers Camp is ideal for long stays.4. A romantic dinner for two and a toast to life on an evening river cruise.
Captions, Pg 27.1. Rhino Conservation at Marataba can involve darting the animal for notching and microchipping.2. Game drives leave you feeling like you are alone in this beautiful protected part of the world.3. On a Rhino Conservation Safari, ensuring the animal’s safety after being darted is key.4. Rhino trekking on foot reminds of the beauty of this species so deserving of preservation.
Caption, Pg 28.The perfect place to gather and exchange African inspired stories after a full day of walking on the reserve is definitely around the fire at the Marataba Star Camp.
** Read my other articles from AMADI travel as featured in Hamaji Magazine.
** Pics supplied by Marataba Conservation Camps.