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  1. #1
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    Here is a copy of the trip report that Swambo did for the sanparks forum.



    Marakele, I would never have guessed!!


    By: Jenny Bannink

    It all started when I got a phone call from my cousin living in Australia. “Jen, I’m coming to South Africa and I’ve booked a guided tour in Marakele, would you like to come?” “Yes, yes, yes” was my immediate answer. “Don’t you want to think about it?” he asked. “No, no, no, “I said, “We will be there!”
    We planned to leave for Marakele early in the morning but a few emergencies and curved balls popped up. With everything sorted and last little things packed at 2-05pm we were on our way. 240km to go and the office would be closing at 5pm. We passed through the dusty town of Britz and a while after that the turn off to Thabazimbe and the first sign board: “Marakele” straight ahead! I was starting to feel anxious because I was sure that being a Saturday the office might close a few minutes early in which case we would have been stuck outside the gate until morning. After a quick petrol stop, about 15km from town, 4-40pm, there it was!
    [/IMG]

    We fell in line at the counter and about 10 minutes later the friendliest widest smile said: “Good Afternoon, how may I help you?” After joking about my son who is listed as a child on the Wild card and an adult on the SANParks system, wondering if he is a grown up acting as a child or a child who thinks he is big she handed over our documentation. “Thanks, now can you direct us to Bontle camping site?”. The smile became even broader! “Ahha, first time visitors! Welcome to Marakele! You are going to love our park!”. She took her time marking the 4x4 routes on the map, chatting and explaining everything from the layout of the camping ground, the “push button” system at the tunnel and even the animal population in the park. Not checking the time even once. Long past 5 o’clock we were on our way to Bontle thinking: “What an amazing welcome, what an amazing person!”

    Just as we entered the boom, Rayno called “Mac Donald bokkies, Pumba!!”. Breaklights, reverse gear, binos, camera! Within 5m from the gate: Impala (Mac Donald bokkies), Warthog, Natal Francolin, Red-bulled Hornbill, Pied babbler, Crimson-breasted Shrike.
    [/IMG]
    Bontle is a beautiful camp, excellent layout and the ablution blocks are so well designed and blends into the landscape. We found a site which we later found was much sought after by the regular campers but before setting up camp a few more photographs of the welcoming parties






    [/IMG]


    Camp was set up, keeping a close eye on the camp boundary, opened a bottle of wine and started settling in for a braai. When it was completely dark, and it becomes completely dark at Marakele, we heard the fall of soft feet quite close by, and a crunching chewing sound. The spotlight was still in the car but another visitor had his at hand and scanned the area. There they where! 4 Rhinos, in the camp by now and just on the other side of our car! I was at the point of starting a fruit salad but immediately packed away all the fruit, they were so close! I would prefer not to feed a guy with his own can opener attached to the end of his nose, thank you! After diner, we carefully made way towards the ablutions, scanning the area by flashlight all the way, had a lovely hot shower and then.....bed. My peaceful sleep was constantly being disturbed by the hooting and snorting of a very possessive Impala ram herding his females back into line.
    Sometime during the night a Blue Wildebeest joined the racket with his nasal "gnu-gnu" call which was so close, it sent vibrations through my chest! A few jackals took it upon themselves to take care off the background music. I smiled in my dreams knowing, this is Africa!

    Early the next morning we were woken by the sound of the bush, birds merely chirping away in the Acacia tree above and the rusty wheel call of Francolin. I lifted the tent flap and felt the cool winter breeze on my face. The Impala ram herded all his females under the trees to the left of the waterhole and far off this rhino appeared with a tiny little one. I sipped my coffee while watching him. He ran circles in the long grass, playing like a puppy. Every now and again Mama lifted her head to keep tabs on him.

    [/IMG]
    No waterhole will be perfect without the resident Fish Eagle.
    [/IMG]

    The Rhino scratching post – from camp.
    [/IMG]

    A nesting hole in camp which was being checked out by a pair of Glossy starlings.
    [/IMG]

    We got packed and ready for a special outing, up the mountain, to the very top
    The morning was partially cloudy with a misty drizzle when we left camp but still with lots of promise of what the day may bring. We turned north on the road towards the lookout. We found giraffe, warthog, kudu, impala and numerous birds en route.

    [/IMG]

    We got to the tunnel which links the bottom portion of the park with the “Greater Marakele” portion at the other side of the road.
    [/IMG]

    It was rather exiting because the moment you pass the gate, you drive into “Big 5 territory”. In general the game became a lot scarcer but the breathtaking scenery made up for it!
    The road leading up the mountain[/IMG]
    The road is extremely narrow and becomes rather traitorous when nearing the top, with a vertical fall on the one side and a steep upwards slope on the other. One has to drive slowly, with caution and be on the lookout for oncoming traffic.
    We saw a troop of baboons in a wild fig tree. That was the first sighting of baboon we had so far and wanted to get a few photographs. It was amazing to see them flee the moment they saw the vehicle! No begging for food, in fact, no hanging around whatsoever! After being patient for a while, I caught this guy off guard. When he heard the sound of the camera – GONE!!
    [/IMG]

    Then I realized: This is where the feeding begins. People try to build their confidence by feeding and soon they start begging and then they become completely out of control.
    After a very steep climb, we eventually reached the top of the mountain. The view from there is totally awesome! Pardus had it so spot on when she called Marakele “The Garden of Mountains”!

    Aloe arborescens in full bloom.

    [/IMG]

    Pardus’s “Garden of Mountains” (with the road far below).
    [/IMG]

    Cape Bunting
    [/IMG]

    Cape Rock-Thrush (Male)
    [/IMG][/font]

    Cape Rock-Thrush (Juvenile) [/IMG]

    Buff-streaked Chat (Male)
    [/IMG]

    Buff-streaked Chat (Female)
    [/IMG]

    The weather reminded me of the weather in the Cape, just not four seasons in one day, more like four seasons in one hour! One moment it was dark and stormy the next, bright and sunny.

    [/IMG]

    What I hoped to find! Vultures!
    Nests.
    [/IMG]

    The birds, many of them, far more than one could count.

    [/IMG]

    On the way down we were pleasantly surprised by 3 Klipspringers.
    I love this tippy toe stance![/IMG]

    It’s little friend.
    [/IMG]

    The third was not keen on being a photographic model. He stood with his hind legs on a rock and his head low down on the other side presenting prime viewing of his rear end!
    A few more giraffe on the way, but the disappeared as soon as the noticed company then back through the tunnel.
    Some birds on the way
    The ever so noisy Southern Pied Babblers

    [/IMG]


    The guy with the brightest jacket around!
    [/IMG]

    Back in camp we decided just to do a “Kruger fry up” for dinner and to make it an early night. Just before bedtime I wanted to check the plain once more in search of eyes when I nearly stepped on this “stone”. It was right next to the ground sheet and as I motioned my foot to kick it out of the way, I took a second look and……………
    [/IMG]

    The little critter must have felt so safe, he decided to sleep right there! Third look around and……………….
    [/IMG]

    His little mate! Awe, man! We felt so privileged! Everyone tiptoed to bed, taking care not to disturb our little guests.
    Oh, it was a great day but I was so excited about the next! The reason for our visit to Marakele, a guided tour by one of the rangers to take us up the mountain and to the home of the extremely rare cycad,
    Encephalartos eugene-maraisii!!


    We woke up bright and early, stirred by the sounds of the bush. Our little guests were awake long before me and were already having breakfast.
    We had to meet my cousin at the main gate at 8 o’clock and there were a load of things to get ready. Water, camera, binos, hiking boots, sun hats, TR book and pen, well just about everything except the kitchen sink! Fortunately we got to the gate just in time and the SANParks vehicle and guide were ready and waiting.
    I dashed into the office to pay my due and there my cousin was standing! After huge hugs and lots of kisses, I haven’t seen him in 4 years, he said: “Jen, I’ve just had a discussion with the park manager and he said that it is an extremely difficult hike. We will be going all the way up the mountain and it could be dangerous for anyone that’s not super fit, in fact, they would prefer not to take us at all!” (He has been negotiating this hike for the past 6 months because it is not a usual route to do. The camp manager decided to allow it because my cousin is spending lots of time and effort to get to and photograph all the cycad species that has not gone extinct yet, but sadly, for all of them, it is just a matter of time. Not being "super fit", I decided not to go and my family joined the circle of quitters.)
    Somehow, I was not surprised because we went up the mountain, by car and it is one heck of a climb, no matter how you look at it. Before we arrived at Marakele, I was sure that the joy of seeing the Eugene- Maraisii in nature would be the one and only highlight of the trip but I was rather surprised at myself for not being too disappointed and offered to stay behind to get a braai and some deep heat ready for his return. He promised to e-mail all his pics to me to post on the forum. While driving back to camp, I took another look at that mountain and let out a sigh of relieve: “Phew…….. I’d rather not, not today!”
    Then! On the way back to camp!
    Then! On the way back to camp

    Road block!!
    [/IMG]


    Another!

    [/IMG]


    Bennett’s Woodpecker
    [/IMG]

    Lord Lewellyn, in person!

    [/IMG]

    And then! African Rock Python! Oh, my golly goodness, I could not believe my eyes![/IMG][/font]

    [/IMG]

    Back at camp. (Photos by Rayno)
    [/IMG]
    [/IMG]
    Another visitor, this one waiting to pick from the table!
    [/IMG]
    My cuzz, arrived just in time for lunch and I had cold beer ready and waiting! We spent a couple of happy hours catching up on many years. It was so great to see him, and having his company in the shade of a thorn tree in Marakele was just incredible! He was hoping to see some rhino action. Although there were two males having a tiff with lots of dust clouds and snorting, the action was very far off. Al the regular waterhole passersby showed up and then this gorgeous beast, with family in tow, made his appearance!
    [/IMG]

    Sadly, it was time for him to leave. After lots more hugs and kisses and messages to all the family, that was it, end of the visit. We settled down to enjoy the sunset.

    I lazily leaned back in my chair, with a glass of Cape red wine in my hand and watched the activity on the plain. From afar I watched the grey bulk of rhino grazing. After a while I noticed that they were coming closer. I turned my eyes away and enjoyed the birds beginning to flock. The arrogant little ram was once again protecting his business and the ewes were bouncing with fluffy white tails getting back in line. The warthog family was gathering the last bits to eat before sunset. I casually gazed across to the other side and by now the big guys were very close, closer than I’ve noticed before! The leader of the pack carefully stepped across the unfenced camp boundary, hesitated for a moment and began to graze. Without even bothering to lift their heads the rest followed close on his heels!

    [/IMG]


    [/IMG]


    [/IMG]

    I could not believe how relaxed they were! Every time they spotted movement, they calmly lifted their heads and then went right back to feeding. We watched them for about 45 min just going about their business.
    This was an awesome experience, one I will never forget! They are obviously frequent visitors in camp but being the first time I got so close and personal with rhino will remain in my mind for the rest of my days
    They are truly the most beautiful lawnmowers I have ever seen!!

    We were sad because it was our last night in Bontle but we were spoilt with loveliest of sunsets!(Photo by Rayno)
    [/IMG]

    After a nice braai at lunchtime no one was really hungry and we picked at the left overs for dinner. The night air became rather chilly and I made myself a hot cup of coffee and retreated to the tent sending SMS messages to dear friends and family. SO and Rayno were outside with the camera and tripod and Rayno was trying his hand at photographing the stars. The stars were so plentiful and they seemed so close it felt as if one could reach out and touch the sky. [/font]
    Suddenly I hear:“Dad, did you hear that!!??” (Whisper tone) “Yes! Spotlight! I think the rhinos are right behind us!”[/font]
    Next thing the tent flap opened with urgency and Rayno whispered: “Mom, Dad said come quickly!”
    Within a flash I was there! SO turned on the spotlight and……..!! Oh, my word!!
    SPRINGHARE!!!
    [/IMG]


    [/IMG]

    [/IMG]

    They were also not in the very least bothered about being watched and kept on digging and feeding. Now THAT was beyond all my expectations. Every now and again one moved off with long kangaroo-like jumps! Amazing, to me, it was incredible to watch!

    All night long one could hear the sound of a gentle rain on the canvas. When morning came, the skies were grey and miserable. I also felt grey and miserable because it was time to pack up and head home. Fortunately everything was far too wet and soggy to pack so we decided to take last drive. Blue sky was approaching from the south and it would give the sun a chance to do her work.
    We passed through the tunnel and took the road towards Tlopi which is a really lovely tented camp with a great atmosphere! Hoping to find a member of the big 5, the roadside was constantly checked for spoor. There were lots of evidence of elephant and we noticed cat spoor but they seemed rather old.

    Other activity on the way

    The Warthog family (How's this for an emerging tusker?)


    A tiny little roadblock - more like a pothole, actually
    [/IMG][/IMG]

    The picture perfect couple
    [/IMG]

    Mr. "I can't greet you with my mouth full".
    [/IMG]

    On our arrival at Tlopi, we met two rangers who were doing their inspection. We asked about elephant and lion and they were very surprised to hear that we have not spotted any! According to them, one should drive the “tunnel road” during late afternoon to find elephant. They gave us permission to view one of the tents and directed us towards one that was unlocked.
    [/IMG]

    Main tent, really nice!
    [/IMG]

    Bathroom (with shower and separate loo)
    [/IMG]

    The Deck
    [/IMG]

    Beware! Camp visitors versus open kitchen area!
    [/IMG]

    Tlopi setting from the view point
    [/IMG]


    The camp. (OK..... ignore the visitors spoiling the pix!
    [/IMG]

    [/IMG]

    The view from camp:
    [/IMG]

    The ablution block. Very clean and neat - typical SANP style.
    Can't believe I don't have photos but here is a sketch instead!
    Gents, as close as I could get from my informants....
    [/IMG][/font]

    Maps:
    [/IMG]

    [/IMG]
    We made our way back to camp to attend to the next thing on the agenda………breaking camp. Rayno was at the point of collapsing his tent when he spotted this colorful little chap. I have no idea what he calls himself. ( Gaitsi Gubib?)
    [/IMG]

    With a sad but content feeling we drove towards the gate. The car was left at the side of the road while we popped into the office to bid the personnel goodbye. One of the rangers we met at Tlopi was at the office on duty at the time. “So, did you see the big 5?” he asked.
    “Nope”, I shook my head.
    “Elephant?”
    “Nope”
    “Awe, I’m sorry”, he replied “but, I tell you what, before your next visit, give me a call and I will personally round up the whole lot of them and hold them in a cage for you to see!”. After warm handshakes and lots of laughing and chatting, it was time to go.
    A quick snap of longtailed shrike.
    [/IMG]
    And a very last……………..
    [/IMG]

    As we turned onto the tar road towards Thabazimbe his last words were still ringing in my ears.
    “Please visit Marakele again; it was a pleasure being your host!”


    CONCLUSION:

    We spent a weekend in Thabazimbe attending the yearly Game Festival in 1999.
    SANParks / Marakele had a stall at the time. My family wanted to do “boy’s things” for an afternoon and booked me on a Game drive in Marakele, as a surprise gift. It was a cold, dull and rainy day and Marakele seemed quite dead at the time. Although I appreciated the experience, it left me feeling indifferent, by no means can I say I hated it but it just did not quite rock my boat. They have been bugging me ever since to return but I always felt that it just would not be worth the time or effort and always tried to find “better places to go”.
    The only reason I agreed to do this trip was to make my way up the mountain to see the cycads. Seeing a plant which might be hundreds of years old, still in the position where it sprouted its first little root as a seedling, is a truly humbling experience. There are only about 40 plants of the cycad, “ Encephalartos eugene-maraisii” still left in Marakele with just a small number in only one other area (outside the park). Because both male and female plants have to grow rather close together for natural pollination to take place, they are extremely endangered.
    I salute you, SANParks, for protecting them the way you are, because this will be the only chance of survival they will ever have!
    The bottom line is: Marakele is the place I’ve been searching for, another home from home. Don’t get me wrong, I am completely and utterly in love with KNP and I cannot wait to get to KTP but as a mother loves all her children equally but differently, I love Marakele, equally but differently.
    What attracts me to Marakele is the abundance of the area, the absolute wealth of Mother Nature in the little things that cannot be introduced, the things at the bottom of the food chain and its complete untouched innocence. For all of this to be protected within an area with such a beautiful landscape makes this park very special indeed!
    The passion of every single staff member is completely contagious. When we were at Tlopi and met the rangers, I told them about the Springhare we saw. Their faces lit up with joy and they laughed out loud, so happy that we noticed the things they were so proud of. Like a toddler walking in her Mamma’s shoes, this special place will grow to fill them soon.
    I hoped to do a TR filled with photos of these amazing plants but as you’ve noticed, not a single one and no predators either.
    Next on the “Hit list”, Mapungubwe!! _________________
    Last edited by hbannink; 2008/06/08 at 01:32 AM. Reason: Puhleeenty finger trouble

  2. #2
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    Henk - congrats!! SWAMBO deserves a medal for doing an awesome job of writing up this massively underrated park.

    Brilliant pictures, and some good thought in putting it together...

    No need for artsy-fartsy photojournalism - just honest to goodness "take it as you see it" story telling. Lovely!!!
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    Thanks Simon

    Message conveyed, Now if I can just get the rest in without screwing it up or KILLING my keyboard. Size 12 hands and small buttons = recipie for disaster or reason to drink.
    Henk
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    Thumbs up Brilliant Report

    Quote Originally Posted by SimonB View Post
    Henk - congrats!! SWAMBO deserves a medal for doing an awesome job of writing up this massively underrated park.

    Brilliant pictures, and some good thought in putting it together...

    No need for artsy-fartsy photojournalism - just honest to goodness "take it as you see it" story telling. Lovely!!!
    Couldn't agree more !

    Thoroughly enjoyed that report....
    must make a plan, it's not that far...
    ..........thanks, Henk, Jenny.
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    When I was last there my wife was still pregnant with our daughter, and she is now already passed a year and a half, but I believe that they did a lot of changes to the park itself, what I will do is start planning another trip to Marakele and go camping for a long weekend.

    Thanks for the great report!
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    Default Camping At Marakele

    Thanks for a wonderful report. Marakele is a truly wonderful place.

    Our first camping experience was there, and we've been campers ever since.

    A place you might enjoy also is Borakalalo, the Moretele campsite. No Rhino in the campsite, but a real rugged bush experience.

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    We made our way back to camp to attend to the next thing on the agenda………breaking camp. Rayno was at the point of collapsing his tent when he spotted this colorful little chap. I have no idea what he calls himself. ( Gaitsi Gubib?)
    Mooi kleure !
    Weet nie wie of wat hy is nie, my seun is einlik die spinnekopfotograaf, sal hom vra.
    Attached Images Attached Images  
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    Baie baie mooi!!!!!
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    Hi Pa...goed hier ook dankie.
    Dis 'n baie mooi "Green Lynx" Spinnekop - (Peucetia Viridans)
    Waar kry pa hom? Soek graag 'n groene om af te neem - het laasweek 'n bruine in ons garage gekry - moet nog die foto download......
    Nou-ja, daar het jy dit.
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    Thanks for sharing that fabulous trip and photos with us. Very nice.
    ORA
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    Ian

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    Hmmmmm, makes me think that I want to go. Ironically been looking at going away for a couple of days to this place. This wonderfull report is just in time
    "A turbo: exhaust gasses go into the turbocharger and spin it, witchcraft happens and you go faster "
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    I know exactly were it is.Never been there. Now I'mm definatly going SOON.

    Thanks

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    Quote Originally Posted by BigRed View Post
    Hmmmmm, makes me think that I want to go. Ironically been looking at going away for a couple of days to this place. This wonderfull report is just in time
    While I can't compete with Jenny's report or photos, here are some more photo's to whet the appetite

    http://sbloomer.fotki.com/other-holi...holo-marakele/

    The first few are at Ditholo, just outside Warmbaths are whatever it's called now
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    Just a bit of feed back, the 4x4 route is now open and spans over 4 days through sections that is not open to general public. It is a guided self drive rtip with 3 nights camping in remote areas with a guide in his own vehicle
    Henk
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    Dankie, ek gaan Saterdag soontoe - het nou net so besluit

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    Henk, sÍ vir jou vrou ek sÍ baie dankie - ek het Saterdag oggend nog voor piepie tyd in die kar geklim en deur gery soontoe met my gesin, in Bontle geslaap saterdag aand, en my gate uit geniet. Alles te danke aan haar verslag!

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    Place booked for next weekend(first trip with trailer). What will be the best camping spot to camp at if available(Henk?).
    Cant wait
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    One of the first three, as you enter the campsite, turn left, and pick a spot ... actually, any on the left is great. The first three are just closest to the waterhole.

    Enjoy!

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    Lovely report Henk. Think between me, you and Doug there are to many Jenny's on this forum.

    And yes Marekele is wonderful.
    My landrover does not leak oil! it just marks its territory.......

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    Quote Originally Posted by bushcamp View Post
    One of the first three, as you enter the campsite, turn left, and pick a spot ... actually, any on the left is great. The first three are just closest to the waterhole.

    Enjoy!
    Thanks a lot much appreciated. Might be a cold first weekend out for us
    www.lani4travel.com

    Louis Le Grange

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