A herd of elephants in the Madikwe Game Reserve, South Africa.

© Udo Kieslich/Shutterstock

Madikwe Game Reserve

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Madikwe is the country’s fourth-largest reserve and one of its best, covering 760 sq km of bushveld, savannah grassland and riverine forest on the edge of the Kalahari. It offers Big Five wildlife watching and dreamy lodging among striking (and malaria-free) red sand and clay-thorn bushveld. Madikwe does not allow self-drive safaris or day visitors, which means you must stay at one of its upmarket lodges to explore the reserve, but you get what you pay for at these exclusive bush hideaways.

Wildlife watching is the main event here, whether from an open-sided safari vehicle or on foot with an armed ranger on a guided walk.

Madikwe's numbers are pretty impressive when it comes to wildlife. For a start, there are around 1200 elephants, six lion prides, 400 giraffes, 340 bird species and healthy populations of klipspringer, kudu, gemsbok, springbok, leopard, caracal, rhino and buffalo. Tragically, one of the two packs of African wild dogs succumbed to a rabies outbreak, and late in 2017 the remaining pack numbered 14 dogs. Also at the end of 2017, three female cheetahs were about to be released into the reserve, hopefully to breed with the four resident males.

Although nothing is guaranteed, top-notch sightings are the norm. In one 24-hour period, we saw close to a dozen rhino, elephants and a large buffalo herd all eyeing each other at the same waterhole; a pack of wild dogs; male giraffes fighting; two cheetahs on the hunt; and a pride of 13 lions.

Most lodges include two wildlife drives per day (or one drive and a guided walk) in their full-board rates. Rangers communicate via radio with the other drivers in the reserve, so if a family of lions napping in the shade of a thorn tree is spotted nearby, your driver will hear about it. Restrictions on driving off road are minimal and the jeeps are tough enough to tackle most terrain, getting you close to the animals.

The rules in Madikwe dictate that only three vehicles may be present at any one sighting, and this is strictly observed. While this may be frustrating while you wait in line and out of sight, it ensures that animals are not pursued/harassed by a convoy of vehicles, and retains Madikwe's credentials as a wonderful place to get up close with the animals.

Madikwe has a full suite of outstanding places to stay. Most of them are exclusive and supremely comfortable. Advance booking is mandatory: you will not be allowed through the gates without a reservation (the guard will telephone your lodge to check you have a booking). For extensive information on all of the lodges, visit www.madikwegamereserve.net.

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