Marakele – September 2018

The first, and only, time that we have ever visited Marakele was in June 2003. The park had changed quite dramatically since then. It is now all one park, with private concessions (e.g. Marataba) on areas not accessible from the national park side. To get to Tlopi tented camp now, you drive through the main gates and take a road under the public road and through a gate into the wilderness area.

Tlopi is pretty much the same as it was, although the kitchen area of the veranda is now tented and lockable – to prevent monkeys from getting to and stealing food. Not that this helped during our trip – the monkeys had managed to bend the slot of the lock and could swing on the door to open it! We had to put one of the Adirondack chairs against the sliding door so that they could not open it. Fortunately, even though they managed to open our fridge door, all they got away with was a packet of crisps.

The drive up to Lenong viewpoint is just as beautiful, but the road, while still narrow, is all tarred making for an easier drive. This was definitely our favorite area in the park.

25 September

We left home on Tuesday morning, after traffic, in order to avoid being in the park over the long weekend. We drove along the N1 and R516 via Bela Bela in order to get to Thabazimbi. At Thabazimbi we filled up and stopped at KFC to buy something for lunch. (In fact, we had our first dunked burgers – Petra (our neighbor) had told us about them when she and Ben came for lunch on the Sunday before we travelled).

At the gate, we checked in and were given our keys to Tent 2 – Sunbird. We drove through the park, under the public road and straight to Tlopi Tented Camp. We then unpacked the car, before having our lunch. It was delicious!

We finished unpacking and then settled down to relax and read.

Just after 16h30, we decided to sit in the Adirondack chairs on the veranda, rather than going out on a drive. It was hot and there was a cool breeze coming across the dam, and view was really beautiful.

We had a light supper and then went to bed early, reading for a while.

Mammal sightings: baboon, bushbuck, giraffe, impala, kudu, vervet monkey, nyala, warthog

Bird sightings: arrow-marked babbler, cinnamon-breasted bunting, fork-tailed drongo, Egyptian goose, yellow-billed hornbill, hadeda ibis, black-shouldered kite, ostrich, tawny-flanked prinia, lilac-breasted roller, magpie shrike, red-breasted swallow

26 September

Unfortunately a strong wind blew and it rocked the canvas walls all night. Neither of us got much sleep! In fact, just as it got light, the wind actually blew our outside light down, smashing the glass and severing the electric wires! Not long after that we heard the monkeys in our kitchen (as mentioned above). It was quite a morning!

We ate breakfast at our table in the kitchen area, looking at the birds on the dam. We then made our way out on a drive just before 7h45. We drove on Lekganyane drive until we reached a locked gate (at the public road), turned around and drove the Mbidi Loop, before finally making our way up to Lenong viewpoint.

We saw a lone elephant bull on our way to the locked gate, and then found a full herd (deeper in) on our way back. Terry also saw a herd of 30+ elephant from the top of Lenong (I had not walked down to the edge as it was really rocky and uneven ground for walking). We saw Cape vultures flying overhead. First there would be one, then two, then three, then ten or more, and suddenly there would be none.

We saw the elephants as we drove back down the mountain. And then, when we got back to camp, there was an elephant drinking at the dam. It was definitely an elephant morning!

The other highlight for us was seeing klipspringers. There were a couple on the way up the mountain and then we saw 4 together on the top of large rock. We don’t often get to see them lately, so we really enjoyed watching them hop around from rock to rock.

Our light had already been fixed when we got back to the tent. We read until lunch – pulled pork on a roll, vegetables (J), fruit and yoghurt (T). And then we read and relaxed some more.

Mammal sightings: baboon, elephant, rock hyrax, impala, klipspringer, vervet monkey, mountain reedbuck, wildebeest, zebra

Bird sightings: white-fronted bee-eater, dark-capped bulbul, Cape bunting, cinnamon-breasted bunting, golden-breasted bunting, yellow-fronted canary, buff-streaked chat, black crake, Cape turtle dove, fork-tailed drongo, African fish eagle, western great egret, grey go-away-bird, grey hornbill, hadeda ibis, brown-hooded kingfisher, giant kingfisher, African wattled lapwing, blacksmith lapwing, red-faced mousebird, black-backed puffback, Cape robin-chat, grey-headed sparrow, Natal spurfowl, red-winged starling, lesser striped swallow, short-toed rock thrush, blue waxbill, white-browed sparrow-weaver, Cape vulture, Cape white-eye, emerald-spotted wood-dove

At 15h30 we were picked up for our sunset drive. Unfortunately the group of 6 had chosen to sit 2 per row, so Terry sat in the front row on the left of the vehicle and I sat in the second one, behind him. It was only as we continued on our way that the guide said that we were picking up another couple, so they landed up with the wife behind me in the back row and the husband in front with the guide.

We drove the same road that we had in the morning (to the locked gate) and saw a white rhino. The guide unlocked the gate and we drove onto the public road, through a boom, onto the main road to Thabazimbi and then in the gate to fetch the other couple.

We turned onto Kudu drive and then drove towards Bollonoto dam, turning off onto an unmarked road before the dam. This brought us to an area where they pumped water and had put some grass down – so it was well frequented as most of the waterholes and dams are dry and the veld was really dry and desolate. We saw 6 white rhinos, zebra, eland and wildebeest. A little further along, we came across a white rhino (with a really long horn) standing next to her calf and a black rhino (horn cut off as came from Kruger) lying down next to her really small calf. They were not too far from each other, but this is obviously driven by the access to grass and water in the area. The area we drove on was a new area that had been recently acquired and it wasn’t yet open to the general public.

We drove out of the area, onto the public road (through a locked gate) and then back into the wilderness area through the same locked gate that we had exited from. On the way we came across 2 white rhinos walking in the road and a black rhino was ahead of us as we turned up past the education centre (a no access road). Along that road we came across another 4 white rhinos!

We then turned around and made our way along the Mbidi loop, stopping at a small picnic area to stretch our legs.

From there we made our way back to camp. Along the way we saw a snake crossing the road (unidentified, but Terry got a good look at it through the binoculars – it was olive green with black and white markings underneath near its head). From our snake guide, it looks like it might have been a Mozambique spitting cobra.

We also came across another SanParks vehicle. They were going (in the dark) to rescue a vehicle that was trapped on the way down from Lenong viewpoint. An elephant would not let them pass!

Supper was chicken, ham and cheese rolls and fruit salad. We climbed into bed, ready for an early night.

Mammal sightings: eland, giraffe, impala, kudu, dwarf mongoose, vervet monkey, black rhino, white rhino, tree squirrel, warthog, wildebeest, zebra

Bird sightings: arrow-marked babbler, southern pied babbler, crested barbet, white-fronted bee-eater, crimson boubou, Cape turtle dove, fork-tailed drongo, grey go-away-bird, helmeted guineafowl, red-billed hornbill, yellow-billed hornbill, African wattled lapwing, red-billed oxpecker, lilac-breasted roller, crested spurfowl, Natal spurfowl

Other sightings: snake (possibly Mozambique spitting cobra)

27 September

It was a good thing that we went to sleep early. The wind started blowing again at midnight. I read for a couple of hours before trying to sleep again, while Terry tried to sleep. We both dozed off at about 4h00! Unfortunately though, I didn’t think to switch off the alarm so we were rudely awoken by it at 5h15! We eventually got up, got ready, packed breakfast and went out for a drive just before 7h00.

We drove to the gate, under the public road and then did the loops of the main park area. As we drove through to the area, we ate our breakfast (except for the yoghurt). We drove to Bollonoto dam only to find that it looked dry from where we parked. There was some grass around, so we saw some general game in the area. We didn’t want to startle the animals, so we did not get out and walk to the hide.

We drove into Bontle camp site, but Bontle dam was bone dry. There was also a tented area, so we went to have a look and spotted a group of banded mongoose. We noticed that the Bontle tents were air-conditioned.

Once we had made our way back into the wilderness area, we turned onto a road marked as a cul-de-sac. It was tarred and it took us to another locked gate. We think it might be an access road for the technicians who support the various masts up at Lenong. And also suspect that it may have been the old access road to Tlopi when we stayed there in 2003.

We drove around the Mbidi loop too, finding a zebra and foal on the way. At the top of the loop we stopped at the view down onto Tlopi, and ate our yoghurts.

We drove back onto Lenong road (turning towards Tlopi) and investigated a few unmarked turnoffs, making our way back to camp at about 10h30. The ladies were still cleaning, so we sat on the veranda until they had finished inside. Once they had cleaned the veranda, we unpacked the car and then watched animals coming down to the dam to drink – a troop of baboons, a couple of waterbuck and a buffalo.

We relaxed and read until it was time for lunch. We had pork and pear cassoulet with rolls and vegetables (J), followed by fruit salad.

We spent the afternoon reading and then moved onto the veranda to enjoy the cooler evening and watch birds around the dam.

After a light supper, we made our way to bed, where we read and slept. The wind didn’t seem as bad (even though it was definitely blowing) – or maybe we were just so tired that we slept in spite of it!

Mammal sightings: baboon, buffalo, common duiker, giraffe, impala, kudu, banded mongoose, vervet monkey, nyala, tree squirrel, warthog, waterbuck, zebra

Bird sightings: arrow-marked babbler, dark-capped bulbul, cinnamon-breasted bunting, yellow-fronted canary, Cape turtle dove, fork-tailed drongo, African fish eagle, Egyptian goose, helmeted guineafowl, hamerkop, white-crested helmet-shrike, grey hornbill, yellow-billed hornbill, hadeda ibis, African wattled lapwing, ostrich, three-banded plover, tawny-flanked prinia, magpie shrike, crested spurfowl, blue waxbill, emerald-spotted wood-dove, bearded woodpecker

28 September

We were awake before the alarm, but it was very windy. We decided to lie in until well after 6h00. We then got up, got ready, packed our breakfast and made our way out towards Lenong viewpoint just after 7h00. We ate our hard-boiled egg and cereal bar as we drove.

As we drove up the mountain, we stopped to watch 3 klipspringers moving along the cliff and rocks.

We stopped at the top of the viewpoint and were joined by 2 friendly Cape buntings that hopped around both the car and us. We took our fruit and yoghurt and walked to a bench (I walked very carefully across the rocks). There we enjoyed the view and ate our breakfast. It was a little chilly but we managed despite the lack of jackets. Some Cape buntings, mocking cliff chats and buff-streaked chats kept us company, hopping from rock to rock around us.

As we started to make our way to go down the mountain, we saw some Cape vultures flying overhead. We had been looking out for them and seen none, but just like the previous time, they came seemingly out of nowhere.

We also came across another 3 klipspringer very close to us on the right-hand side of the road. We watched as they made their way to the road, walking really tentatively along it in front of us. After a short way they moved across to the rocks on the other side of the road. It was definitely our best sighting of klipspringer ever. They were just so relaxed, stopping to nibble on bushes as they went.

Back at camp, we settled in to read and relax. Lunch was beef stroganoff, noodles, vegetables (J) and yoghurt.

We made our way out for an afternoon drive at 16h30. We drove towards the education centre and the locked gate and saw a number of kudus and some waterbuck along the way. We also saw an elephant as we made our way back towards Mbidi loop. Our first one since our first morning drive!

We saw a small herd of buffalo, although it was bigger than we originally thought with some buffalo still deeper in on the other side of the road.

As we made our way further along Mbidi, back towards Lenong drive, we saw a small herd of elephants with some more elephants in the distance. And then further along there were more elephants in the distance. We eventually concluded that it might be the big herd we had seen the first day, just more spread out this time.

Back at camp, we had a light supper before we read and slept. A storm threatened and we had a little rain but nothing more, not even later during the night.

At about 2h00 Terry got up and switched on the fan as it was very still. He felt something knock against the leg of his bed, but didn’t do anything about it. We knew that we had a “visitor”. We had seen signs – it had eaten the edges of the soap, knocked the soap out of the soap dish, and then eventually knocked the soap on the ground. We kept re-evaluating what it could be based on what it was doing – first it was a gecko, then definitely something bigger (Terry thought it might have been a mouse). Well, I woke up just after 4h00 and it felt like something had pinched my finger (up near my head). I moved my hands around and decided that I must have imagined it. I was just setting back to go to sleep, when something (a paw, a hand????) touched my hair! I freaked out – shouted (luckily I am not a screamer or I would have woken the whole camp) and jumped out of bed. I switched the light on, but we could find nothing, not even under the bed. After a while, we relaxed and went back to sleep. It was so cool though that we switched the fan off at 5h00 and I even pulled up my blanket before dropping off to sleep again.

Mammal sightings: baboon, buffalo, bushbuck, elephant, impala, klipspringer, kudu, waterbuck, zebra

Bird sightings: arrow-marked babbler, white-fronted bee-eater, dark-capped bulbul, Cape bunting, cinnamon-breasted bunting, golden-breasted bunting, yellow-fronted canary, buff-streaked chat, mocking cliff chat, Cape turtle dove, fork-tailed drongo, grey go-away-bird, yellow-billed hornbill, rock kestrel, rufous-naped lark, red-billed oxpecker, tawny-flanked prinia, black-backed puffback, lilac-breasted roller, Natal spurfowl, red-winged starling, violet-backed starling, malachite sunbird, Cape rock thrush, short-toed rock thrush, southern black tit, Cape vulture, blue waxbill, emerald-spotted wood-dove

29 September

Terry had started reading not long after 5h00, since he found that he couldn’t go back to sleep. I woke up after 6h30 when I heard our neighbors leaving camp. It was a beautiful sunny morning with not a drop of wind! A female bushbuck was grazing in the reeds in front of the tent.

We had a leisurely morning, packing, eating breakfast in our kitchen, packing up the vehicle and then leaving camp just after 8h00.

We drove along Kudu loop and Tsugulu drive before making our way to the main gate to check out. On the road to Bollonoto dam we came across a zebra carcass. It had a round whole in its rump so we think that a rhino might have gored it. When we passed it again on our way back from the dam – no animals there at all – we saw black-backed jackals.

We checked out just before 9h30, reporting the carcass and the fact that the monkeys can break into the locked kitchen. The gentleman at reception was shocked and horrified by the latter and said that they would investigate the carcass, but that it would be sorted out by the hyena (brown and spotted) in the area. We later saw a picture on FaceBook showing that the carcass had been eaten.

We drove home via Brits and the N4. Terry concluded that the route via Bela Bela is a better road. We were home before 12h30 and it was time to unpack yet again…

Mammal sightings: baboon, bushbuck, impala, black-backed jackal, kudu, banded mongoose, slender mongoose, nyala

Bird sightings: pied crow, Cape turtle dove, fork-tailed drongo, Egyptian goose, grey hornbill, yellow-billed hornbill, sacred ibis, black-shouldered kite, crowned lapwing, ostrich, lilac-breasted roller, magpie shrike, red-winged starling, black-crowned tchagra

We have realized after this trip to Marakele that timing is all-important for a trip to the park. Winter is way too cold (as we discovered in 2003) and mid-summer is too hot (a friend reported temperatures in the 40s!). But it is important to go after there has been rain or the vegetation is dry and desolate, like it was on this trip. Our conclusion is that we should travel there in March/April should we consider another trip to the area.

Bird List 

1. Arrow-marked babbler

2. Southern pied babbler

3. Crested barbet

4. White-fronted bee-eater

5. Crimson boubou

6. Dark-capped bulbul

7. Cape bunting

8. Cinnamon-breasted bunting

9. Golden-breasted bunting

10. Yellow-fronted canary

11. Buff-streaked chat

12. Mocking cliff chat

13. Black crake

14. Pied crow

15. Cape turtle dove

16. Fork-tailed drongo

17. African fish eagle

18. Western great egret

19. Grey go-away-bird

20. Egyptian goose

21. Helmeted guineafowl

22. Hamerkop

23. White-crested helmet-shrike

24. Grey hornbill

25. Red-billed hornbill

26. Yellow-billed hornbill

27. Hadeda ibis

28. Sacred ibis

29. Rock kestrel

30. Brown-hooded kingfisher

31. Giant kingfisher

32. Black-shouldered kite

33. African wattled lapwing

34. Blacksmith lapwing

35. Crowned lapwing

36. Rufous-naped lark

37. Red-faced mousebird

38. Ostrich

39. Red-billed oxpecker

40. Three-banded plover

41. Tawny-flanked prinia

42. Black-backed puffback

43. Cape robin-chat

44. Lilac-breasted roller

45. Magpie shrike

46. Grey-headed sparrow

47. White-browed sparrow-weaver

48. Crested spurfowl

49. Natal spurfowl

50. Red-winged starling

51. Violet-backed starling

52. Malachite sunbird

53. Lesser striped swallow

54. Red-breasted swallow

55. Black-crowned tchagra

56. Cape rock thrush

57. Short-toed rock thrush

58. Southern black tit

59. Cape vulture

60. Blue waxbill

61. Cape white-eye

62. Emerald-spotted wood-dove

63. Bearded woodpecker

Mammal List 

1. Baboon

2. Buffalo

3. Bushbuck

4. Common duiker

5. Eland

6. Elephant

7. Giraffe

8. Rock hyrax

9. Impala

10. Black-backed jackal

11. Klipspringer

12. Kudu

13. Banded mongoose

14. Dwarf mongoose

15. Slender mongoose

16. Vervet monkey

17. Nyala

18. Mountain reedbuck

19. Black rhino

20. White rhino

21. Tree squirrel

22. Warthog

23. Waterbuck

24. Wildebeest

25. Zebra

Other List

1. Snake (possibly Mozambique spitting cobra)