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Everybody has heard of Pilanesberg and Madikwe, but there are 13 more parks in the north-western corner of our country that I didn’t know much about. So I set out to uncover the ‘secret gems’ travel writers dream of finding. I visited eight; four were great, but the rest, although lovely in terms of the landscape, made for unsettling travel, especially for a woman alone. First, these are the four places that shone.
North West province map

Also read: Madikwe, the North-West’s most successful park

 

1. Mosetlha Bush Camp & Eco Lodge in Madikwe Game Reserve

Go for: unfenced accommodation and the Big Five

I had an incredible stay at this rustic camp in the enormous Big Five reserve – at 750 square kilometres, it’s one of South Africa’s largest. The camp is unfenced, except for an elephant wire that prevents the jumbos from pulling up trees around the lodge. Eco-friendly facilities include ventilated pit loos and donkey boilers for hot showers. The camp sleeps up to 16 in nine log cabins on stilts, which have canvas sides that can be rolled up for al fresco sleeping. The food is homely, complementing the camp’s unpretentious feel, and this is easily the most affordable and authentic bushveld experience for South Africans looking to stay in the park.

 

mosetlha_bush_camp

The cabins at Mosetlha Bush Camp are relatively open so you can soak up the night sky.

 

Getting to Madikwe Game Reserve

Distance from Joburg 324 kilometres (four-hour drive)
Closest town Zeerust
Park fees R160 per person
Cost R1 795 per person on SADC rates, including all meals and two daily game drives.
Contact thebushcamp.com

 

botsalano-game-reserve

There are springbok, black wildebeest and giraffe in abundance in the Kalahari-like Botsalano Game Reserve.

 

2. Safari, Lerako And Sentry Hill Bush Camps at Botsalano Game Reserve

Go for: an affordable taste of the Kalahari

This reserve is a prize – a Kalahari thornveld escape that’s close to Joburg and has an abundance of springbok, gemsbok, buffalo and giraffe. With luck, you might even spot a white rhino. Four rustic camps, each with basic ablutions (cold showers), are scattered around the park in unfenced bush where blue and violet-eared waxbills busy themselves in the acacias. As I was travelling alone, I was a bit nervous about security, but the reservations manager confirmed they’d had no incidents of theft or harassment. The management added that due to regular anti-poaching patrols, if an undesirable person was on the reserve, they would know about it. My car alarm went off during my stay, but rangers suggested monkeys were to blame.

 

Getting to Botsalano Game Reserve

Distance from Joburg 320 kilometres (four-hour drive)
Closest town Mahikeng, close to the border of Botswana
Park fees R35 per adult, R20 children (two to 12 years) and pensioners, R5 per car and R26 per minibus
Cost R200 per campsite per night for up to eight people
Contactparksnorthwest.co.za

 

wolwespruit-nature-reserve

There aren’t many places close to Joburg where you can camp right on the river in shady conditions like this spot.

 

3. Vaal River Campsites at Wolwespruit Nature Reserve

Go for: waterside camping and fishing in the Vaal River

Each of the 32 campsites has a long drop, a braai area and a rubbish-collection point. Bring cash, as there are no card facilities. Sites are allocated on a first-come, first-served basis, so gun for camp number six. The rapids here make for better angling and the site is also close to new ablution blocks that are due to be fitted with geysers. There’s nearly a kilometre between each site. The rustic Stone House cottage was being renovated and fitted with solar power and should be ready by the time you read this. It sleeps six (R250 per night) and has a stove, small fridge, a heated shower and lights. Bring towels, crockery, cutlery and pots.

 

Getting to Wolwespruit Nature Reserve

Distance from Joburg 260 kilometres (three-hour drive)
Closest town Wolmaransstad
Park fees R30 per person, angling R20 per person per day
Cost R50 per campsite per night for up to six people
Contactparksnorthwest.co.za

 

pilanesberg-national-park

Giraffe is one of the many great game sightings you’re guaranteed in the Pilanesberg.

 

4. Manyane Resort at Pilanesberg National Park

Go for: hassle-free camping in a rugged setting

The Pilanesberg remains one of the best spots for an easy weekend getaway and promises sightings of the Big Five and wild dog. Its geological history as an old volcano gives it interesting topography. Manyane, which has a pool, easy-access water points, dustbins and braai pits, is my favourite campsite in the area. Bring a braai grid, as some are broken, plus a lock for your tent because clever baboons unzip them to get to your food. The resort is just outside the park, so you can leave after work on a Friday without worrying about making it before the park’s gates close.

 

Getting to the Pilanesberg

Distance from Joburg 190 kilometres (two-and-a-half-hour drive)
Closest town Rustenburg
Park fees R65 per adult
Cost From R270 per campsite per night for up to six people.
Contactmanyaneresort-pilanesberg.com

 

The other four parks (and why we don’t recommend staying there right now)

Travelling alone in some parks and reserves is not always easy as a woman. Safety, for all travellers, is a priority and the reality is that there are still places where your safety cannot be guaranteed. Then, of course, there is the issue of maintenance and positive guest experiences. I know for a fact that the following parks used to be worth a stay (my grandparents can testify), but when I visited them, they were simply not up to scratch.

 

1. Molopo Nature Reserve

The park itself is wonderful. Waterholes were rich with gemsbok, kudu, black wildebeest and birds. Phiri Camp was lovely, with neatly raked, private shaded campsites, but the shower taps had been shut off and there was little firewood for the donkey boiler. No ranger was present on arrival to arrange camping, collect payment or give me a map to explore the park. I set up camp and stayed the night without seeing a single park official; it was only in the morning that there were staff present. Considering it’s a long drive (630 kilometres) from Joburg, I’d honestly rather push on another 200 kilometres to Mabuasehube in Botswana, which has similar facilities but also has lions.

 

molopo-nature-reserve

The author enjoying the campfire and sunset at Molopo Nature Reserve.

 

2. Barberspan Bird Sanctuary

Barberspan Bird Sanctuary, near Delareyville, is an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA) – a BirdLife International concept denoting places of global significance for conservation. This reserve regularly supports more than 20 000 birds, holding more than 320 species. As it is perennial, Barberspan is a sanctuary for waterbirds in winter when other vleis in the area dry up. It’s definitely worth a day trip but the toilets around the pan were revolting, and although the two self-catering cottages and campsites weren’t the worst accommodation I’ve seen, I struggled to see why even the most dedicated twitcher would choose to stay here.

 

barberspan-bird-sanctuary

Ostrich stroll across the grassy plains around Barberspan Bird Sanctuary.

 

3. Borakalalo National Park

Local fishermen lined the banks of the large Klipvoor Dam at Borakalalo, a beautiful 14 000-hectare area of woodland and open bushveld, and waterbuck and wildebeest drank at the water’s edge as pairs of pied kingfishers danced in the reeds. However, while the environment was beautiful, the same couldn’t be said about the reserve’s shabby Moretele and Phudufudu camps. Most tents were full of holes and barely standing, and an ablution block had a broken geyser. There were also troubling reviews on TripAdvisor about theft. As a result, my night, while thankfully uneventful, wasn’t restful. The angling campsite, however, seemed in good nick, occupied by satisfied fishermen.

 

borakalalo

The weekend at Borakalalo, where fishermen line the dam in the middle of the park.

 

4. Kgaswane Mountain Reserve

I didn’t stay at this park because it was just too risky. Even the booking agents I spoke to warned me against going, saying that ‘criminal activities around the area are making it hard for the reserve to guarantee the safety of the campers – they target bicycles and electronics’. For the first time in my three years with Getaway, I had to acknowledge that travelling alone in my own country can be dangerous.

 

So, what’s up with North West Parks?

I asked North West Parks Board regional manager Johnson Maoka for more information.

‘The protected areas [now] managed by the North West Parks Board are born from the amalgamation of the erstwhile Boputhatswana Parks Board, the Cape and Transvaal Provincial Administrations and Bophuthatswana Tourism Council. One will appreciate that each amalgamating entity brought with it a number of personnel across the ranks, equipment and infrastructure of various stages of use and age – and all these had budgets with the old entities that did not necessarily accompany the functions and activities taken up by the new entity.

‘Budgets had to be drawn up from scratch, and not every request was accommodated by the provincial government due to the diverse responsibilities it had.’ The request for funding for infrastructure development and upgrades by the North West Parks Board to the provincial government ‘though it forms part of the list of priorities, is often overshadowed by people-oriented requests for funding.’

According to Dinah Rangaka, PR manager of the North West Parks Board, ‘an increased budget to take of infrastructure development in all the 15 parks and reserves’ is on the cards.

Maoka acknowledged that crime in the area has increased lately. At both Kgaswane and Borakalalo, the problem was reportedly concentrated during busy weekends – and despite increased security at both parks, ‘both reserves have few security staff in relation to their size – security operations are more against wildlife crime such as poaching as opposed to common acts of crime.’

Reserve managers are working with both the Jericho and Rustenburg SAPS to curb criminal incidents. ‘Private security firms are an option,’ says Maoka, ‘but the issue again remains the lack of funding. We are, however, determined to restore the safetyand credibility of the reserves to the public.’

Until then, we say do support these wilderness areas with day visits but book to stay elsewhere.

For updates on the situation, or any queries and comments, contact North West Parks & Tourism Board through its Conservation PR page on Facebook.

 
 
 

This story first appeared in the August 2016 issue of Getaway magazine.

Get this issue →

Our August issue features Mana Pools, great North West parks, and best trips for women. On shelves from 25 July.

 
 




  • Joshua Weiss

    It is indeed sad to read about the deterioration of some of the North West parks. I have witnessed the disintegration of Borokalalo and I suspect without Friends of the Pilanesberg (FOPS), the premier park in the province would also be substantially worse than it is.

    As for Molopo, it seems it was closed without much notification and it doesn’t even appear any longer on Google Maps.

    Kgaswane is possibly the saddest case – once the prime hiking destination in the Magaliesberg. I have heard cases of people turning up at the entrance only to find nobody manning the gate and being unable to enter.

    Unfortunately I can’t see anything changing soon in South Africa’s most corrupt and financially mismanaged province, where conservation and ecotourism are way down the list of priorities.

    • Welcome Lishivha

      Hi Joshua,

      The deterioration of parks is indeed an unfortunate predicament. We might possibly include your comment in our magazine issue in the inbox section where travellers share their thoughts. For purposes of that we’d need to know which town or city you are currently residing in?

  • I live very close to Kgaswane, and visit it very often. Whilst it is true that theft of stuff not locked away has, sadly, occurred, it is not unsafe to stay over. And should you only opt for a day visit instead, you will find a pristine jewel off the beaten track! Also, the theft incidents were in the public camp site; book the overnight trails to see the best of Kgaswane (not accessible to day visitors), and enjoy safe adventure in a surprisingly beautiful world of mountains, clear streams, waterfalls and pools like the best in the world! I regret if “someone” had once found the gate unmanned; In my experience, friendly, informed and helpful personnel are ALWAYS on their posts!

    • Melanie van Zyl

      Hi Bennet

      Thank so much for your feedback, it’s super important to share the good things about our parks and I’m delighted to hear good news. I hope to visit this year and check it out for myself.

      Thanks
      Melanie

  • Norette Fourie

    Crime in Borakakalo is a major problem. We spent one night there and our car window was smashed with a rock. Management and Rangers are aware of the problem but nothing is done. Stay away.

  • Natasja Venter

    Im looking for the contact numbers for

    Borakalalo National Park but can not seem to find any that work