Marakele – Bontle Camp Site – October 2007
Well, after a lot of deliberation about the weather on Friday & a "Are you sure we should be doing this" phone call from Sue during the day (It was coming down in buckets in JHB), we decided that we might as well learn to cope with putting the tent up in the wet, completed the final preparations for a wet weekend and headed off on our one night reconnaissance of Marakele at 8:00 am on Saturday morning. I think the kids would not have forgiven us if we didn't go.
Other than the "Are you going far?" question from the pump attendant at the Engen One Stop at New Road, the trip to Bela-Bela (Warmbaths) up the N1 highway was really uneventful. The rain had all but dried up when we got to Bela-Bela and this seemed to lift the spirits in the Pathfinder substantially.
Dodging a couple of repaired potholes along the way & an 18 wheeler that seemed to think both sides of the road was his, we steamed down the well maintained 130 Km road between Bela-Bela & Thabazimbi. We topped up the tank in Thabazimbi and 16 Km later we arrived at Marakele.
My first impressions were “Damn, it’s green”. Marakele seems to have had some decent rainfall this year. Having said that, it wasn’t raining at that particular point in time at Marakele. The rain had dried up for the weekend. It was our lucky day!!!
We checked in (I had confirmed our reservation the day before), bought a family wild card, collected a map & bought some ice from the reception area (I think ice is all they have). They did not have any badges (A project for one of the kids) or any foodstuff, although with Thabazimbi only 16 Km away, I don’t think that this is much of a problem.
We drove in and started looking for a campsite. After driving around and looking at all the open ones, we settled on the first one we saw. An open area, in Rhino Loop, with great views of the plains & the water hole. In full view of 2 white rhino having a leisurely drink, a wildebeest or 2 and some ostrich, we unpacked the trailer. After setting up the campsite & having a leisurely lunch, decided to go and see if we could find some more animals.
The trail through the park is made up predominantly of graded sand roads, some tarred roads and one or two brand new concrete roads (up the steep sections) that an average sedan could manage easily. I don’t think much in the way of roads have been cut through the park and I seem to remember a figure of around 60 or 70 Km in total.
After driving up to the towers and seeing more Rhino, Kudu and Impala along the way, several things struck me. (1) I realised that we had probably been in the car for a good 7 hours that day. This is far too long for our kids and pandemonium was beginning to reign in the rear of the car. (2) I needed to push down harder on the camera button to take a picture & (3) the G & T back at the camp was calling my name in a big way. So we headed back to start supper & fix a thirst. The view from the towers is breathtaking. I would recommend it to anyone.
After an evening meal of flattie chicken, lamb chops & salads, we stoked the fire and settled down to enjoy the African night sounds. And, man, what sounds. Impala chomping & snorting loudly (How can such a small animal make so much noise?), rhino’s charging around & general squealing from the zebra’s made up the sounds of our evening. Someone from the next camp shone a really powerful hand held light onto a cat in the distance. We came to the consensus that it was too small for a leopard and was probably a civet as it definitely did not have the pointed ears of a Rooikat. A hand held spotlight has been put on the list of thing to get!!!! (and the Christmas list, just in case)
The next morning, we decided to chance our luck and let the kids prepared omelette’s in a bag for breakfast. All you need are 2 eggs, salt, cheese, a Ziploc bag & some boiling water. The kids were amazed that eggs were that easy & I’m sure we’ll have plenty of orders for boil-in-a-bag eggs in the near future.
After breakfast we went to go and have a look at Tlopi Tented Camp. The tents seem well positioned around a dam and look to be quite large in size. On route there, we saw giraffe in the distance & were nearly trodden on by some wildebeest trying to get over a road in front of us. After a brief trip back to the camp site, we had lunch from all the leftovers, packed up and headed home at about 3 in the afternoon.
Traffic into Bela-Bela was fairly light, but the N1 south was jam packed with cars, especially at the toll gate where some waiting was required.
Some things I would do differently at Marakele:
Mark the roads carefully & have a decent map drawn
The map seems old & details are fairly sketchy
None of the 4x4 roads we went on were marked at all (Map or road). We only found out that we were on a 4x4 route when we came across an obstacle that only a 4x4 could navigate. To turn around without scratching your car would be impossible.
It doesn’t look like the park is not maintained, but I would place more emphasis on resources for development and maintenance. The park could do with a little more attention to detail. (Make no mistake, it’s not bad at all, bit a little more would make it GREAT)
The “Animal Sightings” board at reception had no information on it at all. All the coloured pins were stuck in a straight line down the side of the board. This was at 11 am on a Saturday.
R 180 for the camp site for the night
R 450 for food and some drink (On top of what we already had)
Odds & sods of around R 250
R 550 for fuel
All in for under R 1500. 2 additional days would only have cost R 180 per day more and we had packed food for at least 3 days
Photos and captions are available at http://picasaweb.google.com/shearer.richard/MarakeleOctober2007
My Overall Impressions
The ablution facilities are fantastic. This is a big plus for a family of 6.
It’s a fairly short drive to the park, so weekends are possible.
I will definitely go back in the near future. I hope to get there for a long weekend early next year.
One thing I do need to draw special attention to are the ablution facilities at Bontle. They are fantastic!!! They are clean, well thought out and have facilities for washing your cutlery as well as your clothes. There was hot water every time we went. One ablution block caters only to 10 camp sites, so it’s never crowded nor do you feel like you have to wait for the showers.