Madikwe Game Reserve: Our Safari Experience

If you’ve read my first two posts about our safari experience seeing the Big 5 as well a pack of wild dogs hunting, perhaps you’re thinking of going on safari as well.  I’d highly recommend it! In this post I’ll go into detail about what Madikwe Game Reserve is like from the visitor’s point of view.  I explain why we chose it and what we thought.  Of course, our positive experience was heightened by the fact we stayed at an amazing lodge and saw some incredible sightings.  Nonetheless, I think Madikwe Game Reserve is a great option for honeymooners, couples, adventure seekers and even families.

Why we chose Madikwe Game Reserve?

We started planning our safari adventure in November with the intention of going to South Africa in January.  Not a whole lot of time to plan! We were strict with the timing and location for various reasons.  We wanted to combine the safari with a beach holiday in Cape Town and minimize the amount of traveling from Aberdeen.

In many parts of Africa, January isn’t the best time to go on safari.  It’s the height of summer so it is super hot.  In South Africa, it’s the rainy season. Kruger National Park is naturally the location many people gravitate too, however, due to its location on the eastern coast, rain is highly probable.  We didn’t want to leave one rainy place for another.  And looking back I’m happy we didn’t since spending 3 hours in a game vehicle in the rain with all our camera equipment can’t be much fun.   A travel agent suggested Madikwe and after some research, we figured there was no need to look any further.

About Madikwe

Madikwe Game Reserve is a state-owned park but feels more like a private game reserve.  It is the fifth largest in South Africa but lesser known.  It used to be farm land when in 1991 it was declared a park and some 10,000 animals were reintroduced to the area, the largest translocation program in the world.  It’s home to over 66 large mammals and over 300 bird species.

Self-drive safaris are not allowed and drives are conducted by the guides from over 30 different lodges.  All the guides communicate with each other so that each of their visitors get a quality safari experience.  They radio eachother to share knowledge of sightings and also restrict the time each vehicle gets to view a rare animal so that everyone gets a chance.  Off-roading is permitted which is a big advantage since animals don’t just hang out by the roads.  Most of the action we saw was all off-road.

Madikwe Game Reserve is also malaria-free.  Bonus for avoiding that nasty illness from pesky mosquitos.  And we actually never came across any mosquitos or flies.  Sighting the Big 5 is pretty much guaranteed although leopards can be hit or miss.   The park is fenced but that didn’t bother us.  It seemed like it was more to protect the farmers around the park and ensure poachers stay out.


Traveling to Madikwe Game Reserve

Federal Air operates flights from Johannesburg to the Game Reserve air strip.  Aside from that time I crazily jumped out of a plane in Australia, I hadn’t been in a small, single engine plane.  A Cessna Caravan to be exact.  With about 15 seats, you could easily see the pilot’s command centre and watch as you flew through the air toward the clouds.  It was a very anxiety-filled experience for me.   One of the longest hours on the whole trip.  I clung to my seat and consoled myself in the (irrational) thought that we weren’t that high up so there was still a chance of survival if the plane went down.  Although more expensive, it was worth it compared to taking a shuttle taxi to the Game Reserve (about 3.5hr journey).  Funnily enough, I slept the whole way back on the return flight.   Our lodge booked the flights for us and it was all very well organized.

Other Advantages

Visiting Madikwe is actually a good decision any time of the year although the best is May to October when the weather isn’t as hot.  During those drier months, there is less vegetation (thus making it easier to see the wildlife) and water is scarcer (thus animals congregate more around watering holes).   Despite that, I had no complaints going in January and would happily go back again, any time of year!  It was a great time of year since many of the wildlife had recently given birth.  We saw baby wildebeest, baby hyenas, baby zebra, baby wartogs.  They were absolutely adorable.

The park is large enough that we rarely bumped into other game vehicles.  We were never in a situation where there was more than 3 vehicles in the area at the same sighting.  Hence, it was not a problem to snap beautiful photos without people or vehicles in the background.  It felt like an exclusive, private experience.  Although that might also have to do with the game lodge we chose, Makanyane.  More on that in the next post.

There are so many more pictures I’d love to share, so head over to Facebook to view the whole album.

Pin it for later! 

Pinterest Madikwe Game Reserve South Africe

If you were on safari, what animal would you be most excited to see?  Answer in the comments below.

And hey, thanks again for reading!  I’m linking up with #WanderfulWednesday with Lauren of Lauren on Location, Van of Snow in Tromso, Isabel of The Sunny Side of This and Marcella of What a Wonderful World. Go check out other great travel posts to fill you with inspiration.


Untold Morsels

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  • It sounds like y’all really did have the best experience and lucked out without getting too much rain. It still amazes me that y’all got to see all of the Big 5, and I would want to go in January purely to see the baby animals! They’re so cute!

    • It was such a nice surprise. I had no idea there’d be so many babies. And I was sure we’d get rained on. We’ve had some pretty unfortunate trips but I’m so thankful this one worked out perfectly.

  • So glad I found your blog through Wanderlust Wednesday! My boyfriend is South African/American and his family sells African Safaris. The plan is for me to go with him this summer when he goes for work. To be honest, I don’t really know much about Africa but I’m totally going to binge read your blog to get a better idea! My boyfriend tries to give me the 411 but I like reading it from another blogger’s perspective 🙂

    • Lucky! I would love to go back. I usually don’t like repeating vacations, but I would repeat this one. Hope you enjoy!

  • Your pictures are unreal!! I totally get your fear of the plane though. I was afraid of flying before I embarked on a tiny 30 seat plane to Greenland and that flight changed my life. It was the smoothest I’ve ever been on and in the end I even sat by the window and took pictures which I’d never been able to do before!

    • I was thankful for a clear day with just the odd cloud. I shocked myself at how calm I was on the return flight 🙂 thanks!

  • These photos, oh myyyy! They are beyond incredible. This looks like the most unreal and unforgettable experience 🙂

  • Your photos from this trip kill me! They’re unreal! What kind of lens were you using?! It looks like your right up next to the animals. Absolutely amazing!

  • Incredible photos! How great to see the baby animals too – so adorable. It looks like it was an amazing experience. A safari is high on my bucket list and I’ll definitely keep this one in mind. #FarawayFiles

  • Addie Gray

    Wow, your photos look amazing! I’d never heard of Madikwe Game Reserve before but now I’m dying to go! #FarawayFiles

    • It’s totally worth it! I hadn’t heard of it before planning for the trip and I would go back in a heart beat! Thanks for the comment.

  • Untold Morsels

    How exciting Lillian and your photos are incredible. I especially like the giraffes and the way you captured the incredible colour on the bird. Is it a kingfisher? Thanks for sharing on #farawayfiles

  • Great photos! I will keep this in mind as I want to do an African safari one day! #farawayfiles

  • Tracy McConnachie Collins

    I love Madikwe – when I lived over the border in Gaborone in Botswana this (and the Pilanesburg nearby) were our game reserves of choice! Lovely to read about your experiences there. And beautiful photographs! Not sure I would have liked that flight either!!! #farawayfiles

    • Oh how lucky. We had considered doing a day trip to Gaborone but it would have meant missing a game drive, so we opted to do all the game drives and we’re so happy we did! I would have been so sad to miss something like a leopard sighting or a wild dog hunt. Thanks for the comment 🙂

  • Global Giraffe

    We really can’t wait to get over to Africa and do a safari. We would probably do the same as in do a safari and then spend some time in Cape town. It looks like you guys planned for a great spot given the time you had to plan! Great choice. #farawayfiles

    • Yeah we could have easily stayed on safari longer, but it was nice to have both experiences even in just a week. That reminds me I need to share some snaps from Cape Town 😛

  • Clare Thomson

    What a wonderful experience, Lillian. It’s really useful to know about a specific game reserve in such detail and I love your photos, particularly the juxtaposition of the two zebras. January is such a great time of year to travel abroad if you’re living in the UK – it’s always so grey and miserable! Thanks for sharing on #farawayfiles

    • Yes it’s about that time in the winter when you’re itching to get out! thank you for the lovely comments.

  • nattiekaf

    That sounds like such an amazing experience, I went to Addo Elephant park several years ago and loved it!

  • It sounds like you picked a great game reserve, considering the time of year. And those babies were a real plus! Stunning photos too.
    By the way, my husband is from Edinburgh but went to university in Aberdeen. I think he would agree, you want to escape the rain if you are on holiday (which doesn’t always happen with us!)

  • Baby wildebeests? Be still my heart. Beautiful post – I have never heard of this place and appreciate the perspective on the differences. Saving this for pipe-dreaming later! Thanks for sharing with #FarawayFiles, Erin