Caroline Hurry
Caroline Hurry

An off-the-beaten-track safari awaits visitors to Tau Game Lodge in North West’s most miraculous reserve

A former cattle region comprising farmers playing hardscrabble in overgrazed terrain, Operation Phoenix transformed Madikwe into South Africa’s fifth-largest game reserve with the relocation of 8000 animals in the 1990s.

Today 75 000ha of grassy plains, rocky outcrops, and mountains support a density of predator species and kaleidoscopic birdlife. Furthest northwest of Madikwe’s 31 establishments, Tau Game Lodge offers a remote sense of kinship with the wilderness. A four-hour drive from Joburg, you turn right after Zeerust onto the R49. Ignore your GPS. Stick to the tarred road.

Tau Game lodge chalets as seen from across the waterhole. Picture: Peter Berg-Munch

With the jowl-jiggling contours of a 33km dirt road ‒a shortcut the GPS advised  ‒ etched like a sonograph across my frontal lobe, we located the Tau gate a few hundred meters from the SA/Botswana border post of Tlokweng with some relief.

After a welcome lemonade, we ambled via lush lawns to our stone and thatch chalet as a baboon scampered off the pathway and a little squirrel peeped out at us from a fork in a tree.

Our accommodation had an indoor bath, outdoor shower, toiletries in glass containers, soaps shaped like lion cub paws, and a ceiling fan. Glass sliding doors afforded tantalising glimpses of the waterhole and koppie.

A male southern Tree Agama lizard, outside our chalet at Tau Game Lodge. Picture: Peter Berg-Munch

Whatever you see on game drives is always down to serendipity. On our first afternoon with ranger Ernest (Ernie) Maetla, we got impala, wildebeest, zebra, a clan of hyenas, and a puncture.

After a quick wheel change under the watchful eye of a rhino, we were off again.

Ernie, who exuded Buddha-like calm, reads tracks like a master. Peering at the ground and following guinea fowl alarm calls, he drove further into the thicket where we encountered a cheetah, belly replete after a recent kill. Eyeing us over her shoulder, she strolled off with all the nonchalance of a catwalk model.

With a seductive farewell glance, this cheetah sashays off. Picture: Peter Berg-Munch

That evening we enjoyed a buffet in the boma under a gibbous yellow moon before tottering off to bed. The basso profondo cough of a lion woke me, just in time for the morning drive with Ernie.

Lions relaxing in the Madikwe Reserve. Picture: Caroline Hurry

We found the lions and a white rhino rhino with his mum. Concession fees support anti-poaching measures with the lodges and North West Parks Board.

Even cuter than the rhino baby were four hyena cubs frolicking in a den. I could have watched them all morning.

A baby hyena cub emerges from its den. Picture: Peter Berg-Munch

We saw elephants on every drive including one shoveling acacia branches into his mouth like crisps and a few youngsters. There are now 1400 elephants in Madikwe.

They comprise 43% of the herbivore biomass in the Reserve ‒higher than any other protected area in South Africa. While their ecological impact is causing concern, there are no plans for pachyderm contraception. Instead, the breeding capabilities of the lions have been curtailed to protect certain antelope species.

Between game drives I survey the surrounds from our deck with binoculars, spotting a large crocodile on the banks, waterbuck, baboon, and my husband in his underpants.

Massages from the Spa Oasis, and afternoons at the pool watching spur-winged geese, moorhens, and weavers building their nests above the waterhole, soothe all residual city stress.

Dinner inside the tented restaurant ‒  Obakeng Kgoleng’s springbok carpaccio, roasted duck, and a cheese platter ‒ is worthy of a five-star boutique hotel.

Giant eagle owl at Tau Game Lodge in Madikwe. Picture: Peter Berg-Munch
Giant eagle owl at Tau Game Lodge in Madikwe. Picture: Peter Berg-Munch

Madikwe brings many unforgettable moments, whether it’s a giant eagle owl taking flight or wildebeest pronking alongside us. This really is a place to sit, stare, and wonder.

  • Log in to Tau Game Lodge’s webcam to observe the passing parade at the waterhole.