I was lucky enough to spend three amazing days at Marataba Mountain Lodge, which has just been rated as one of the top 5 Trails Lodges in Africa by Captured in Africa Exclusive Safaris. Not only did it make it into the Top 5, but it was also the only lodge in South Africa to do so!
My three days were spent with head guide, Jono Harper, along with four other guests.
On our first day we took a leisurely 2 hour afternoon walk, and encountered an abundance of game along with two separate sightings of bull elephants feeding in the area. We also enjoyed another couple of sightings of two white rhino’s wallowing in some of the mud pools along the river, and a breeding herd of around 40 elephants while making our way to the vehicle in the late afternoon on our way back to the lodge.
Arriving back ‘home’ is an experience on its own, and we were greeted with a welcoming drink before being taken to the fire pit to enjoy the spectacular sunset, and talk about the day’s experiences before going to freshen up for dinner.
Our second day was split into a slightly longer walk in the morning (while it is still cool), and another two hour leisurely walk in the afternoon before sunset. The morning walk took us up Bushman’s Gorge. In the first half an hour we had already walked into more bull elephants feeding, a small breeding herd of elephants walking along the ridge of one of the mountains and a buffalo bull lazing about in the gorge under the shade of a tree. The attraction of Bushman’s Gorge is the Bushman paintings that are found in one of the overhangs in the gorge, which tells the story of what life was like and what animals were around thousands of years ago.
Day three, and the action didn’t stop. While enjoying the views from one of the ridges of the mountains, we were lucky enough to experience a variety of different sights. Apart from the abundance of elephant and rhino in the area, we also managed to view lion stalking wildebeest and followed tracks of the rarer and harder-to-find animal species also found in the area. The flora in the area is really special, as it is widely different to any of the other spaces on the reserve.
Our last afternoon walk will go down as one of my most memorable ever! We managed to follow a game path which took us up the face of a mountain and followed it along the ridge line. The views from up there are really breathtaking, and watching the setting sun as it casts its last rays for the day over the bushveld is something I won’t quickly forget. We saw rhino, elephant and a host of other game from our elevated view point. On making our way down the ridge and into the valley below where we crossed a river, we came across a lone buffalo bull walking through some long grass towards us.
With only a small elephant herd as our road block, and with light fading fast we needed to make our way back to the lodge as quickly as possible as we still had another twenty minute walk to do. On rounding a corner and walking up through a drainage line, we came across ambient lanterns leading the way to chairs set out around a fire, a drinks table and a snacks table all perfectly positioned in the middle of the bush. Guests were simply overwhelmed by it all, and the setting couldn’t possibly have got any better! Sitting around the fire under the stars, listening to the sounds of the night and telling stories of our last few days’ experiences was really special – something that I think we will all cherish for a very long time.
Marataba Mountain Lodge isn’t only about seeing the big things, it’s about the smaller things too. It is a place where guests come to unwind and enjoy nature from a totally different perspective. And that is exactly what they do….
Images and words by Field Guide Shaun Jenkinson