The Kalahari, Madikwe and Waterberg regions of South Africa's interior offer a range of landscapes, like this desert.

Best Kalahari, Madikwe & Waterberg Safaris

The northern interior of the country is the very definition of ‘off the beaten track’, and is one of South Africa’s best safari destinations. With its ample open spaces and dry terrain, it’s sometimes passed over for wilderness areas with more obvious attractions. However, the Kalahari, Madikwe and Waterberg really do merit a closer look…

At first glance, the Kalahari may seem like a lifeless desert, but nothing could be further from the truth. The wide rolling plains are ideal habitat for animals you’ll be familiar with, but a Kalahari Desert game drive can also result in sightings of arid region specials, such as the magnificent oryx and the sociable meerkat, whose antics are almost impossibly endearing.

The Kalahari is also famed for its unimpeded star viewing. The almost complete absence of light pollution means that many more satellites and shooting stars can be seen – it’s astonishing as a city dweller to realise just how many stars there are in the galaxy. It certainly puts our human scale of things into perspective. A night on an open deck is a great way to ponder this.

Madikwe Game Reserve, sandwiched between Botswana to the north and the Dwarsberg Mountains to the south, is one of the best conservation areas in Africa. Within its open grasslands, woodlands, rocky outcrops and single mountains, you’ll not only find the Big Five, but it’s one of the few places left that you can see the endangered wild dog.

While the pristine Waterberg mountainous massif has its fair share of wildlife, including beauties like serval, pangolin, honey badger, caracal and otter, it’s also celebrated for its geology, plus its archaeological and evolutionary finds. Its sandstone outcrops, river gorges and dry forests are best explored on foot, and indeed there are many trails to choose from for a walking safari.

When to Go

Cooler, drier months herald the onset of winter. As it progresses, the vegetation starts to recede, making spotting wildlife that much easier. Later in winter, water for wildlife is at a premium and game drives to waterholes become even more rewarding. Temperatures can catch visitors unawares – especially on early morning game drives. It’s certainly worth heeding the advice to wear layers and you may even be glad of a hat, scarf and gloves. During the day, expect temperatures of around 25°C – which is pretty much ideal!

This is a time of rain, which brings lots of greenery, as well as migratory birds and new antelope fawns. This is not the grey drizzle you may have left behind, though. Rather, we’re talking dramatic afternoon thunderstorms that end as soon as they begin. Summer here means hot days, with temperatures cooler at night and in the mornings, while as we move into autumn, both the heat and the storms begin to dissipate.

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