Just 3.5 hours’ drive from Johannesburg, the landscapes of the Waterberg massif in Limpopo are the perfect setting for a walking safari. In one of South Africa’s best safari experiences, rangers lead small groups of guests down into sandstone gorges, along rivers in the shadow of towering cliffs and into the heart of Big Five country.
We’d come on this particular South African safari – walking in the Waterberg – not to be spoiled and pampered, but to have the luxury of solitude in the wilderness. From the moment we arrived at the solar-powered Marataba Mountain Lodge, with its spectacular views down into the Waterfall Valley below, we both instinctively felt that we had gained far more than we had given up.
As the sun sank behind the mountains on our first evening, plunging the valley into darkness, head guide Johan joined us at the campfire to discuss the options for our private walking safari the following morning. He recommended a longer walk down into one of the sandstone gorges, and then along the river in search of game.
We slept wonderfully well – no beeps or LED lights to disturb us – and awoke refreshed and raring to go. Our senses were alert to everything around us, from fresh coffee aromas to the daylight leaking into the hollows under the cliffs.
With Johan leading the way, we descended a steep, rocky gorge, keeping an eye out for klipspringer, eagle, and places where a toe might easily be stubbed! Although we’d both been on many game drives in Africa, we hadn’t often had the opportunity to walk in pristine bush areas with such abundant wildlife.
Our inboxes were forgotten as we reached the floor of the gorge, and crossed the fast-flowing stream using a series of perfectly positioned, natural stepping stones. Johan pointed out to us the tracks of impala and kudu in the mud.
We picked our way alongside the stream for some way, leaping over boulders and casting awe-struck glances up at the cliff faces. The sandstone glowed in an array of warm colours as the sun’s rays lit it up.
After an hour or so, we stopped for a snack under an overhang. I found a porcupine quill and jauntily stuck it in the band of my hat, and my partner took the opportunity to freshen up in the clear, cold stream. Our South African walking safari was breathing new life into both of us – the combination of healthy food, exercise, and astonishing natural beauty was incredibly revitalising.
We returned to the lodge by a different route, leaving the stream bed to stop by a large waterhole where hippo were visible only because their nostrils, ears and eyes broke the surface.
The climb back up to the lodge was a little more challenging, and we returned a little weary, but energised by our experiences. A sumptuous breakfast and complimentary foot massage were just what we needed – we also managed to fit in an afternoon nap and light lunch before heading out again for a shorter afternoon walk.
Johan had something special to show us – San rock paintings just a short distance from the lodge. As we were admiring them, the still-vivid colours seemed to come alive before our eyes. Turning around, we realised the effect was caused by the setting sun, signalling to us that it was time to retrace our steps and enjoy another evening at the lodge.