A weekend escape from Johannesburg: Mabalingwe reserve

A weekend escape from Johannesburg: Mabalingwe reserve

A weekend escape from Johannesburg: Mabalingwe reserve

We like to escape the city at weekends as much as possible and experience the South African countryside. However, it had got to Thursday and we still hadn’t decided about what we were planning to do.

Cue Mabalingwe Nature Reserve.

It is located in the Waterberg region, which is about two hours from Johannesburg in the Limpopo province. It is known for its rugged bush, beautiful scenery and abundant wildlife and is also recognised by UNESCO as a biosphere reserve.


A family portrait



Mabalingwe was previously a maize and game farm before it became a reserve in 1972. The name derives from Tswana (mabala a nkwe), which means “spots of the leopard”. It is home to the “big four”, with lions kept in a separate enclosure where tours can be arranged.

We made a last-minute booking with Itaga Luxury Private Game Lodge for one night away. It is a little gem in the Greater Mabalingwe Nature Reserve overlooked by the Waterberg mountain range.

Our bedroom for the night


And relax…

Arriving in the afternoon we were offered a refreshing welcome drink of iced tea and sat on the decking looking out onto the waterhole. A number of nyala stopped by for a drink, with the bull busy keeping his females in check. We were also treated to several impala, warthog and a band of baboons all jostling for position at the bank. A number of noisy hornbills scouted for food in the gardens and a squirrel was seen going about its daily business. It was a very relaxing way to spend an afternoon.


The lodge has only eight guest rooms, maintaining its peaceful vibe. One of the most novel aspects of the rooms are their “bush showers”. There is a door at the back of the bathroom taking you outside, so you can enjoy a (private) outdoor shower experience. Don’t worry, you also have the privilege of an indoor shower should the weather not be appropriate.

Follow me…

The game drive was very relaxed and focused less on trying to see as many animals as possible and more on enjoying and learning about the environment.

We spotted a group of warthogs crossing the road. One of the most distinctive features of a warthog is how they hold their tails in the air when they run. Our guide explained that it is a “follow me” sign. The tail in the air acts as a visual marker for fellow warthogs to follow, especially in long grass or dense vegetation. This helps keep groups together and also rather cleverly (or selfishly) tries ensures there is at least another warthog between the leader and the predator.

A lot of animals have “follow me” markings, such as kudu and waterbuck. They have white markings around their tails. Then there are giraffe, who have white fur on the backs of their ears. Predators also have these markings. Leopards for example have a white tuft at the end of their tails for cubs to focus on and follow.

Check out the facial hair on this character!

We also learnt a lot about dens for nocturnal animals. Not something I’ve really thought about, but you can tell which animal may live in the den by how the hole has been excavated. Two of the most prolific diggers are aardvarks and honey badgers. Aardvarks tend to push the soil over their shoulders, whereas a honey badger digs more like a frantic dog throwing the soil and dirt in all directions.

Who lives in here?


How wild is “the wild”?

Along the way, one of the other passengers asked.

“Why can’t humans leave animals alone and not interfere?”

Our guide responded;

“Once you interfere and put a fence around animals, then you have a responsibility to those animals and the environment they live in.”

It is an interesting and complex question.  I’d always thought of South Africa, or even Africa in general as being very wild, with lots of open land and space. However, with regard to South Africa at least much of the land is fenced. Although farms, parks and reserves are vast in size and some of these could even be likened to a small country, the underlying fact is animals are enclosed. It made me think a little bit more about what it means to be “wild” in the modern day and the responsibility of humans towards wildlife.

On that note, we stopped at a scenic spot for a sundowner. With a drink of our choice, we watched a stunning South African sunset before making our way back to the comfort of the lodge. 

What a fabulous sunset


Back at Itaga

On our return we were offered hot flannels, showing that it is the little extras and attention to detail that really make the difference. We then savoured a gin and tonic on the beautiful lantern lit decking overlooking the lodges stunning waterhole.

Gin & tonic? Yes please.


Our day concluded with a three-course dinner, that surpassed even our now very high expectations. Tomato soup followed by fillet of beef and apple strudel to finish.

Need to know

  • Mabalingwe Reserve is approximately a 2 hour drive away from Johannesburg.
  • Itaga Luxury Private Game Lodge can be booked direct or through a third party. Included in the price was afternoon tea, one game drive, a three-course meal and breakfast.
  • Itaga can assist with booking additional activities.
  • Alternatively, Mabalingwe offers a few bush camp options on their website here.

Original article posted at AcaciaDiaries: http://acaciadiaries.com/2018/08/30/weekend-escape-from-johannesburg-mabalingwe-reserve/

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