6 OF THE BEST WATERHOLES
Sometimes you don’t feel like driving in search of elephants, rhinos and lions; you want to sit quietly and wait for the animals to come and quench their thirst. On days like these you should make yourself at home at one of these waterholes.
1 Maloutswa, Mapungubwe National Park, Limpopo The animal life at the Maloutswa waterhole is almost too good to be true. It’s as if Mapungubwe’s own reality show is playing out in front of your very eyes once you’ve positioned yourself in the hide and taken off the binoculars’ lens covers. The elephants are the stars of the show, with hundreds coming to drink here. At times they are so close to the shelter it almost feels as if you can touch them. The supporting cast are various species of impala, warthogs, zebras, blue wildebeest, vervet monkeys, Egyptian geese, brown snake eagles… you name it. You can sit here for hours taking photos or simply just watching. The animals come and go, and there is usually a bit of action. Especially the elephants that come to cool off are a sight – the shiny mud on their ample bodies looks like silver spray paint! If you’re towing, the Mazhou campsite is your only option to park your caravan. But that’s not a bad thing; in fact it’s something to put on your camp list if you haven’t been here. Mazhou is a few minutes’ drive from the Maloutswa waterhole, and the 10 stands here are laid out in a circle around the ablution building. You stand on a clean spot in the bush and you get your own tap, electrical point (standard domestic socket), light and rubbish bin. You also get a portable steel braai that you can move around to where you want it on your stand. Contact 015 534 2014 or 012 428 9111 (SANParks central reservations); firstname.lastname@example.org GPS S22.243305 E29.400607 >
2 Nyamandhlovu Platform, Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe If it’s your dream to set up your tripod and take photos of one of the biggest elephant populations in the world, you have to put Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe on your bucket list. Once here, head for the Nyamandhlovu Platform, which looks out over the Nyamandhlovu Pan. Yes, Zimbabwe has its fair share of problems and controversies, and Hwange is sometimes in the news for all the wrong reasons (poachers poisoned more than 100 elephants here a few years ago, and it was here where an American dentist shot Cecil the lion). Even though more elephants were poisoned in June, on our visit last year it was clear that things were starting to change. The national parks board and the reserve’s personnel are busy and there are signs of life. There are more animals, the road network is getting attention, and several campsites are being revamped. The Nyamandhlovu Pan is a perennial waterhole due to water being pumped there. And on the platform you have the best view over the water. Keep your eyes peeled for more than 100 wildlife species – amongst which are packs of the rare wild dog, sable, cheetahs, and leopards – and 400 bird species. There are more than enough accommodation options, with several campsites, self-catering chalets, as well as cottages. There is also a bar, restaurant, filling station, and a small supermarket. Contact 00 263 4706 077; zimparks.org GPS S18.775500 E26.888987
3 Mankwe Dam, Pilanesberg National Park, North West The Pilanesberg National Park is close enough that Gautengers can grab a food basket, coffee flask and binoculars and shoot through for the day. The officials at the entrance gates sell booklets with information about the reserve, routes you can drive, and a list of the animals you can expect to see. Get one and keep it close because it won’t be long before you’ll start ticking off the animal names. If you’re hungry for wildlife, immediately start looking for the Mankwe Dam on your map. It’s the largest body of water in the reserve, almost in the middle of the park, and a magnet for human and animal. Turn off near the dam on the Hippo Loop road, which will bring you to the water. In contrast to the well-kept road that leads you here, this path is littered with potholes – so check where you’re driving. On the opposite side of the dam a neat, enclosed wooden deck path takes you from the shores of the dam to some trees in the water. It’s a favourite spot for bird watchers who gather here with cameras and long lenses. To compare the reserve to a zoo is not that far-fetched. The crested francolins (bospatrys) in the parking lot are so tame they come up real close, almost as if to get better acquainted with you. If you want to stay for longer than a day you can book into one of the self-catering units in the nearby Manyane or Bakgatla resorts, or you can camp. Contact 014 555 1000/1; email@example.com; goldenleopardresorts.co.za GPS S25.254479 E27.219679 >
4 Hapoor Dam, Addo Elephant National Park, Eastern Cape The main reason to come here is to see the biggest land mammal in all its glory. Mark the Hapoor Dam on your map, because it’s where the big feet gather. You drive a kilometre past the campsite’s reception office through the wildlife area’s gate, and the dam is about 11 km further. For more than 20 years, Hapoor was the “chief” of Addo’s elephants, but the younger bulls eventually kicked him out and he fled the camp. (He got the nick in his ear in a shooting in his younger days, and after he left the camp he had to be put to sleep.) It often looks like an elephant reunion or regional get-together – you can easily see 20 at a time. No photo can capture the feeling when you see one in the flesh, but here at the dam you experience it when a five-ton elephant bull walks right past your open car window. Hitch your caravan and come and experience it. At Addo’s campsite you can choose from one of 12 small tent stands with little shade or 21 spacious caravan spots with ample shade. And if you don’t feel like driving all the way to Hapoor, you can drive to the Nyati waterhole next to the campsite. Here you’ll see more than enough elephants. Contact 042 233 8600; firstname.lastname@example.org; addoelephant.com GPS S33.443921 E25.74569
5 Sable bird hide, Kruger National Park, Limpopo The Sable bird hide is about 10 km from the Kruger’s Phalaborwa gate, and this is where you come in search of unequalled wildlife and overnight experiences. By day this large hide isn’t much different from any other in the game reserve – apart from all the bird watchers with their binoculars who come here looking for species like the African openbill, black-headed heron, African jacana, spoonbill, reed cormorant, and the African darter. In the evening you can transform the hide into your own overnight spot. Hang out and sleep here while the hippos grunt in the Sable Dam and the lions and elephants come to drink. Keep your eyes peeled for hyenas and wild dogs. It’s almost impossible to sleep closer to nature in the Kruger. Your bed – one of nine – stands upright against the back wall of the hide during the day, but tonight, half an hour before the gate closes, you can fold out your bed and get it ready. Just remember, tomorrow morning you have to start folding up the beds 30 minutes after the gate opens. You don’t want strangers in search of a moorhen barging in on you. Behind the hide is a spot to braai your meat, but you have to bring your own firewood. With regards to the ablution facilities, there’s a toilet but not a shower. But you can wash you face in the basin. You organise your accommodation at the Phalaborwa gate, and you get bedding, mosquito nets, plates, mugs, cutlery, etc. when you book in. It costs R670 p.n for two people and R30 p.p.p.n thereafter. Contact 013 735 3547/8; sanparks.org GPS S23.939401 E31.239382 >
Those in the know say this waterhole is one of the best places in Africa to see this endangered species up close.
6 Okaukuejo, Etosha National Park, Namibia The Okaukuejo Rest Camp lies 17 km from the Anderson gate. Here you can sit next to one of the most popular waterholes on our part of the continent – in the winter or autumn months it’s safe to say it’s teeming with wildlife. Lions, elephants, rhinos, giraffes, zebras, springbok, eland, jackals, and even a brave honey badger come here to drink right in front of you. At night the waterhole is lit with floodlights, and then it’s a good time to bring your lens to see if you can’t snag a pic of a black rhino. Those in the know say this waterhole is one of the best places in Africa to see this endangered species up close. Next to the waterhole is a big notice board with the words “When there’s ‘nothing’ to see”, with a list of birds and insects found in the area. You’re slightly stunned that there are times when bigger animals don’t make an appearance at the water… until you start chatting to someone who was here in the rainy season. Then there’s enough water in the veld and the animals avoid the waterhole. So ensure your timing is right. There are chalets and rooms around the waterhole and right behind it is a Namibia Wildlife Resorts campsite. Contact 00 264 67 229 800; nwr.com.na; reservations@ nwr.com.na GPS S22.243305 E29.400607