Madikwe Game Reserve pretty much has the full A-to-Z of animals to spy, thanks to one of Africa’s largest rewilding projects. It’s best experienced at one of Madikwe Safari Lodge’s three dwellings: family-friendly Lelapa, or the honeymoon-ready Kopano and Dithaba. You’ll head out on game drives and bushwalks with passionate guides and leave with a head full of new animal facts. And, you’ll likely see the cast of The Lion King strut and lollop past while soaking in your sun-deck or perched by the pool. Little wild ones will be well looked after, too, playing bug CSI and such in the kids’ club, toasting marshmallows in a boma and getting a tot-tailored bunk-bed turndown.
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A romantic turndown and private dining experience with butler service
20 in total: 12 in Lelapa (including four dedicated Family Suites), four in Kopano and four in Dithaba. Kopano and Dithaba can also be booked for exclusive use.
11am, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 2pm. Please note, the reserve gates open at 6am and close at 9pm, and guests cannot enter outside of these times.
Double rooms from £857.24 (ZAR18,530), including tax at 15 per cent.
Rates include all meals, soft drinks and select alcoholic drinks, two guided daily game drives (including refreshments and snacks), return transfers to Eastern Madikwe airstrip, bushwalks, wildlife lectures, stargazing and kids’ club activities.
Get acquainted with local culture in the More gallery and boutique, which sells high-end, African-produced clothing, homewares, art and mementos. Guests are expected to give a little back and a contribution to conservation will be added to your room rate (ZAR165 a day for adults, ZAR a day for children, although guests should note these fees may change without prior notice).
At the hotel
Gallery and boutique, boma, kids’ club, Eco House clubroom, lounges with satellite TV (in Lelapa and Dithaba), stargazing deck, laundry, free WiFi throughout. In rooms: plunge pool, sun-deck, fireplace, outdoor shower, free minibar, air-conditioning, mosquito nets, ceiling fans. Family Suites also have a children’s bedroom with bunk-beds, toys, games, books and mini bathrobes and slippers.
Our favourite rooms
Each lodge has a burnished, out-in-the-bush look, where thatched roofs and adobe walls are glamourised with chandeliers and chic furnishings. All suites have a private plunge pool and alfresco shower, and dream-come-true views for miles around, so your decision depends on whether you’re on a family holiday or a romantic retreat. The Lelapa lodge’s Family Suites will suit the former, with bunk-beds (for kids aged up to 16), toys and to-scale robes and slippers (plus hot chocolate at bedtime); the latter can enjoy the serenity at Kopano or Dithaba lodges.
The main pool at Lelapa overlooks a watering hole, so you can watch nature in action without leaving your sunlounger. Kopano and Dithaba don’t have communal pools, but all of the hotel’s suites have a hidden-from-prying-eyes (aside from peeping pachyderms, that is) plunge pool.
Here they bring the spa to you: summon a therapist to your suite or deck for a customised Africology massage or facial. Or welcome the day with warrior poses and sun salutations at a yoga session on the deck – you can pick up a mat to use at reception.
Don’t let fashion frighten off the animals – pack neutral hues to blend in on safaris. Sturdy walking shoes, wraps for chilly nights, swimwear, sun protection and any camera kit will come in handy too. Field guides have binoculars, but bring your own if you don’t want to wait your turn. And, be sure to leave a little room in your suitcase: the lodge works with Pack for a Purpose, so bring a stash of much needed supplies for the Obakeng Crèche and the Motshabaesi Primary School, both of whom the hotel supports. (Check www.packforapurpose.org for what’s needed.)
The left-to-run-wild surroundings aren’t the easiest to navigate for guests with mobility issues, so some assistance may be required, but Lelapa and Kopano lodges have sizeable rooms and walkways.
All ages are very welcome in Lelapa Lodge; Kopano and Dithaba are for over-16s only unless booked exclusively. Children aged five and under stay free, and six-to-12 year-olds stay at 50 per cent of the adult rate.
All ages are welcome here, but juniors and tweens will get the most out of the experience, as children must be aged six or older to go on game drives.
The Family Suites are adorably dressed for little Smiths (we call top bunk), and come with plenty of thoughtful extras. A baby cot can be added to all rooms for free. If two under-16s are staying in a room, the first will be charged the adult rate.
Pastimes in the Mack & Madi Kids’ Adventure Safari Club and the Eco House aim to gently educate through unique activities, such as bug CSI, encounters with Debbie the resident bearded dragon, identifying animal skulls, stargazing sessions, spoor casting, arts and crafts – and they’ll pick up an encyclopeadia’s worth of animal facts along the way. Plus, they’ll toast marshmallows and bake cookies, dress up for plays, paint rocks and play pool games. Meals are provided too, and there are plenty of toys and books.
Lelapa Lodge is the only one with a communal pool. There are no lifeguards, so you’ll need to keep an eye on non-confident swim-babies, but all ages will be wowed by the pool’s animal-spotting potential – it overlooks a bustling watering hole.
Menus change daily, but you can be sure there’ll be something to feed even the fussiest of eaters, plus a few healthy options. It’s the place to relax strict stances on treats: kids will be spoilt throughout their stay with snacks, sweets, ice lollies, milkshakes and hot chocolate at bedtime. To make mealtimes easier, you’ll find highchairs, cutlery and bibs to hand, and the kitchen will happily adapt meals.
Available at Lelapa and Dithaba lodges for around ZAR100 an hour, a child, for up to two kids (plus there’s an extra charge for a third child).
No need to pack
The lodge is fairly well equipped when it comes to kids – they’re unlikely to get bored – but pack essential suncare and snugglier clothes for chilly nights.
Madikwe Game Reserve is the result of Operation Phoenix, where more than 8,000 animals were reintroduced to the bush (including a whole herd of elephants, a first in rewilding efforts). There’s a successful African-wild-dog breeding programme and rhino-conservation efforts that guests can take part in.
Dine on the boma for excited post-safari chatter; in the bush or on your deck for date nights and quality-time family meals.
Dusty safari khakis or pressed and polished eveningwear: the choice is yours.
Eating is as varied as you like – there’s no set dining space, so you can have a table set up in the bush, the lodge’s gardens, on the boma or your private deck. Can’t decide? Let the staff surprise you. The menu is enigmatic too, as it changes daily, and often there’ll be a special dining experience (say, a meaty traditional braai); all dietary requirements are carefully considered, and there are fresh veggies aplenty, but the bold of appetite can tuck into zebra steak and other African delicacies. After an early start, breakfast is reassuringly hearty with Amarula coffee and pastries, pancake buffets with pick-and-mix toppings and locally influenced fare. Exclusive-use bush breakfasts and dinners can be arranged at an extra charge.
There are three small bar areas throughout the lodges, but Madikwe’s laid-back air means you can pretty much enjoy your glass of South African wine or gin, craft beer or creative cocktail wherever you fancy. Some drinks are included in your room rate, but premium beers, spirits, wines and champagnes will cost you a little more.
There are two sittings for breakfast or brunch (from 8.30am to 9am and 10.30am to 11am), but times change depending on the season; lunch is served from 1pm; afternoon tea from 3pm or 4pm and dinner from 7pm or 7.30pm.
Choose from the day’s menu (including kids’ options) to be served on your deck during dining hours.
Madikwe Safari Lodge has three separate hideaways set in scenic spots throughout the Madikwe Game Reserve in South Africa’s North West province, by Botswana’s border.
Fly into Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport and hop onto Madikwe Game Reserve’s air-taxi service (in partnership with Angel Gabriel Aeronautics); a free shuttle will take you to Lanseria Airport for the flight to the Eastern Madikwe airstrip, a 10-minute drive from Lelapa lodge (15 minutes from Kopano and Dithaba lodges). Alternatively, Federal Air operates one flight a day to the Eastern Madikwe airstrip from OR Tambo airport. The hotel can also provide transfers from Johannesburg in an air-conditioned car, with an airport meet-and-greet, for ZAR7,020 one way, for one to three people. If you’re making a pit-stop at sister lodge Marataba, consider a combined flight from Johannesburg to the two parks (around ZAR12,350 a person). Guests will also need to pay landing fees if they're flying into Madikwe: ZAR240 a stay for an adult, ZAR150 a stay for a child (fees are subject to change).
The lodge is around a four-to-five-hour drive from Johannesburg. You have a choice of two routes to follow from OR Tambo: via Abjaterskop along a gravel road, or the more scenic route via Molatedi Gate Road. Neither require a four-wheel drive, and there’s free valet parking on-site. It’s best not to rely on your GPS, as coordinates can be unreliable in the wild and some routes require a sturdier vehicle. If you’re combining your trip with a safari at Botswana’s Gaborone Game Reserve, it’s just a two-hour drive from Madikwe.
The lodge has its own helipad if you want to chopper in.
Worth getting out of bed for
You’ll spend most of your time peering through binoculars or humming the Circle of Life as you tick off animal sightings. Days are planned around game drives (or bushwalks), with one leaving at 5.30am before brunch (coffee and snacks are served beforehand and during), and a second at 4.30pm before dinner. You'll need to pay the reserve's entrance fee: ZAR180 a stay for an adult, ZAR150 a stay for a child (fees are subject to change). Only three vehicles are allowed in the reserve at a time, and there’s just six people on each safari (fewer if you book a private drive), so you’re more likely to get up close and personal, and capture uncrowded shots. Madikwe is teeming with life, from megafauna (elephants, giraffes, rhinoceroses, hippopotami…) to big cats (lions, cheetahs, leopards…), all manner of antelope, rarely seen critters (aardwolves, African wild dogs, porcupines…) and more than 350 types of bird (twitchers, book between October to April for the finest feathered sightings). Kids must be six years of age or older to join in, but private drives are open to all ages. The accredited field guides are very well-informed and quite clearly love what they do; they also hold engaging wildlife talks. And, you needn’t hunt down your dinner – each day there’ll be a surprise stop for lavish brunches, sundowner cocktails, picnic lunches and more, somewhere scenic in the savannah. For an extra fee you can visit a local village, too.
Those who want to be more hands on can get involved in a rhino-conservation experience, where they’ll be choppered out to help a vet tag and track one of these majestic beasts. And, on a smaller scale, kids’ edutainment in the Eco House and the Mack & Madi Kids’ Adventure Safari Club lets little ones identify bugs, meet Debbie the bearded dragon, spot stars and cast spoors, as well as put on dress-up plays, partake in scavenger hunts, bake cookies, watch alfresco movies while snacking on burgers and more diversions. In your downtime, plunge into your private pool, or watch the watering hole from Lelapa’s communal swimming spot, indulge in some in-suite spa spoiling with Africology products, take cocktails on the boma or clock constellations from your deck. Each lodge’s lounge is cosy-as-they-come, too; take afternoon tea (free each day) in one, while keeping your eyes on the horizon.
All your meals (including afternoon tea), most drinks and gourmet snacks are included, so leave the scavenging to the animals.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this zoologically blessed safari lodge in Madikwe Game Reserve and unpacked their binoculars and local handicrafts, a full account of their Big Five-spotting break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Madikwe Safari Lodge in South Africa…
Over the wooded hills and savannah of Madikwe Game Reserve, through the bush and into the tamboti trees, you’ll find Madikwe Safari Lodge’s three hideaways (family-friendly Lelapa, and more intimate, grown-up dwellings Kopano and Dithaba), each built to sit discreetly in their untamed surrounds, so as not to disturb the exotic creatures prowling by. After rewilding efforts on an enormous scale, when more than 8,000 animals were rehomed here, the place is a David Attenborough doc in motion. There are no migratory species, so animal sightings vary by season, but on the daily game drives or bushwalks there are high chances of seeing the headline-act Big Five and a supporting cast including the rare aardwolf, elusive cheetah, protected black and white rhinos, shy pangolins – the whole taxonomy. The reserve is wholly malaria-free, but the skilled field guides’ enthusiasm is highly infectious.
And, when you’re not taking a walk on the wild side, you’ll be relaxing in your private plunge pool, nursing a fynbos gin and tonic or dining round the boma’s fire-pit. If you’ve travelled with your pride, your little cubs will kindle their natural curiosity playing bug CSI, casting spoors, going on scavenger hunts and clocking constellations in stargazing sessions. The lodge is part of the More Family Collection (behind sister Smith properties Lion Sands Game Reserve and Marataba), who are aptly named for generously surprising their guests. Throughout your stay there’ll be impromptu brunch and cocktail stops on safari, pint-size extras for kids, enlightening lectures on the locale and more. But even those can’t compare to the bombshells nature has in store: seeing elephants wander by as you laze on your deck, watching a dazzle of zebras drink from the watering hole as you swim in the pool, or helping conserve endangered rhinos.