Thanks to its scrawny and desolate dryness, North West Province’s Central Region feels especially remote, and there are not all that many towns worth visiting. Mmabatho, once the capital of Bophuthatswana and now incorporated into neighbouring Mafikeng, the provincial capital, forces reluctant bureaucratic pilgrimages on people from all over the province. The region’s appeal lies elsewhere, in the brooding plains and lush river valleys of Marico and the rarely visited game reserves, including Madikwe on the Botswana border. And then there are the people themselves: local Tswana and Afrikaners are both short on English but long on hospitality, at least to visitors, a trait best experienced at the village of Groot Marico, famed nationwide for its mampoer peach brandy and quintessentially laidback spirit.
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- Groot Marico
Madikwe Game Reserve
Madikwe Game Reserve
Tucked up in the very north of the province near the Botswana border lies the 765-square-kilometre MADIKWE GAME RESERVE, one of South Africa’s largest wildlife areas. The reserve was established in 1991 from reclaimed farmland, and thanks to Operation Phoenix, which saw the reintroduction of over eight thousand animals, Madikwe’s largely low-lying plains of woodland and grassland are now amply stocked with the Big Five, plus dozens of other mammals, including cheetah, wild dogs, spotted hyena and most of Southern Africa’s plains antelopes. Twitchers won’t be disappointed, with some 350 bird species recorded so far; the Marico River, on the eastern border, and the koppies scattered all around, are particularly rewarding birding areas.
Long promoted as South Africa’s “bijou reserve”, the low tourist density so liberally vaunted in the brochures no longer quite rings true given that around twenty lodges vie for your trade, although Madikwe does remain one of the least known of South Africa’s large wildlife areas. Access is reserved to guests of its lodges and day visitors, who must book a package through one of the lodges that includes a game drive and lunch; independent day visits are not allowed.