Rising out of the plains to the west of the Great North Road, the Waterberg was until recently one of the least known of South Africa’s significant massifs. During the past decade, however, it has been “discovered” by Johannesburgers, and is now a hugely popular weekend destination. Once an area of lakes and swamps – hence its name – the elevated plateau can often seem as dry as its surrounding northern bushveld, yet it harbours a diversity of vegetation and topography that for years supported extensive farming and cattle-ranching. In recent times, the majority of the old ranches have been converted into private reserves catering either for the hugely lucrative hunting market, or less profitable game viewing, with white rhino often the star attraction, along with giraffe, large antelope and leopard. Today the entire area, some 14,500 square kilometres of both private and publicly owned land, is encompassed by one of the country’s foremost conservation projects – the Waterberg Savanna Biosphere Reserve (waterbergbiosphere.org), designated a biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 2001. It was founded by a close-knit association of landowners who wished to combine wildlife conservation with the benefits of tourism. They have set up an extensive management plan for the area, developing various remarkable tourism initiatives, such as the useful GPS sign boarding that now helps navigation in the tricky area.

As a game-viewing destination, the Waterberg makes a decent alternative to the lowveld areas around Kruger National Park, with the important advantage that malaria isn’t present. It has impressive credentials as a vast area of true wilderness, and it is certainly still a lot less commercialized than Kruger. Vaalwater – the only settlement of any size – is located at the heart of the biosphere reserve. West of Vaalwater, and also included within the biosphere reserve, are two large game reserves that are home to the Big Five: Marakele National Park and the privately owned Welgevonden reserve. North of Vaalwater is the highly regarded Lapalala Wilderness Area, where the biosphere reserve was originally instigated.

The only reserve you can visit for a game-viewing day-trip under your own steam is Marakele National Park; Lapalala Wilderness Area can be visited with a guide from Waterberg Cottages. Otherwise, to gain access to the reserves, large or small, you’ll almost always be expected to book into accommodation on the reserve itself; as most accommodation in the Waterberg is on reserves, this is generally hard to avoid.

Book through Rough Guides’ trusted travel partners

South Africa features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

A first-timer's guide to Kruger National Park

A first-timer's guide to Kruger National Park

Kruger, South Africa's first national park, has been part of the national psyche for as long as anyone can remember. The name alone conjures images of crackling…

12 Jul 2018 • Georgia Stephens insert_drive_file Article
Podcast: meet the South African women battling against poaching

Podcast: meet the South African women battling against poaching

A safari without rhinos? That’s the sad future we may be facing. Right now South Africa is home to eighty percent of the world’s rhinos, but poaching is red…

18 Jun 2018 • Rough Guides Editors volume_up Podcast
Exploring Johannesburg: the graffiti capital of Africa

Exploring Johannesburg: the graffiti capital of Africa

Johannesburg is a much-misunderstood city but despite misconceptions it’s one well worth visiting too, with a wealth of museums and galleries, world-class ja…

13 Apr 2018 • Rebecca Hallett local_activity Special feature
View more featureschevron_right

Privacy Preference Center

Necessary

Mandatory - can not be deselected. Necessary cookies help make a website usable by enabling basic functions like page navigation and access to secure areas of the website. The website cannot function properly without these cookies.

PHPSESSID,aelia_cs_selected_currency,cookie_notice_accepted,RS,bp-message,bp-message-type,id,UIDR,w3tc_logged_out,__cfduid
__cfduid

Statistics

Statistic cookies help website owners to understand how visitors interact with websites by collecting and reporting information anonymously.

__utma,__utmb,__utmc,__utmz,_ga,_gid,__atssc,__atuvc,__atuvs,di,dt,ssc,ssh,sshs,uid,uit,xt
__utma,__utmb,__utmc,__utmz,_ga,_gid
__atssc,__atuvc,__atuvs,di,dt,ssc,ssh,sshs,uid,uit,xtc

Marketing

Marketing cookies are used to track visitors across websites. The intention is to display ads that are relevant and engaging for the individual user and thereby more valuable for publishers and third party advertisers.

__gads,PISID, BEAT, CheckConnection TempCookie703, GALX, GAPS, GoogleAccountsLocale_session, HSID, LSID, LSOSID, NID, PREF, RMME, S, SAPISID, SID, SSID,__utmv, _twitter_sess, auth_token, auth_token_session, external_referer, guest_id, k, lang, original_referer, remember_checked, secure_session, twid, twll,c_user, datr, fr, highContrast, locale, lu, reg_ext_ref, reg_fb_gate, reg_fb_ref, s, wd, xs
__gads,PISID, BEAT, CheckConnection TempCookie703, GALX, GAPS, GoogleAccountsLocale_session, HSID, LSID, LSOSID, NID, PREF, RMME, S, SAPISID, SID, SSID
__utmv, _twitter_sess, auth_token, auth_token_session, external_referer, guest_id, k, lang, original_referer, remember_checked, secure_session, twid, twll
c_user, datr, fr, highContrast, locale, lu, reg_ext_ref, reg_fb_gate, reg_fb_ref, s, wd, xs