The Waterberg mountains.
Photos by Pepper Teehankee on a Leica C Digital Camera
Magnificent Marataba
THE PEPPER MILL - Pepper Teehankee (The Philippine Star) - May 21, 2019 - 12:00am

I’ve been to several game reserves and I would have to say that my stay in Marataba was one of the best. Three days and two nights at Marataba were magical. I couldn’t have asked for more.

I was recently in magnificent Marataba, a game reserve in the heart of the Marakele National Park in Limpopo, South Africa.

Limpopo is a South African province that borders Botswana and Zimbabwe. It’s about a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Johannesburg.

The 27,000-hectare Marataba, run by the MORE Luxury Lodges and Hotels Group, has a tree house and two lodges -— Mountain Lodge and Safari Lodge, which was voted No. 3 in the Top Resorts in Africa category of  Conde Nast Traveller Readers’ Choice Awards last year.

Marataba and Marakele fall within the Waterberg Biosphere Reserve, the first region in the northern part of South Africa to be named as a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. According to, biosphere reserves are “areas comprising terrestrial, marine and coastal ecosystems. Each reserve promotes solutions that reconcile the conservation of biodiversity with its sustainable use. Biosphere reserves are nominated by national governments and remain under the sovereign jurisdiction of the states where they are located. Their status is internationally recognized.”

Zebras at a watering hole.

The Safari Lodge is Marataba’s main lodge, which is perfect for families and friends traveling together. Afternoon tea (ready for ostrich burgers?) is served daily and the lodge has a swimming pool and a spa. Each lodge has 15 luxury tented suites with an outdoor and indoor bath and a breathtaking view of the Waterberg Mountain range. Each suite also has an indoor and outdoor dining area.

Meanwhile, the Mountain Lodge is a more secluded area with just five suites overlooking the Waterfall Valley. It is perfect for honeymooners and solo travelers. This accommodation is not recommended for families with small children as the minimum age requirement to stay here is 16 years old.

Another alternative is Marataba’s newest offering — the Thabametsi Treehouse. It is a two-level, solar-powered tree house that has an outdoor bedroom (equipped with a mosquito net), toilet and shower, and a beautiful deck where you can lounge around or have your meals in.

This fantastic tree house can accommodate two adults plus two children between six and 15 years old. It is also perfect for couples and a family of four. The tree house was securely constructed so there is no need to worry about wild animals roaming around.  It can be booked in conjunction with a suite in any of the two Marataba lodges so there is an option to stay in the lodge or at the tree house. It is quite an adventure to sleep on an outdoor bed just watching the stars and listening to nature.

Whether you choose to stay in the Safari Lodge, Mountain Lodge or the Thabametsi Treehouse, Marataba offers the same activities and excursions, the most popular being the game drive.

An implausibility of wildebeests.

In the game reserve are the “big five” game animals — elephants, buffalo, rhinoceros, lion and leopard. There are also around 360 species of birds and rare trees. While in the reserve, there is no guarantee, though, that you will see all the “big five” during a game drive as the area is quite big. Not knowing what animal you will see during a game drive actually makes it even more exciting.

In our two-night stay in Marataba, we had three game drives and saw three of the big five. Even though we weren’t able to see a buffalo and the very elusive leopard, it was still amazing. After all, there were so many other animals to see, too!

While on the game drive, our guide briefed us to put our smartphones on airplane mode if we would use them to take a picture of the rhinoceros. He explained that this will prevent hackers, who have been teaming up with poachers, from getting specific coordinates of where the rhinos are once their photos are taken through a smartphone. Our guide further discussed that though poachers are fully aware that Marataba has both the black and white rhinos, the tight security protocols of the reserve do not make it easier for the poachers to capture these critically endangered species.

These game drives offered surprise stops. During one stop, we had snacks with gin and tonic while watching the sunset by a river. And in another stop, we ended up in the middle of the bush for a surprise dinner — complete with table set-up and grills!

A tower of giraffes.

We had a buffet of traditional South African food such as my favorites: oxtail potjie (stews made in pots) and the butter-rich malva pudding! There were also piri-piri chicken, pap (cornmeal that has a consistency of mashed potato), and my favorite South African fish, kingklip.

The food offerings in Marataba are limited but quite good. There are usually two to three choices for a main course for lunch or dinner (aside from the special buffets prepared). As a picky eater, I was quite satisfied with all the meals served!

The guides of Marataba are qualified experts in tracking animals and they give a very informative commentary about the animals and Africa during these game drives. Marataba has only seven vehicles, each carries no more than six people so it is unlikely that you will see other vehicles during your game drive. The reserve also offers hikes and bush walks, which allow you to see smaller animals up close and discover plant life — some are medicinal and others are surprisingly edible and delicious!

Another interesting activity is to have breakfast on a boat and enjoy a river cruise. I enjoyed spotting several birds and smaller animals during this breakfast river ride, and even caught a glimpse of a hippopotamus!

(For more information, visit and

(Follow me on Instagram @pepperteehankee.)

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