For a weekend of adventurous wilderness 4x4ing, head to Marakele and into the depths of the Waterberg. By Santi van Niekerk
“Remote, primitive, wilderness.” The brochure’s description of the Marakele 4x4 Eco-trail thrilled me before I even looked at the route which, over three days, takes you deep into the heart of the Waterberg biosphere. The brochure put the trail’s challenge rate between three and five. In 4x4 circles, a three is a demanding trail, while a five is for the extreme four-wheelers only. I was up for that, after all this was an opportunity to explore a part of Marakele National Park not seen by many tourists.
My companions and I joined trail guide Sidney Mikosi just before noon. We’d had a number of phone conversations with him to ensure we were properly equipped for the trip, and his ready smile and helpfulness continued to impress us over the following days. The trail departed from the main park entrance after a briefing and test of the two-way radios that would keep us in touch with the guide vehicle. Not quite 60 kilometres on an easy dirt road brings you to the entrance gate of the eastern section where the 4x4ing starts.
Day one I’d rate as between two and three, loosening you up for what will follow. After setting up camp, Sidney took us for a walk to interpret the surrounding landscape. A walking, talking encyclopedia of the Waterberg’s fauna and flora, he showed us many things, including how to get soap from a plant, what leaves to boil for stomach ailments and where the leopard that roams the area sharpens his nails prior to hunting.
At the outset of day two, Sidney explained that although certain management roads linked to the trail, many of the tracks used on the trail were specially designed to give 4x4 enthusiasts a broad spectrum of challenges as well as providing access to varied ecosystems. We ascended our first ridge, leaving the placid valley and gentle fern-laced stream behind us. The challenge rating shot up from three to five as we descended a slope with loose rocks. The terrain changed from bushveld to rugged mountain peaks stretching as far as the eye could see.
Two hours later, after a slow and careful drive over three more challenging ridges, we stopped on a plateau that afforded a spectacular vista. At an altitude of almost 1400 metres above sea level, the air was cool and fresh and we enjoyed a well-earned breakfast. From up there, the pulse of the Waterberg’s heart was almost tangible.
The route for day two is approximately 30 kilometres. It took us almost 14 hours! We arrived at the overnight camp, a beautiful wooded spot, somewhat dusty and very tired. Although the trail had provided some challenging driving, a sense of achievement welled deep inside of us as we sat beside the fire and looked up to a canopy of a thousand stars. Well, that was before Sidney told us the farmer who owned the land previously regularly ran up the mountain pass with his little Toyota Conquest.
Day three had us return on the same route for a short while, after which the vegetation changed to typical Waterberg moist bushveld with a number of flat, grassy areas that can turn into treacherous marshes during rainy summer months. It was clear from some of the crossings at streams why this trail can be accessed during the drier winter months only.
After about 15 kilometres of average 4x4 challenges, we scaled the last ridge and stopped to look back at the imposing Waterberg massif. Behind us lay a magical trail combining breathtaking scenery with adrenaline-pumping 4x4ing. In the basin below, the elusive elephants showed themselves to us as if they wanted to present us with one final pleasure. Above us, a pair of Verreaux’s Eagles circled a last goodbye.
Make It Happen
The Marakele 4x4 Eco Trail departs twice weekly, every Tuesday and Friday. The trail runs from April to October. R3480 a vehicle, maximum of four people. No more than five 4x4s on a trail, plus the guide. Book directly with the park 014-777-6929 or through firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was first published in the autumn issue of Wild magazine 2012.