CampI did not leave home too early and arrived in Thabazimbi just in time for a late breakfast.

Then it was just a short 10 minute drive to Marakele. I checked in quickly and then headed to Bontle Camp.

After a quick drive around the camp I found a shaded camping spot and had my tent set up in no time.

I went for a drive to the bird hide and then a short drive into the eastern section.

Just before I got to the hide I saw a small Nyala family.Nyala

It was quiet at the hide, but after a few minutes a handsome Nyala bull arrived for a drink.Nyala

I drove to the eastern side of the Park. I loved all the Mountains.

Marakele   Marakele

I was just in time to see a wonderful creature cross the road.White Rhino

I drove to Tlopi Tented Camp. I loved the set up with all the huts facing the dam. The only downside was that there was a huge troop of Baboons hanging out around the camp. Some of the huts were not occupied, so I had an opportunity to step onto one of the decks overlooking the dam. I found a lifer Highland Spreadwing.Highland Spreadwing

I came across a rhino midden a little distance past the camp. It was a miniature hive of activity. There was a Spotted Joker Butterfly and a Dung Beetle in the midden.

Sotted Joker   Dung Beetle

In the sky above I saw a White-fronted Bee-eater.White fronted Bee eater

The best sighting however was the Striped Kingfishers. There were 6 of them and they were up and down and displaying. It was very noisy but stunning.

Striped Kingfisher Striped Kingfisher

I headed back to camp and lit my braai fire. As I was sitting down the setting sun caught my eye.Sunset

The camp was full and there were lots of families with kids. They were playing and swimming, and everyone sounded really happy. It was a wonderful afternoon. After dinner I did my usual night walk.

I saw four scorpions in the tree on the other side of my camp site.Scorpion Opistacanthus asper

There were a few spiders as well – a magnificent Burrowing Wolf Spider, a Green Pea Spider and a Hairy Field Spider.Burrowing Wolf Spider

Green Pea Spider   Hairy Field Spider

The best sighting of the night was also the cutest sighting of the trip. I was scanning the trees hoping to find a chameleon when I found something better. I found two Long-billed Crombecs sleeping in a tree, little heads tucked away to make them look like little headless horsemen! I could have picked them up, they were too fast asleep to notice Long billed Crombec

I had a relaxed start the next morning. I enjoyed my coffee outside my tent, and then went on a short birding walk. There were lots of birds in the trees above my tent – Black-backed Puffback, Long-billed Crombecs, Fork-tailed Drongos, a Yellow-throated Bushsparrow and a Chinspot Batis.Yellow-throated Bush sparrow Chinspot Batis

Insistent drumming lured me to anther tree where I found a Bearded Woodpecker.Bearded Woodpecker

There was more drumming. This came from a bird that I had not seen in a while – a Bennett’s Woodpecker that looked absolutely stunning in the morning light.Bennetts Woodpecker

Other birds that looked beautiful in the perfect morning light were a Fork-tailed Drongo, a Groundscraper Thrush and a Red-billed Hornbill.

Fork Tailed Drongo Groundscraper Thrush  Red Billed Hornbill

I left camp a little while later – my destination was the Lenong Lookout point. I only saw a few animals – these included a Giraffe and some Zebras.

Giraffe   Zebra

Movement in the bushes revealed another special sighting.White Rhino

I had heard about the road up to the lookout point – it was narrow, steep, and some people thought it was terrifying.

The road was narrow.

The road was steep.

I encountered a car on its way down at one point, and it was a little terrifying to reverse to a spot where the car could pass.

But it was also completely awesome.

And when you get to the top and get out, the view is spectacular.Lenong Lookout

As I arrived, many of the people that were there were leaving, and I had a little quiet time before the next group arrived. I sat for a bit, wandered for a bit, sat a bit more. The view was really incredible.

I was joined by a few birds. The female Cape Rock Thrush was feeding on some crumbs from other people’s morning tea.Cape Rock Thrush

There was a busy little Lazy Cisticola and a Cinnamon-breasted Bunting.

Lazy Cisticola   Cinnamon Breasted Bunting

I had seen Dancing Telchinias all over the Park and they were even at the top of the mountain.Dancing Telchinia

I saw the Cape Vultures in the distance. There was at least 40+ floating on the thermals.

I hoped that they would come closer but sadly they did not.Cape Vulture

I spent about two hours on the top of the mountain. It was one of the coolest places I had been. I sat on the rocks and it felt as if I could see forever.

My timing to leave was great, as a large group of people arrived just as I left. The drive down the Mountain was great – I did encounter two other vehicles on the way down but we managed to pass each other without any issues. I could now appreciate the view.Lenong Lookout Road

I drove along the Mbidi Road. I was once again impressed by the mountains.

Marakele   Marakele

I finally found the animals I’d been looking for – elephants. A large herd was feeding between the trees. Sadly not close enough for my liking.

Elephants   Elephants

A little further I found another special animal wandering down the road.Whire Rhino

The rest of the drive back to camp was quiet with only an inquisitive Giraffe close to camp.

Giraffe   Giraffe

Back at camp I relaxed in the shade of the trees next to my tent. A scratching noise caught my attention. A Southern Tree Agama was scratching around a tree.Southern Tree AgamaSouthern Tree Agama   Southern Tree Agama

Since I was up, I decided to go for a little walk.

I lifted a rock and found a beautiful Tropical Wolf Spider.Tropical Wolf Spider

A number of Dragonflies and Butterflies were flitting along the edges of the camp site. This Deceptive Widow was a lifer.Deceptive Widow

There was also an immature Nomad and more Dancing Telchinias.

Nomad   Dancing Telchina

Then I heard a second scratching noise. It was another reptile, this time a small Rock Monitor. I loved the smile on his face.Rock Monitor

I only had the macro lens with me, and for a few minutes I regretted not bringing the long lens as there were many birds around, including some Violet-eared Waxbills. But these two hornbills were very comfortable and allowed me to get really close to take some macro photos.Yellow Billed Hornbill Red Billed Hornbill

Once it cooled down a bit I went for a drive to the hide. At first it was quiet with only a few doves and a Yellow-billed Hornbill. Then a few Impalas arrived for a nibble around the edge of the water.

Impala   Impala

I loved the reflection of the Blacksmith Lapwing.Blacksmith Lapwing

A Nyala Bull came to the water. I wondered if it was the same one from the previous afternoon. He was absolutely stunning. His coat was thick and shiny and gorgeous.Nyala Nyala   Nyala

I drove along the western roads back to camp. The sun was starting to set.Sunset

I found this termite mound that was built around the trees quite fascinating.Termite Mound

The Weeping Boer-bean tree with its lovely gnarled trunk looked like it could be home to all kinds of fairytale creatures.Weeping Boer Bean

There were a few warthogs and kudus on the last stretch before camp, but other than that the road was quiet. The vegetation in the western side of the Park grows very close to the roads. It gives it a really intimate, cozy feel, an aspect of the Park that I really loved.

My night walk was quiet. The Green Pea spider from the previous night had some dinner. On one of the fallen over trees I found about 12 Sundowner Moths.

Green Pea Spider   Sundowner Moth

I wanted to go on a sunset or night drive but they were all fully booked. The guy at reception twisted my arm to go on a Morning Drive instead. There were seven of us who met the driver just before 05h00 on Easter Sunday.

We headed out of the Park and drove along the tar road. After a couple of turns and a large gate we were back in the Park. We found a herd of impalas and then saw a mom White Rhino and a calf running through the bushes. Large bright eyes high up in a tree gave away the position of about four Lesser Bushbabies. We found ourselves back at another gate, and after a few more turns back in the Park once more. We were driving along Lenong Drive when the sun started to come up.Marakele Sunrise

It was the most perfect scene on this very special Sunday.

We continued our drive, but it was very quiet. We turned onto Mbidi Drive, but despite everyone scanning the surrounding area, the animals continued to hide away. We came around a bend, and I thought – that stump that the elephants must have pulled into the middle of the road looks just like two lions. Then I realised that it wasn’t a tree stump, but it was in fact to lionesses! As we approached they got up and walked down the road away from us.Lion

They suddenly saw a kudu and went into stalk mode.Lion

The kudu saw them and dashed off. The effort of the half-hunt was just to much and the one lay down for a power nap.Lion

Then I got a look.Lion

The other lioness also gave us a coy over the shoulder look.Lion

They finally moved to the side of the road and when we drove past we could get a good look at their gorgeous faces.

Lion Lion   Lion

Just a short distance from where we left them we found another member of the Big 5. A few members of an Elephant herd was walking in the road. The youngsters were delightful.Elephant Elephant Elephant

Then we found a small reptile slowly making its way across the road.Flap Necked Chameleon

On the way back to reception we saw a few kudus and Zebras.

All in all it was a fantastic morning drive.

When I got back to my tent I changed and went on a short morning drive. I had hoped to find the lions or the elephants, but found neither. I did not see a single animal or bird that was close enough to photograph.

I decided that that would be my last drive. I spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing at my camp site and reading. It was one of the most relaxing afternoons I have had in a long time.

I felt something on my arm. It was tiny, and I was about to flick it away when I realised it was a teeny tiny jumping spider in the form of a Thyene thyenioides. Just look at those eyes!Thyene thyenioides

It was only about 3mm long, but extremely cute.

I enjoyed my last braai, listening to the kids play and then the night sounds when they settled.

It started drizzling just as I was getting ready for bed. I lay on my mattress and listened to the thunder. It was very loud and I could actually feel the vibrations through the ground. It was an incredible sensation.

The next morning I packed up early. I was glad I did, because as I drove out of the Park the rain started coming down in earnest.

Marakele is a beautiful Park. Animal and bird sightings requires some work, The vegetation, especially around Bontle camp is fantastic. And the Lenong Lookout is worth every terrifying, amazing second of the drive up the mountain.

A short three hour drive from Johannesburg, this is a perfect weekend destination.

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