In the early 1990s, when game was first being reintroduced to the Madikwe area under “Operation Phoenix”, Mosetlha was a place where rangers-in-training and other wilderness enthusiasts came to learn about wildlife conservation – a rustic camp with basic facilities. As more and more lodges were built in the reserve and the number of tourists increased, the Lucas family (Chris, June and their daughter Caroline) opened Mosetlha to the wider public. Fortunately, however, they have managed to preserve the camp’s ecological ethos and relaxed, down-to-earth atmosphere.
At Mosetlha, you do things for yourself. There’s an old-school “donkey” boiler from which you collect hot water for bucket showers, and you also take your own water to flush the “VIP” (Ventilated Improved Pit) toilets. If that sounds a little too rough and ready for your liking, fear not: this is a very comfortable form of camping. In fact, it isn’t actually camping at all. Guests stay in raised wooden cabins, with canvas awnings over the front and back to allow maximum appreciation of the sights and sounds of the bush – including, at night, the not-too-distant call of an elephant or hyena. There is no electricity, but oil lamps provide a warm and cosy glow.
Mosetlha may be a place where you can “get the dust of Africa on your feet”, but you certainly don’t do everything for yourself. Sumptuous but simple meals are served up from the camp kitchen and eaten communally. In between there are lazy late mornings and early afternoons during which to snooze or read a book. After dark, a roaring fire encourages the cheerful swapping of anecdotes over a glass of wine or a beer from the honesty bar. One settles very easily into the indulgent rhythms of camp life.
The focal points of each day are, of course, the morning and evening game drives. Operation Phoenix was tremendously successful, and today Madikwe boasts an abundance of wildlife. With a large mammal population of over 16 000, the reserve provides some of the best game-viewing in the country; our visit yielded, amongst other sightings, a close-range encounter with lions at a zebra kill, a pack of wild dogs (very rare), both white and black rhino as well as a leopard up a tree. On one occasion, a pride of lions – moms, dads and cubs – sauntered up to our Land Rover and strolled casually past on either side, leaving at least one member of our party to admit that she was “a bit perturbed”!
You’re guaranteed to see some great game at Madikwe, but there is a lot more to enjoy besides. For the twitchers, there are over 340 bird species to spot. Amateur geologists can take in the striking topography of the area, with numerous koppies and even low mountain peaks rising from the savannah plain. And there’s nothing quite so gratifying as that moment when, just as the off-road bumps are starting to take their toll, your guide stops the vehicle and you climb out to discover a table, magically produced and laden with goodies: coffee and rusks for those brisk mornings, or drinks and snacks in the evenings while the orange disc of the sun slips below the horizon.
You see? I told you this was “roughing it” in style ...
Good game rangers are walking encyclopaedia when it comes to flora and fauna – and they love to share useful bits of trivia (like the fact that the collective noun for giraffes is a “journey”). Mosetlha’s knowledgeable guides can also tell you almost anything you might want to know about the region, including its unusual history.
Names such as “Groot Marico” and “Mafikeng Road” have been immortalised in the stories of Herman Charles Bosman, and the area regularly attracts literary pilgrims for whom the place has a special resonance. But long before Bosman invented his famous serio-comical narrator, Oom Schalk Lourens, the terrain had been criss-crossed by Mzilikazi and the Matabele people, Boer and British soldiers, traders, explorers, hunters and missionaries. Indeed, visitors to Mosetlha are collected at an old Jesuit Mission Station that has been partially restored.
If the spirits of the past haunt Madikwe, it is a gentle haunting. Like so many of South Africa’s game reserves, it is a place of tranquillity and astounding beauty. Unlike any other park, however, it is also home to the unusual and memorable wilderness experience that is Mosetlha Bush Camp.