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The Magic of Madikwe

Madikwe Game Reserve is not usually amongst the first places when people think of an African safari, even within the limitations of South Africa… yet it’s a unique destination that absolutely must be checked out when that travel itch begins to irritate and must be scratched. Before I start about my own personal reflections of the reserve, it’s important that we first understand it’s history and importance…


Based in the North-West province of South Africa, an approximate 4-5 hour drive from Johannesburg, Madikwe is malaria-free 75,000 hectares and lies right up against the Botswana border in a landscape unto itself. It’s a transitional zone between the bushveld and the Kalahari thornveld region, and is home to an abundance of wildlife. This however, was not always the case as Madikwe was once farmland until the early 90’s when Operation Phoenix was initiated.


One of the largest relocations of wildlife on earth by humans, more than 10,000 animals were transported over a period of seven years for the purpose of establishing an economically viable wildlife sanctuary. The reserve has now been restored to its former natural environment with 86 mammals, 420 bird species and 104 tree species. Predominantly grasslands and bushveld, intermingled with lone mountains and rocky outcrops, the reserve is home to Cheetahs, Wild Dogs, Leopards, Hyenas, Lion, Elephant, Black & White Rhino, Buffalo, Zebra, Giraffe and various antelope.

Wild Dog Success

To put it bluntly, there is nowhere else quite like this magical reserve that was founded upon conservation. In 1994, a small group of six wild dogs were introduced into the park. This founding group saw a challenging introduction with rabies outbreaks, territorial clashes and encounters with lions but, despite the odds, current day Madikwe has a thriving wild dog population with three hunting packs roaming the park. The reserve’s conservation efforts to protect the ‘painted dog’ are in place to help conserve this majestic diminishing species.

My Experiences

My first experience of Madikwe Game Reserve was 20 years ago when I visited and found a safari experience like no other. I remember vividly, like it was yesterday, following a pack of 18 wild dogs as they hunted, watching elephants play in the water and lions…well, sleeping (doing what they do best!). I loved the geography, the important history and the wildlife viewing was unparalleled to anything I had experienced before. It was a location I knew I’d be frequenting, and now 20 years later is still a reserve that continues to blow my mind whilst also feeling like a second home.

It was one of the first places in Africa that truly touched my heart and one of the earliest sparks that led to this fiery passion of mine to share amazing experiences in nature with people. To be able to introduce people to this magical destination in the same way that I experienced it decades ago, even to the T of utilising the same lodge, is one of the most joyous things about my privileged job.

What To Expect

No safari is ever the same, even if you’ve been to the same reserve and the same lodge before – expect the unexpected. Some days may seem quiet whilst the next may seem action-packed, these are the guiding principles of any safari mentality and the same applies here. Go in with an open heart and mind and you’ll find yourself in a reserve that is truly unique and special amidst so many other reserves and reserves in Southern Africa. For me, it’s the best place in South Africa for cheetahs and wild dogs, elephants are in abundance and the rhino population (as of now, 2023) hasn’t been dehorned. The reserve has everything you could possibly want and more, and from a photographic point of view offers fresh backdrops and stunning colours that you don’t find anywhere else – red sand, deep blue skies and sprouting hills amidst a vast backdrop that blends into Botswana – it’s as magical to see as it is to imagine.

The reserve, as mentioned before, is malaria-free and not too far from Johannesburg and O.R. Tambo meaning it’s a perfect destination to consider for those looking to experience their first safari, but also those looking for something new and different from the popular Kruger and KZN regions. There’s a reason why Madikwe is so popular, and is a destination that continues to grow in popularity, sells well and never, ever disappoints.

Those who have joined my previous trips to Madkwe can attest; I want nothing more than Madikwe to work its magic on you as much as it did on me so many years ago, and on every visit since. As such, all of the logistics and hassle from the moment you land in the country to the moment you get back to the airport is taken care of and organised for you – it’s important to me that this trip is as relaxing and stress-free as possible, as the only thing I want you to worry about is having enough memory cards and charge in your batteries!

I want you to look back with smiles and a warm heart when thinking about this magical reserve, and to maybe consider giving it another chance when that safari itch starts to irritate again.

A Typical Safari

A breakdown of one of my typical Madikwe safaris will see you being met at the airport upon arrival in O.R. Tambo and taken to a nearby boutique hotel to relax and recover from your travels. Here the group will assemble, we’ll all get to know each other over dinner and refresh ourselves with a good night’s sleep before travelling the next day to Madikwe. Upon arrival you’ll have plenty of time to get the lay of the land, settle into your room, have a drink, check out the gardens and meet the staff that will be looking after you during your stay.

Mid-afternoon will see us venturing out on our introductory game drive where our private guide will start to unveil some of the reserve’s majestic wildlife to you. That is of course, if you haven’t already seen some – as our lodge overlooks a nearby waterhole that is often frequented by wildlife including big herds of elephants, buffalo, zebra and the occasional predator. Even better than that, an underground hide is nestled into the ground alongside the waterhole that is accessed from the lodge – meaning you can 24/7 quietly observe the animals drinking and bathing from merely a couple of metres away. The photographic opportunities, as I’m sure I don’t need to explain, are incredible and endless.

Afternoon game drives end with a customary gin and tonic (or any drink of your choice) to watch sun go down, and we look for nocturnal animals as we head back for dinner. Evenings are spent enjoying good food with good company before nestling into a comfy bed with the excitement of a great day behind and yet more to come in the morning. The next morning will see an early start as we head out with the sun rising to see what’s new in the world of nature – often targeting predators, interactions and popular drinking areas.

You’ll get to see first-hand how expansive and diverse the scenery of Madikwe is, as well as how important each species of flora and fauna truly is. I’ll be on hand every moment of the way, working with the guide to make sure we’re getting everyone the best opportunities, whilst also working with each guest specifically to aid and assist with camera settings and photography guidance. If you’re not a photographer – it doesn’t matter, these trips are aimed as a nature experience first and foremost so even with a phone or binoculars, you’re guaranteed to have an equally great time.

Breakfast is back at the lodge and the next game drive is in the mid-afternoon again. I spend the time in between doing editing tuition with everyone and helping with cameras and other technical and creative questions, but it’s also important to remember that this is your time. If you’d rather wish to take a splash in the pool, go for a walk on the protected trail, read a book, nap or sit in the hide waiting for thirsty visitors – the world is your oyster!

After six nights, we wake up to our final game drive where afterward we check out from the lodge, say our goodbyes and head back to O.R. Tambo airport in Johannesburg. This is unfortunately where we part ways, although these are usually see you next times rather than goodbyes.

If any of what I've written stirs any interest or begins to feel like it could satisfy that craving for travel, adventure and nature, then consider joining me in this magical reserve by checking out the available upcoming photographic safaris page on my website or by emailing me at - hope to see you on safari!

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