South Africa has long been one of Africa’s most accessible and popular safari destinations.

While most people head straight to mainstream game parks like Kruger National Park and Sabi Sabi Game Reserve, for the savvy traveller looking to stay ahead of the curve – and the crowds, there are still plenty of places to go that still are largely untouched by commercial tourism.

Of these, Madikwe Game Reserve is a standout according to Michael McCall, Director of Sales Australia and NZ at boutique luxury safari specialist, Sanctuary Retreats.

“We’re seeing a growing trend amongst our guests, who tend to be at the premium end of the market, seeking out places that are more off the well-beaten tourist track.

Madikwe is arguably the greatest private game reserve in South Africa, yet largely devoid of tourists. The low volume of visitors to the Reserve allows for a much more authentic safari experience, not to mention unobstructed viewing and great photography opportunities – all of which make it one of South Africa’s best-kept secrets.”

There is no doubt that Madikwe offers up some spectacular game viewing. This beautiful and diverse African wilderness encompasses over 75,000 hectares of widely varying terrain, from rocky peaks, across open grasslands, to verdant valleys, each area with its own distinctive inhabitants, which include amongst them, the ‘Big 5’ (lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino and leopard), the rare African wild dog, cheetah, giraffe and hyena. And the birdlife is equally spectacular, with over 360 bird species found there.

Driving through game-rich grasslands, travellers could be forgiven for believing this area was always an ecological haven. However, up until 1991 the land was utilized largely for intensive farming, which had almost completely destroyed indigenous flora and fauna. Confronted by degrading fertility and productivity and a bleak outlook for agriculture, local communities and South African government looked to tourism to revitalize the land.

Developed as a three-way partnership between the South African government, local communities and the private sector, Madikwe Game Reserve was established with the primary objective of stimulating ecological, sustainable economic activity in the region.

The key impetus for change was to create viable long-term employment and business opportunities, which in turn would generate much needed revenue to conserve the biodiversity of the area. And so in 1991 Operation Phoenix, one of the biggest and most ambitious wildlife trans-location programs ever seen on the African continent, got underway.

Over the next seven years, over 10,000 animals were relocated into Madikwe. The 27 species released into the newly created reserve all occurred historically in the area and included lion, elephant, buffalo, black and white rhino, wild dog, giraffe, zebra and a host of antelope.

So successful was Operation Phoenix that Madikwe is now home to the second largest population of Elephant in South Africa, second only to Kruger National Park. Madikwe is also one of the best places in Southern Africa to watch the elusive wild dog, boasting a world-renowned breeding program in the reserve.

Michael believes that Madikwe’s Operation Phoenix marked a significant turning point in the way that many of Africa’s parks and reserves are now run. “Whereas excess wildlife would have been culled been culled in the past, today oversupply of species are trans-located to other conservation areas where indigenous populations of game have suffered as a consequence of poaching and mismanagement.

“Sanctuary Retreats is currently involved in one such project – the relocation of black and white rhino to Botswana’s Moremi Game Reserve where they have a greater chance of protection and population growth. It’s projects like this that give hope to a variety of species on the brink of extinction.”

Madikwe Game Reserve is still strictly protected and self-drive or day trips are tightly restricted in the area. This means that the best way to see the Reserve is during a stay in one of the area’s exclusive bush hideaways.

Sanctuary Makanyane Safari Lodge is situated on private ground within Madikwe Game Reserve overlooking the Marico River. With just eight glass-fronted suites constructed from local stone, wood and thatch hidden in lush riverside forest, the Lodge has been especially designed to allow guests to fully immerse themselves in the natural beauty of their surroundings. The main lodge is on the edge of a ravine overlooking a waterhole frequently visited by game, and has a spacious lounge and dining area which opens out onto a wide wooden outdoor deck, offering spectacular views.

With limited off-road driving restrictions and full traversing rights over the entire 75,000-hectare Madikwe Reserve, Sanctuary Retreats guests also have access to some of the best game viewing in South Africa, secure in the knowledge that this area is at the forefront of the country’s conservation efforts.


Prices at Sanctuary Makanyane Safari Lodge start from ZAR 7,500 per person per night, twin share, for 1 – 3 nights, including all meals and drinks (excluding premium brands) and transfers to and from the airstrip to the Lodge plus a choice of daily shared game viewing activities.

But for even better savings, take advantage of Sanctuary Retreats’ extended stay offer 2018, when you stay at one or more of our properties including Sanctuary Makanyane Safari Loge depending on your season of travel.

Stay 4 – 6 nights and save up to 30%.

Stay 7+ nights and save up to 40%.

Terms and conditions apply.


To enquire or book, contact our experienced African Specialist – Kate Webster on


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