Buried in the western portion of the Limpopo Province of South Africa, the district of Waterberg is in every way a gold mine for adventure seekers. Bordering Gauteng Province, Northwest Province and Botswana, Waterberg claims some of South Africa’s most jaw-dropping scenery. It is a space where the traveler comes to appreciate natural beauty in its purest sense. It is an area of lions, leopards and rhinos. It is a district of diverse landscapes. Meaning, “Water Mountain,” Waterberg lives up to its title in every way. If you are plotting a trip to this magical part of South Africa, don’t leave home without your safari hat and this traveler-friendly guide.
If you take one look at the Waterberg district on paper, you will see why many venture to this corner of South Africa. The terrain fills with superb vistas, mountain gorges, streams and a rich plant and animal life. Mostly travelers head to Waterberg to see the Big Five. Lions, leopards, buffalo, elephants and rhinos are in many cases your only company. Aside from wildlife spotting, malaria free Waterberg boasts over 300 million years of history to peel back, layer by layer. And in many respects, you come to Waterberg for its mountains. The Waterberg Mountain range stretches for 150 kilometers in the region.
What To See
The Waterberg District presents a massive undertaking in terms of touring. However, there are a number of notable sights that travelers won’t want to miss. One of those attractions is the Makapans Valley World Heritage Site. The UNESCO approved site features a series of caves with ancient mammal remains and fossils of an early human-like primate ancestor. You can take a guided tour of three of the caves with the Cave of the Hearths being one of the most notable. The dark corner of Waterberg boasts evidence of the earliest controlled use of fire in Africa.
In addition to its ancient caves, Waterberg also fills with hot springs, most notably the Bela Bela Hot Springs. Meaning, “Boiling boiling,” in the Tswana language, the town claims some of Waterberg’s best hot springs throughout a series of fountains, pools and bathing areas. You can soak up most of the hot springs in Waterberg in the foothills of the Waterberg Mountains.
While travelers to Waterberg shouldn’t miss seeing the area’s caves and hot springs, the Waterberg Biosphere Reserve is attraction enough for one vacation. The 15,000 square kilometer patch of land is one of Africa’s two savannah biospheres. Travelers will find a number of game reserves within the biosphere reserve including the Mabalingwe Game Reserve and the Welgevonden Game Reserve. The Mabalingwe Game Reserve sprawls across 12,000 hectares of land. It hosts the Big 5 along with plenty of hippos, giraffes and hyenas sprinkled in for good measure. Visitors can also expect to catch a glimpse of at least one of the 220 species of birds in the reserve. The Welgevonden Game Reserve on the other hand claims South Africa’s largest population of white rhino.
In addition to the public and private game reserves in the biosphere reserve, visitors should also make the trek to Marakele National Park. Located in the heart of the Waterberg Mountains, the park claims elephants, big cats and birds across dramatic landscapes of grassy hills, mountains the deep valleys.
What To Do
The most popular activity in Waterberg is predictably to on a safari due to the wealth of wildlife in the district. However, the area also lends itself to embrace plenty of adventure activities such as hot air ballooning, white water rafting and ziplining. You can also take to the water at a number of dams in the district. Travelers with their own wheels shouldn’t miss the chance to take the Waterberg Meander, a 350-kilometer tourist route through the biosphere. The self-drive tour snakes through a number of historical, geological, cultural and environment sites. In essence, it is a trip through one of South Africa’s great wilderness regions.
Where To Stay
The Waterberg district covers in private game reserves with lodges where you can rest up for the night in your own patch of wilderness. One of the most luxurious is The Observatory in the Leobo Private Reserve. The location lends travelers the chance to truly embrace the Waterberg district with 12,000 acres of wilderness. Located in the Palala Valley, The Observatory is so private and remote that you must reach it by bush plane or helicopter. As it is a private reserve, guests have this piece of paradise exclusively on their visit. No prying eyes can be found besides that of a few hippos.
The design of The Observatory is the work of South African based architects Silvio Rech and Lesley Carstens. The building combines traditional African design elements with classic safari lodge touches. The accommodations don’t leave guests searching for more. The Observatory features your own private butler, maid and personal chef. In addition to a heated infinity pool, guests can master stargazing. Telescopes are on hand to marvel at the night’s sky. Travelers also have the rare amenity of being able to book an astronomer for a bit more information about the night sky from the rooftop sunset deck.
Ideal for honeymoons, family reunions or simply travel, The Observatory invites guests to go on a safari by way of a Land Cruiser, horseback or quad bikes. Travelers can expect to see giraffes, hippos and zebras. Swimming, fishing and helicopter rides are also available on site.
How To Get There
The Waterberg area fills a portion of the northernmost province of South Africa, Limpopo. It can be accessed by way of the main entry roads of the N1 and the R101 from Gauteng. Those coming from Sekhukhune can head into the district by way of the N11. From the northwest, Waterberg can be accessed by the R159 and the R133. The Waterberg district rests around two to three hours drive north of the Johannesburg Airport, Johannesburg and Pretoria. Many travelers reach the remote stretches by plane or helicopter.
Have you been to the Waterberg region of South Africa? Share your favorite experiences in the area with us in the comments below.