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Walking in Big 5 territory at Marataba Trails Lodge

At Marataba Trails Lodge you pack up your backpack, put on some comfy shoes and walk straight out into dangerous Big 5 territory… and that’s exactly what I did.

Let me start off this post by saying that I do not consider myself a hiker. I have certainly hiked though, including South Africa’s super tough Otter Trail, and I’m generally an active person, but these days it’s more pilates and walking the park, than actual climbing up mountains. When I was invited to go visit and subsequently write about Marataba Trails Lodge, I felt a little sense of panic about what the trails would be like, or rather, how hardcore they would be. Nonetheless, I like to challenge myself and Alessio was keen to get outta Jozi for two nights.

Plus of course, the allure of luxury after a walk didn’t sound so bad!

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The main area of Marataba Trails Lodge at night. credit: Alessio La Ruffa.

Arriving at Marataba, you’ll first find yourself at the Safari Lodge, the more established and larger cousin to the Trails Lodge. To get to the actual Marataba Trails Lodge, it’s a further 30-minute drive deeper into the Marakele National Park (meaning Place of Sanctuary) in Limpopo. A park that once was not visited and had a rather sad and dwindling animal population, but has been revived in the last two decades and is teeming with game these days.

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The grasslands just below the lodge, complete with moon in the early morning

The lodge blends into the landscape so it’s hard to see it all when you approach, but eventually the glint of the sun off the windows gave it up. Our ranger Adriaan explained that the rooms were designed to be completely off the grid. They operate with solar power and water is pumped up through a solar pump from the river below. They are all on stilts, and in case they ever need to be removed, all that will remain are the concrete blocks they were founded in. My eco-self was immediately happy.

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Our room at Marataba Trails Lodge

Marataba Trails Lodge looks very different to most lodges I’ve visited in my life. The decor is a lot more contemporary and simplistic, and refreshingly, cannot be described as Colonial as a lot of lodges are. The common area has a large dining room table and lounge area, fire pit and porch. The rooms are spacious with a shower, massive bed with sliding windows at its foot, and a small deck. The food was also delectable, totally fresh and not heavy and unhealthy, although I will say there was certainly a lot of it!

Let’s talk about walking in the wild though. Usually, guests would walk twice a day, a long walk in the morning and a short walk in the afternoon. Think of it as an alternative to game drives. We did it a little differently and went on afternoon game drives because we were also on a mission to see some big cats which were further than we could walk. The great part is, it’s your choice as the guest. We went on two morning walks too, one long one and a shorter one on the morning we left.

Our longer morning walk was definitely the most eventful. We were out for about four hours, and headed back to the lodge before it got too hot (about 11am), but made our way into a gorge in between the gorgeous Waterberg mountains to ‘see what we could see’. The best part of a walking safari is that you really get to see the smaller details that you don’t see from a game drive vehicle. Plants, animals tracks, and animals included.

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Trotting into the bush. credit: Alessio La Ruffa.

We came across three buffalo, not something you want in an ideal situation, and had to bide our time under a tree up a rocky incline until they moved away. Once we got into the gorge, it really did dawn on me how special the experience was: you’re walking into areas that aren’t accessible by vehicle, in restricted areas, possibly filled with dangerous game.

While you have two armed rangers looking out for you at all times, there’s still a definite thrill of heading into the unknown each time you leave the safety of the lodge! The two trails we did were relatively moderate, although I will say the next day I was a little stiff. There is a trail up a mountain that I don’t think I would’ve faired very well on by Adiraan’s description, but at least the rangers also move pretty slowly, thankfully not to disturb any sleeping lions in the long grass!

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Adriaan, our ranger, took us to a spot in the gorge where they’ve found old stone tools and pottery as well as rock paintings.

In terms of animals that we saw both on our walks and our drives, there were plenty! The highlight had to be a lion couple that were hanging out together for the mating season. I also loved seeing lots of smaller animals like mongoose, squirrels, bush pig and terrapin.

The best time of day for us at Marataba Trails Lodge was when the sun started to head down to the horizon. We had incredible sightings at this time, and the colours that the Waterberg Mountains reveal themselves as is incredible. From orange to pink to purple, all in about an hour.

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The pink mountains.

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Stopping for a sundowner. credit: Alessio La Ruffa.

The other incredible thing about Marataba Trails Lodge is that it’s so removed from anything else, that you get a pretty perfect view of the Milky Way, a special ending to a rewarding day of walking.

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For more of Alessio’s photos, follow him on Instagram here.

My stay at Marataba Trails Lodge was by their invitation. As with all my posts, my words are my own. You can visit the Marataba Trails Lodge website for more information.

Travel & food blogger helping adventurous South Africans find their next escape.

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