Welgevonden Wonders: A Big Five Safari in the Waterberg Biosphere in South Africa

Welgevonden Wonders: A Big Five Safari in the Waterberg Biosphere in South Africa

The White rhinos of Africa are magnificent mammals, a treasured ‘big five’ sighting on safari. In an attempt to stop poaching - or at least to try to strongly discourage these criminals - many game parks in South Africa have resorted to cutting off the rhino horns. In the privately owned Welgevonden Game Reserve, in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Waterberg, rhinos are carefully guarded and their horns are left to grow. As there is a healthy population, guests at Fifty Seven Waterberg are highly likely to have several sightings of these iconic African herbivores. It’s an unforgettable privilege to watch white rhinos for an extended time, to see their interactions with one another, plus with other species.

Welgevonden rhinos

Welgevonden rhinos

On a morning game drive, in an open-sided, customized SUV, we find a crash of rhinos at a natural rock pool in the tropical grassland. A mother with two youngsters is alert and watches two lionesses approaching the water. There is a stand off, then a young lioness starts to approach the female rhino. She snorts and stamps her feet. Of course the over-bold lioness moves off. When a male rhino approaches, the female permits him to come closer, but is wary.

Welgevonden rhinos

We follow the lionesses as they are in hunting mode. Ignoring zebra and wildebeest, they mount a chase of a warthog family. In a cloud of dust, amidst much squealing, a lioness captures a juvenile warthog! She darts into nearby bushes, where we can no longer watch her.

Welgevonden lion

The Waterberg biome, in the province of Limpopo, is unlike the often dry savanna of many of the other Game Reserves in South Africa. With a range of rugged mountains and wooded grasslands, this biosphere has a rich biodiversity of fauna with 50 mammal species, including aardvark and Brown hyena that are on the Red Data species list. In summer, migrating birds pass through the area, so it’s the perfect season for keen birders. There are over 300 bird species with specials like Cape Vulture and White-backed night heron, plus over 5500 species of plants, some scarce or threatened. The Welgevonden Game Reserve is also an important San Rock Art site in South Africa.

Welgevonden animals

Welgevonden bird

Welgevonden plants

Four main rivers - Lephalala, Mokolo, Matlabas and Mogalakwena, named in the local Bapedi language - have carved deep valleys. The rivers split into numerous streams and rivulets, running over yellow and red hued rocky surfaces. We stop next to one of these lesser rivers to listen to the movement of the water, to enjoy the fresh ozone fragrance. We take in the beauty of the sedimentary rocks, plus the bare sandstone cliffs in the distance.

Welgevonden safari

Welgevonden animals

From our Luxury Suite - one of ten suites at Fifty Seven Waterberg - and from our private, solar heated plunge pool, we have a view over verdant bush, to the Waterberg mountains beyond. Elephants amble past us, treading silently. The open plan Luxury Suite has a king-sized bed, with lounge areas on either side, an indoor and outdoor shower, bath, double vanity and a dressing room, plus separate toilet. Floor to ceiling glass doors in front and at the sides can be opened up to create a perfect indoor-outdoor feel. We leave our curtains open at night, to watch the moonrise and the silver river of stars in the Milky Way.

Welgevonden elephant

Welgevonden Liquors

Although there are indoor tables at the communal area of the lodge, we prefer alfresco dining, so choose to sit on the stilted wooden deck, under the stars. Sipping fine South African wine, we watch game coming to drink at the nearby waterhole, as hyena whoop in the distance and an African Scops-owl calls in a low, hollow, repetitive note, occasionally dueting with its mate. Several staff members are from the local Northern Sotho (Sepedi) tribe, who pamper us with excellent service and meals to remember. Baristas have been trained in the art of coffee making and they have fun with latte art in the froth. My first coffee of the day arrives with the design of an elephant head in the microfoam.

Welgevonden food

One evening, dinner is served in the Boma, lit up by lanterns and a roaring wood fire. Top quality meat is flamed on a braai - South African for barbecue - then served with local vegetable dishes. It’s an opportunity to chat to fellow guests, to sit together with them if you would like some extra conviviality. After a lively chat about our sightings, we select the romantic option of a private table.

Strolling around the lodge one morning, we spot 5 klipspringers, pretty antelope that are adapted to live on rocky slopes.  A multicoloured lizard basks on a warm rock surface. Alive with butterflies and flitting birds, it’s such a treat to explore this lush area, that one game drive a day suffices.


Welgevonden flowers

Welgevonden turtle


Getting there

Welgevonden Game Reserve is a pleasant 3,5 hour drive, 250 km/124 miles northwest from Johannesburg, in a vehicle with high-clearance; or a 45 minute flight with a chartered airline to one of the airstrips.

Travel Tips

For the hot and rainy summer months of October to April, take cool clothes plus water resistant layers. In the cooler, dry winter months of May to September, pack warm layers, especially for cold evening game drives. Fifty Seven Waterberg spoils guests with a hot-water bottle on early morning game drives.

Welgevonden is malaria free.

For more features by Gillian McLaren: www.gillianmclaren.blogspot.com

Text by Gillian McLaren (@Jetset_Gillian)
Images by Gillian McLaren and Fifty Seven Waterberg