The Waterberg (“Water Mountains”) are a unique part of Limpopo Bushveld, a jewel yet to be discovered by the average tourist. The mountains cover some 15 000 square km of largely underpopulated, unspoilt bushveld wilderness to the north of the towns of Bela Bela (Warmbaths) and Thabazimbi. Rising 600 m above this landscape is the Waterberg Mountain Range, with the Palala Plateau at its centre. There are several streams, waterfalls, pools and marshes in an area that is home to many rare and endangered species of game, as well as to the world’s largest breeding colony of Cape vultures.
Large areas of the Waterberg region have been designated as conservation areas where animals such as elephant, white rhino, the endangered black rhino, leopard and buffalo are protected. The African python and the Nile crocodile are also found in the area, which is also a haven for some of 300 species of birds. This beautiful area has led to the development of the Waterberg Nature Conservancy, in which several conservation areas have united to form a biosphere and conserve more than 150 000 ha of the Waterberg habitat. The Waterberg Range stretches for 150 km from Thabazimbi past Modimolle (Nylstroom) to Mokopane (Potgietersrus).
The area was once home to the San people (Bushmen) who sought out the many caves and smooth-faced cliff surfaces to leave a visual record of their presence, their culture and their religion -in vivid, emotive rock art paintings. The first Iron Age immigrants from the north expelled the San. Late Iron Age people left behind evidence of their stay in the ruins of their stonewalled dwelling places. The first white settlers arrived in the late 1800s and the Waterberg area soon became a hiding place for remittance men, draft dodgers, gunrunners, ivory traders, hunters and the distillers of strong liquor. However, by the time the Anglo-Boer War of 1899 to 1902 broke out, it had also become home to English and Afrikaans pioneers who wanted to settle and tame the land.
One of the most renowned inhabitants of the Waterberg area was Eugene Marais, father of African ecology and the author of such literary works as My Friends the Baboons, The Soul of the White Ant, and the classic, Road to the Waterberg. The “road to the Waterberg” lies some 300 km north of the Witwatersrand and was the road followed by the early white settlers who first ventured into the area. During the 1920s, Marais discovered a beautiful cycad in the area but details of its location were thought to have died with him. However, his niece, Dr Inez Verdoorn, helped in the search to rediscover the species and, after locating it, named it Encephalartos eugene-maraisii (since renamed Encephalartos dyerianus). The plant is protected in the 42-ha Lillie Flora Nature Reserve.
Although the Waterberg is clearly not a town, we will treat it as such and tell you of the many activities and attractions it has to offer.
Adventure And Sport
4×4 Routes: The Waterberg region has several exciting 4×4 opportunities.
Hiking: The area is explored by numerous hiking trails. More details concerning the trails can be obtained from the Community Tourism Association.
Archaeology And Palaeontology
San Rock Art: The Waterberg region has several sites where San rock paintings can be viewed. There are also some very interesting geological formations in the mountains.
Fauna And Flora
Waterberg Biosphere Reserve: The biosphere includes the protected areas of Masebe Nature Reserve, Moepel Farms, Mokolo Dam, Marakele National Park, Nylsvley Nature Reserve, Lapalala Wilderness, Kwalata, Keta and Touchstone Game Ranch. A vast number of farms, which are a part of the nature conservancy, have changed over to game farming and interlinked this activity with their agricultural practices.
Marakele National Park: Marakele, meaning a “Place of Sanctuary”, is located at the western end of the Waterberg range and covers some 44 000 ha of mountains, cliffs, valleys and grass-covered hills. Game that has been released into the park includes such rare and endangered species as the tsessebe, roan antelope and sable antelope. Other antelope released into the park are reedbuck, waterbuck, eland and impala. Giraffe and hippo have also been introduced. Leopard and various other species of antelope occur naturally in the park. The first herds of buffalo, black and white rhino and elephant have already arrived and lions will be introduced as soon as it is viable. The bird life is prolific, with more than 286 species having already been identified. The park’s Cape Vulture breeding colony of some 800 birds is the largest in the world! A four-day guided hiking trail follows along the tributaries of the Matlabas River.
Lapalala Wilderness: Lapalala is a privately owned, 40 000ha wildlife sanctuary named after the Lephalala River which cuts a 45-km path through the reserve. The reserve is situated north of the town of Vaalwater. Its main aim is to help conserve the Waterberg area, to educate young people,
regardless of race, colour or creed, in environmental awareness and to breed rare and endangered wildlife species. In 1990 Lapalala became the first private conservation area in the world to acquire black rhino. It also offers sanctuary to rare and endangered species such as roan antelope and sable antelope. Although of secondary importance, tourism represents a significant source of income and consequently the reserve caters for tourists in fully equipped, hutted and tented bush camps and in the 16-bed Kolobe Lodge. There are also several hiking trails and safaris.
In April 1990, a wildlife conservancy of just over 50 000 ha, which presently covers three reserves, Lapalala Wilderness, Touchstone Game Range and Kwalata, was established. Kwalata offers accommodation, game drives through the bush and guided walks ranging from 1 to 5km, and Touchstone offers more luxurious accommodation, clearly marked safari hiking trails and contains more than 90 different types of game. Both reserves have a wide variety of birds to view.