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LListening to the story of Thakadu River Camp in Madikwe Game Reserve – a malaria-free park straddling the Marico River (the border between North West and Limpopo provinces) – is like immersing yourself in a happy-ending, real-life fairy tale.
This tented camp along the clear green Marico not far from the Botswana border is 100% owned by a group of Tlokwa families (the Tlokwa are a sub-group of the Tswana people with clans scattered from Botswana to Lesotho) – most of whom live in a small nearby village called Molatedi. The community members gain clear benefits from having this luxury lodge here – it’s a model of responsible tourism.
Not only is there an annual amount paid to the community’s trust fund by the camp’s operators, but only local villagers are employed and trained at the lodge, so it provides employment as well as profit-share to the community. Not surprisingly, Thakadu is a Fair Trade in Tourism-certified destination.
A trip to the village of Molatedi is easily arranged. It is memorable in part for its apparent lack of people of working age – you’ll mostly see old people or very young people along its quiet, dusty streets.
Everyone else is either working at Thakadu or involved in the ecotourism business. This is thanks to Madikwe Game Reserve, which is an enormous park embodying a mutually beneficial partnership between the landowner (government), the lodge owners (communities or the private sector) and an environment that supports both.
Ecotourism is an industry that suits many female breadwinners – they don’t need to travel far to work and can be close to their families, saving on rent, food and transport. It’s far easier to raise children in this environment than if they worked far from home.
The little shop owners don’t have to deal with crippling debt, because employed people can pay their bills. The school is of a decent standard, with motivated teachers.
The Thakadu tented camp offers 5-star accommodation (so expect it to be priced accordingly), in tents set on platforms over the thickly wooded Marico River. Each has a wide balcony, a romantic room and an en-suite bathroom. It’s the perfect base from which to plan game-and bird-watching sorties through the reserve.
The community members are tremendously proud of their beautiful lodge, and it shows in their welcome – every guest is treated like the guest of honour.
TTravel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Thakadu River Camp Reservations
Tel: +27 (0)10 442 5800/888
How to get here
The Madikwe Game Reserve is about a 4-hour drive from Johannesburg via the R509, the N9 and the R49.
Best time to visit
Spring and early summer show the area off at its best (September to the end of November), but every part of the year has its attractions. It can be very hot from December to February, and very cold, particularly at night, from May to August.
Around the area
You’re only an hour or two from Sun City’s casinos, water world and golf. Madikwe is also very close to the Botswana border.
Length of stay
Stay at least 2 nights, or more if you can.
What to pack
Sunblock and a hat all year round, and something warm for the evenings if you’re visiting between May and August.