Mashatu – First Impressions Matter

Michael Dippenaar

As a wildlife enthusiast and photographer, I am always both excited and apprehensive to visit a new location. ‘Will this location live up to my expectations?

How will it compare to other locations that I love? Am I going to experience something that I know my guests will fall in love with?

With these thoughts in mind, the ACQ team recently visited Mashatu Game Reserve in the south eastern corner of Botswana. It’s a short five-and-a-half hour drive from Johannesburg (most of the way on surprisingly brilliant roads) to the Pont Drift Border Post. After checking through customs, you are greeted by a Mashatu ranger who either drives you across the vast emptiness of a dry Limpopo River or accompanies you on a cable car ride if the river is in flood, before stamping your passport on the Botswana side.

From the border you drive straight into Mashatu, which stretches a whopping 29000 hectares around you. It forms part of the Northern Tuli Game Reserve, which is nestled between Zimbabwe’s Tuli Circle and Mapungubwe National Park, one of South Africa’s eight World Heritage Sites. Together they form a gigantic cross-border wildlife conservation area, which protects the Limpopo Valley’s substantial biodiversity and allows animals the freedom to move around without the constraints of fences.

You arrive at Mashatu Tent Camp and are greeted warmly by the fantastic staff who run the lodge, cool face cloths waiting to ease you from the Botswana heat. After unpacking your belongings in your stunning and comfortable safari tent, you enjoy a quick high tea before heading out to explore the reserve.

What struck me so pertinently was the absolute passion the rangers and trackers have for their home and their work. Their enthusiasm and optimism was infectious. They gave their full attention to our experience at all times, something which is a welcome rarity.

To describe the landscape in words is somewhat difficult. It is probably some of the most beautiful wilderness you can expect to experience in Africa, a true feast for your senses. Rocky Mopane-covered outcrops open up to undulating fairways of open grassland. In summer, one could easily mistake these grasslands for manicured golf courses, dotted with perfectly placed trees. You drive further and find yourself suddenly in thick green riverine forests that hug the wide riverbeds criss-crossing the property. Filled with dark sand, these riverbeds are something unique with a prehistoric charm to them.

Then you see them…the Mashatu trees! Citadels of deep green, so massive that you remain awe-struck as you pass under them, searching the tangle of branches in hope of finding a leopard taking a nap. They are numerous, each with their own charm and mystery and you never tire of seeing them.

You drive a little further and find yourself in a truly magical place. The centre of the reserve. It boasts massive expanses of open Devil’s Thorn veld. When you are lucky to have arrived a week after some good rains (as we did) you will find the Devil’s Thorn in full bloom. The bright yellow flowers are so abundant that the land is carpeted in them. Undulating yellow meadows and vistas as far as you can see. Amongst the Devil’s Thorn you find pockets of Mustard Bush and Wild Sage which fill your nostrils with strong and wild aromas as your journey continues.

It’s a feast for your senses and sensors! Anything you find here is instantly photogenic by the fact that it is standing in the bouquet of yellow Devil’s Thorn. You may be fortunate (as we were) to photograph all manner or animals including eland, baboons, zebra, cheetah, bat-eared foxes, jackals, impala, kudu, wildebeest, elephants, bee-eaters, lions, elephants, African wild cat and more, in the yellow and green expanse. What a privilege and blessing to experience such a place in its glory.

The leopard sightings are spectacular as well. We found a gorgeous female as she groomed herself on a log in the middle of the deep green riverine forest and a female showing off her tiny cub in a dry riverbed flanked by Mopane shrubs on either side – just two of many amazing experiences we had on our short visit.

The hospitality at both Tent Camp and Main Lodge is something Mashatu should be proud of. The staff go out of their way to make you feel at home and part of the Mashatu family. The food is excellently prepared, delicious and you’ll certainly gain a few pounds during your stay.

Mashatu will instantly became one of your favourite places, even if you only spend a few days there. It is a place that must be shared, a place that must be experienced and a place that must be revisited. It is no wonder then, that Mashatu has found its way into the ACQ Safari Experiences. Come on a journey with us to this magical place. Its about more than just a photograph.

To find out more about our #MashatuGreenSeasonSafari click here.

Here are a few more images from our trip a few weeks ago:

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