The town of Bela Bela in South Africa’s Waterberg Biosphere offers a range of activities from its warmbaths to an adrenaline-raising zip-line tour and, of course, excellent game sightings, says Janine Avery
outh Africa’s Waterberg Biosphere stretches from just north of Pretoria all the way to the border of Botswana, covering 14,500 square kilometres and a rich variety of environments, including undulating mountain ranges, deep valleys with gushing rivers, dams and lakes, pristine woodland and bushveld, home to a variety of animals and bird species. It’s a naturally beautiful area that is easily reached from the cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria, making it perfect for a short getaway.
Arriving in the Waterberg
My recent visit to this stunning part of South Africa focussed on the Bela Bela area. The town was originally called Warmbaths because of the natural hot springs around which the town is built. The warmbaths, which were originally discovered by the Tswana tribes who inhabited the area, are the main drawcard for local tourists who flock here for weekends and school holidays to relax in the pools and enjoy some family time.
We decided to venture some 20km outside the town to a private reserve, which would become our home away from home. Mabalingwe Nature Reserve, which means ‘spots of the leopard’, provided a tranquil escape with our chalet offering stunning views across the valley. With daily visitors to our chalet including vervet monkeys, bushbuck, warthogs (with the tiniest of babies!), baboons, kudu and even the rare and elusive bush pig, we would have been content to sit there and simply watch the world go by — but there was so much more just waiting to be discovered!
Keeping an eye out for animals
Days at Mabalingwe were a relaxed affair, starting off with an early morning adventure in search of wildlife, returning to camp for a leisurely breakfast of bacon and eggs, an afternoon dip in the cold pool, before warming up in the hot pool, and then out again for another game drive.
There are so many reserves in the area, each one offering a similar appeal as well as guided game drives and walking safaris to in-house guests and day visitors. We were lucky enough that our reserve allowed self-driving, allowing us the freedom to explore as we pleased, and we enjoyed great game sightings daily, including some really magical moments with banded mongoose, a family of ostriches, a towering journey of giraffe and plenty of antelope species. We even decided to give our car a run for her money on the 4WD trail where we came eye to eye with a magnificent male nyala and listened to the bizarre shouts of the mountain reedbuck ring out along the hilltops.
However, the highlight of our safari experience was no doubt the horse-riding safari. Our relaxed bush ponies provided the perfect steeds for a two-hour ramble through the reserve where we got incredibly close to giraffe and wildebeest with small calves as well as warthog, impala, kudu and jackal.
The adventure isn’t over yet
Our final adventure in the Waterberg was a zip-line tour of the valley. Waterberg Zipline Adventures, based at the Thaba Monaté Game Lodge, offers an unforgettable adventure that was definitely one of the highlights of our visits. After harnessing up, we listened to a short safety-briefing by our enthusiastic guides before starting our adventure. The experience included 10 fantastic zip slides zigzagging across the lush mountainside. We could hear baboons calling out on the hills, and at one point, a cute klipspringer bounded up the rocks alongside us to see what all the fun was about. Ten slides later and we couldn’t wipe the smiles off our faces!
All in all, our wild adventure to the Waterberg was an experience we won’t soon forget and we look forward to returning again, and again!