A Camp Master Campsite Review: The Maretlwane Wilderness School

The Maretlwane Wilderness School, located just an hour and thirty minutes outside of Johannesburg, is a much more varied adventure experience than the name might lead you to believe. Though the expansive property in the heart of the Magaliesberg mountain has the capacity to act as a wilderness education space for school or youth groups, the space has transformed in recent years into a space for campers, holidaymakers, and outdoor enthusiasts alike. With reasonably priced yet ample and comfortable facilities at every luxury level, as well as breathtaking waterfalls, natural swimming pools and exciting hikes, this spot brings “the call of the wild” close to home. The Camp Master team paid Maretlwane a visit to give you the low down on what to expect at this hidden gem of theNorth West Province.

Location

Travelling to the Maretlwane Wilderness school from Johanneburg takes about 90 minutes, and about 70 minutes from Pretoria. You’ll have to travel through the small town of Mooinooi, where there’s a large and well-stocked grocery store for you to grab any supplies you may have forgotten to pack into your Camp Master Utility box. Make sure to follow the directions the Maretlwane team sends you on booking once you are through Mooinooi. You’ll be cruising through some dirt roads without signage, and Google Maps isn’t the most reliable with minimal signal in the area.

The campsite itself I nestled on the banks of a river in the Magaliesberg, shady and sheltered from the beating sun. The true highlight of the location is its proximity to kloofs and rivers, which are perfect for explorers at any level looking to have a splash around in pristine mountain waters. A short walk from the main campsite is the first major waterfall along the kloof, which boast a near-Olympic-sized swimming pool and rocks to jump off, as well as a beautifully shady picnic area. As one explores further up the kloof, one will encounter breathtaking views and tons of nooks and crannies in which to chill out and listening to the babbling waters and chittering wildlife.

Upon acquiring a permit from the friendly staff at reception, day visitors and overnight residents alike can take the 8.5km round trip hike up to Castle Gorge. We don’t recommend this moderately challenging hike for those with limited mobility, as many spots on the trail are quite steep and technical. The highlight of this route is the Castle Gorge waterfall, a steep, three-tiered geographical wonder with swimming pools and an incredible view right from the top of the Magaliesberg mountains. This location has a separate entry route, as controlled by the MCSA, so can get relatively busy in peak times. Make sure to pack a picnic to snack on when you reach the top, because you’ll want to savour the experience.

Facilities

One of the most exciting aspects of the Maretlwane experience is just how many options you have to enjoy. If you want to experience tented camping, you can pitch a tent at the shady, Creekside Bushwillow campsite, in close proximity to well-appointed ablutions. For a wilder camping experience, choose a spot at the Waterfall campsite, deep within the kloof. Large groups may want to sleep in the Bush School units, which consist of group hangout spots and 4-person wood cabin dorms. A weekend away for a celebration would be perfect in the 8-sleeper unit “The Hives,” while the lightly more luxurious Heffalump cabin is perfect for a romantic getaway. If you really want to dial in on the luxury, opt for a spot in the Maretlwane Lodge. Secluded from other guests and nestled in a manicured indigenous garden, this 10-sleeper wilderness oasis will be the spot of quiet you crave in the hustle and bustle of your daily life. The braai area is awesome, too!

Due to the fact that the location uses a generator, there is only electricity for between four and five hours every evening, and there is little-to-no cell reception, so you’re likely to be entirely off the grid for most of your stay, which we think is a good thing. If you’re a rock climber, there are bolted sport climbing routes of varying difficulty up and down the waterside crags, but make sure at least one member of your group is at an advanced level to totally ensure your safety. For all the accommodations except for the “Heffalump” cottage and the lodge, you’ll need to bring along your own bedding, but all the non-camping facilities have cutlery, crockery, and gas stoves for you to use to your heart’s content.

Activities

Entrance for day visitors and overnight guests alike includes the price of a “conservancy fee.” This is because the property is classified as a nature conservancy, and therefore boasts all the wildlife indigenous to the area Walking or driving around the Maretlwane farm, you might encounter giraffes, zebras and buck aplenty. There were even rumoured sightings of leopard in the range a few years ago – don’t worry though – not near your campsite. Aside from game, the location is great for birders and budding botanists, boasting a wide variety of small fauna and flora to feast your eyes on.

As we mentioned earlier, the Castle Gorge hike is an absolute highlight, but there are many less challenging routes for walkers of all abilities to explore. We recommend asking the team at reception to point you in the direction of the Euphorbia tree forest for a truly unique experience in easy walking distance.

If you’re less into walking and more into chilling, we recommend setting up a base at one of the many vast swimming holes beyond the main Maretlwane waterfall. Be sure to bring sunshades, a cooler box, a towel, comfy chairs or hammocks and plenty of sunscreen. It’s easy to lose yourself in the hazy sunlight and sparkling streams of the Magaliesberg, so don’t be surprised when the hours go by quicker than you might anticipate. Seriously, you should book an overnight stay.

In the evenings, the tranquil atmosphere and ample access to large communal braai areas make this the perfect place to experiment with campfire cuisine. Having made an excellent potjie in the large boma at “The Hives,” the Camp Master team can categorically state that the braai conditions at Maretlwane are perfect. If you ask the team, they will bring you wheelbarrow loads of local firewood, too, so you can keep the bonfire chats and camaraderie going on late into the night. Music and partying are, however, discouraged, so we encourage you to keep your group calm, quiet and respectful of other.

Overall impressions:

We know life can be busy, and a huge expedition into the wilderness (no matter how awesome they look) can feel truly unattainable to most working adults. We also know what it feels like to need to scratch that itch to escape into the bush. We think the Maretlwane Wilderness School strikes that perfect balance between adventure and accessibility. Close enough to the city to make a day trip or overnight getaway totally viable, yet full of genuine mountain splendour for every outdoor skill level, this spot is a must-see for all Camp Masters in the northern part of South Africa.

To book, just take a look at the Maretlwane website. Once you’re excited and planning, make sure to head to a Game, Makro or Builders Warehouse near you to get your hands on the essential gear you need to maximise your enjoyment of the mountains. Make sure to share your thoughts (and fun photos) on the Maretlwane Experience with us over on @campmastersa.

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