Approximately 350km (217 miles) N of Johannesburg

The Waterberg, a 150km-long (93-mile) mountain ridge that rises quite dramatically from the bushveld plains to 2,085m (6,839 ft.) above sea level, is substantially less populated than the big-game country that lies to the east of the Escarpment, in and around Kruger. With no major roads and only one town (Vaalwater) within a 15,000-sq.-km (5,850-sq.-mile) area, the region is almost totally devoid of humans. With no forestry or industry contributing to pollution, it's one of the most pristine wilderness areas in the country. It also offers a more varied terrain within a smaller area, with majestic mountainscapes and rocky ravines, grassed valleys, and lush riverines. Besides its proximity (a 2 1/2-hr. drive) to Johannesburg, the reserve is also malaria free, which makes it ideal for those with children or an aversion to medication. Add to this the mountainous landscape and lack of congestion when compared with some of the private game reserves around Kruger, and the relatively good-value rates charged by some of the lodges, and it becomes a very appealing choice indeed.

Waterberg has three major players. The Welgevonden Reserve, a magnificent 40,000-hectare (98,800-acre) wilderness, is the most accessible to visitors. It has for some time been managed and restocked by a consortium of wealthy concession holders, all of whom have had to develop their camps along very strict guidelines, ensuring a very tightly run operation with high levels of professionalism and respect for the environment. Vehicles are not allowed off-road, for example, which can be a major drawback if you spot a lion lying 100m (328 ft.) away, and it makes leopard sightings extremely rare. But the relatively high density of animals ensures good sightings, and the intimacy of the small lodges is most conducive to relaxing.