Having explored from the Kgalagadi to Kruger, seen elephants at Addo and danced in fields of daisies on the West Coast, I decided to spend my next wild adventure exploring a park that is very near and dear to my heart – Pilanesberg Game Reserve. Easily reached from Johannesburg, many a childhood holiday was spent in the wilderness of Pilanesberg, surrounded by elephants, rhinos, and lions, and enjoying it again recently with the family was a dream come true.
Here are my tips and tricks for travelling to Pilanesberg:
1. Stay the night
Pilanesberg Game Reserve offers a number of different accommodation options and you are bound to find something to suit your needs and budget. The high-end lodges cater primarily to tourists while locals will love Manyane and Bakgatla resorts. While they do offer chalets and tented accommodation, the firm favourite of these resorts has to be their large camping and caravan areas. With huge pools, on-site restaurants, and mini superettes, they have everything you need for a comfortable weekend away. We saw impala and kudu wandering around between the tents while the ever-present vervet monkeys and yellow-billed hornbills are also a fixture at the resorts.
2. Combine Pilanesberg with Sun City
After a few nights searching for game in the Pilanesberg we headed off to the Palace at Sun City for a beach-style getaway. The perfect addition to our bush safari, Sun City allowed us to get in our fix of sun, sand and ‘sea’. The Valley of the Waves has a host of new features including two new adrenaline-pumping water slides and a new zipline and rope adventure activity, while the Palace’s pools provided the perfect place to simply relax in peace.
3. Pack a snack
When self-driving through the Pilanesberg it’s important to pack some ‘padkos’. While the resorts of Mayane and Bakgatla, as well as Bakubung and Kwa Maritane, at the park gates have restaurants where you can enjoy a meal, don’t expect the rest stops and frequent camp stops you will find in parks like Kruger. The Pilanesberg Centre, set within a historic building which used to be the magistrate’s court for the area, does have a restaurant but you will probably get hungry long before that – especially if you have a successful time game viewing. If you are up for a picnic the Fish Eagle Picnic Site at Mankwe Dam offers beautiful views and offers a protected place to stop and stretch the legs.
4. Stick to the tar roads
If you don’t have a 4×4, or at the very least a good 2×4 with a fair amount of ground clearance, I recommend sticking to the tar roads and maybe some of the short little dirt loops off the main drag. The further you get away from the tar roads, the worse the road condition and you may struggle to see over the long grass and through the thick brush in a small vehicle. Even in a Land Rover, we enjoyed most of our good sightings on the main tar roads where it was easier to spot the animals. That said, if you are travelling on the weekend or in school holidays the roads can become busy, so head out early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the crowds.
5. Enjoy the hides
The hides in the Pilanesberg are very well maintained and are located on the main water sources so good sightings are common. We enjoyed a sighting of a leopard and her cub very close to a hide in the north while another hide gave us a magnificent sundowner sighting of a breeding herd of elephants. Even if we didn’t see any big mammals the hides offered up a chance to get closer to the little things such as kingfishers, terrapins and tiny crocodiles!