Having just recently returned from our annual pilgrimage to the Pilanesberg National Park I feel absolutely obliged to share some of my experiences with other would-be visitors to South Africa. Most tourists who come to this country head straight for the Kruger National Park, our most famous game reserve – I am certainly not suggesting that you should not go to Kruger, (it is a great place for a holiday and there are so many different camps that you can be in a different part of the park every night), but Pilanesberg Game Reserve is also a great place to go to see the Big 5, and has a few advantages over Big Brother Kruger.
Getting to Pilanesberg Game Reserve
Firstly, if you are visiting the park from Johannesburg, it is just an easy 2 hour drive to get to Pilanesberg, whereas Kruger National Park is a good 5 hours from Johannesburg and secondly, Pilanesberg is not situated in a malaria area, so there is no need to take malaria meds – a big plus especially if you happen to be pregnant! There are a few good resorts and rest camps to choose from and it is also perfect to explore in a Johannesburg car rental or motorhome hire with good campsites!
Stay in the Game Reserve
Pilanesberg is the fourth largest game reserve in South Africa, and we bought a time-share bungalow at the Bakubung resort more than 20 years ago; this means that we have one weeks’ use per year, and believe me I cannot wait to get there every April! Bakubung (meaning Place of the Hippo) is a unique resort built right inside the game reserve; in fact, the chalets are all built in a horse-shoe shape around a waterhole which used to be the home of two resident hippos; (they have since re-located to a larger dam nearby, but the waterhole is still very well frequented by many other animals). It is so peaceful!
My favourite afternoon occupation is to sit outside the chalet and watch the passing parade of game which walks up into the horseshoe to waterhole and the salt-lick, which is a great attraction for some of them. Comical warthog families have their burrows right beside the fence outside our chalet and there are dozens of species of birds passing along the canopy of thorn trees; this place is just the perfect antidote to city life! You can drive yourself around the park as often as you like; it’s great to pack a picnic and spend the day in the park – stop alongside a waterhole and watch the game come to you! We love taking a few snacks and sun-downers into the park in the late afternoon and stopping at a hide or good vantage spot to watch the sun setting over the wide open spaces.
Guided Game Drives in Pilanesberg
Organised game drives are also excellent especially if you only have a day or two in Pilanesberg Game Reserve; on this last occasion we went on two evening guided game drives and both times we say 4 of the Big 5 on one drive; only the elusive leopard managed to evade us. At the moment is it quite dry in the park – there was very little summer rain, and this makes viewing a lot easier as the grass is shorter and the animals all tend to visit the waterholes quite reliably. We saw herds of buffalo, antelope, many giraffe and wildebeest and many, many elephants including some very young babies, just about a week or two old; it was such a rewarding trip and we all returned home with batteries charged, great photos and fond memories. Can’t wait till next year!