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Pilanesberg Game Reserve – Ten Things You Need to Know Before Visiting

Pilanesberg Game Reserve – Ten Things You Need to Know Before Visiting

If you are planning on visiting the Pilanesberg game reserve you should know a few things about it before you arrive.

The game reserve is relatively new but offers many opportunities for game viewing, recreation, learning and nature photography.

1. Uniqueness – The game reserve is situated on the remains of an extinct alkaline volcanic crater that was active a few thousand years ago. It’s rare rock types and structures make it a unique geological feature. It is known as “The Volcano that gave birth to a game reserve”. It differs to Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater in that the Pilanesberg volcano walls have collapsed inward thereby making many small hills inside the park as opposed to Ngorongoro crater that still has its wall intact. In addition, the Pilanesberg is about twice the size of the Ngorongoro crater.

2. Location and History – The game reserve is located in South Africa’s North West Province (Sun City is located on the outer edge of the Pilanesberg). The reserve was established in 1979 after Operation Genesis had game-fenced the reserve and re-introduced thousands of animals. The park exists within the transition zone between the dry Kalahari and wetter Lowveld (Kruger) vegetation, commonly referred to as “Bushveld”. This allows animals from both areas, to be present together. Springbok, brown hyena, red-eyed bulbul, and camel thorn trees usually found in arid areas (such as the Kgalagadi and Etosha) are found living together with moist-area animals such as impala, spotted hyena, black-eyed bulbul and Cape chestnut trees, that are normally found in the Kruger Park.

3. Size – 580 square kilometers (it can fit into the Kruger Park about 35 times!) The North West Parks Board has, however, embarked on an 8 year plan to connect the Pilanesberg National Park with the 800 square kilometer Madikwe Game Reserve. This will create a 100 km wildlife corridor between the two parks creating one large park in the region of 1500 square kilometers. The Pilanesberg gets nearly 400 000 visitors per year and can get crowded, especially over holiday periods, so this expansion plan is most welcome!

4. Known for – Lake Mankwe, which tends to be the central focus point and the bird hides that allow wildlife photographers to get close to birds and mammals.

5. Roads – There are about 200 kilometers of roads in the park, both tar and dirt roads, making the Pilanesberg the ideal self-drive safari destination. The Pilanesberg is about 150 kilometers from Johannesburg and the roads leading to the park are all tarmac in good condition.

6. Weather – The summers are hot with the rains starting in October and ending about April. Winters are best for game viewing with mild days but the nights can get cold.

7. Accommodation – There are eight lodges in the Pilanesberg, two budget (Manyane and Bakgatla), two with mid-range pricing (Kwa Maritane and Bakubung) and four above average pricing (Shepherd’s Tree, Ivory Tree, Tshukudu, and Buffalo Thorn lodge). Manyane and Bakgatla offer camping as well as chalets. All the lodges have braai (barbeque) facilities and/or restaurants as well as TVs with DSTV reception.

8. Activities and Facilities – There are conference facilities and swimming pools at all the lodges. There are seven bird hides in the park, and five picnic sites. All the bird Hides and Picnic sites are safely fenced and all have toilets but only the picnic sites have braai facilities. These hides, picnic sites and viewpoints are great as they allow visitors to enjoy “out-of-car” experiences. The Pilanesberg Centre is located in the middle of the reserve and it has a restaurant and shops. You have the choice of self-drive safaris, guided safaris and/or night drives.

9. Safety Tips – Please stay in your vehicles when in the park and do not speed for both your and the animals’ safety.

10. Things to seek in the Pilanesberg:

– The Big Five of Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Rhino (black and white), and Buffalo
– The Super-seven – the Big Five plus Wild Dog and Cheetah
– Brown Hyena
– Honey Badgers
– Sable, Eland, Tsessebe and Red Hartebeest
– Visit the bird hides especially in winter. Mankwe and Rathlogo are our favorites.
– Hot-air balloon safari
– Walk-in aviary at both Manyane camp and at Sun City
– Have breakfast or lunch at one of the picnic sites on the hills – the views are amazing
– The rare black rhino – sightings can be regular in the Pilanesberg

The Pilanesberg Game Reserve is certainly one of the most incredible places in South Africa. The density of rare species within the park, its impressive beauty and close proximity to Sun City and Johannesburg plus the absence of malaria, make it a most appealing safari destination.