Located in the North West province, adjacent to the world-famous Sun City resort, lies the Pilanesberg Nature Reserve.
Whilst smaller than the Kruger National Park, the authenticity of the Pilanesberg Nature Reserve will captivate you with its abundance of wildlife sightings and incredible nature. With its close accessibility from Joburg or just a short flight up from the coast, it makes for an ideal, less expensive weekend getaway.
Keeping reading on to discover all the highlights of the Pilanesberg Nature Reserve.
Packed into its 55,000-hectare land, you can enjoy up-close encounters of the Big Five as well as other wildlife that adorns the rugged landscape, water valleys and panoramic open plains.
Aside from boasting an abundance of wildlife, there are two other interesting phenomenons that make the Pilanesberg Nature Reserve an incredibly unique game park to visit.
Home to an extinct volcano
The first is that it is home to a now extinct volcano. Satellite view images of the reserve reveal a scene of geological turmoil that you wouldn’t easily be able to witness from ground level.
You’ll find it fascinating to know that the Pilanesberg Nature Reserve is one of only three reserves worldwide that is set in an alkaline ring complex. What this means is that the Pilanesberg is, when viewed from above, shaped in a perfect ring formation of rolling hills where a fracture line dissects the park into two semi-circles.
This circular ring formation bares evidence of a now extinct volcano that once towered the landscape. It stood 7,000 metres high, making it far higher than any other volcano found in the world today. What Pilanesberg really is, is the base of possibly earth’s oldest volcano.
Studies done on the site reveal that it last erupted 1,200 – 1,300 million years ago which saw the centre of the volcano collapse, forming a crater. Millions of years of erosion have reduced the volcano to rolling plains and exposed the hard rock. Today, Mankwe Dam can be found in the heart of this crater. It’s astonishing to know that the valley surrounding Tlou Drive was formed on the fracture line.
The second phenomenon that took place in the Pilanesberg Nature Reserve was Operation Genesis. This was the grandest ecological experiment that was ever undertaken in Southern Africa. In fact, still to this day, this operation was the largest game translocation that ever took place in the world.
The 80s saw some 6,000 mammals successfully reintroduced into the park. Since then, the park has flourished and become one of the best game reserves in South Africa.
The 200-kilometre paved road network in the Pilanesberg Nature Reserve will take you through incredible geological formations that rise abruptly from the surrounding plains. As the park lies in a transition zone between the dry Kalahari and the wet Lowveld, you can also appreciate the beauty and variety of this scenic terrain.
The Pilanesberg Nature Reserve is teeming with lions, elephants, rhinos, leopards and the Cape buffalo. In fact, you can experience most of South African’s animal species here. The only mammals that are not found here are bontebok, blesbuck, spotted hyena and nyala.
It’s not just the Big Five that draw people here. The antelopes do as well. The park is home to the unusual sable, roan, and tsessebe. Other animals you can spot here are over 65 reptile species, caracals, cheetahs and the Cape wild dog. These wild dogs are Southern Africa’s most endangered large carnivores. And seeing that there are only 6,000 of these left in the world, consider yourself very lucky if you catch a glimpse of a pack.
And, birding enthusiasts, you will just love the birdlife that graces the park. You can find 360 bird species, some of which are migrants, whilst others are permanent inhabitants.
The best way to enjoy it
Choose between experiencing the Pilanesberg Nature Reserve either via self-drive or opting for a sunrise or sunset guided safari on offer at the many Pilanesberg lodges around the park.
If you are in for a more unique experience you can do a romantic hot air balloon ride at sunrise for an adventure of a lifetime. The balloon takes off from Mankwe Dam just before the sun starts to surface, showing off the beautiful landscapes and animals that this once active volcano has to offer. Upon landing, be greeted with a champagne breakfast or sundowner.
If you are travelling as a family, the park has a lot to offer you. The Manyane Lodge is one of the Pilanesberg lodges that have a huge enclosed area where you and your loved ones can walk between more placid animals. You can see zebras, tsessebe antelopes, ostriches, wildebeest, impala and warthog roaming freely.
For lunch, stop off at any one of the five picnic spots that are located throughout the reserve. Three of them are perfectly positioned high-up on a hill and boast incredible views of the plains or lake below. If a braai is on the cards for lunch, you will be delighted to learn that all the picnic spots have braai facilities and all the necessary amenities.
Love taking photos? Hang out at any of the seven bird hides scattered around the park. They provide the best opportunities for photographing wildlife. And if you are in for a bit more of a wilder adventure, opt for a guided walk. These are offered by many of the Pilanesberg lodges. They will give you a new outlook on nature and afford you the opportunity to get close to wildlife. That, is, of course, if you are brave enough coming face-to-face with a rhino or buffalo that is!
Best spots in the park
The beauty of the Pilanesberg is best reflected in the Mankwe Dam, the park’s most popular spot for wildlife sightings. It rests at the foothills of the park’s highest mountain peak and is believed to be the sight where the centre of the volcano used to be.
Rather than aimlessly driving around to find the wildlife, position yourself here, amidst lions and cheetahs, who are also patiently waiting for the game to come to them. While you wait, you can marvel at the hippos that frequent these waters, as well as the kingfishers that can be found in abundance here.
Other viewpoints include the Lenong viewpoint, a perfect sundowner spot where you can experience a stunning view of the park, as well as the Tlou Dam and Tshukudu, that frequents with elephants and leopards.
Best time to visit
Pilanesberg National Park is thriving just about any time of the year. Each season brings upon varying conditions with some seasons boasting more wildlife sightings than others.
Visit during the winter months (June to September) for a greater chance of spotting wildlife. As the ground dries up, and the drought rolls in, animals can be found gathering around more permanent sources of water. Also, during this time, accommodation prices decrease and the park sees fewer visitors.
The most popular time for tourists is during September, followed by August and January. During these months the scenery is more picturesque and boasts vibrant hues of green. This is birthing time for many animals, while flocks of birds tend to migrate.
During the summer months (October, December, and January), the park experiences the highest temperatures averaging around 17 to 37 degrees Celcius, as well as mid-afternoon thunderstorms.
Custom made holiday packages
With so many unique travel choices and such an easy booking process, the only stress you have is deciding on when to take that trip. If you’d rather have a package created for you, we have a dedicated team of experts ready to help you build the perfect holiday package.
For the full bush experience, choose to stay in one of the lodges in the park. Alternatively, book yourself into one of the hotels or cabanas at Sun City, a short shuttle ride away.
Have you ever visited Pilanesberg National Park yet? Share your insider tips and best wildlife sighting spots in the comments below.
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All information on this blog page was correct at the time of publishing and may change at any time without prior notice. Travelstart will not be held liable for loss or inconvenience resulting from the use of out-dated or incorrectly noted information.