Bordering Gauteng, Bojanala Region lies in North West Province’s northeastern bushveld and is a popular weekend destination for Jo’burgers. One of the more distinctive parts of this largely empty and flat province is the Magaliesberg mountain range, which gets its name from the Tswana chief Mogale of the Kwena clan. Kwena people lived here from the seventeenth century until 1825, when most of them were forced out by the Ndebele chief Mzilikazi. Afrikaner farmers continued the process of eviction, and today the dispossession and expulsion of the Kwena in the Magaliesberg is complete.
Great chunks of the Magaliesberg have been fenced off and turned into time-shares or resorts, but there are oases of unspoilt nature, notably Kgaswane Mountain Reserve – accessed from the region’s main town, Rustenburg – and the Mountain Sanctuary Park, both preserved in something like their previous natural state and well stocked with wildlife. (The southeastern Magaliesberg mountains are covered in Chapter 7, see Gauteng.)
Further north, occupying an ancient volcanic crater, is the outstanding Pilanesberg National Park – the “Big Five” mainstay of Gauteng-based safari operators. If you’re in the mood for a fun-in-the-sun water park and some surreal tourist opulence, Sun City is worth checking out, if only as a stopover on your way in to Pilanesberg.Read More
Some 120km northwest of Johannesburg lies the platinum-mining town of RUSTENBURG, the oldest town in the former Western Transvaal. With its grid of prefabricated chain stores and shopping malls, the place is a pretty dreary hymn to misguided town planning and eminently missable. Still, you may end up staying if you’re visiting the glorious Kgaswane Mountain Reserve, 7km south of town.
Rustenburg’s historic centre is limited to two blocks of Burger Street, from Nelson Mandela Drive to Oliver Tambo Drive. Here you’ll find two churches: the old Anglican church, dating from 1871, and the 1850 Dutch Reformed church. Facing the latter is the graceful 1935 town hall and a statue of Paul Kruger by French sculptor Jean Georges Achard, showing the president in his last days in exile in France, sitting grumpily in an armchair. After this quick sightseeing tour, head to the gleaming Waterfall Mall, 5km east of town (follow Nelson Mandela Drive), for the province’s best shopping.
- Kgaswane Mountain Reserve
A surreal pocket of high-rise hotels and tinkling gaming machines in the endless bushveld, SUN CITY consists of four hotel resorts tightly packed together with golf courses, a water park and various other attractions. When entrepreneur Sol Kerzner began building the vast complex in the 1970s, the area was part of the Bophuthatswana Bantustan and therefore one of the few places in the country where you could gamble legally. Thousands visited from “across the border” to sample Kerzner’s blend of gaming, topless shows and over-the-top hotels. However, now that gambling is legal in South Africa, Sun City has altered its focus, promoting itself these days as a family destination – indeed, if you have kids to entertain, this is an excellent place to bring them. The resort also makes a good base for exploring Pilanesberg National Park.
Pilanesberg Game Reserve
Pilanesberg Game Reserve
Adjacent to Sun City and home to a huge variety of animals, the PILANESBERG GAME RESERVE is North West Province’s biggest tourist draw. The artificially created reserve was, until 1979, occupied by farmers and the Tswana people, who were unceremoniously evicted when Operation Genesis saw over six thousand animals shipped in from all over the country to fill the park. Just two to three hours’ drive from Pretoria and Jo’burg, Pilanesberg is definitely the place to come to see some game if you’re based in Gauteng and have only limited time in South Africa. Like any other game parks, you’ll get the most from your visit if you stay in or near the reserve so that you’re in the best position to head out at prime game-viewing time: at dawn, before the day visitors arrive.
Don’t let the crowds or the managed nature of the place put you off: the park offers game-viewing thrills aplenty, with a good chance of seeing all of the Big Five, along with hippo, brown hyena, giraffe and zebra. The majority of antelope species are here, too, and there’s a vast array of birdlife – over 365 species recorded so far. At night, some fantastic creatures emerge, including civet, porcupine and caracal, though you’ll be lucky to spot them.
Covering some 650 square kilometres, and with 200km of good-quality tar and gravel roads, you’ll need at least a day to do Pilanesberg justice. The reserve is easily explored by car, especially with the official map (for sale at the gates and camp shops). The park’s many beautiful hills – the result of an unusual volcanic eruption that occurred 1200–1300 years ago – are in some ways Pilanesberg’s finest feature, though they are often ignored by visitors more interested in scouring their slopes for wildlife. Pilanesberg’s natural focus, for visitors and wildlife alike, is the alkaline Lake Mankwe (“place of the leopard”), whose goings-on are best observed from several walk-in hides. The various picnic spots and hides dotted around are ideal for breaking the drive – the hides in particular aren’t used by many visitors and as a result can be cool, peaceful places to appreciate the natural surroundings. If you’re self-driving, don’t hesitate to ask the safari jeep drivers for sighting tips; all of them are in radio contact with each other and know exactly what’s going on.