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.