Pilanesberg National Park – A Hidden Gem!

“If you are not filled with overflowing love, compassion and goodwill for all creatures living wild in nature, You will never know true happiness.” ~ Paul Oxton

On my last trip to South Africa, I wanted to have the opportunity to take my friends across to a National Park to allow them to get a feel of what it’s like to be out in the wild. In my head, I knew that Kruger National Park is a must visit, however it is quite far and our short stay in South Africa wouldn’t allow us for a trip that far out. However on closer research I realised that there are more Safari Parks near Johannesburg than meets the eye.

About 2.5-3 hours drive from Johannesburg lies Pilanesberg National Park, home to the big 5, set in an extinct volcanic crater. It seemed like the perfect option for a quick one night visit – and I couldn’t have been more right. (See pictures below!)

In our last stretch of the trip, we took the car out from Johannesburg and made our way by noon to the National Park. Lush green highlands slowly turned to sparse dry landscapes; the long highways endless. Tired from our visit to Cape Town and back, we made our way with a stopover for lunch in a central mall area (that included KFC, Steers and the lot) to stretch our legs and get a bite to eat.

We had opted to stay in a tented safari camp to get a real feel of the outdoors, and plus it worked well within our budget. As soon as we reached, we found that Pilanesberg Tented Camp is a small but inviting location, and the staff were immediately willing to help as they aided us to settle in before our first drive just before sundown. You can imagine our excitement for the first game drive! I personally was curious to see my friends’ reactions to the different animals, as you can imagine.

As we set off in our journey, our first sight within 5 minutes was an elephant, following on to an abundance of zebras and various impalas. Talk about luck! 😉 Cameras snapped away, and everyone in the jeep was excitedly on the lookout for any animals. The golden light was setting in on us fast, and our guide wanted to take us to see the rest of the big 5 – ideally lions or leopards.

Elephant PIlanesberg

Look at those ears!

Zebra Pilanesberg

Black and white beauties grazing away

It was as dusk fell upon us that our guide heard about a pride of lions. We’d seen them in the distance playing within the bush, however not in close enough sight – bare spots in the distance. Right at night we came upon the same pride of lions strolling right in front of us, in all their glory.

Night lion (1 of 1)

Looking straight at the camera.

Satisfied from our fairly short but successful drive – sightings of elephants, a variety of impalas and zebras, and the pride of lions – we made our way back to the camp for dinner. A comforting bonfire had been prepared in the middle of the camp for us to wait before dinner was going to be served. To sit by candlelight and enjoy our meal with the stars sparkling above us was a beautiful end to our night. A little cold, our mind and stomach satiated after the long day, we fell asleep almost immediately in preparation for the early morning drive.

Alarms blared out at 5am, waking us up in our groggy state and in need for coffee (I don’t know about you, but give me coffee any day to wake me up!). A quick change of clothes and we were back in the vehicle for our early morning drive. Rumbling across the dirt path, our excited guide told us stories of the animals and tried to wake us up. To be honest, the sunrise alone did that for me – what a beautiful sunrise at the savannah it was.

Sunrise v3 (1 of 1)

Just look at that glow…

With the glow of the sun rising over the plains, we spotted a group of jeeps parked and clearly watching something. In the far distance amongst the rocks, there was not just 1, but 2 leopards! Friskily playing hide-and-seek with us (they were quite far), we were now fully awake after having spotted the 3rd of the big 5. 2 more to go, and the day was still very young.

Leopard 3 (1 of 1)

Spot the leopard!

Soon the savannah grasses turned golden…

Savannah (1 of 1)

No caption needed

… A herd of giraffes stumbled upon us. From every angle, all we could see were these beautiful creatures, grazing and minding their own business.

Giraffe 9 (1 of 1)

Look at that giraffe pose though – talk about graceful!

Giraffes

It was a giraffe party!

Fully awake and enjoying our game drive, the scenery was complemented by impalas along the stretch of savannah plains.

Impala Pilanesberg

Looks like I was interrupting their moment…

Content with the drive and nearing the end, it came to our delightful surprise to spot a Rhino sleeping in the shade. A little far albeit, but I haven’t spotted a rhino in years, so this was a bonus! Silent in awe and admiration of this beautiful animal, we opted to not stay too long and leave the rhino be, slowly making our way back to camp.

Rhino

Lying peacefully in the shade…

Starving and mildly tired from the early morning drive, breakfast was a welcome sight indeed. Although breakfast isn’t served at the Tented Camp, right by the camp is another lodge called Manyane Resort; a beautiful place with an inviting pool as well.

With a scrumptious breakfast done and dusted, I dragged out my friends on another game drive. (Yes, I know – the cruelty!). They were half exhausted, but you could take the car inside the park – and it was an opportunity I couldn’t say no too. Admittedly, with the weather warm and time as a constraint (I had to rush back to Johannesburg to meet an old friend) we spotted a Wilderbeest or two and passed carefully by an elephant on the road as well. It was a hair-raising experience, and in hindsight I’m not sure if I would do it again.

Interested in going to Pilanesberg National Park? Further details below. 

How to get there:

From Johannesburg, you can either drive through Sandton and Midrand (which is the route that we took, the R556), or via the N4 and through Pretoria. Either passage will allow for the same amount of time.

What else can you do?

Although we didn’t get much time to explore other options, you can opt for:

  • Walking safaris (very exciting!)
  • Jump into a hot air balloon
  • Lounge by the pool or pamper yourself at the spa
  • Trek on a bird-watching trail for the bird enthusiasts
  • Quad biking trails for the more adventurous folks
  • Musical activities with the local tribes

If nothing else at all and you want to explore more of the park, take your car out and drive within the park. Just stay safe and wary of all the animals around you! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, not our territory. The savannah plains are for the animals and it’s their habitat; treat the area with respect.

Park fees:

On entering the National Park with your own vehicle, there are park fees that you need to consider. On your stay at Pilanesberg Tented Camp and using their vehicle for the drives, this is covered (I don’t want to speak for the other accommodation locations as I am not certain). Although if you would like to take your own car in you would need to pay the fee.

  • Adults: ZAR80
  • Adults Foreign Nationals: ZAR110
  • Children (6-12 yrs): ZAR30
  • Pensioners (SA only): ZAR40
  • Vehicles (Sedan/LDV/SUV): ZAR40

You can also purchase a map of the park at the entrance to aid in your journey as signal is quite limited within the area.

Park timings:

Please keep in mind the park timings if you choose to take your own car as to avoid any fines on late exits. Check out the website for more information on the seasonal timings.

Where else can you stay?

Depending on your preference of where to stay within the area, Pilanesberg National Park boasts of a variety of diverse options to reside at, from luxury chalets to mid-range lodges, to more budget friendly chalets and safari tents. Check out the link above for more information. 🙂

Writing about Pilanesberg National Park and thinking about upcoming visits of mine to many more National Parks just pounds my heart, and I can’t wait to share more experiences. In the meanwhile if you are in the Johannesburg region, drive down to Pilanesberg, even for just a day! There’s a lot you can spot 🙂

Have you been here before? Share your experiences in the comments below!