Nearly everyone traveling to South Africa has a secret desire to see them: the Big Five. A safari should be a part of everyone’s trip through South Africa. What most people wouldn’t expect, however, is that you can spot the big five after driving only two hours from Johannesburg. It really is possible, in Pilanesberg National Park.
Pilanesberg National Park
With an area of 550km², Pilanesberg National Park is the fourth largest park in South Africa. Besides a large diversity in wildlife, there’s something else that makes this National Park special; it’s set in a crater that was formed 1300 million years ago when a volcano erupted. Apart from the presence of the Big Five, Pilanesberg NP, with the Mankwe Dam situated in the middle, is also simply a beautiful bit of nature.
Self-drive or organized safari
You are allowed to drive yourself through Pilanesberg National Park. The main roads are paved, so you don’t need a 4×4 for these. You can also choose to explore the park with a guide. The advantage of this is that your guide will know exactly where all the good places to spot animals are. The guided safari trucks also take you on un-paved roads, allowing you to focus entirely on spotting and photographing the animals, which is great. And if you’re not quite sure what to do when there’s a rhinoceros family standing on the road in front of you, you may also prefer a guided safari. But in the end, it is slightly less adventurous, so make sure you think about what’s important to you when making a choice!
Sunrise or sunset
The times when you’re most likely to see wildlife are early in the morning and at sunset, which makes these the best times to plan a safari. This is also when the light is best for taking pictures or, as you would say in photography terms: these are the golden hours of the day. Another tip when trying to spot wildlife: your chances are slightly greater around the dams, as most animals will be looking for water at some point.
The Big Five
The Big Five are: the lion, the elephant, the buffalo, the rhinoceros and the leopard. These animals can all be spotted in Pilanesberg NP! Seeing one of these animals for the first time in South Africa is such an incredible experience!
The Ugly Five
Not only can you spot the Big Five in Pilanesberg NP, you can also find the Ugly Five here. The animals that have the dubious honor of belonging to this group are: the hyena, the vulture, the marabou, the warthog and the wildebeest.
More animals in Pilanesberg NP
Though it may seem fun to ‘cross off’, don’t pin yourself down to these lists. Zebras, giraffes, hippos and cheetahs are all beautiful animals to see and there’s a big chance you’ll actually see them; you certainly won’t go home without seeing a least one or maybe all of these animals.
The big advantage of Pilanesberg as opposed to Krugerpark is that Pilanesberg is not a malarial area. You won’t have to take malaria pills to go on a safari in this park. A good anti-insect spray is, of course, always a good idea.
Accommodation in Pilanesberg
There are various places to spend the night in and around Pilanesberg; at Bakubung Lodge for instance, in the park itself. If you stay at this lodge, you can easily catch the best hours of the day for a safari.
This map of Pilanesberg National Park offers a good overview of the park, its facilities and accommodation options.