Sitting alongside South Africa‘s rather surreal fantasyland spin on Vegas – Sun City – is Pilanesberg National Park, the fourth largest national park in the country. Just a two hour drive from Johannesburg or the capital Pretoria, it’s an ideal place to head for superior wildlife viewing if you’re in either Gauteng or the North West provinces and your itinerary doesn’t give you the luxury of plenty of time.
Set in the crater of a long extinct volcano, the 55,000 hectare Pilanesberg is an artificially created reserve which came into being when the (rather contentious) “Operation Genesis” saw local farmers and the Tswana people “moved on” and over 6,000 animals from all over the country shipped in to fill the park, in what was the largest wildlife resettlement in South Africa’s history.
Since the park opened in 1979, the wildlife numbers have grown to around 7,000 animals including 24 of the larger species and healthy populations of lion, leopard, black and white rhino, elephant and buffalo, meaning visitors have an excellent chance of seeing all the “Big Five”, alongside hippo, giraffe, zebra, antelope and well over 350 species of birds. As a result of the prolific avifauna Pilanesberg has become undoubtedly one of the North West Province’s big draws, but if you can see past the park’s popularity with tourists and the rather “managed” nature of the wildlife, there is much to enjoy here.
There are over 200km of excellent roads for either self or guided drives which take you in and around the crater with its undeniably beautiful volcanic hills, rocky outcrops, wooded valleys and open grasslands. Numerous hides and scenic picnic spots allow out-of-car experiences throughout Pilanesberg, and with a copy of the official park map and an early start you can enjoy a wealth of stunning African wildlife, all in just one day.