We recently celebrated Freedom Day here in South Africa and the pressure was on to make the most of the day off! We packed a picnic basket and headed off early to the Pilanesberg National Park in the North-west province – it’s one of my favorite places for a day trip.
Pilanesberg is one of the largest national parks in South Africa with an area of over 50,000 hectares. The entire park is situated in the crater of an ancient extinct volcano surrounded by rings of hills that were created by eruptions from the volcano around 1300 million years ago. Over the years, the elements have worked together to create a beautiful landscape featuring expansive grasslands, rugged rock outcrops, rolling hills, and an immense scenic lake.
The drive from Johannesburg to Pilanesberg takes about an hour and a half so it is perfect for a day trip. It is a good idea to set off bright and early as the animals are more active in the early morning and evening when temperatures are cooler. We arrived at the Bakubung Gate (there are also a few other gates – but Bakubung is the closest if you are coming from Joburg) and paid the entry fee of R65 per adult and R25 per vehicle.
We spent the morning driving around, taking in the beautiful scenery, and stopped at a waterhole to have a snack and watch some zebras hanging out. There are almost 200kms of self-drive roads in the park – we explored some more of these and saw elephants, giraffes, and lots of impala, and springbok.
As it neared lunchtime, we headed towards Mankwe Dam, the large beautiful lake that dominates the center of the park. Here we saw lots of hippos grazing out of the water and watched some herons fishing. There are a number of picnic sites where you can get out of the car to stretch your legs and enjoy your lunch – my favorite is the “Fish Eagle”, which is situated on a small hill above Mankwe Dam.
After lunch, we continued our drive around the park and had some more good sightings of elephants and rhinos. Some interesting history is that many of these animals are probably the offspring of those introduced in the 70s when a project called Operation Genesis introduced over 6,000 animals into the park – this remains the largest trans-location of game undertaken anywhere in the world!
Too soon we realized it was getting late and it was time to head home. There are various camps in the Pilanesberg where you can stay overnight. It’s very inexpensive to camp or for a bit more comfort, there are also bungalows or luxury lodges.
Overall, the Pilanesberg is a great spot for a day trip or a weekend getaway both for tourists looking for a safari close to Johannesburg, and for locals looking for an escape to the bush.
More info here