One of the benefits of having a conference in the bush is that a game drive is almost certain to be included on the program. So during the day and a half of brainstorming and collaborating with work colleagues in the Pilanesberg National Park recently, we were treated to a “short” morning game drive. But for me, the drive was too short to satisfy my love for the bush. And so, I, together with a colleague, headed back into the park for a self-drive.
Earlier that day, we encountered a few rhino and some of the usual grazers. The road leading from Kwa Maritane (where the workshop was) into Pilanesberg runs close to a main road, and so the constant hum of vehicular traffic spoilt the otherwise peaceful scene. Rocky hills stood guard on the one side, rolling down to a vast level plain. The flatness was pierced by platinum mine shafts obscuring the horizon to the south of the park. In the mineral rich North West province, Pilanesberg National Park remains untouched and continues to be a refuge for wildlife.
Despite the proximity of man’s disturbances, it’s still possible to feel far from civilisation. On the self-drive later that afternoon, we headed deeper into the heart of the park. Pilanesberg is in fact centred on an extinct volcano, some 20km wide. It seems incomprehensible that bubbling magma once covered these now lush plains. There would have been a time when this was an inhospitable land, and yet today, it’s a sanctuary for wildlife and a retreat for the rest of us.
The afternoon drive yielded plenty more white rhino, including some bulky beasts at two different waterholes. Sadly, even Pilanesberg has not been immune to rhino poaching, having already lost two rhinos in January 2016. I watched these rhino, wondering if they knew of the fate that had befallen their kind, and for how long they‘d be able to take mud baths and graze and do the things that rhinos like doing.
For a small park (as a kid who grew up going to Kruger, Pilanesberg is very, very tiny), Pilanesberg surprisingly packs in quite a lot. We saw elephant herds and the usual antelope (zebra, wildebeest, giraffe and waterbuck). We missed the lions, but came across their paw prints close to camp. Instead we came across jackals. An advantage that Pilanesberg has over Kruger is its proximity to Joburg, making even a day trip possible.
For the short visit in Pilanesberg, I was satisfied with what I’d encountered. But my weekend in the bush was far from over, as my next stop was Madikwe Game Reserve, another wildlife refuge in the North West Province. (See my next blog post for more on Madikwe.)
About Pilanesberg National Park:
- Pilanesberg National Park is in the North West province of South Africa, close to Sun City. It’s between 2 and 3 hours from Joburg.
- Entry fees are payable. See the official website for details. Note, it is not part of the Wild Card program.
- There are a few entry gates, so plan your trip accordingly.
- The main roads within the park are tarred. The are also many dirt roads in varying conditions. It’s possible to drive on many of them with a regular sedan vehicle.
- Accommodation options vary and are mostly on the periphery of the park.
- I stayed at Kwa Maritane as part of a conference delegation. There are more budget friendly options in the park, as well as on the road leading to the park.