Pilanesberg National Park

Pilanesberg National Park

by | Apr 28, 2022

In the Bojanala Region of South Africa, lying northwest of Johannesburg and Pretoria, is a marvel of nature. To step into it is to step into a whole new world – rich in scientific and cultural history, banked by beautiful landscapes and vegetation, and brimming with Africa’s unique and majestic wildlife. This is Pilanesberg National Park.

The History of Pilanesberg

Pilanesberg’s impressive history first begins over 1300 million years ago with a massive volcanic event. Collapsing in on itself rather than erupting, the cooled magma formed a rare volcanic complex that, over time, formed a circular array of mountains known as a ‘ring dyke’. Today, Pilanesberg National Park lives in this historic crater, which is one of the largest and most preserved complexes of its kind in the world. The crater is home to vivid remnants of human history, from the Stone Age and the Iron Age to the beginnings of the native Bakgatla tribe, and in more recent years, the shadow of apartheid.

It was in 1979 that the ambitious transformation of Pilanesberg began, and it was slowly modified from a simple stretch of farmland to a thriving game reserve. True to its name, Operation Genesis was a project to reintroduce long-vanished species into the area, marking the beginning of Pilanesberg National Park. At the time, it performed the largest game translocation undertaken in the world, with over 6000 animals being re-homed – and today, the reserve has over 7000 animals and 360 bird species, all living sustainably within the 550km2 of park area.

It’s true that Pilanesberg isn’t the largest national park in Africa, but it stands tall and strong with its partnership of breathtaking scenery and a diverse collection of plants and wildlife. Situated within the transition zone (or Bushveld) between the dry Kalahari Desert and the lush-green Lowveld, Pilanesberg is a haven for vegetation and animals from both arid and wet climates, allowing for a unique and wondrous experience where both ecosystems cohabit and thrive alongside one another.

The Bushveld Animals and Mankwe Dam

Arguably the most famous safari animals are Africa’s Big Five: lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo, and rhino. All of these creatures live at the park, and visitors are more likely to see them relative to the park’s size – but Pilanesberg offers so much more, especially at featured locations such as Mankwe Dam and the not-so- boring perimeter fence.

Although man-made, Mankwe Dam is a scenic delight that paints itself onto the African canvas breathlessly, leaving visitors astounded in its wake. It attracts all sorts of revered wildlife: wildebeest, giraffe, zebra, and various rare species of antelope all convene at this waterhole – but it isn’t just the animals that the sun shines on here. Birders will take note of the Red-billed Oxpecker, which finds itself eating ticks off larger animals; as well as the Pied Kingfishers who hover over the water; or perhaps the African Fish Eagle who contends with the Goliath Heron. There have been countless sightings of many bird species at Mankwe Dam; this, coupled with the picturesque scenery, promises that any bird spotter’s visit will be an unforgettable memory.

The Wild Dogs of Pilanesberg

Another interesting feature of Pilanesberg is its growing population of endangered wild dogs. Commonly mistaken for its natural enemy, the hyena, the wild dog is the largest wild canine in Africa, and travels in a pack. Their gorgeous coats seem more fitting for their alternative name of ‘painted dogs’, but don’t let their adorable appearance mislead you – with top speeds of 44mph, a sharp set of teeth for shearing, and clever pack communication, wild dogs are fascinating predators that mesmerise any who are lucky enough to see them. The Pilanesberg Wildlife Trust tracks the breeding and survival of this endangered species; if you find yourself near the perimeter fence, their common haunt, keep an eye out for a rare inspiring glimpse of these fantastic creatures.

Timing Your African Safari

When it comes to planning your African safari, the timing of your trip is essential depending on whether you want to focus on spotting animals or birds; with the former, it’s recommended to go during the dry season, from July to October; and with the latter, the wet season is preferred, from December to March.

With the safari tour itself, the best time to see animals in the open is during the early morning and late afternoon, as they hide under natural shelter during the midday to escape from the African sun. Fortunately, Pilanesberg National Park coordinates its safari tours for these times; their guided tours start from as early as 4 in the morning, which means that not only do you have a better glimpse of the wildlife, but you also have a front-row seat for the gorgeous African sunrise.

Accommodation in the Bush

The best way to experience the park is to sleep on its doorstep. Pilanesberg National Park offers a diverse range of accommodation to suit any traveller: permanent tents and chalets let you sleep under the stars, while mid-range lodges delve into a mixture of high living and bush wilderness; but for those looking for a more opulent experience, there is an especial area of the park just waiting for you…The Black Rhino Reserve is a private section of the park, exclusive to those staying within its pristine accommodation. It strikes a perfect balance between immaculate luxury and the unique wild charm of Pilanesberg – the ultimate immersion within the richness of Africa.

However you decide to accommodate your trip, Pilanesberg National Park will always be a rewarding experience that encapsulates the depth of Africa – it is truly a must-see for any animal or nature enthusiast.

For more information on safari times, accommodation, and the reserve itself, visit pilanesbergnationalpark.org.

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