See the Big Five just two hours from Johannesburg and Pretoria in one of the country’s most popular wildlife areas – Pilanesberg Game Reserve. Set in an ancient volcanic crater, this well-stocked reserve has a dramatic landscape that supports a wide variety of plants, animals and birds.

Did you know?

There is an initiative under way to join Pilanesberg with Madikwe, creating a new superpark.

Pilanesberg is a popular game reserve in South Africa’s North West province. As a true Big Five area it features elephant, lion, buffalo, leopard and rhino. But there’s a lot more wildlife to discover. Some of the other animals that roam the park include African wild dogs, brown hyenas and sable antelope.

Like nearby Madikwe Game Reserve, Pilanesberg used to be farmland. Between 1969 and 1979, the land had to be rehabilitated. Alien plants were removed, eroded land was restored, houses and windmills were knocked down. An old fluorite mine was also dismantled.

During Operation Genesis nearly 6 000 animals of 19 different species were introduced to the reserve. At the time, this was the largest game translocation in the world.

The landscape was formed over a billion years ago, when overflowing magma shaped the area. The explosive turbulence spat up all sorts of interesting rock formations and rare minerals. Geology buffs will be interested to find red, white, green and Ledig foyaite, nepheline syenite, kimberlite, fluorite and uranium tuff.

Birders can look out for the southern pied babbler, sabota lark and rufous-naped lark on the grassy hill slopes while you’ll find the ever-spectacular lilac-breasted roller, pin-tailed whydah and black-shouldered kite on the grasslands.

Soaring above them all, you might see black-breasted snake-eagles, African hawk-eagles and Verreaux’s eagle. The more thickly wooded areas yield various hornbills, the Marico flycatcher, chinspot batis and small fire finches.

Because of its location in the former homeland of Bophutatswana, the game reserve is still referred to as Pilanesberg National Park, although it is in fact a provincial park and not officially part of South African National Parks.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Pilanesberg Game Reserve

Tel: : + 27 (0)14 555 1600

How to get here

From Johannesburg/Pretoria take the N1 north towards Polokwane. Take the N4 Rustenburg split. A signboard indicates Pilanesberg to the left on route 91. The Pilanesberg Game Reserve is adjacent to Sun City and is less than three hours' drive from Johannesburg and Pretoria.

Best time to visit

Summers (October to March) can get hot, but visitors to Pilanesberg will enjoy the park all year round.

Around the area

Sun City, with its entertainment centre, golf course, water world and casino, is right next door.

Tours to do

Activities include game drives, either self-driven or guided, game walks and birding. Pilanesberg also operates balloon safaris.

Get around

The reserve offers guided game drives and walks, but you are welcome to drive yourself around the reserve too.

Length of stay

A minimum stay of two nights is recommended.

Where to stay

Pilanesberg offers a variety of affordable accommodation, like the self-catering Manyane, Bakgatla and Metswedi camps. The more upmarket Tshukudu, Kwa Maritane and Bakubung game lodges are also situated in the reserve.

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