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It’s never possible to guarantee what game you will see on any safari, even in a country with as much bird and animal life as South Africa – but you certainly increase your chances of seeing everything that’s out there when you go game-viewing from a hot-air balloon.
You’ll wake up before sunrise, be taken to the launch site, clamber into the balloon basket and then off you go, drifting over the African bush just as it comes to life for a new day.
Although lions and leopards are nocturnal animals, it’s not unusual to see them during the early hours of the morning. Maybe the lions are feasting on last night’s kill, maybe that leopard slinking along the road is on her way back to her cubs. That’s the charm of any safari – you never know what’s round the next corner.
Bill Harrop’s Original Balloon Safaris fly aerial safaris in the game-rich Mabula Private Reserve in the Bela-Bela area of Limpopo province. They also offer balloon safaris over Entabeni in the Waterberg Biosphere Reserve, a World Heritage Site covering 22 000 hectares of bushveld, ravines, savanna and wetlands.
There’s nothing quite like drifting silently over an ancient landscape searching for the Big 5, while taking in the panoply of game on show. There’s a dazzle of zebras prancing along; there, a journey of giraffes; there a crash of rhinos. Because you are above the animals, they take no notice of your flight and you can watch them going about their business undisturbed.
There are also hot-air balloon operators offering aerial safaris near the Magaliesberg and the Cradle of Humankind in Gauteng, and at Pilanesberg Game Reserve, adjacent to Sun City Resort in North West province. At 55 000 hectares, Pilanesberg is South Africa’s fourth-biggest game reserve – it lies in the eroded ring dyke of a 1.2-billion-year-old extinct volcano that once towered 7 000m above the plain.
From your high perch, you’ll literally get a bird’s-eye-view at either location of lush valleys, craggy mountains, rivers, wetlands and dams, and plains teeming with game.
TTravel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Bill Harrop’s Original Balloon Safaris, Limpopo
Tel: +27 (0)11 705 3201
Cell: +27 (0)83 443 2661/2/3
AirVentures Hot Air Ballooning, Gauteng
Tel: +27 (0)83 356 2435
Mankwe Gametrackers, Pilanesberg
Tel: +27 (0)14 552 5020
How to get here
Self-driving is recommended in all three provinces, as it leaves you at liberty to take detours whenever a local attraction takes your fancy on the drive to or from your balloon safari – safari operators can give you detailed directions from Johannesburg or Pretoria when you make a booking.
Things to do in the area
Bela-Bela (formerly named Warmbaths) is renowned for its hot springs and spa, and the surrounds also offer game parks, nature reserves, golf, zip-lining and some luxurious bush lodges.
The Cradle of Humankind, which has yielded treasures of palaeontology and archaeology stretching back millions of years, is worth exploring on the ground as well as from the air, and the Magaliesberg is a peaceful spot to check into a lodge, visit a nature reserve or the elephant sanctuary, ascend a mountain on a cable car, or consider your water-sport options on the Hartbeespoort Dam.
Sun City Resort, 15 minutes’ drive from the Pilanesberg National Park, offers a world-class golf course, a crocodile farm, a beach, wave pool and water-slide park, a casino and entertainment centre, and hotel options ranging from budget to opulent.
Best time to visit
As long as weather conditions are suitable, you can go ballooning at any time of year.
What will it cost
Prices vary over time; check the latest prices on the listed websites before you book.
Length of stay
A hot-air balloon safari lasts approximately 3 hours; the perfect break in a long weekend as you explore other attractions in the area.
What to pack
Binoculars, camera, a hat, sunscreen and warm clothing.
Where to stay
There is no shortage of accommodation options at any of these locations, from basic self-catering campsites to luxurious game lodges, with backpackers’ hostels, B&Bs and guest houses in between. See listed sites for details.
- AirVentures Hot-Air Ballooning
- Mankwe Gametrackers
- Waterberg Biosphere Reserve
- Limpopo Tourism Authority
- Pilanesberg Game Reserve