Pilanesberg National Park
Safari suitability: 9/10Find your tour
All o f the big five here and amazing bird life awaits! Small size, crowds and fences keep it from scoring top marks.
What YAS members think
- All of the big five are found here
- Two hours from Jo-berg, it's easily accessible
- It's possible to traverse the park in a standard vehicle
- Walking safaris are possible in parts, especially for bird enthusiasts
- Elephant-riding safaris
- Is, purportedly, malaria-free
About Pilanesberg National Park
Located in the northern part of South Africa, Pilanesberg is roughly four hours from Botswana's capital, Gaborone. Pilanesberg is also about a three-hour drive from Johannesberg, making it an extremely accessible park to visit. Pilanesberg is the result of a donation of land by local indian tribes, and the name comes from a Tswana chief who went by the name “Pilane.” In what was named 'Operation Gensis', 6000 animals were reintroduced in this area and 110 kilometers (70 miles) of fence were constructed. It is now estimated to house between 7000 to 8000 animals and includes all of the big five. It is apparently one of the only places to see the brown hyena, too. In addition to the traditional game drive safaris, visitors have the option to do self-drive safaris here and can even partake in an elephant-riding safari.
Some of the most stunninng scenery within the entire park can be viewed in the Mankwe Dam region. The dam is the largest body of water in the game reserve and is an excellent spot for viewing wildlife. For bird lovers, there is a bird hide very close to the water’s edge. Some birds of note are the fish eagles, kingfishers and cormorants circling the dam. All of these places provide many a fantastic opportunity to photograph the plentiful array of fauna and flora.
When is the best time to visit Pilanesberg?
Like most of the parks in Southern Africa, Pilanesberg has two seasons: a wet and a dry season. The dry season occurs during its winter--from April through September. The wet season coincides with South African summer, and runs from October through March.
I have been to this national park a few times and usually when I visit the next door Sun City resort. Pilanesberg is only 2 hours from Johannesburg in South Africa so a close drive away. You are in a Big 5 animal park and won't be disappointed. I recommend having a picnic or barbecue at the scenic spot which overlooks the large lake in the middle of the park, get there early though as it is very popular. I do recommend booking a game drive with a professional experienced tour guide who will be able to give you detailed information about each animal that is seen. This is a malaria free park so recommended for families too.
With only a three-hour drive from Johannesburg, the Pilanesberg National Park offers an excellent quality of game drives (safaris) and good accommodation is found inside the park. Kwa Maritane and Bakabung properties of Legacy Hotels and the Ivory Tree Game Lodge are some of the lodges that offer full board and two game drives per day in an open vehicle.
Pilanesberg is my favourite game reserve in South Africa and I have been to most. Yes, Kruger is lovely and sure, there is much to be said for Kgalagadi. But Pilanesberg has so much counting in its favour. To begin with, its really close to Pretoria and Johannesburg and you dont need hours and hours to drive there. There are so many accommodation options to choose from so you dont have to put up with the national park chalets, although these are perfectly fine. There are luxury tents as well as stunning hilltop bush camps. If you only had little time for SA and you wanted to cram it full of attractions, you could for instance do your Big Five safari at Pilanesberg, see Sun City, do some shopping and catch your plane out all in the space of two days. But even better is that Pilanesberg is malaria-free, something you dont have at the Kruger National Park. So no meds, no risk, no extra worry and its safe for the kids. We drove around with a 1-year-old in the back of the car and he was entranced by the elephant crashing through the bushes right next to our car! But perhaps the best thing about Pilanesberg is the stunning landscape - the 55 000 hectare reserve is situated in an extinct volcano, so think hills and rocky outcrops, stunning bushveld and savannah. It really is beautiful. The sunsets are glorious and very photogenic. We had a couple of self-drive game drives and saw plenty of game; lions, elephant, zebra, hippos etc. I have been to Pilanesberg a few times and I plan to go many, many more times before I die.
Like a few of the other folks who have reviewed this park, I was on business and had a small window of time to see the beauty of South Africa's nature. I ended up going to Pilanesberg and it was a good trip. It's very manageable and I did get to see lions, rhinos and many elephants. I have also been to the Serengeti and, in my opinion, this doesn't touch it in terms of vastness and the feeling of really being out in nature.
This is one of the smaller, lesser known game parks, but it was probably our favorite. In 99 we lived in Lobatse, Botswana close to the South African boarder. Whenever we would get a chance we would travel to Rustenburg and drive our Hilux through the Pilanesberg game park. It was one of the more affordable reserves. Despite it being smaller, the park was never crowded or congested like some of the larger parks. We were so enchanted by the abundant wild life. I have been to Kruger, Chobe, and the Serengeti and Pilanesberg was the only place we saw lion. We watched and photographed them for over an hour. Going on a safari is such a magical experience wherever you go, but this park holds a special place in my heart.
I had the opportunity to visit the Pilanesberg National Park for a weekend in March earlier this year. I was in South Africa on business for two weeks and my colleagues and I were looking for a chance to get out of the city and see a bit of the 'real' Africa. We were able to book last minute lodging at the Ivory Tree Game Lodge. We rented a car and drove up Saturday morning. There was an excellent lunch buffet waiting for us when we arrived. We spent the afternoon relaxing by the pool. Including in the lodging are two game drives a day at dusk and dawn. The evening game drive was excellent. We had a local guide that was experienced and was able to work the radio between the other guides to quickly (within the first 10 min) get us near a lioness and her cubs. We had an excellent view of the group as they sauntered past the jeep. We quickly lost sight of the cubs and then the lioness, but moments later we heard the squeal of what our guide suggested was a baby warthog. While it was amazing to see this scene familiar to National Geographic viewers play out in front of us, it did perhaps set unreasonable expectations for the rest of the game drive. We worked our way through the park and saw hippos, both black and white rhinos, zebra, wildebeest, ostrich and impala. We heard the lions later, but didn't see them again. As the sun set, a storm moved in and we had an exciting trip back down from the highlands watching lightening crack all around us. The morning game drive was an excellent drive as well. The guide was able to quickly work the spot light to point out giraffe, owls and fox like creatures. Our time was short, but I would recommend a stay at the Ivory Tree Lodge and/or a drive through Pilanesberg. Many of the locals drive through the park on their own which I think would be a fine experience. But if your time is short, I believe the experienced guides and their radios dramatically increase your chance of spotting the rarest and most exciting fauna.
The Pilansberg National Park is only 2.5 hours out of Joburg. It's easy to get to, and best of all it's in a malaria free area. I took my family there last year and we had a great time. It's a great way to introduce children to the bush. We stayed at a nice safari camp in the reserve (Bakubung Bush Lodge). It had a great vibe and was very comfortable. Kids stayed free and paid only 50% for meals. We took drives during the day in our car, so we could determine how far to go, where to go, and when to start heading back. We saw a variety of game, although we kept our drives short. The lodge does offer game drives and guided walks too. Next door to the park is Sun City resort, which is also a great day trip for kids. They have a 'valley of waves' water park which children love. If you've come to Africa for a genuine safari experience, I wouldn't recommend this as your best bet, but if you have relatively limited time, or you're traveling with children (especially if you're not keen on putting them on malaria medication) this is a great option!
This is one of the worlds best kept secret parks and has a beauty that only nature can provide. You can see some of the big 5 on a one day visit or spend some time at one of the lodges around the park. Animal sightings are really good and the beauty of the mountains and valleys in the park is a sight to see.
I recently found myself with a day to spare on a business trip to South Africa. I didn't have ample time, but I had enough to merit me hiring a car and spending a day in Pilanesberg. They say it's about a three hour drive from Joberg, but I made it in around two. I liked the fact that I could do this in my two-wheel drive car. I did not like the fact that everyone else was doing this. It was a great place to see the animals but definitely lacked a wild vibe. It was more like driving through a staged zoo or something. But, for those with limited time and budgets, this cannot be beat.
Driving to Pilanesberg from Johannesburg International Airport
The drive from Johannesburg is on mainly good, paved roads and takes just under three hours, in normal conditions.
If you are coming from Botswana, the drive from Gabarone to Pilanesberg is around three hours, in normal conditions and not including border crossings.
Flying to Pilanesberg
At present, SA Express offers three direct flights weekly from Johannesburg. The flight is about 35 minutes in duration. It also offers two flights weekly from Cape Town, which are currently scheduled for Monday and Friday.