The malaria-free Pilanesberg National Park is an accessible and acclaimed safari destination, not far from Johannesburg. The reserve is home to healthy populations of Africa's Big Five - lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo, along with numerous other wildlife species. The relatively compact size of the park makes for excellent Big Five sightings, giving Pilanesberg an advantage over larger reserves, where the animals are more dispersed over greater distances.
Pilanesberg National Park is one of the top national parks for game viewing in South Africa, covering about 572 km² (220 mi²) of unspoiled wilderness. Due to the size of Pilanesberg (57 200 hectares versus Kruger's 1.9485 million hectares), chances of encountering a number of wildlife species are high.
Furthermore, the game reserve features excellent infrastructure for game viewing, boasting more than 200km of high quality roads.
Before Pilanesberg was established in 1979, the area was used for commercial farming. Over the next 15 years the natural area was restored and restocked with wildlife, forming one of Africa's most extensive and costly rehabilitation projects of the period. Today, the reserve is protected by a 110 km peripheral game fence, hosting sizeable populations of wildlife.
In addition to the good numbers of Africa's Big Five, Pilanesberg is home to 6 000 animals, including members of nearly every large mammal found in Southern Africa.
Herbivores include giraffe, wildebeest, duiker, springbok, tsessebe, waterbuck, steenbuck, reedbuck, eland and bushbuck. There are also herds of zebra, hartebeest, impala, kudu, gemsbok, and sable antelope in Pilanesberg.
Lions are commonly sighted on the morning game drives, while leopards and genets are best spotted on the night drives. Other nocturnal animals include caracal and brown hyenas, which are sometimes spotted on early morning and evening game drives.
Elephants are frequently sighted throughout the game park and Pilanesberg hosts large buffalo herds, up to several hundreds strong. Plenty of hippos wallow in the dams of Pilanesberg, leaving the waters to graze on land at night. Jackal are also commonly sighted at night and in the daytime, and cheetah are often seen during the day. Both black and white rhinos inhabit Pilanesberg, but are trickier to spot. Pilanesberg is also home to endangered African wild dogs. There are relatively large herds of baboons and mischievous vervet monkeys that sometimes raid visitors tents at the campsites.
Pilanesberg attracts a rich diversity of birdlife, with over 360 bird species, including some migrant species. The following bird species are found in the reserve: Lilac breasted Roller, Pied Babbler, Secretary bird, Purple Roller, Cape Vulture, Greater Honey guide, Bataleur, Martial Eagle, Carmine Bee-eater, African Finfoot, Kory Bustard, and Ostrich.
The reserve is part of a transitional vegetation zone, falling between the Kalahari Desert and the Lowveld. This transitional area is rich in species diversity given the overlap of biomes, supporting an unusual variety of plants, birds and animals.
The game reserve is conveniently located adjacent to the famous Sun City Resort, under three hours drive (150km) northwest of Johannesburg and Pretoria. As the closest national park to Johannesburg International Airport Pilanesberg is easily accessible, making it ideal for short getaways and overnight safari trips. Pilanesberg National Park is in the Bojanala Region of the North West Province of South Africa, placing it about three hours from Gabarone, in neighbouring Botswana.
The park is located in a volcanic crater, formed by a (now extinct) volcano that erupted about 1.2 billion years ago - making it a unique and ancient geological site. The rugged landscape of the crater is dotted with lakes and forms one of the largest volcanic complexes of its kind in the world.
Pilanesberg has all kinds of accommodation options - from camping in a dome tent to staying at a plush luxury lodge. We make use of budget lodge and tented camping accommodation on our Pilanesberg Safaris, staying at reputable establishments offering excellent value-for-money. The lodge accommodation, located on the outskirts of Pilanesberg, is family-friendly and comfortable. The tented camp is located at Manyane Resort Camping Grounds, inside Pilanesberg.
Summer is the rainy season, from October to March, when temperatures range between 26°C and 30°C. In the summer Pilanesberg receives about 622mm of rain.
The best time to travel to Pilanesberg Park is during late winter and spring to early summer, from mid July to mid October. Vegetation is sparser at this time of year making it easier to spot the wildlife in the bush, also the animals spend less time retreating from the heat and more time feeding. During winter the days are warm with clear skies, but the nights can get very chilly. Late February to mid March is also a good time to go to the Pilanesberg, as this is the mating season, when some interesting wildlife activity can be sighted.
In some parts of Pilanesberg controlled fires are used to manage the bush in winter, but this does not affect much of the park and game viewing is still at its best.
Use the Google map to explore Pilanesberg National Park. Feel free to Print the Street Map when you're ready.