It seems that when you talk to people about national parks to visit in South Africa, the conversation instantly turns to Kruger National Park. While an incredible place, no doubt, far too often another park gets glossed over as a wonderful alternative: Pilanesberg National Park in the North West province not far from Johannesburg.
Pilanesberg Game Reserve
Set inside a volcanic crater created 1,300,000,000 years ago, at over 550 square kilometers, and over 200 kilometers of well-maintained tracks, the park is nothing to scoff at. In fact, it’s the fourth largest in the country of South Africa. Aside from incredible views of the savanna, there is also a valley with very distinct vegetation set between the Lowveld and the Kalahari. One of the more majestic areas of the park is the Mankwe Dam that holds the biggest body of water within the reserve.
While the park boasts that you can see almost every animal native to southern Africa in Pilanesberg Game Reserve, there are a few that you should take note of. Taking a safari in this reserve will allow you to see true monsters of Mother Earth: The Big Five.
For the uninitiated, The Big Five are the five of the biggest, baddest animals on the African continent. They are the most dangerous, historically the toughest for hunters to take down (no hunting in the park!), and possibly five of the coolest animals on Earth.
Mufasa and over 40 of his kin roam Pilanesberg. Pantheo leo krugeri grows up to 3.2 meters long and can weigh in at nearly 250 kilograms. Nothing to mess with, these black-maned beasts are as dangerous as they are iconic. Nothing will change your world view like a close up with a true apex predator.
The Cape Buffalo
Easily identified by their basally fused horns, Syncerus caffer it not an animal you want to cross without a vehicle between you. You can see these monsters on a safari through the park, and you can see how big they truly are. Admittedly, they are relatively short compared to other bovids, but what they lack in shoulder height they make up for in length (up to 3.4 meters) and weight (up to a whopping 1.000 kilograms). The only animals capable of taking down one of these beasts is the lions, and of course, humans. Thankfully, they cannot be hunted inside the park.
The African Leopard
There is no guarantee that you are going to be able to see a leopard on your safari. There are only about 30 Panthera pardus pardus inside the reserve. Rare, elusive, yet powerful and beautiful creatures. These cats are much smaller than their lion cousins, but that doesn’t stop them from being able to drag a 75 kilogram impala 5 meters up into a tree. This is a sight you can catch at Pilanesberg!
These are true tanks of animals. Thick hides create armor up to 5 centimeters thick to stop the sharp claws of the big cats of the savanna. Though you aren’t always going to see each, the park boasts both white and black rhino. These animals are some of the largest animals walking on Earth, and many of their subspecies are going extinct. Pilanesberg Game Reserve is doing what it can to help curb their extinction.
The African Elephant
Loxodonta africana is a true, walking tower. With well over 200 of them stomping through the park, they are an army that is hard to miss. The males can stand over 4 meters tall, and weigh well over 6,000 kilograms! No animal hunts these grey kings and queens once they hit full size. As intelligent as they are massive, the elephants deserve respect, and protection. Pilanesberg is doing its part and your support of this park helps put it in the public eye where it belongs.
While Kruger is much larger and may provide more in terms of diversity of land and animals, Pilanesberg is a park that you can see all of in just a few days. It’s a gorgeous park that offers you the chance to see all the incredible wildlife that Africa has to offer in as few days. Being just a few hours from Johannesburg, Pilanesberg is an easy choice when deciding a national park to visit.