Expert Reviews – Pilanesberg GR

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Expert
Philip Briggs   –  
South Africa ZA
Visited: Multiple times

Philip is an acclaimed travel writer and author of many guidebooks, including the Bradt guides to Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa.

25 people found this review helpful.

The closest Big Five destination to Johannesburg
Overall rating
4/5

The main selling point of this malaria-free reserve, set within a collapsed volcanic crater two hours drive northwest of Johannesburg, is its proximity to South Africa’s largest city and most important international transport hub. I have never found it quite so compelling as the Kruger, simply because it is a lot smaller, and the wilderness feel is undermined by its proximity to the glitzy Sun City casino and resort. However, the game viewing can be superb, with all the Big Five present, and I’ve found it to be one of the best places anywhere in the country for close-up encounters with white rhino and elephant. It is also a great birdwatching destination, with a total checklist of 350 bird species that includes localised gems such as crimson-breasted shrike, violet-eared waxbill, shaft-tailed whydah and pied babbler, and a high chance of ticking 100-plus species over a two-day stay. A highlights is the organised night drives, undertaken in open 4x4s, which offer a good chance of encountering nocturnal specials such as brown hyena, aardwolf, genet and leopard.

Expert
Lizzie Williams   –  
South Africa ZA
Visited: June

Lizzie is a reputed guidebook writer and author of the Footprint guides to South Africa, Namibia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

16 people found this review helpful.

A Big Five destination just a few hours’ drive from Johannesburg
Overall rating
4/5

Pilanesberg is instantly likeable, and with its savannah grasslands surrounded by an attractive ring of hills broken by wooded valleys, it’s hard to imagine that it started life as manmade reserve (it opened in the 1970s as an accompaniment to neighbouring Sun City). While I think it lacks any kind of wild atmosphere – the rangers know where most of the animals are located at any given time, ‘extras’ include game checklists given out at the gates, and the lodges are unashamedly touristy, facilities are very good and game-viewing is easy if you’re short of time. I saw the Big Five here in just a two-day visit, and even on a short two-hour safari from Sun City, the chances of seeing some of the larger mammals is excellent.

Expert
Alan Murphy   –  
Australia AU
Visited: February

Alan is a travel writer and author of over 20 Lonely Planet guidebooks, including the guides to Southern Africa and Zambia & Malawi.

12 people found this review helpful.

Wild dogs
Overall rating
4/5

Wild dogs are extremely rare in Africa. These fascinating matriarchal hunting dogs can be seen in few places, and Pilanesberg, in the north of South Africa, is one of them. Extinct volcanic craters and rocky outcroppings make up the landscape in one of the country’s largest parks. I was amazed at the variety of wildlife here and spotted many antelope not seen in other parks - such as eland, sable and gemsbok. But you’ll also find the Big 5, and most predators including cheetahs.

It’s the wild dogs though that make this place special. Also called painted dogs, these slimline, big-eared hunting machines stalk their prey in packs and are sensitive, intelligent creatures often shot by farmers for poaching livestock. The ghastly Sun City is close by, but don’t let that put you off, this is one of South Africa’s best parks.

Expert
Lucy Corne   –  
United Kingdom UK
Visited: June

Lucy is travel writer for a range of publications, including Lonely Planet's guides to Africa, Southern Africa and South Africa.

3 people found this review helpful.

The Pilanesberg – Small park, big game
Overall rating
4/5

There's something deliciously rewarding about a self-drive safari. Sure, your vantage point might not be as great from your rental car and you probably don't have the knowledge of a trained wildlife guide, but there's no feeling quite like seeking and finding wild animals by yourself. The Pilanesberg is sometimes criticised for being 'zoo-like', perhaps for its proximity to Johannesburg, its popularity as a self-drive park or for its near-guaranteed sightings (there's a great deal of wildlife in a comparatively small area), but the animals that wander here – including the Big Five – are 100% wild and free-roaming. Both black and white rhino inhabit this volcanic crater and it was here that I had my first ever rhino sighting, a magical moment where I switched off my tiny hire car's engine to listen to the mother munching noisily while her baby played nearby.

Expert
Anthony Ham   –  
Australia AU
Visited: November-December

Anthony is a photographer and writer for travel magazines and Lonely Planet, including the guides to Kenya and Botswana & Namibia.

1 person found this review helpful.

Pilanesberg: Busy & Beautiful
Overall rating
4/5

Pilanesberg is so easily reached that my first experience of the park was the antithesis of everything I love about the African wild – paved roads, traffic jams, and tour guides with loud microphones. The fact that there were rhinos, both black and white, in numbers, lions, elephants, wild dogs and rumours of leopards and buffaloes seemed, at the time, incidental. But then I took my own vehicle, left the main roads behind and there I found a different park of beautiful rolling hills, pretty waterholes and wildlife undisturbed by the clamour two valleys away. A brown hyena, companionable rhinos, great birding and a wilderness experience that couldn’t have been more different than the busyness of the previous afternoon – these were Pilanesberg’s true gifts. If you’ve never been on safari before, Pilanesberg is a good way to check off some species. But if you get away, on your own, you’ll understand better what a safari ought to truly be about.

Average Expert Rating

  • 3.4/5
  • Wildlife
  • Scenery
  • Bush Vibe
  • Birding

Rating Breakdown

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  • 4 star 5
  • 3 star 8
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