Pilanesberg National Park, in the Northwest Province of South Africa, is the most underrated and misunderstood wildlife reserve in Africa due to its association with and proximity to the casino mecca of Sun City. This is unfortunate, as Pilanesberg National Park deserves to stand alone as a major tourist destination.
I have asked a number of people to identify a location in a photograph that I took on a trip in the Pilanesberg National Park, and all the answers tended toward parts of East Africa. This is not surprising, as the geological history and natural beauty of the areas are similar in many respects.
Born from volcanic activity around 1300 million years ago, and shaped by the ages, the Pilanesberg area is a geological masterpiece that has in recent times been transformed into a viable wilderness area hosting most of the mammal species found in South Africa.
The Pilanesberg area was first used to farm cattle, until the South African government set the land aside as part of the 'homeland of Bophuthatswana', under the apartheid ideals of separate development of the races. The newly installed government of Bophuthatswana decided to set up a 50,000 hectare national park to complement the playground of Sun City that was built nearby.
The Pilanesberg is a photographer's dream with its striking hues, varied habitats, ancient landscapes and prolific wildlife. Waving grasslands and wooded valleys complement the perfect African safari picture.
Lying in the transition zone between the dry Kalahari and the more moderate bushveld, Pilanesberg National Park supports a unique overlap of species of fauna and flora. This is one of the few parks in southern Africa where the usually arid-living springbok and the moderate-living impala can be found side by side.
Most of South Africa's mammal species are found in the Pilanesberg including lion, leopard, black and white rhino, elephant, buffalo, brown hyena, cheetah, sable, zebra, hippo and crocodile.
With more than 200km of excellent roads and a number of luxury safari lodges, visitors can experience the Pilanesberg wilderness by means of guided game drives or by self-driving. Guided walks are offered from some of the lodges.
Birding is excellent, with more than 300 species of bird having been recorded in the park. Visitors can enjoy a number of picnic sites and bird hides situated around the park where they can safely alight from their cars and spend some quiet time in nature.
Pilanesberg National Park is on the doorstep of Sun City, thus allowing visitors the opportunity to experience the park whilst staying at Sun City. Visitors can do this in reverse by staying at a lodge in the park and experiencing a different form of gaming at Sun City - but guests should be warned that one type of game is more dangerous than the other.
Pilanesberg National Park is in the unfortunate position of being associated with the playground of Sun City, and this is why it is not as appreciated as it should be. As one of the largest game reserves in South Africa, and arguably the most scenically beautiful, Pilanesberg should stand alone without association with other tourist attractions.
by Leigh Kemp