A Quick Safari Fix at Pilanesberg National Park

Mankwe DamMankwe Dam

Pilanesberg National Park is a Big 5 reserve about 2 hours north of Johannesburg. This is a great park to visit if you are in the Joburg area and maybe don’t have enough time to get over to Kruger. In the past year, we have made a couple day trips as well as a weekend camping trip to Pilanesberg. Sightings haven’t been all that great for us (the cats have eluded us completely on all trips) but of course it is always the luck of the draw when it comes to wildlife. We are always happy to just be out on safari and to see whatever we have the chance to spot so our time in the park has always been enjoyed.

Brownhooded KingfisherBrownhooded Kingfisher at the entrance gate

In early September I had a colleague in from France and we offered to take him out to the park for the day. For those of you who may not be familiar with safaris here in South Africa, most parks give you the option of self-driving or else doing guided tours with a group (or independant if you can pay the big bucks). We almost always choose self-driving as we really enjoy the freedom to go where we want and stay as long as we want. All of Pilanesberg’s roads are normally accessible with a regular sedan, though this can be weather dependant. When we stayed last March right after the floods, all but the main roads were closed to all vehicles.

ZebraAlways one of my favorites

We left Joburg around 6:30 am and arrived at Bakubung Gate by 8:45. Our plan was to do some of the western roads as we have never had a chance to visit that side of the park before. I had also seen recent reports of lions on a couple of the roads on that side so we thought maybe we could get a lucky cat sighting.

Wildebeest on the MoveWildebeest on the Move

Burchall's Coucal

Burchall’s Coucal

TsessebeTsessebe – fairly rare to see them

ElephantThis is the only elephant we saw all day

One thing I always love to do on safari is stopping at the bird hides. These are structures built at points around the park, usually overlooking a dam or watering hole, where you can get out of the car (note: getting out of the car or even hanging body parts out is strictly forbidden except where indicated like at hides and some viewpoints) and just go and sit and watch whoever shows up to visit. It is a great way to pass some time and just wait for the animals to come to you instead of driving around looking for them. The next few photos are from the Ruighoek and Batlhako Hides as indicated in the captions.

TerrapinsTerrapins at Ruighoek Dam. Just a little FYI… these are not turtles, turtles live in salt water and these terrapins live in fresh water (they just came aground to say hello). And as for tortoises, they live on land. I didn’t know either 🙂

Grey HeronGrey Heron at Ruighoek Dam. Looks like he is giving a church sermon.

Ruighoek DamRuighoek Dam

White-breasted CormorantWhite-breasted Cormorant with his lunch at Batlhako Dam.

Egyptian GeeseEgyptian Geese at Batlhako Dam having a bit of a squabble.

HippoHippo at Batlhako Dam

Batlhako DamBatlhako Dam

HipposSnoozing Hippos at Batlhako Dam

African SpoonbillAfrican Spoonbill at Batlhako Dam. One of my favorite water birds.

The scenery in Pilanesberg is really stunning. In many areas the grass was quite high however, which is always challenging for photography.


From one of the viewpointsFrom one of the viewpoints where you can get out of the vehicule

Red HartebeestRed Hartebeest unfortunately hiding behind a lot of grass

The KissThe Kiss-this little exchange ended with the giraffe giving the warthog a swift head butt

GiraffeMy, what nice eyelashes you have


After spending the morning exploring the western roads, we arrived at Pilaneberg Centre for lunch. We always stop here for lunch as the restaurant overlooks a watering hole and there is always so much activity going on here. It is always quite a challenge to get me to stop taking photos long enough to sit down to order and eat my food. While the wildlife is the sure hit here, the food is also quite good and reasonably priced. Service is always friendly and attentive, however make sure to bring some cash as the card machines are often not working.

Zebra buddies at Pilanesberg CentreZebra buddies at Pilanesberg Centre

VervetsThese vervets had a rough night (Pilanesberg Centre)

Cutie PieCutie Pie (Pilanesberg Centre)

Crimsonbreasted ShrikeCrimsonbreasted Shrike at Pilanesberg Centre

Yellowbilled Hornbill

Yellowbilled Hornbill-these birds are quite common but I always love to watch them (Pilanesberg Centre)

WarthogWarthog, they must kneel down in order to reach the ground to eat (Pilanesberg Centre)

GiraffesWe counted 11 giraffe at one time here, I have never seen so many together anywhere (Pilanesberg Centre)

Not sharingThis wildebeest tried to share the salt lick with the giraffe but the giraffe said no way buddy (Pilanesberg Centre)

After lunch we had some time to drive some of the eastern roads in the park. One of the prettiest views where there is usually a lot going on is Mankwe Dam so be sure not to miss the Hippo Loop drive.

Mom and baby hippoWait for me mom ! Mankwe Dam (Hippo Loop)

SpringbokSpringbok at Mankwe Dam (Hippo Loop)

Mankwe DamMankwe Dam (Hippo Loop)

Lilacbreasted Roller

Lilacbreasted Roller

Helmeted GuineafowlHelmeted Guineafowl

Crested FrancolinCrested Francolin

Female WaterbuckFemale Waterbuck

For those readers that may not know, the Big 5 is comprised of elephants, buffalo, lion, leopard and rhino. Back in the day, these were considered the 5 most dangerous animals to hunters. For safari goers nowadays, how many of the Big 5 that are spotted is often a benchmark as to how successful the safari is. This really isn’t our method as we just love spending time out in the bush and spotting all sorts of creatures but if anyone wants a count we saw 3 (elephant, rhino and buffalo) of the Big 5 on this outing, the most we have ever seen in one day at Pilanesberg.

Rhino FamilyRhino Family-over the course of the day we saw more than 10 rhino, always so special to see them

BuffaloBuffalo-this is the first time we have seen them in Pilanesberg, apparantly they are not often spotted. A terrible photo but I am including it just for proof purposes.

The day ended all too soon as usual but we had a great day out in the park. It was a lot of fun to spend time with my coworker and share our safari passion (or is it obsession?) with someone as it is usually just the 2 of us. We’ll see you again soon Pilanesberg.

UsGoodbye Pilanesberg

8 thoughts on “A Quick Safari Fix at Pilanesberg National Park

  1. You had some wonderful sightings and seems like you had a great time Kelly. Pilanesberg’s buffaloes are seen much less frequently than the cats, you should count yourselves very lucky indeed!


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