A trip to South Africa cannot be complete without exploring the country’s exquisite natural landscape. Even if you are just visiting for a short business trip – most likely to the commercial center in Johannesburg or the capital in Pretoria – you must make time for a safari!
Pilanesburg National Park
Pilanesburg is one of the largest (over 135,000 acres!) and easiest to access game parks in South Africa. Located just a 2-hour drive from OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, it is the perfect option if you don’t have time to travel to one of the more well-known game reserves such as Kruger National Park.
Pilanesburg is in a malaria-free zone and offers a variety of lodging options fit for all budgets. It is located in the North West Province at the site of an extinct volcano crater. Activity options at Pilanesburg include safari game drives (including self-driving), hiking, and hot air balloon rides.
The visitor’s center, located near the Mankwe Dam, has a large picnic area that features a panoramic view of the park that is popular with bird watchers. The picnic facilities provide an ideal perfect spot for lunch or tea breaks. You can sip some South African Rooibos tea while watching giraffe grazing at the dam.
I was incredibly spoiled with an invitation to a private safari farm at Kruger National Park when I first arrived in South Africa. The family who invited me had a good laugh at my inexperienced packing. I hadn’t done any research and brought a ton of backpacking gear and granola bars thinking that we would be roughing it outdoors. They quickly informed me about the multitude of luxurious safari options the country boasts. South Africans truly take glamping to the next level!
Later, I took family members (who visited for shorter stays or wanted to go to multiple cities) to Pilanesburg and often combined it with a day trip at the neighboring Sun City Mega Resort. Sun City is famous for its casino and the resort has served as the backdrop for countless Bollywood blockbusters.
Bakubung Luxury Lodge
One of the most memorable stays I had in Pilanesburg was at the Bakubung Bush Lodge, which translates to “Place of the Hippo”. The lodge has 76 rooms with high-speed internet and other modern amenities. All of the rooms have lovely patios or balconies with gorgeous views of the pool and Pilanesburg National Park.
Double rooms range from $300-370 (depending on the season) and include breakfast, dinner, and one safari drive per night of stay. We opted for one sundowner and one sunrise safari drive, which maximized the opportunities to see a variety of animals. I highly recommend taking advantage of the brai (South Africa’s tasty version of barbeque) at the park grounds. The brai is usually included in the lodge packages if your plans include a Wednesday or Saturday night stay.
The Big Five
One of the things I first learned about African game drives is safari goer’s obsession with viewing the Big Five – buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion, and rhinoceros. Personally, I am just as excited about giraffe and zebra sightings.
Big cats seemed to the most elusive since they tend to be nocturnal. It might take a bit of patience and a few drives, but you can view the Big Five at Pilanesberg. Just remember to bring a camera that takes good shots at night with no flash. Lesson learned for next time!