One is a national park and the other is a game reserve. One is located in a malaria area and one in a malaria-free area. One is vast and one is small; and one is a 5-hour drive from Johannesburg and one is only 2 hours away. Both Kruger National Park and the Pilanesberg Game Reserve offer a wide range of accommodation in spectacular settings and promise travellers incredible wildlife sightings. We look at a safari tour of the Kruger National Park versus a safari tour of the Pilanesberg Game Reserve and help you make your mind up which one is best for you and your family.
Which is best? Kruger National Park or Pilanesberg Game Reserve? It all depends….
THE PROS: KRUGER NATIONAL PARK
- Vast wilderness area: almost 2 million hectares
- 34 times bigger than the Pilanesberg Game Reserve
- Incredible biodiversity; about 17 biospheres
- Prolific birdlife; 507 recorded bird species
- Abundance of game; vast herds of elephants and buffalo
- Unfenced boundary with the Greater Kruger National Park
- Wide choice of accommodation
- Magical guided wilderness walking safaris
THE CONS: KRUGER NATIONAL PARK
- Malaria area (medium-to-high risk depending on season)
- 5-hour travel distance from Johannesburg
- Overcrowded in the busy southern region
- “Queue to view” at game sightings in the busy southern region
- Game numbers diluted by sheer size (game % lower per km/sq)
- Charged daily rate for entrance
- Outdated SANParks accommodation
- Some accommodation not up to scratch for international guests
- Massive poaching problem due to its proximity to Mozambique
THE PROS: PILANESBERG GAME RESERVE
- Malaria-free region
- Comfortable 2-hour drive from Johannesburg and Pretoria
- Perfect for a day tour or short stay
- Big 5 game reserve with prolific birdlife and abundance of game
- Neighbours with Sun City, Black Rhino Game Reserve and Madikwe Game Reserve
- Accommodation to suit all budgets; including large hotels and safari resorts
- High game concentration (game % higher per km/sq)
- Once-off entrance valid for 7 days
- Lower tourist volumes except in busy holiday seasons
- Limited poaching
- Easy to get around and get to know all the wildlife hotspots
- Prolific birdlife; 354 recorded bird species
THE CONS: PILANESBERG NATIONAL PARK
- Small; 57 250 hectares
- Limited biosphere diversity
- Small herds, packs and prides
- Overcrowded in the busy holiday seasons
- Annoying day trippers
- No buffalo
- No spotted hyena
- Feels like a glorified zoo
- Some accommodation below par
THE VERDICT: KRUGER NATIONAL PARK versus PILANESBERG GAME RESERVE
You really can’t compare Pilanesberg Game Reserve with the Kruger National Park. It’s like comparing an apple with a watermelon or a Mini Cooper with a Range Rover. Kruger National Park is the largest national park in Africa and the oldest in South Africa. It’s an iconic destination which attracts tens of thousands of wildlife and nature lovers every year. At the same time, Pilanesberg Game Reserve jumped up to #1 on the list of favourite game reserves in South Africa and there’s no mistaking the small kid on the block is giving the big brother of safari destinations a run for his money.
Nothing compares to a safari tour of the Kruger National Park. It’s vast and magnificent and you can totally lose yourself in the magic of its beauty and tranquility. It’s Africa at its best and you’ll leave Kruger Park with a piece of its soul.
However, you need to do Kruger National Park properly. This means staying in a place that’s not chaotically busy and overcrowded with tourists and day trippers; and you need to spend enough time in the Park to see as much as you can. There’s an abundance of animals in Kruger Park with large herds of elephants, buffalo and antelope but the “problem” is because the Kruger Park is enormous, the animals simply disappear into the woodland thickets and montane forests. Finding animals in the Kruger Park is a lot harder than it is in the Pilanesberg; but then that’s what adds to the excitement of an authentic safari tour in Africa.
And remember; there’s so much more to the Kruger Park than the Big 5. The Little 5, Ugly 5, Impossible 5 and the Big 6 are just some of the animals and birds you’ll love seeing on your daily game drives. Tip #1: Download the app “Latest Kruger Sightings” Find out where animals have been sighted on a daily basis in the Kruger Park. Use the app sensibly; don’t speed or drive recklessly to get to an animal sighting.
The southern region of Kruger Park has the highest concentration of animals and is the best section for game viewing. It’s also the busiest and you have to “queue to view” for wildlife sightings. This can get extremely frustrating, particularly during the busy holiday seasons. Tip #2: Avoid booking a holiday in the Kruger Park during the South African school holidays and the “FREE” week when the Park is open to the public for free in the month of September. SANParks self-catering accommodation in the main Kruger Rest Camps is basic and adequate; for some it’s outdated and tired. Service at restaurants and shops in the Kruger Rest Camps is not always up to scratch; particularly judged on international standards. You do get what you pay for in the Kruger Park; so don’t expect world-class standards in some of the rest camps. Tip #3: If you can afford to pay more, rather stay at a luxury safari lodge in one of the private concessions in the Kruger Park. Or better, stay at an ultra-luxury lodge in the Greater Kruger National Park and enjoy game drives into the Kruger National Park.
You also have the option of staying at an ultra-luxury lodge on one of the private game reserves in the neighbouring Greater Kruger National Park. This option guarantees privacy and exclusivity and the ultimate safari experience; with outstanding accommodation in spectacular settings coupled with incredible wildlife sightings. Of course, they’re significantly more expensive than places you’ll find to stay in the Kruger run by SANParks.
Take malaria seriously when planning a holiday to the Kruger National Park and take precautions to prevent contracting the disease. It’s a life-threatening disease if not caught and treated early. Anti-malaria tablets are highly recommended but if you can’t take them; use mozzie spray, sleep under a mozzie net and wear long pants and shirts with long sleeves in the evening. Mosquitos are more active between dusk and dawn. Avoid visiting Kruger Park if you’re pregnant or travelling with small children. Hundreds of pregnant women and small children visit the Kruger Park every year but it’s not worth the risk. Reported cases of malaria have increased in the past two years and it’s not just the summer months that are the high-risk malaria season. Tip #4: Consult your GP or local travel clinic for advice on malaria.
Overall, Kruger National Park wins on sheer size and incredible biodiversity; on magical wildlife sightings and beautiful scenery; and just being one of the best safari destinations in Africa. Kruger Park loses points on high tourist volumes in peak tourist seasons and on the quality of SANParks’ accommodation and facilities. Fortunately, international tourists have the option of booking outstanding accommodation at the luxury lodges in the private concessions in the Kruger Park or at game reserves in the Greater Kruger National Park. South Africans have the option of avoiding the busy Kruger Rest Camps and booking accommodation in the Kruger bushveld camps.
The Pilanesberg Game Reserve is a reasonable 2-hour drive from Johannesburg and Pretoria, and offers quality accommodation that’s more affordable than the luxury safari lodges in the Kruger Park. More importantly, the Pilanesberg is located in a malaria-free region. That’s a big selling point for international tourists and South African families with small children. The game reserve also has the best nextdoor neighbour; Sun City Entertainment & Casino Resort. It offers a world of fun and entertainment for the whole family and is one of South Africa’s most popular tourist destinations.
These are just a few of the reasons the Pilanesberg Game Reserve has jumped up to #1 on the list of most popular game reserves in South Africa. More than that, Pilanesberg may be small but it’s an endearing game reserve which has a particular charm about it that creeps into your heart and keeps loyal Pilanesberg fans coming back. Tip #1: You can stay at Pilanesberg Game Reserve and take a day trip to Sun City or you can stay in Sun City and take a day trip into the Pilanesberg Game Reserve. The choice is yours. The Pilanesberg Game Reserve is a bit like an oversized zoo but that’s not a bad thing. Thanks to Operation Genesis which was the most ambitious wildlife translocation in the world; there are now over 7 000 animals in the 572 km² nature reserve.
This means a high concentration of game in a relatively compact wilderness area; and most of the big game congregates in game viewing hotspots close to the big dams. Game viewing in the Pilanesberg is wonderful and easy. You won’t see the massive herds, packs and prides like you do in the Kruger Park but what you do see is still magical. You’re guaranteed sightings of 3 of the Big 5 which is elephants, rhino and lions. There are no buffalo in the Pilanesberg and the elusive leopard is hard to spot. Other great sightings include rare species such as wild dog and roan, tsessebe and sable antelope. Lion and white rhino sightings are common. Birdlife in the Pilanesberg is fantastic; there’s a selection of bird hides carefully positioned in the bush which makes it the ideal destination for birders as well as photographers. Tip #2: Take young children to Predator World near Sun City Children aren’t good at sitting for long hours in a car looking for game. For a bit of variety, take them to Predator World which is located close to the entrance to Sun City. Follow that up with a trip to Kwena Crocodile Farm.
That’ll keep small kids entertained for hours and keep parents sane. Tip #3: Put a hot-air balloon safari on your bucket list. It’s one of Pilanesberg’s best attractions. There’s no doubt about it; the Pilanesberg Game Reserve can’t compete with the sheer scale and magnificence of the Kruger Park. The national park is 34 times bigger than the Pilanesberg and has 17 biospheres. But Pilanesberg does promise great game viewing that’s easy to find in a relatively short space of time which makes it a magical safari destination. Tip #4: Avoid visiting the Pilanesberg Game Reserve in the busy school holidays Avoid at all costs booking accommodation in Manyane Resort and Bakgatla Resort over a South African public holiday weekend and during any of the big school holidays.
Day visitors are allowed into the two popular Pilanesberg resorts and they get really busy and noisy. Manyane Resort and Bakgatla Resort are not recommended for international tourists. Accommodation at Kwa-Maritane Lodge and Bakubung Bush Lodge is excellent and affordable for international tourists. South Africans can book the self-catering chalets which are part of the timeshare facility. For a real treat, book a stay in one of the independently-operated luxury safari lodges in Pilanesberg which offers luxurious accommodation in a spectacular setting. Better still, book luxury accommodation at a safari lodge in the Black Rhino Game Reserve and enjoy game drives into the Pilanesberg. Overall, Pilanesberg Game Reserve wins on being closer to Johannesburg and Pretoria than the Kruger Park; located in a malaria-free area; excellent game viewing and bird watching and quality accommodation which is affordable for international tourists. Pilanesberg loses points on not being the Kruger National Park. It just doesn’t compare.
THE FINAL SAY
The Pilanesberg Game Reserve is the ideal safari destination for a day tour with a reputable tour operator such as Moafrika Tours or a short 2- or 3-night stay. The luxury and ultra-luxury safari lodges in the Pilanesberg are perfect for international tourists; in particular, enjoy wonderful game drives on an open safari vehicle with a professional game ranger and tracker. There’s no malaria in the Pilanesberg and the reserve is a reasonable 2-hour drive from Johannesburg and Pretoria. South Africa’s famous playground, Sun City, is a short 15-minute drive from the Pilanesberg and the reserve is also neighbours with the Black Rhino Game Reserve and Madikwe Game Reserve. All this and more make it a popular safari destination for international tourists and keeps die-hard Pilanesberg fans coming back year after year.
However, it’s not the Kruger Park! if you’ve got more time to spare and US Dollars or Euros in your pocket; our recommendation would be make the trip to the Kruger National Park and enjoy an authentic African safari experience. You’ll fall in love with the sheer scale of the Park and it’s incredible beauty and magnificent fauna and flora. Avoid a holiday in the Kruger National Park in the busy holiday seasons and if possible, book yourself into one of the luxury safari lodges in the private concessions or Kruger Bush Camps for privacy and exclusivity. The Kruger National Park is still the best choice for an authentic safari tour in Africa but Pilanesberg Game Reserve is a wonderful alternative if you’re looking for something closer, great game viewing and no malaria in the area.
MORE ABOUT KRUGER NATIONAL PARK
The Kruger National Park is the gold standard of safari tours in South Africa. It’s vast and is world-renowned for its outstanding biodiversity. It’s the largest game reserve in Africa and by far, the most iconic natural attraction in South Africa. It’s home to the famous Big 5 which includes elephant, rhino, buffalo, leopard and lion but that’s not all. Kruger Park is also home to the Big 7 which now includes cheetah and wild dog; as well as the Little 5, the Ugly 5 and the Impossible 5.
These are terms given to the big, small, tall and ugly creatures of the national park that play an invaluable role in keeping its ecosystems in balance. South Africa’s most popular tourist attraction is part of the Kruger2Canyon Biosphere; an area designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) as an International Man and Biosphere Reserve. It’s also the oldest national park in South Africa. Kruger Park was proclaimed a protected wildlife sanctuary in 1926 and its history is fascinating. The national park is managed by South African National Parks (SANParks) which is a governing body that is responsible for 21 national parks in South Africa. Combined, the national parks of South Africa represent some 4 million hectares of precious natural resources.
The northern region of South Africa is also rich in cultural history. There’s ample evidence found at a number of important archaeological sites in the Kruger Park that early man from the Stone and Iron Age lived in the area between 500 000 and 100 000 years ago. The most important ruins in the Kruger area are Thulamela and Masorini. There are other sites you can visit which are natural galleries of San rock art; an ancient nomadic tribe that moved through the region for many years. You can also walk the ancient migratory paths of the great elephant tuskers or track the old trading routes forged during the mythical Queen of Sheba era and the ancient trading days when precious minerals were transported to Lourenço Marques (now Maputo) and traded with ship merchants. Kruger Park has its fair share of tales as old as time.
HOW BIG IS THE KRUGER NATIONAL PARK?
Kruger National Park is vast. On its own, it covers an area of almost 2 million hectares (19 485 square kilometres) and stretches across the provinces of Limpopo and Mpumalanga in the northeastern region of South Africa. It extends 360 kilometres (220 miles) from north to south and 65 kilometres (40 miles) east to west. Zimbabwe lies on its northern boundary and Mozambique lies on its eastern boundary. The private game reserves which form the neighbouring Greater Kruger National Park add another 180 000 hectares to the protected wilderness region. There are no fences in this vast bushveld area and game roams freely between the two conservation areas. And there’s more… The Kruger National Park and the Greater Kruger National Park are now part of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park which is a Peace Park that links the Kruger National Park with Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe and Limpopo National Park in Mozambique.
The Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park is home to more than 850 animal and 2 000 plant species. Spanning 35 000 square kilometres, it’s one of the first formally established Peace Parks in southern Africa. The Peace Parks Foundation recognises the importance of conserving and developing core areas, corridors and keystone species irrespective of political boundaries. The aim is to secure biodiversity conservation which in turn is the most important foundation to ensure maintained, healthy and functional ecosystems which is essential for the survival of all fauna and flora on the earth, including man.
HISTORY OF THE KRUGER NATIONAL PARK
The Kruger National Park was formerly known as Sabie Game Reserve. The area between the Sabie and Crocodile rivers was designated a protected wildlife area and set aside for restricted hunting. Uncontrolled hunting in the region was decimating game numbers; in fact, certain species faced extinction without state intervention. It was Paul Kruger, then president of the Transvaal Republic, who drove the urgency to provide a wilderness sanctuary for South Africa’s precious animals but it would take 12 long years for the region which is now Kruger National Park to be proclaimed a protected wildlife area. The national park was named in honour of Paul Kruger. The National Parks Act was proclaimed in May 1926 and Sabie and Shingwedzi Game Reserves were combined to become the Kruger National Park. James Stevenson-Hamilton was the Park’s first warden and made a significant impact on South African wildlife management and conservation. You can visit the Stevenson-Hamilton’s Memorial Library at Skukuza Rest Camp; it houses journals and old photographs that are a fascinating insight into the life of a game ranger in those early days.
WHERE IS THE KRUGER NATIONAL PARK?
Kruger National Park is a 5-hour drive from Johannesburg; the economic hub of South Africa. Most international tourists fly into OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg or Cape Town International Airport.
- OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg to Skukuza Rest Camp in the Kruger National Park: 5 h 10 min (443 kilometres)
- OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg to Orpen Gate in the Kruger National Park: 5 h 30 min (491 kilometres)
- OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg to Malelane Gate in the Kruger National Park: 4 h 10 min (392,1 km)
- OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg to Phalaborwa Gate in the Kruger National Park 5 h 30 min (483,3 km)
BEST TIME TO VISIT THE KRUGER NATIONAL PARK
The weather in the Kruger National Park and Lowveld region is subtropical; you can go on a safari tour of the reserve any time of the year and enjoy pleasant days and good game viewing. However; if you want to avoid the crowds then avoid booking accommodation in the Kruger National Park during the busy holiday seasons and in the annual “FREE WEEK” in September when the Park is open to the public for free. The busiest time in the Kruger Park when the rest camps are full and there’s congestion at game sightings is during the big school holidays; this includes Easter holidays in March/April and the end of year break in December/January. The best time to view game on a Kruger safari is in the colder winter months between May and September.
The Mpumalanga and Limpopo Provinces enjoy a summer rainfall season; in winter the grasslands and wooded thickets are dry and not as thick as the summer months. It’s easier to spot game at this time; particularly at rivers, dams and popular waterholes in the Kruger Park which are a hive of activity at sunrise and sunset when thirsty animals come to quench their thirst. You may be lucky enough to see a kill on a dry river bed. Depending on what time of the year you visit the Kruger National Park, you can expect: hot and humid days in the summer months (September to March) light morning showers and afternoon thunderstorms in the rainy season (September to May) driest period at the end of winter (September and October) pleasant days but cold nights in winter (May to September) 5 REASONS TO VISIT KRUGER NATIONAL PARK Kruger National Park is the largest national park in Africa and the oldest in South Africa. It’s an iconic safari destination and one of South Africa’s most popular tourist attractions. Travellers can expect incredible wildlife sightings in a region world-renowned for its outstanding biospheres and spectacular fauna and flora.
1 Diverse biospheres There are 17 biospheres in the Kruger Park and the flora and fauna varies from one corner to the next depending on what eco-zone you travel through; from open savanna grasslands and rocky granite outcrops in southern Kruger to riverine forests and wooded thickets in the central belt. The variety of fauna and flora is incredible regardless of where you find yourself in the African bushveld. Southern Kruger has the highest animal concentrations and is best for game viewing; northern Kruger is the best for bird watching and everything in between is spectacular. The Kruger Park is made up of diverse eco-zones: Northern sandveld: restricted to the far north of the Kruger Park around Punda Maria and Pafuri Mopaneveld; the most dominant ecosystem in the Kruger Park that covers over half of the reserve’s surface area Eastern sweetveld; stretching south from the Olifants River, through Satara and Tshokwane and down to Lower Sabie Open grasslands with dark clay soils sitting on a layer of rich basalt; this eco-zone is a rich grazing area as it retains rain water on the open floodplains that stay wet well into the dry season Mixed woodland which dominates large sections of central-western Kruger Park and the area south of Skukuza Thornveld which consists mostly of acacias; the Delagoa, knob-thorn, scented-pod and umbrella acacia Riverine forests found along the seven major rivers that crisscross the Kruger Park; Limpopo, Luvuvhu, Shingwedzi, Letaba, Olifants, Sabie and Crocodile Rivers 2 Self-drive safari tours The beauty of a holiday in the Kruger National Park is you can drive your own vehicle; it makes a holiday in the reserve more affordable and you can go at your own pace.
Download the app “Latest Sightings” which will point you in the direction of the best game sightings each day. Use it responsibly and please don’t speed to animal sightings. Otherwise, you can book a guided tour with a reputable tour operator such as Moafrika Tours or book a game drive on an open safari vehicle with a professional SANParks ranger through the bush lodge or private safari lodge where you’re staying. 3 Guided wilderness walking trails For a truly authentic safari tour of the Kruger Park, book a guided bush walk which takes you to unspoilt and untamed wilderness areas in remote corners of the national park. SANParks offers a number of guided walking trails and they are legendary. The group is usually a maximum of 8 people and the bush walks are between 3 to 7 days. Armed game rangers lead the wilderness walking trails and food and accommodation is included in the rate. All you have to worry about is following your game rangers instructions and enjoying yourself. Popular Kruger Park walking trails include the Bushman Trail, Metsimietsi Trail, Napi Trail, Olifants Trail, Sweni Trail and the Wolhuter Trail.
The beauty of the Kruger walking trails is they’re usually conducted in remote parts of the Park that the general public don’t have access to; it’s wild, untamed and unspoilt African bushveld at its best. A Kruger Park guided wilderness walking trail is the best way to discover the Park’s fascinating fauna and flora and gives you a completely different perspective of the bushveld surrounds. It definitely beats sitting in a car and driving for miles and miles on tar roads. 4 Bird watching There are 517 recorded bird species in the Kruger National Park, of which 253 are residents, 117 non-breeding migrants and 147 nomads. If you don’t arrive in the Park an avid birder, you’ll definitely leave as one. A group of bird species to brag about is the Big 6 which includes the lappet-faced vulture, martial eagle, saddle-billed stork, kori bustard, ground hornbill and the reclusive Pel's fishing owl.
There are between 25 and 30 breeding pairs of saddle-billed storks in the Kruger Park and 178 family groups of the endangered ground hornbill. 5 Vast selection of accommodation There is no shortage of accommodation in the Kruger Park; there’s something for everyone’s budget. The Kruger Park has 24 Rest Camps, 5 Bushveld Camps and 16 luxury safari lodges on private concessions. Private concessions are parcels of land with exclusive accommodation that are operated by private companies in joint ventures with the governing body. Most visitors stay at the popular self-catering Kruger Rest Camps or more intimate Bushveld Camps. You can also camp or stay in a caravan at the camping sites in the bigger rest camps. Travellers staying in SANParks accommodation stock up on provisions at the onsite shop or enjoy a hearty meal at the restaurant. For an ultra-luxury Kruger Park safari tour; opt for one of the upmarket safari lodges on the private concessions in the Kruger Park.
These exclusive safari lodges are unashameably marketed to the high-end traveller; offering luxurious accommodation in pristine bushveld surrounds and the luxury of a private guided safari tour with a professional game rangers and experienced game tracker.
5 REASONS NOT TO VISIT THE KRUGER NATIONAL PARK
Kruger Park is an iconic destination and on most traveller’s bucket list for a holiday in South Africa. There are a few downsides to a safari tour of the Kruger Park and we’ll be brutally honest about what they are: 1 Malaria The Kruger National Park is located in a malaria area in the northern territory of South Africa. It’s always been considered a low-risk malaria area but there has been an increase in the number of reported malaria cases in the past two years which raises a red flag.
During the rainy summer season between October to April, the risk of contracting malaria increases. Bear in mind, malaria cases are recorded throughout the year so it’s not correct to say that it’s safer to visit the Kruger Park in the winter months. It’s highly recommended that visitors take anti-malaria tablets if they go on a safari tour to Kruger Park as well as take other precautions to prevent contracting malaria. However, it’s not always realistic that traveller’s can take anti-malaria tablets; particularly if they’re on a quick visit to South Africa and only have 2-3 days available to visit Kruger Park. Anti-malaria tablets are also fairly expensive, although a lot less expensive for international tourists.
It’s not worth visiting the Kruger Park in the high-risk malaria season if you and your family can’t take anti-malaria tablets. If you aren’t taking anti-malaria tablets on a visit to the Kruger Park; take the necessary precautions to prevent being bitten by mosquitoes. This includes using mozzie repellent, sleeping under mozzie nets and changing into long pants and shirts with long sleeves in the evening. 2 High tourist volumes SANParks works on a model of “low price/high tourist volumes” for its public facilities such as the Kruger Rest Camps and camping/caravanning facilities.
This is vastly different to the Greater Kruger National Park which works on a “high price/low tourist volume” model. Also bear in mind, the Kruger National Park allows day visitors into the Park where the Greater Kruger National Park restricts visitors to paying guests. This further increases the number of people in the park on any given day, but more so over the public and school holiday periods. You’ll only really experience this as a problem at wildlife sightings. Private cars, safari vehicles and tourist buses converge on game sightings and it becomes a bit of a bun fight to get the best position for the best sighting. People can be quite selfish at game sightings and it’s frustrating having to “queue to view” lions on a kill or a lovely leopard or wild dog sighting. “Queue to view” game sightings are mainly a problem in southern Kruger because the majority of tour operators take their guests to this section of the park for short stays. The Kruger Rest Camps in the southern region are the most convenient for a 2-day or 3-day stay in Kruger Park.
It’s also more convenient for day trippers and it’s also the best section of the national park for game viewing because game is more abundant in the south. From central Kruger and upwards, the problem disappears. Sometimes you can travel the whole day in parts of the Park and only see a handful of cars. 3 Travel distance Including stops for fuel and refreshments and entering the Kruger Park, it can take up to 6 hours before you’re finally in the Park and game viewing. It takes longer to get to the Kruger Rest Camps in the central and northern region. The trip from Johannesburg to the Kruger Park is well worth it if you have 3 or more days to spend in Kruger Park but it’s a long way to go if you can only stay for a short 2-day visit. Factor in a 3-hour game drive once you’re in the Park and you might find it’s too much driving for what you may or may not see.
Bear in mind, the Kruger Park is vast and the animals can disappear into the bush; unlike the Pilanesberg which is small and the game more concentrated in the confined space. It’s disappointing to drive all the way to the Kruger Park and not enjoy wonderful wildlife sightings. 4 SANParks accommodation The traditional bungalows in the Kruger Rest Camps are basic and for some; outdated and lacking in the luxury department. They’re quaint and perfectly adequate as well as a wonderful memento of the early Kruger days but they’re not going to win any Condé Nast awards for design and décor. For luxury accommodation in the Kruger Park, you need to book a stay at one of the 16 gorgeous safari lodges in the private concessions. These are managed by independent operators and offer deluxe suites and facilities that rival the likes of anything you’d find in the Okavango Delta or Serengeti. Of course, they’re a lot pricier than accommodation at the Kruger Rest Camps.
5 Self-catering accommodation Self-catering accommodation in the Kruger National Park is the standard offering. This might be a basic 2-sleeper bungalow or 6-sleeper chalet suited for a family or group of friends. They come equipped with a basic kitchenette and simple kitchen equipment. Most South Africans on holiday in the Kruger Park love the self-catering option and most evenings are spent around the fire enjoying a traditional South African braai (barbeque). This means that for international tourists your meals are in the onsite restaurant or deli. There isn’t a hotel in Kruger Park so no hotel dining room to wander down to for meal times. The quality of food at the different restaurants in the Kruger Park differs from site to site but on the whole you get a decent meal for a good price when you’re travelling on Euros or US Dollars.
KRUGER REST CAMPS versus KRUGER BUSH CAMPS
Kruger Park is vast and therefore the choice of accommodation and places to stay is vast. SANParks manages the main rest camps and bush camps and independent operators manage the safari lodges on the private concessions. Kruger Park Rest Camps Kruger Park Rest Camps are very different to Kruger Park Bush Camps; although both are managed by SANParks and have a distinctive Kruger feel to them.
The large Kruger Rest Camps include: Pretoriuskop Skukuza Berg-en-Dal Lower Sabie Satara Punda Maria Shingwedzi Olifants Orpen Accommodation at the Kruger Rest Camps includes self-catering bungalows, chalets, guest houses and tented camps as well as camping and caravanning facilities. They have the modern conveniences of a safari resort including a well-stocked shop, restaurants and fuel stations. The Kruger Rest Camps are a hive of activity in the busy holiday periods, in particular Skukuza which is essentially the ‘Capital of Kruger Park’ and the administrative centre. Standards of accommodation and service may not be up to par with international travel standards but they’re perfectly adequate as a base when you spend your day out in the bushveld viewing game.
Kruger Park Satellite and Bush Camps The Kruger Bush Camps are quieter and the number of people staying in them is significantly less than the main rest camps. They’re located in more remote areas in the Park, usually away from the main thoroughfare of Kruger traffic. They offer a more private and exclusive safari experience that’s rustic and off-the-grid. Kruger Satellite and Bushveld Camps include: Bateleur Bushveld Camp Balule Satellite Camp Biyamiti Bushveld Camp Boulders Bush Lodge Crocodile Bridge Camp Maroela Private Camp Malelane Satellite Camp Mopani Rest Camp Roodewal Bush Lodge Shimuwini Bushveld Camp Sirheni Bushveld Camp Talamati Bushveld Camp Tamboti Satellite Camp The Kruger Bush Camps offer travellers a more authentic African safari experience and are hugely popular for avid nature lovers, so much so they tend to be booked a year in advance.
They’re hard to get into which is why the majority of tour operators book their guests into the main rest camps. You won’t find convenient facilities like shops, restaurants and pools in the Kruger Satellite and Bush Camps so they’re not the perfect option for families with young children or people who don’t like the self-catering option. Kruger Satellite and Bush Camps are more suited to stalwart Kruger fans who want a real bushveld experience without the crowds. Luxury safari lodges on private concessions Until recently, the Kruger National Park had a policy where they did not allow private companies to operate safari lodges in the Park.
This has since changed with the establishment of private concessions. Private concessions in the Kruger National Park are tracts of land that are managed by select operators who have a license to offer all the benefits of a luxury safari lodge on a private reserve, similar to what you’d experience in the Greater Kruger National Park. Private concessions in the Kruger Park include: Camp Shonga; Mpanamana Private Concession Camp Shawu; Mpanamana Private Concession Fitzpatrick’s at Jock; Jock Concession Hamilton's Tented Camp; Imbali Private Concession Hoyo-Hoyo Tsonga Lodge; Imbali Private Concession Imbali Safari Lodge; Imbali Private Concession Jock Safari Lodge; Jock Concession Lion Sands Narina Lodge; Lion Sands Private Concession Lion Sands Tinga Lodge; Lion Sands Private Concession Lion Sands Tinga Lodge; Lion Sands Private Concession Lukimbi Safari Lodge; Lukimbi Private Concession Pafuri Camp; Makuleke Region Rhino Plains Camp; Rhino Walking Safaris Concession Rhino Post Safari Lodge; Rhino Walking Safaris Concession Singita Lebombo; Lebombo Concession Singita Sweni Lodge; Lebombo Concession Shishangeni Private Lodge; Mpanamana Private Concession The Outpost; Makuleke Concession Private concessions in the Kruger Park operate like unfenced private game reserves within the national park.
They offer luxurious accommodation in spectacular settings and exemplary service which includes private game drives in an open safari vehicle with a professional guide and tracker. Access to the private concessions is restricted to guests staying in the luxury Kruger safari lodges. Each concession is several thousand hectares in size. The game ranger can leave the road network within their concession boundaries during game drives in order to get closer to the wildlife; this is not allowed in the public areas of the Kruger National Park. The luxury safari lodges on the private concessions in the Kruger Park are obviously private and exclusive.
It’s the Gold Standard safari experience in the Kruger Park and a much better option for the discerning traveller. These lodges are unashameably marketed to the high-end tourist expecting a world-class holiday in the Kruger Park.
If the high tourist numbers and “less-than-luxurious” accommodation in the Kruger Park put you off, you also have the option of booking a deluxe suite at a luxury safari lodge in the Greater Kruger National Park. Any one of the spectacular safari lodges in the neighbouring Greater Kruger promises you luxurious accommodation in a spectacular setting and an outstanding safari experience with exceptional wildlife sightings. World-famous private game reserves in the Greater Kruger include Londolozi, Sabi Sands, MalaMala and Sabi Sabi. These private game reserves are unashameably marketed to the high-end wildlife traveller and generally not in your average South African’s budget.
Guests are taken on twice-daily game drives in an open safari vehicle with a professional game ranger and experienced tracker. This is the Rolls Royce of safari experiences with the added bonus of having access to the Kruger National Park. The luxury safari lodges in private game reserves in the Greater Kruger National Park are the preferred choice for the discerning wildlife enthusiast. Well-heeled, affluent travellers may find the SANParks accommodation in the Kruger Park quite below par.
MORE ABOUT PILANESBERG GAME RESERVE
In a recent poll conducted by the South African Tourism Board, Pilanesberg Game Reserve jumped to the #1 ranking on the list of the most popular game reserves in the country. There’s a reason for this; in fact there are many reasons for this. Firstly, it’s located in a malaria-free region in the North West Province of South Africa and secondly, it’s much closer to Johannesburg and Pretoria than the Kruger Park. This makes it the ideal safari destination for travellers who want to see the Big 5 and enjoy an authentic African safari experience but don’t have the time to travel a day to Kruger Park or don’t want to or can’t take malaria tablets. Over and above that, the Pilanesberg has become a much-loved game reserve for local South Africans because there’s something curiously appealing about the reserve.
The scenery is magical and game viewing is excellent. Pilanesberg is also right next door to Sun City Entertainment & Casino Resort as well as exclusive safari destinations such as the Black Rhino Game Reserve and Madikwe Game Reserve. All this and lots more keep wildlife, bird and nature lovers going back to the Pilanesberg. It’s a smallish park; it doesn’t come close in size and stature to the Kruger National Park but it does give the Kruger Park a good run for its money in terms of biodiversity and incredible fauna and flora.
There’s a wide selection of accommodation in the Pilanesberg which ranges from permanent safari tents and self-catering chalets to upmarket luxury resorts unashameably marketed to the high-end traveller. The latter are managed by independent operators and their facilities and service are outstanding. Contrary to popular belief, Pilanesberg isn’t a national park. It’s a game reserve which is managed by the North West Parks Board. It was established in 1979 through a project called Operation Genesis which is still today considered to be one of the most ambitious wildlife translocation projects in the world.
HOW BIG IS THE PILANESBERG GAME RESERVE?
Pilanesberg is the fourth largest game reserve in South Africa and covers an area of 55 000 hectares (572 square kilometers). Basically, it can fit into a small corner of the Kruger National Park which spans some 2 million hectares (19 485 square kilometres). The Kruger Park is 34 times larger than the Pilanesberg Game Reserve so there’s no comparison when it comes to the size of these two popular wilderness areas. Pilanesberg Game Reserve may be a lot smaller than the iconic Kruger National Park but it packs a big punch.
Because of its size, the game is concentrated in good grazing areas and game viewing is often much better in the Pilanesberg. As part of a long-term plan to establish a protected wilderness corridor between the Pilanesberg Game Reserve and the neighbouring Madikwe Game Reserve, an additional 20 square kilometres has been added to the north-western side of the Pilanesberg. Plans are under review to drop fences between several privately-owned neighbouring game farms which will ultimately increase the size and value of the game reserve. In much the same way, the Greater Kruger National Park offers luxury safari accommodation in the northern region; the safari lodges in the private game reserves neighbouring the Pilanesberg Game Reserve offer international tourists the choice of exclusive accommodation in the North West region.
THE HISTORY OF THE PILANESBERG GAME RESERVE
The late 18th century gave rise to the Tswana period. The peaceful existence of the Tswana tribe living in the area was shattered in the late 1820s when Mzilikazi occupied the region. Mzilikazi sought refuge in the Pilanesberg for his rebel Zulu warriors who had fled the wrath of Shaka, the Zulu king. Mzilikazi occupied the north-west region and destroyed the villages and crops of the Tswana people.
They were forced to live under the rule of the Ndebele for a period of time. The first European settlers to the area were missionaries. They established a mission station in the north-western part on a farm called Driefontein that was wedged between a large section of land traditionally owned by the Bakgatla tribe. A Magistrates Court was built close to the base of the Pilanesberg mountain and offered a much-needed service to the people who descended on the area as development took off. The southern section of the Pilanesberg Game Reserve was originally agricultural land which was sold to farmers by the Transvaal government in the 1860s. The farmers needed a permanent water source and built Mankwe dam, which is the Pilanesberg’s largest standing-water reservoir.
The farms were bought back by the government in the 1960s and members of the Bakubung tribe were resettled on the land. The land was then given to Bophuthatswana which was a large Bantustan or ‘Homeland’ that was established under the South African apartheid government. The Bophuthatswana authorities initiated a project to re-introduce wildlife to the region and the Pilanesberg area was eventually proclaimed a wildlife reserve in 1979. The Bakgatla tribe agreed to the inclusion of the mountainous region that belonged to them, and 60-plus families living in that part of the reserve were re-settled in a town to the east of the Pilanesberg Game Reserve.
At the same time, strict anti-gambling legislation was in place in South Africa and property tycoon, Sol Kerzner, saw an opportunity to build an elaborate resort in Bophuthatswana that centered around a massive casino and Superbowl theatre complex. Kerzner’s company, Sun International, obtained a 99-year leasehold on a farm adjacent to the Pilanesberg Game Reserve and built the magnificent Sun City complex. Bophuthatswana had no restrictions on gambling and this unique opportunity attracted hordes of tourists and day visitors from South Africa to the entertainment resort. When Bophuthatswana gained its independence from South Africa, its president at the time, Lucus Mangope, set up a planning committee to re-introduce wildlife to the area in the hopes of boosting tourism to generate much-needed revenue for his people.
The creation of the Pilanesberg Game Reserve was one of the most ambitious programmes of its kind undertaken anywhere in the world. Operation Genesis was launched in the 1970s and involved the re-introduction of wildlife that had long since vanished from the region. All non-indigenous plants had to be eradicated at the same time and derelict farm buildings were demolished, including the mission church on Driefontein. The Magistrate court building, a lovely Cape Dutch style structure, was saved. The historical landmark burnt down in an accidental blaze in the 1980s but was later rebuilt and now serves as the Pilanesberg Information Centre as well as a restaurant for day visitors.
Tourism to the Pilanesberg really boomed in the 1990s with the fall of the apartheid government and after Nelson Mandela was released. The reserve was a hive of activity with the building of new camps and safari lodges. In 1993, the Pilanesberg Game Reserve established itself as a Big 5 destination with the introduction of predators. Lions from the Etosha National Park in Namibia were brought in, even though there were serious concerns for the safety of people living in the surrounding communities. At the dawn of a new democratic era, Bophuthatswana was reincorporated in 1994 into the Republic of South Africa. The entire Pilanesberg region now falls within South Africa’s borders. By the early 2000s, the reserve had increased in size from 552 to 572 square kilometres. As part of a 10-year plan to establish a corridor between the Pilanesberg and Madikwe Game Reserve, an additional 20 square kilometres were added on the north western side of the Pilanesberg. Several private game farm owners dropped their fences and game from Madikwe Game Reserve safely traverse the game corridor.
WHERE IS THE PILANESBERG GAME RESERVE?
The Pilanesberg Game Reserve is located in the North West Province of South Africa. The North West Province lies on the southern border of Botswana and is fringed by the Kalahari Desert to the west. It’s known as the Platinum province because the region is rich in mineral wealth and there’s a lot of mining activity in the area. The best thing about the Pilanesberg Game Reserve is it’s a comfortable 2-hour drive from Johannesburg or Pretoria which makes it the perfect safari destination for a day tour and a short stay. Kruger National Park is half a day’s drive away if you take in pitstops for fuel and refreshments.
The capital city of the North West Province is Mahikeng (previously Mafikeng). This area attracts historian buffs as it’s famous for a siege during the Boer War which ended in a resounding victory for the British army and made a hero of Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts. The most famous attraction in the North West Province is Sun City; an artificial city that was created during the apartheid era by the Sun International Group and offered all South Africans regardless of race a fantasy world of entertainment, international shows and gambling. It’s home to the famous Gary Player Golf Course, the luxurious Palace of the Lost City and South Africa’s playground; Valley of the Waves.
- OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg to Pilanesberg Game Reserve: 2 h 15 min (209 kms)
- OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg to Bakubung Bush Lodge: 2 h 18 min (210 kms)
- OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg to Sun City Resort: 2 h 10 min (204 kms)
- Pretoria to Pilanesberg Game Reserve: 1 h 55 min (163 kms)
BEST TIME TO VISIT THE PILANESBERG GAME RESERVE
The weather in the Pilanesberg Game Reserve is identical to the Kruger National Park so there isn’t a big difference if you’re making your decision around the seasons in South Africa. The North West Province enjoys a subtropical climate although it’s proximity to the southern Kalahari Desert means the winter temperatures at night are a lot colder than you’ll experience in the Kruger Park.
You can go on a safari tour of the Pilanesberg Game Reserve any time of the year and enjoy pleasant days and good game viewing. It all depends on whether you want to avoid the crowds in the busy peak seasons. The Pilanesberg Game Reserve is very busy with local holidaymakers in the school holidays; the busiest being the Easter holidays in March/April and the end of year break in December/January. The best time to view game on a Pilanesberg safari is in the colder winter months between May and September. The North West Province enjoys a summer rainfall season; in winter the grasslands and wooded thickets are dry and not as thick as the summer months. It’s easier to spot game at this time; particularly at rivers, dams and popular waterholes in the Pilanesberg which are a hive of activity at sunrise and sunset when thirsty animals come to quench their thirst. You may be lucky enough to see a kill on a dry river bed.
Depending on what time of the year you visit the Pilanesberg Game Reserve, you can expect: hot days in the summer months (September to March) light morning showers and afternoon thunderstorms in the rainy season (September to May) driest period at the end of winter (September and October) pleasant days but cold nights in winter (May to August)
5 REASONS TO VISIT THE PILANESBERG GAME RESERVE
The two main reasons the Pilanesberg Game Reserve has experienced a boom in tourism is because it’s located in a malaria-free region and it’s a reasonable 2-hour drive from Johannesburg or Pretoria. This makes it the perfect safari destination for day tours or short stays; particularly for international tourists who’d like to experience an authentic African safari but either don’t have time to visit the Kruger Park or want to avoid visiting a malaria area.
That being said, there are a number of other reasons Pilanesberg Game Reserve has shot up to #1 on the list of most popular game reserves in South Africa. 1 Unique biosphere Kruger Park has as many as 17 biospheres while Pilanesberg Game Reserve’s biospheres are limited to the sandy, arid tracts of land that are an extension of the Kalahari Desert and the lush, tropical vegetation that stretches across from the tropical Lowveld region.
At the same time, Pilanesberg’s biosphere composition is unique and fascinating. The Pilanesberg region lies on the south-western border of Botswana which is dominated by the Kalahari Desert but it’s not a desert in the strictest sense of the word as it receives to much rainfall. Lying wedged between the dry, arid Kalahari Desert and the lush, tropical Lowveld makes the Pilanesberg an eco-wonder where fauna and flora from both regions melt seamlessly into each other to create a unique biosphere. The Kalahari stretches 360 000 square miles across Botswana, Namibia and South Africa, with the Pilanesberg Game Reserve tucked into the most southerly tip of this vast wonderland. On the other side is the western border of what is affectionately known as the Lowveld; with the reserve located at the intersection between the northern Limpopo Province and eastern Mpumalanga Province. The Lowveld is characterised by lush, tropical vegetation and stunning mountain ranges.
Dominating the game reserve is the Pilanesberg mountain which is circular in shape and rises from flat surrounding plains. It is formed by three concentric ridges or rings of hills, of which the outermost has a diameter of about 24m. Pilanesberg mountain is mistakenly thought to be the crater of an extinct volcano but it’s actually a very rare formation called an Alkaline Ring Dyke Complex. It was a volcano in the making but it never erupted. The magna cooled under the ground before it erupted and later the centre collapsed forming a crater that later became the valley floor. Millions of years of erosion left a hard rock behind that became the mountain Pilanesberg is most famous for. There are only three Alkaline Ring Dyke Complexes in the world and Pilanesberg mountain is the best preserved by far.
The Pilanesberg mountain is geographically located within the Witwatersrand range. Different types of syenites, including a number of rare minerals, have been found in the crater area. The geology is unique and one of only a few similar alkaline volcanic structures in the world. At its zenith, the volcano towered 7 000 metres in height. More than 1 200 million years ago, a series of underground volcanic eruptions occurred and magma was squeezed into fractures that developed in its formation. The end result is several ‘onion rings’ of rocks of different ages. What we see today is a cross-section through the magma pipes that were located deep below the mountain’s summit. Pilanesberg Game Reserve is a geologist’s dream destination and is rich in geological finds.
Various sites that originate from the Iron Age and Stone Age are scattered throughout the reserve and show the presence of man from those periods. The ancient hills of the Pilanesberg Game Reserve offer panoramic views over grasslands in the valley below and incredible bird and wildlife sightings. The Elands River flows south of the Pilanesberg in an easterly direction and hides built at the man-made dams dotted throughout the reserve offer tourists to the Pilanesberg an opportunity to leave their cars and enjoy stunning game and bird viewing at the edge of the water. 2 Excellent game viewing and bird watching The Pilanesberg Game Reserve is much smaller than the Kruger National Park but this is actually a benefit for the popular safari destination.
Game is highly concentrated in a more restricted area so you’re guaranteed to see at least 4 of the Big 5 (the elusive leopard is a bit of a tricky find). You won’t see the massive herds of elephants and antelope that you see in the Kruger Park but what you do see is just as magical. There are a few game viewing hotspots in the Pilanesberg that you can head to and you’ll see almost everything you want to see in a short space of time.
This makes Pilanesberg ideal for a day tour or short stay; particularly ideal for international tourists on a tight holiday schedule. Virtually all of the animal species native to southern Africa are found in the Pilanesberg Game Reserve including the Big 5, wild dog, roan antelope, tsessebe and sable antelope as well as more than 360 recorded bird species. Lion sightings are common because they tend to stick to the same territories and sightings of white rhino are as common as giraffe, zebra and hippo. The main game is usually found in the surrounding bushveld close to Mankwe Dam which is the largest water resource in the reserve. The reserve has managed a successful wild dog breeding programme and that’s another exciting sighting to look forward to on a safari tour of Pilanesberg Game Reserve. All in all, Operation Genesis brought in 6 000 animals as part of the wildlife translocation project. This number has swelled to over 7 000 animals which are concentrated in a relatively small area.
To some, Pilanesberg feels like a glorified zoo because game viewing is “easy” compared to the Kruger Park. But that’s not a bad thing for travellers wanting to get a quick African safari fix. It’s also why day tours to Pilanesberg with Moafrika Tours are so popular. One of the best-kept secrets of the Pilanesberg Game Reserve is it’s an excellent birding destination. There are over 360 recorded bird species in the reserve which is fewer than Kruger Park which has over 570 recorded bird species; but the main reason Pilanesberg is heaven for birders is largely due to the wonderful bird hides found scattered around the reserve at the main dams. Pilanesberg has a wonderful variety of habitats ranging from woodland thickets to mountains, ravines and open savanna bushveld. It also has a number of dams with bird hides that have been set up specially for bird lovers. The popular birding spots are at the bird hides at the following dams: Mankwe, Makorwane, Tlou, Ruighoek, Malatse, Tilodi and Lengau.
The most rewarding time to visit the Pilanesberg for bird watching is in the summer months between October and April. Avid birders are known to “tick” up to 80 bird species in a single day. If you’re a really keen birder, you can join the “bird drives” rung by Ivory Tree Game Lodge which concentrate solely on finding birds in the Pilanesberg. 3 Photographic safari The fact that the Pilanesberg Game Reserve is small and game numbers are concentrated around the big dams as well as the placement of bird hides at these game hotspots makes the Pilanesberg an excellent destination for aspiring photographers. It might not as spectacular compared to a photographic safari in the Kruger National Park but you’re guaranteed to get great photos of game and spectacular scenery.
A lot of thought has gone into the placement of these hides and there is a hide for every time of the day: West-facing hides: Rathogo provides good photographic lighting in the mornings East-facing hides: Ruighoek and Malatse are great for afternoon light North-facing hides: Makorwane and Batlhako are better suited to low light photography on cloudy days The most popular photography hide is found at Mankwe Dam. It’s east facing but this is not important as it’s designed in a ‘C’ shape which allows you to shoot both east and west. Mornings at Mankwe are very popular for spectacular silhouettes and sun reflections off the water surface.
The Pilanesberg Game Reserve is extremely proud of their reserve hides. They are well-built with comfortable seating so you can patiently wait for the perfect photo opportunity. 4 Hot-air balloon safari Pilanesberg Game Reserve has developed a reputation for game viewing from the air. Hot air balloon safaris offers wildlife enthusiasts a breathtakingly-spectacular experience and a completely different perspective of the nature reserve. The experience of launching at sunrise and flying high above the reserve is no doubt one of the best ways to see the Pilanesberg mountains and the formation of the Alkaline Ring Complex.
A hot air balloon safari is a one-hour flight over the reserve with sparkling wine after landing, a full English breakfast and a first-flight certificate. The ballooning operators provide transfers to and from your lodge. 5 Wide choice of accommodation and activities The Pilanesberg Game Reserve is an ideal family destination; not only because game viewing is excellent and relatively easy but also because there’s a world of entertainment right on your doorstep at Sun City. You can stay at the Pilanesberg Game Reserve and visit Sun City for the day or visa a versa. There’s a wide choice of accommodation in the Pilanesberg Game Reserve with something for everyone’s budget. This could be camping or caravanning in one of the large safari resorts, self-catering chalets or permanent safari tents or a deluxe suite at a luxury bush lodge or a self-catering chalet at a timeshare resort. Self-catering accommodation in Pilanesberg Game Reserve is popular with South Africans while international tourists on a safari tour usually stay in the luxury bush lodges. You also have the choice of booking accommodation at a hotel in Sun City and visiting the Pilanesberg on a day tour with Moafrika Tours or another reputable South African tour operator.
The big difference between accommodation in the Kruger Park and the Pilanesberg is you can book luxury accommodation in independently-run safari resorts in the Pilanesberg that won’t cost you an arm and a leg. Modern, luxury accommodation in the Kruger Park is only available in the private concessions which are unashameably marketed to the high-end traveller. Places like Kwa-Maritane and Bakubung Bush Lodge are relatively expensive for your average South African on holiday in the Pilanesberg but more affordable than places like Lion Sands and Singita in the Kruger Park. Budget-friendly accommodation in the Pilanesberg: Manyane Resort Bakgatla Resort Pilanesberg Tented Safari Camp Mid-range bush lodges & timeshare accommodation in the Pilanesberg: Bakubung Bush Lodge Kwa Maritane Lodge Luxury accommodation in the Pilanesberg: Black Rhino Game Lodge Buffalo Thorn Lodge Ivory Tree Game Lodge Morokolo Game Lodge Pilanesberg Private Lodge Shepherd’s Tree Game Lodge Tamboti Game Lodge Tshukudu Bush Lodge The internationally-acclaimed Sun City resort is a short 15 minute drive from Pilanesberg Game Reserve.
Those who prefer the solitude and beauty of the bush opt to stay in the reserve and take a day trip to the fabulous entertainment resort. A visit to Pilanesberg Game Reserve usually goes hand-in-hand with a day trip to the world-famous Sun City entertainment and casino complex. Visitors cross over an imaginary line that separates the lush, natural surrounds of the African bush from the busy, mind-blowing facilities of the fantasy city. There is something for everyone at Sun City; from an adrenalin-filled day at the Valley of the Waves to the sights and sounds of the magnificent entertainment complex, the beautiful lush gardens with sparkling pools and the world-class Gary Player golf course. Sun City was formerly a part of Bophuthatswana which was an independent homeland established in the mid-70s by the previous South African government during the apartheid era. Although Sun City is now part of South Africa, it’s affectionately thought of as being a city in its own right in an imaginary world. Places to stay in Sun City include the legendary Palace of the Lost City, a 5-star royal kingdom which indulges in the fantasy of a mythical civilisation; or a choice of three hotels to suit different budgets.
The Cabana is an affordable, budget-friendly hotel that’s suited for families with children. The newly-refurbished hotel is situated at the Sun City Waterworld Lake, offering guests a contemporary twist and great ‘base’ to explore the resort. As the sun sets over the open spaces and rolling lawns the nightlife begins at the Cabanas Pool Deck, with chic cocktails and a vibrant island setting. The Cascades Hotel overlooks the Gary Player country club golf course and is an elite option for the more discerning traveller. It offers guests an exhilarating experience and grand restaurants serving world cuisines add to the many reasons to stay in this premier hotel. Named for the waterfalls and calming pools that trickle throughout the property, the 5-star Cascades hotel is an oasis of calm in the midst of the Sun City Resort and is close to all the activities Sun City has to offer. The Sun City Hotel is home to the resort’s world-famous casino and entertainment centre. A stunning pool with a terrace restaurant is one of its many spectacular features. Renamed Soho Hotel, it was the first hotel built on the resort; located right at the heart of Sun City. If you haven’t seen enough animals on a safari tour of Pilanesberg, you can visit the Kwena Crocodile Farm and Predator World at Sun City. Kwena Crocodile Farm is home to over 7 000 crocodiles, some of them the biggest you have ever seen. Predator World is a delight for children, where they can safely get up close and personal with the big cats and other members of the Big 5.
The Kruger National Park shares an unfenced border with the Greater Kruger National Park which boasts a selection of private game reserves with some of the most exclusive and spectacular safari lodges in the country. Pilanesberg Game Reserve also has an add-on luxury accommodation option in the form of Black Rhino Game Reserve. There are no boundary fences between the two and wildlife are free to roam across the wilderness area.
The Black Rhino Game Reserve has sweet bushveld vegetation which complements the Pilanesberg’s predominantly mixed sourveld. You’re guaranteed sightings of black and white rhino and elephant as well as an array of antelope, including the rare roan and sable antelope. The safari lodges in the Black Rhino Game Reserve have full traversing rights in the Pilanesberg; game vehicles belonging to privately-owned lodges are entitled to cross from the Black Rhino Game Reserve into the Pilanesberg National Park. Entry into the Black Rhino reserve is restricted to guests staying in one of the safari lodges. If you choose the luxury option and stay at one of the beautiful safari lodges in the Black Rhino or Pilanesberg Game Reserve, you’re guaranteed privacy and exclusivity.