It is probably apt that I introduce myself, seeing that we have travelled around in my car so often. My name is Estelle. I am fortunate enough to work with the most inspirational wildlife experts at Safari Odyssey. As you know, we all love to travel – a lot, all the time.
When I was growing up, my parents always took us to the seaside and later the Drakensberg for holidays. Growing up in KwaZulu-Natal this seemed to be the most natural choice, and looking back today I am very grateful for the times I got to explore nature. I remember rafting down rivers in the berg on tyres, hiking up the mountains – stopping to take in the views along the way, reaching the top. Going fishing and later spending time around a camp fire.
A week ago I was talking to Colin, and he mentioned how special it was growing up with parents that had given him so many opportunities to experience wildlife and nature. How they would go camping, and I realised how we shared so many similar special moments. This love for nature from such a young age inspired much of the latest adventure I get to share with you.
3 hours outside of Johannesburg, north-west as the Loerie flies, lies the Pilanesberg National Park. As always, we will include a bit of the history on the park for reference, and to set the scene, so to say. The park was named after the Tswana chief, who went by the name of “Pilane”. The southern part of the park was formally a set of farms, owned by local farmers, whilst the northern part was owned by the Bakgatla-ba-Kgafela tribe. In the 1960’s the farms to the south were bought by the then government. The Bakubung tribe decided to settle on this land, which was later passed onto Bophuthatswana. Chief Tsidmane Pilane from the Bakgatla tribe agreed to the inclusion of a mountainous region owned by them to be included in the new national reserve, and thus the Pilanesberg National Park was proclaimed. It is interesting to note that around the same time, Sun International obtained the lease for the adjacent farm and developed Sun City, in the then Bophuthatswana.
In terms of the geology of the park, it is set within a crater of an ancient volcano, formed about 1.2 billion years ago by overflowing magna. The park has several marvellous rock formations and a vast landscape covering the 550 km² .When it comes to the ecology of the Park, it exists in a transitional zone between the drier Khalahari landscape and wet Lowveld vegetation, therefor making for a very diverse area with regards to the fauna and flora found next to one another.
One of the most amazing places to stop and observe the wildlife in the park is surely the main dam, especially early in the morning and late in the afternoon, when several animals visit the dam to quench their thirst. It has been the sight of many a action packed hunting expeditions for the lions, cheetahs and leopards in the park, and is approached with caution by the many Buffalo, Blue Wildebeest, Kudu and Springbok. The park is also home to Tsessebe, Sable antelope and more than 360 species bird.
You may ask, what makes this park different from the other National Parks in South Africa? I would have to say the close proximity to cities such as Johannesburg, Rustenburg and Pretoria makes the Pilanesberg National Park the perfect place to introduce younger children to the wonders of the bush. You are able to all get into the car and spend an amazing educational day with the kids in the park, without spending a lot of money. There is so much to see and so much to experience that it is the ideal introduction to the spectacular wildlife we have to offer. You may spend 4 or 5 hours driving around the 188km of routes in the park, stop at the hides or lunch at the Information Centre.
The more expensive option would be to make a weekend of it, and stay at one of the many private lodges, book an early morning or late afternoon game drive and spend time on a great adventure Safari, ranging from 1 to 5 days or more. You may also want to experience a hot air balloon safari over the park.
The Pilanesberg National Park is truly a place to visit no matter the season. Over the last couple of years I have been fortunate to visit the park in the colder Autumn, Winter months and the warmer green Spring, Summer months, and each time I was amazed at the sights. This included sharing my car with kids between the ages of 6 and 12, and all I can say, is that it is wonderful to look at the park and all the animals through the eyes of a child. The finer small details like a dung beetle making its way across a dirt road, or the moment they spot the rhinos. All are so special.
Watching a massive elephant demolish a thorn tree to just quietly stand and eat some greenery. Or parking so close to giraffe that you can hear them chew a leave or 2 and the kids in the car going “….shhh….”
For those folks who cannot do the annual Kruger Park trip, I would definitely recommend the Pilanesberg National Park, a park for all seasons and ages.