Pilanesberg Game Reserve, thrilling big game viewing in a malaria free environment

Easy access, no risk of malaria, historic sites from Stone Age, affordable accommodation, and a large concentration of animal species. Pilanesberg Game Reserve has become the ultimate alternative to Kruger National Park for so many reasons. It is particularly preferred by people visiting Johannesburg, which is only three hours away from the park. Current poll results support this statement since the park was ranked number one most visited public game reserve in the country. This article will inform you of the things to do in the Pilanesberg Game Reserve.


Before it became a National Park, it was inhabited by so many different ethnic groups. The first inhabitants were the hunter-gatherer San People who came here during the Middle Stone Age. This was followed by Basotho people in the Iron Age and Tswana people for a few centuries. It sheltered the warriors who escaped the Zulu King Shaka during the 20th century. The conservation efforts began in the 1970s through the reintroduction of wildlife, which was challenging because of the residents in the area who had to be relocated.

Currently, the park covers a territory of 572 Square kilometers with almost 10,000 animals residing.

Pilanesberg is located in the north of Rustenberg in the Northwest province, adjacent to the Sun City Entertainment Complex.

Pilanesberg Scenery Bernard DUPONT License: CC

The park has an unusual terrain that formed in prehistoric times. The so-called Pilanesberg Alkaline Ring Complex is a massive crater that formed after volcanic eruptions from 1.2 million years ago. The central plain is surrounded by ridges and hills that form a ring around the park. This caused not only unique rock formations but also rare minerals to form in the park.

The only problem was the scarcity of water resources which was resolved when the management built an artificial lake and the Mankwe Dam.


Pilanesberg’s terrain lies in the transition zone between Kalahari and Lowveld, leading to distinct vegetations. The hills facing north and south are covered in Savannah with characteristics of red bushwillow and thorn trees respectively. The inner parts are richer in pediment savannah boasting ferricete, sweet thorn, umbrella thorn, leadwood, and blackthorn.

Although Pilanesberg was initially not in a suitable condition for the big 5, the introduction of species and optimizations inside the park made the area liveable for them. Currently, the park is home to 50 lions, 30 leopards, 12 cheetahs, 30 caracals, 220 elephants, 220 African buffaloes, and 100 rhinoceros species (both black and white).

IMG_1530 George Gillams License: CC
White Rhino, Pilanesberg National Park Derek KEATS License: CC

According to recent counts, there are many other animals found in large numbers. Impalas are the most populous with 3000 members, followed by 1700 zebras and 600 kudus.

Some animals like wild dogs, hyena, and nyala were absent from the park until recently; however, reintroduction attempts have been successfully made to increase the diversity in the park.

Bird diversity is no different. There is a total of 360 bird species in the park. Some of them are permanent and mostly residing in the park’s aviary section. There are also many migratory birds that can be found in large packs at different times of the year.


What makes Pilanesberg special is the variety of options that provide huge flexibility for its visitors, as well as the abundance of well-maintained roads.

While self-driving is possible, we strongly recommend that you join a guided tour. Guided safari drives range in length from day tours to 5-day safaris. Obviously, the day tours will be more rushed, but still productive enough that you will see the great variety of animals.

Daily tours will fetch you from Da Vinci Hotel in Johannesburg and take you to two game drives in the morning and before sunset. Lunch will be included. The tour approximately takes twelve hours including transportation.

Endangered Species- Wild Dogs Sumarie Slabber License: CC

Multiple-day tours include accommodation at one of the many lodges inside the park, as well as three meals, tea, coffee, and snacks every day. Another advantage of these tours is the ability to benefit from the other activities that Pilanesberg offers.

Walking safari is an irreplaceable element of any safari adventure. Who wouldn’t want to come almost face to face with the animals in their natural habitat? The hikes are led by experienced guides who know how to approach animals without intimidating them. It is also a superb opportunity to observe birds and different vegetation types.

The Hot air balloon safari is another one-of-a-kind item in Pilanesberg. As you ascend higher, you will be mesmerized by the overall scenery of the ginormous crater that surrounds the park.

Weather and Climate

The majority of rainfall occurs between November and March. the temperature ranges between 26 and 30° however the weather is not as humid as the parks in KZN and Mpumalanga because of the dry Kalahari effect. Nevertheless, the bush will be quite dense during the summertime, so animal sights will be more challenging to catch.

The winter provides a better game viewing for many reasons. First of all, animals will roam around more frequently. They spend more time searching for food that becomes scarce during winter. Besides, the period between March and September is the mating season which is a quite unique experience that should not be skipped.

Elephants in Pilanesberg Game Reserve Robert Nyman Licence: CC

Getting There

Pilanesberg is the closest to the bustling city life a safari park can ever get. It is only 150 km from Pretoria and 170 km from Johannesburg, which should take you roughly two hours.

The closest airport to Pilanesberg is or Tambo which is the busiest airport in Africa receiving regular flights from many African cities and overseas. From O.R Tambo you can hop on the private charters that will take you to the airstrip of the lodge that you booked.

If you are driving from Johannesburg or Pretoria, take the M4 towards the West and turn off onto the R 556 towards Sun City. Another turn off onto R510 will take you to the Eastern Gates, while continuing on R556 and passing Sound City will take you to the western gates.

Tips And Things That You Might Need To Know

Black Rhino Game Reserve: the northwestern region of Pilanesberg is a special corner that protects and accommodates the endangered Black Rhino species.

Hides: The Park recently built six different photographic hides that will help the visitors capture perfect moments from the wildlife. each spot serves a different purpose.

  • Rathogo in the west: must be visited in the morning.
  • Ruighoek and Malatse in the east: provide better views in the afternoon.
  • Makorwane and Bathlako in the north: perfect for low light photography on rainy days.

Other safety considerations

Safety: Pilanesberg Game Reserve poses no Malaria risk. Just like in any other safari park, you should follow the instructions and the rules. Do not leave the vehicles unless instructed otherwise. During the walking safari, you must always follow the guide and try not to stay behind. More importantly, do not try to touch or feed the animals.