The hidden gem of the North West. The Pilanesberg Nature Reserve was formed by a volcanic eruption around 2000 million years ago. It is home to the Big Five; elephant, buffalo, lion, leopard and rhinoceros, as well as many other animals including cheetah, various kinds of antelope and many bird species. If you are coming to South Africa and will be travelling to Johannesburg, the Pilanesberg offers the perfect opportunity to experience a South African safari only two hours from the city. The Pilanesberg has been a firm family favourite throughout our lives and is always a good idea for a day trip or a quick break from the hustle and bustle of Joburg’s city life. If you’d like to stay for longer than a day there are many accommodation options from camping to luxury lodges.
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Planning your day trip
The easiest gate to access from Johannesburg is Kwa-Maritane, the gate is around 170km, 2 hours, away. The best time to spot wildlife is early in the morning so try leave home to be at the gates as soon as they open. The early bird normally has the best sightings! For us this means a 03h30 wake-up call, a 04h00 departure and a timeous arrival at 06h00 as the gate opens. This also means no queues and quieter roads making the drive far less stressful.
- Gate times:
- November to February: 05h30-19h00
- March to April: 06h00-18h30
- May to August: 06h00-18h00
- September to October: 06h00-18h30
The gates have an entrance fee of R80,00 per adult and R40,00 a car. For the two of us it was an entrance fee of R200,00 (Bonus tip: If you are staying over at one of the camps or lodges, present your proof of accommodation at the gate and pay entrance fees once off for the entire stay!)
R200,00 – think about it, eat out for two or go find the Big Five? The choice is yours.
Try spend as much time as possible driving around the park to maximise your chances of some special sightings. Wildlife spotting is always about being in the right place at the right time! Remember to plan your route to be out the gate before closing time unless you’d like to incur a fine.
You can also arrange a day trip with one of the many safari tour companies in the area, click here for more info!
What to take:
- Make sure you have enough fuel in the car before starting the day!
- Snacks and Drinks: The easiest way to save money is to take food with. Pack some snacks and spend lunch time in a hide or at picnic site! The restaurants are a good spoil but are not necessary when traveling on a budget.
- A map of the park (If you’ve got one otherwise they’ll give you one at the gate)
- Camera & Binoculars
- Sunscreen and a hat (it is easier than you think to burn when sitting in the car all day)
- A rubbish bag (No one likes a litter bug, take all your litter home with you or discard it in the bins at the picnic sites – DO NOT TOSS IT OUT THE WINDOW!)
Planning your route
Due to the size of the Pilanesberg, you could cover majority of the park in one day but what’s the rush? After coming in at Kwa-Maritane there is only one road into the rest of the park, take your time working your way into the centre of the park. There is a sneaky watering hole just after the gate on your right where big herds of elephants are sometimes found wandering along the fence line. Keep your eyes open!
We have planned out a route below that allows you to see a few of our favourite places, stop at a beautiful picnic spot and see various parts of the park before heading home through Bakubung gate. Follow along on the map below!
- Start off at Kwa-Maritane Gate (Ps. This is the last toilet stop for a while)
- Head up Tsebe Drive towards Nkakane Link.
- Along this route look up into the mountains and the rocky outcrops for a chance to spot some klipspringers, dassies and the elusive leopard.
- Turn right onto Nkwe loop and soon you’ll come out on the tar road (Tshwene Drive).
- Turn right onto Tshwene, stay on for 3,5km and then turn left onto Dithabaneng Route.
- Continue on Dithabaneng route and head toward Malatse Dam.
Enjoy your coffee and rusks at Malatse Hide or in the car on Phiri Link overlooking the dam.
Possible sightings at this stop include various kinds of heron, waterbuck and elephant enjoying their morning thirst-quencher.
- Continue on with the Dithabaneng Route until the T-Junction with Korwe, turn right.
- After 1.8km, turn left onto Kgabo Drive (tar road).
- Ratlhogo Hide is on your right after 1km – this watering hole is sometimes a hit and sometimes a hit-and-miss – it gives you a chance to stretch your legs, run to the loo and spend sometime enjoying the quiet of the bushveld.
- Continue on down Kgabo Road towards Mankwe Dam, look out for giraffe and some rhino along your way.
- After 3km, turn left onto Tshwene drive and take your first right onto Hippo Loop. Keep an eye out for the big herds of plains animals like springbok, zebra, impala and giraffe.
- Once on the tar road again, continue on until turning right down Mankwe Way.
Mankwe Way has a history of fantastic sightings including the recent lion pride and brown hyaenas feeding on the elephant carcass.
- After lunch head down the remaining part of Mankwe Way and turn right onto Kubu Drive (tar road) and right again on Letsha Link.
- Stop off at Mankwe Hide for a snack and a beautiful view of the dam
- Turn left at the tar road and right onto Tshukudu e Ntsho. The infamous Pilanesberg Buffalo herd are often found along this route so keep your eyes pealed! There are a few dams along this route so enjoy the stillness.
- At the next T-Junction turn left onto Tlou drive. Drive on for 1,5 km and then turn left down Ntshwe. (There have been a few lion and cheetah sightings along this route too)
- At the intersection with the main tar road, Kubu, turn right to Lengau Dam.
- Enjoy the sunset at Lengau while spending your last few moments in the beautiful African bushveld.
- After 3km, exit the park through Bakubung gate and head back to Johannesburg on the R556.
We have had wonderful sightings in the Pilanesberg, including lions sleeping next to the road, too many giraffes to count, cheetah, wild dog, wonderful white and black rhino sightings and many, many elephant herds. It makes for a perfect day outing, allowing you to spend a day in the bush from sunrise to sunset. The Pilanesberg Nature Reserve affords us the privilege of spending time away from the city and deeply engrossed in the natural wonder of the African bushveld.
We hope to see on the roads soon!