As you drive through the peaceful grasslands and granite outcrops of the Pilanesberg National Park, it is hard to imagine the cataclysmic violence that created the area and gave birth to its unique geology some twelve hundred million years ago. For the hills of Pilanesberg, a game reserve in the North West Province of South Africa, are actually the crumbling foundations of an ancient volcanic crater – its centre now serving as the beautiful setting for a man made lake known as Mankwe, the ‘place of the leopard’. In the last century, Pilanesberg served as a sanctuary of a different kind, Mzilikazi’s rebel Ndebele warriors passed through the area as they fled the wrath of Chaka. Not long after this, during the Anglo Boer War, General Christiaan de Wet’s commandos hid from the British among these hills, perhaps prompting the later purchase of a farm in the area by then South African Prime Minister Jan Smuts.
Pilanesberg is fringed by three concentric ridges or rings of hills, the formation rises from the surrounding plains like a bubble. The structure of the park is termed the “Pilanesberg Game Reserve Alkaline Ring Complex”. Ancient, even by geological time scales, this extinct volcano is the most perfect example of an alkaline ring complex. A number of rare (but not necessarily economically important) minerals occur in the park. Pilanesberg Game Reserve rates high amongst the world’s outstanding geological phenomena. Pilanesberg has survived ages of erosion and stands high above the surrounding bushveld plains. The early presence of man can be seen in the numerous Stone and Iron Age sites that are scattered throughout the park.
During the late 1970’s, President Lucas Mangope of the then Bophuthatswana decided to re-introduce wildlife and turn the Pilanesberg area into a game reserve. The cattle farmers who then occupied the area were moved to new homes elsewhere, and work began on “Operation Genesis”, which involved the game fencing of the entire reserve and the re-introduction of long vanished species. The creation of the Pilanesberg National Park was one of the most ambitious programs of its kind undertaken anywhere in the world. Although initially it suffered perhaps in the public eye by being considered ‘just another attraction’ of nearby Sun City, Pilanesberg is a major game reserve in its own right, and not just an adjunct to this holiday complex on its southern border.
Pilanesberg Game Reserve is in the Bojanala Region of the North West Province, and covers an area of 55 000 hectares, and is in fact the fourth largest park in South Africa. Because Pilanesberg lies in a faunal transition zone, a climatic overlap area where animals and plants from both drier and wetter regions can survive equally comfortably, it is also interestingly one of the few places where one can see both impala and springbok living in the wild. The park accommodates almost every mammal of Southern Africa, and is of course also home to the Big Five. The very topography makes the area a feast for the eyes. There are granite koppies, thickly forested ravines, natural lakes, typical bushveld, and also rolling grasslands and gently wooded areas. The park is home to healthy populations of lion, leopard, black and white rhino, elephant and buffalo. A wide variety of rare and common species exist like the nocturnal brown hyaena, the fleet-footed cheetah, the majestic sable, as well as giraffe, zebra, hippo and crocodile, to mention but a few.
Bird watching is excellent with over 300 species recorded. Some are migrants, others permanent inhabitants; some eat carrion or live prey, others eat seeds, fruit or tiny water organisms. There is a self-guided trail in the Walking Area at Manyane Complex in the east, which offers environmental education whilst enjoying game viewing and bird watching on foot. Also at Manyane is a walk-in aviary with over 80 species of indigenous birds. In the middle of the park is the Pilanesberg Centre, a lovely old building that once served as the local magistrate’s court.
The size of the park was increased from in 2004 as part of a workable 10 year plan to establish a corridor between Pilanesberg and Madikwe Game Reserve. The 20 km² that was added on the north western was the first bit from Pilanesberg’s side. On the Madikwe’s side there has already been several additions towards the south east. There are also several private owners dropping fences from the middle moving towards Pilanesberg and Madikwe.
A recent poll conducted by the South African Tourism board found that the Pilanesberg has jumped to the number 1 ranking on the list of most popular public Game Reserves in South Africa. This comes after many years of trailing the Kruger National Park. It is thought that Pilanesberg’s close proximity to Johannesburg coupled with the fact that it is malaria free has led to its new found popularity. You could travel through in a standard sedan vehicle, although most of the 188 kilometers of track are not surfaced, they are well maintained. The three main tarred roads are named Kgabo, Kubu and Tswene.
There are several camps serving the park from the outside, such as Bagatla and Manyane. Several excellent private lodges are situated within the park itself. For the day visitors there are a few stops on the inside where there are bars and gift shops. Please contact Road Travel Africa to find out more about Pilanesberg or to book your stay here.