Words: Betsie Loock-Van der Merwe | Images: Gerhard Van der Merwe, Gordon Arons & Shutterstock
Living in one of Gauteng’s big cities doesn’t mean you can’t get up close and personal with the Big Five (elephant, rhino, buffalo, leopard and lion). There are a variety of game reserves located well within comfortable driving distance from Pretoria and Joburg.
Set in a crater of a long extinct volcano, the Pilanesberg National Park is the country’s fourth-largest national park and covers 55,000ha of bushveld plains. The park is about 180km northwest of Pretoria and Joburg and is close to the Sun City resort. This reserve is home to the celebrated Big Five. With a huge number of other species – such as cheetah, brown hyena, giraffe, zebra, springbok, hippo, crocodile and various bird species – this game reserve is pure bliss for the wildlife enthusiast. With breathtaking scenery, including the Pilanesberg, Mankwe Dam, rocky outcrops, waving grasslands and big camel thorn trees, it also offers great photographic opportunities.
Pilanesberg National Park offers self-drive or guided game drives and overnight accommodation ranging from self-catering to luxury lodges.
Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve is located about an hour’s drive from Pretoria and Joburg in Gauteng’s north-western countryside and falls within the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site. While the focus is on wildlife, the park offers a fun-filled outing suitable for every member of the family.
A day pass to the reserve, which is home to about 650 head of game, includes a self- drive route and allows visitors access to a wealth of activities and amenities at no additional cost. These include access to the braai and picnic area, children’s play park, swimming pool, the African garden, predator camp, vulture hide, reptile park, hippo pools, the animal crèche, a live snake display and an informative cheetah talk, as well as a lion, cheetah and wild dog feeding session.
Guided walks and game drives can be booked for an additional fee. Cub interaction, giraffe feeding, abseiling, a visit to the Wonder Cave and the use of the popular bike park are also available at an additional cost.
Overnight accommodation is available and visitors have a choice of five restaurants.
Wildlife enthusiasts and nature lovers who have not yet discovered the pleasures of Gauteng North’s Dinokeng region should add this destination to their bucket lists. One of the area’s main treasures is the Dinokeng Game Reserve, which is located in dense bushveld about 50km north of Pretoria and east of the N1 highway to Limpopo. The reserve is about an hour’s drive from the greater Joburg metropole.
Plans for this private/public initiative came to fruition in 2011 when the fences between private game farms came down and the Big Five was introduced to the area. Cheetah, brown hyena, giraffe and a range of small game can also be seen in the reserve via well-maintained self-drive routes or guided game drives.
Although day permits are available, this piece of bushveld, with its leafy picnic spots, rich birdlife and an abundance of privately owned game lodges, varying from camping and caravanning destinations to fully catered luxury accommodation, will definitely inspire you to linger longer.
Dinokeng offers a leisurely and relaxed experience away from the crowds and closer to home.
Askari Game Lodge & Spa on Plumari Africa Game Reserve is situated in the Magaliesberg close to Gauteng’s border with North West province and spoils visitors with a delightfully luxurious wilderness experience.
A visit to Askari is centred on guided Big Five game drives within pristine bushveld. At least two game drives, about two-and-a-half hours each, and an elephant interaction experience are scheduled daily. Other outdoor activities include petroglyph hikes and exploring the abundance of flora, fauna and birdlife in the mountains.
You can also put your feet up for a rejuvenating spa experience at the award-winning four-star lodge. The restaurant serves Sunday lunch buffets, as well as daily breakfast buffets.
Askari also has a large private collection of beautiful decor pieces dating back to the 17th century, including ox wagons and artefacts as well as unique African pieces. Askari is just over an hour’s drive away from Joburg and Pretoria.
“Visiting the Rhino & Lion Game Reserve or spending a weekend in Dinokeng Game Reserve feels like being whisked away to a remote destination far from city’s daily troubles and worries. Returning home without feeling the exhaustion of driving hundreds of kilometres is an added bonus.”
Corne Osch, holiday-maker
Before you go:
- Familiarise yourself with the times and availability of specific activities offered.
- Keep in mind that a conservation fee is charged over and above entrance fees.
- Acquaint yourself with the conditions of roads and tracks in reserves.
What to pack:
- A hat and sunblock
- Warm clothing (even in summer) for early morning game drives
- A good bird book (even if you’re not a bird-watcher)
- Comfortable shoes for exploring
- Swimming kit
Experience it for yourself:
- Pilanesberg National Park: pilanesbergnationalpark.org/
- Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve: rhinolion.co.za
- Dinokeng Game Reserve: dinokengreserve.co.za
- Askari Game Lodge & Spa: askarilodge.co.za