South Africa - Pilanesberg National Park
After a terrible, spooky night in our awful accomodation in the Magaliesberg near Rustenburg we got up very early, did not even bother about breakfast but just left this place. At least the peacock greeted us in the morning nicely. The house was really kind of spooky at night. Do not get us wrong, we love remote places to stay. But this house was cracking the whole night. The thunderstorm did not help. The house was huge and we had the feeling that some other souls are walking around at night. So, not much sleep for us. Anyway, the drive out of the beautiful landscape in this area in the early morning hours was wonderful. We were heading further north, Pilanesberg National Park it was. After a fantastic time in South Africa so far we did not want to leave the country without some wild animals. There is nothing as relaxing as driving slowly through a national parc, feeling the dust on your skin, enjoying this special smell, listening to the birds and the wind and looking for wild animals.
Why we went to Pilanesberg? Well, first for practical reasons. It is close to Johannesburg, about 3-4 hours drive up north. Compare to much more hours driving to Kruger, this sounded more attractive. Second, it is wintertime in South Africa which means rainy season and malaria time in Kruger. Pilanesberg is free of malaria. A big advantage. Sorry, but we are completely against taking these pills. We have experienced on our own body, that the anti malaria medication is more likely to kill you than malaria itself does. So avoiding the region is still the best option. And in Pilanesberg controls against poachers are super strict. As the parc is relatively small, the animals can be protected more securely. And there is the Big 5 also, the entrance is cheaper and chances to see wildlife much higher, as it is smaller and animals can not hide that easily.
When we drove up north, heavy clouds and fog from previous night's rain were still in the air. But it was already quite warm. We arrived at the gate shortly after its opening for the day, got our day pass and drove inside the park. It took us not long, maybe 5 minutes of driving and we saw the first warthogs, zebras and springboks - and some giraffes int he far distance. Pilanesberg is hilly with many open spaces and many natural waterholes and lakes. So it is wonderful to see the animals also far away strolling across an open plain or drinking at a waterhole. So good to be back in the wild! 10 years is much to long for not being there!!!!! And by driving through the parc the first half an hour we realised how much we have missed it. Anyway, we were hungry and drove directly to the center of the parc where there is a restaurant, some toilets and coffee. Nice to sit on the terrasse overviewing a waterhole - without many people. It was a weekday, off season - so we were nearly alone. Nice veggy sandwiches for us and a red cappuccino - oh yes, we love red cappuccinos. It is rooibosh tea with foamed milk. Nothing can beat it (well, if it is made with vegan milk). And then it was time for game drives on our own.
When you look on youtube for videos about game drive sooner or later you come across these videos shwoing elefants getting angry with cars, flipping them.....and so on. Well, mainly this happens in Pilanesberg. So we were ready to watch out and be carefull with the elefants. But firstly, we saw hordes of springboks and gnus - always together. And then the first elefant coming towards us on the road. And I tell you, do not watch too many videos on youtube before :-). This guy was huge, walkings straight towards the car flipping his ears. We started driving backwards, getting really nervous. The elefant stopped, ate something and then continued walking even faster. Our hearts were beating really strongly, we were driving backwards faster and faster. And the the elefant just ignored us and disappeared into the bush. OK - false alarm. We laughed about ourselves. And when we met the next elefant after a couple of minutes, we were fine to just sit in the car and enjoy - and nothing happened.
Pilanesberg landscape is wonderful - many old vulcanos in a hilly countryside. The roads go up and down giving you the opportunity to have wheeping views and spotting big mammals far in a distance. But slowly coming to midday, the clouds all had disappeared and it was getting hot. And I mean, really hot. About 38 degrees celsius. But a game drive for us is not sitting in an aircon car - no, we had to have the windows open and enjoying the sound and smell of the game drive, too. That means tons of water for us and breaks in between. There are many secure hideaways and look outs around the parc so it was easy to cool down a bit while still observing the animals. That day we met many, many elefants, many, many giraffes and also a lot of hippos. Unfortunately we missed a leopard that was spotted in a place by a couple just a minute before we came but had disappeared and we could not find him afterwards.
We continued our game drive for hours till sun was finally setting and we had to leave the parc. That day, no rhinos for us - and the parc is famous for its big population with rhinos. Well, but with all the animals we had seen, we left happy for the day. We stayed in Mogwase in a lovely B&B run by a local family. The room was nice and clean, the family friendly. Vicky's B&B is a great option to avoid the high costs of staying in one of the lodges in the park. Indeed, they look inviting and the feeling there is out of this world - but also is the price. So, after a happy and relaxed night, it was just a 10 minutes drive to the gate and we were inside the parc again. We entered through Kwa Maritane Gate this time (and not Manyane) and it took us 2 minutes and we met the first rhino. That day, 8 more rhinos would follow! Imagine, 9 rhinos a day doing self drive safari. This is outstanding! No need to book a safari. Well, maybe yes, because the lions kept hiding till we left the park. But this is another story - we have never ever found lions during a self drive. Funny. Many people we talked to in Pilanesberg saw them. The showed us where on the map, we drove there - no lions any more. We see it as a game and will come back :-). Anyway, today being a saturday, the parc was much fuller with cars. The restaurant was busy. But still, we had a relaxed time and can only recommend the parc. We even spotted a secretary bird and a wild tortoise. Not the Big 5 for us, but tons of wonderful other animals and a weeping landscape.
We were so sad to leave in the evening. We tried to drive through Sun City. But as you have to pay an entrance fee, we skipt it. It is the Las Vegas of South Africa - not our kind of destination. Driving through was an option, but we did not want to pay for it. So it was directly down south back to the Magaliesberg for the night. We had booked originally again in our shithole - but we had cancelled it and found another place near Rustenburg. More about our last hours in South Africa on this trip in the next blog.