A few weeks ago I escaped the city to join Andrew, Sephiri Tours‘ head guide, on a day trip to Pilanesberg National Park in South Africa. As the park is located just over two hours’ drive away from Johannesburg, it is ideal for people like me who have limited time on their hands. And it didn’t take long before I found myself immersed in the African bushveld and forgetting the stresses of everyday life.
The formation of this area occurred approximately 1.3 billion years ago and the park is described by geologists as the Pilanesberg Alkaline Ring Complex, as it is one of only three alkaline volcanoes in the world. At its zenith, the volcano towered to an astonishing 7,000 metres in height – almost tall enough to rival Africa’s highest peak, Mount Kilimanjaro. Over time there was a series of volcanic eruptions causing further outpourings of lava, collapsing craters, and ring fracturing around the volcano. Magma was then squeezed into these fractures and the end result was a rare circular formation composed of different types of indigenous rock. When seen from above, the concentric rings of hills and valleys make a near perfect circle and this ring formation is clearest when driving around the Mankwe Dam area where you can see a definite circle of small mountains around you.
Beyond its fascinating geological history, the park is also a safe haven to many animal species – including Africa’s famous Big Five. On our trip we were lucky enough to see the first of our Big Five sightings not even 10 minutes after entering the park. Two white rhinos were grazing just off to the side of the road, close enough that as we all sat quietly watching them, we could hear the sound of the grass being ripped from the ground. A little bit away from mother and calf was a third rhino, a massive bull. There was a bit of excitement as the calf got a bit too close to the big bull and got chased off, immediately seeking refuge behind its mother.
Since the park’s establishment in 1979 the park has undergone major reclamation and development to turn it into an area that is now enjoyed by many locals and foreigners on a daily basis. As part of the rehabilitation process all signs of human habitation, farming activities and alien plant species were removed and gravel roads, dams and game viewing hides were constructed. One building that still remains is the old courthouse, which was built in 1936. This has been turned into the ever popular Pilanesberg Centre, which houses a curio shop and game viewing deck, as well as a restaurant where we stopped to refuel our empty bellies.
Our lunch break at the Pilanesberg Centre included some utterly delicious food as well as some great animal sightings. As we were entering the centre the monkeys could be seen raiding the bins for scraps and birds posed beautifully for pictures on the deck and were ready to pick any leftovers off abandoned plates. In front of the deck we were treated to nearby sightings of wildebeest, warthog and a big male kudu, as well as a flock of guinea fowl that came to drink at the waterhole.
After lunch we carried on with our tour around the park and stopped near a dam where we saw a fair sized herd of elephants near the road. Andrew thought that they would be making their way towards the dam for a drink, so he turned the car around and we positioned ourselves with a great view of the water and waited. Our patience was rewarded when the herd did indeed come to the water to drink and we saw some incredibly cute babies that hadn’t quite got the hang of their trunks yet. While we were viewing the elephants, a pied kingfisher repeatedly dived into the water in search of fish, unfortunately without any success.
The last stop of our trip took us to the hide at Mankwe Dam, where the effects of the recent drought were very clear. Despite the water being lower than normal, we did get to enjoy some great sightings of water birds, hippos, crocodiles and antelopes grazing around the water’s edge. I don’t know how Andrew spotted them but, on the dam wall in the far distance, he pointed out a couple of lions sleeping the day away – as they do. However, regardless of all of the fantastic sightings, the best part of being in the park for me was experiencing the peace and tranquility that I felt while sitting and watching life at the waterhole go on around me.
As we were driving we could see down the hill ahead of us that a long queue of cars had formed. We stopped and, from our vantage point at the top of the hill, we could see that there was a herd of elephants enjoying the late afternoon sun in the middle of the road. We made our way towards them and joined the back of the queue. As the sun finally disappeared behind the mountain half an hour later, the elephants slowly started making their way off the road and freed the impressive rows of cars on both sides of the road. Finally moving, we bid farewell to the park and after a fabulous day of game viewing started to make our way back to the concrete jungle.
- Subscribe to our newsletter.