Just 157 km from Johannesburg, you can find herds of elephant, excellent rhino sightings, beautiful sundowner spots, roomy shaded campsites and quiet hides to watch giraffe lapping up water as the sun shakes the sleep from its eyes.
If you didn't know better and the headline didn't shout 'Pilanesberg' you'd think these photographs were taken in Kruger. Going to the PIlanesberg National Park is a great way of getting a weekend wilderness fix without breaking the bank or needing a ton of (damn expensive) fuel to get there.
There are two reserve-run rest camps in the Pilanesberg: Bakgatla and Manyane. I like Manyane Resort best because it's neat, clean and nearby Mankwe Dam, with its beautiful hide, funny-looking terrapins and guaranteed kingfisher sightings, and close enough to watch the sun go down before retiring to camp. I could sit there watching the birds, terrapins and hippos for ages. The ablution blocks are also clean (if a little old-fashioned) and some are being renovated. The camps are swept each morning and the fireplaces emptied of old ash. It also has an awesome pool area with a fountain in the middle.
Some mornings we were visited by roaming warthog and my sister's tent has been ransacked by baboons in the camp too. They unzipped the tent and scouted for food (mostly sugary items) before they were chased by one of the patrolling guards. Bring a small lock to thwart these thieves.
Height in a big 4x4 is an advantage as the grass grows higher than a VW Polo window. Apparently, it's because the park hasn't been burning the veld for safety reasons.
Next time I go, I plan on bringing my own braai grid because some of the braai areas are a little sketchy - we had some serious boer make 'n plan scenarios with bricks we found lying around. It's also got to be said that visiting the park is not all sunshine and idyll. It gets busy and there aren't many main roads, so they get clogged quickly when there's something awesome to see. This is a scene from a Sunday lion sighting.
That said, it's still one of the easiest ways to get a South African wilderness fix and you get to sleep in a tent (in my world, that gets the blood pumping). Camping is also the most affordable way to stay at the PIlanesberg: R290 gets you a camp site catering for six people and park fees cost R65 an adult and 20 bucks for your car - this lasts the entire weekend. Book here.