Pilanesberg National Park


Thinking about nature reserves in South Africa, the Kruger National Park immediately springs to the mind, but people tend to forget - or simply do not know - that South Africa boasts a number of other world-class reserves, among which the Pilanesberg National Park/Game Reserve, the fourth biggest in South Africa. In this article I would like to show why it would be worth your while to visit this superb national park in Pilanesberg.


The Pilanesberg Game Reserve is situated in the North-Western Province of South Africa, about 150 kilometers northwest of the Gauteng metropolis, only twenty minutes from the world-renowned Sun City Resort and exotic Lost City. Do you want to check out the lodges and booking right now?

In case you're more into private game reserves, consider Balule Nature Reserve. You could read more about what this private game reserve has to offer in my article on this reserve.


What makes the Pilanesberg Nature Reserve so special in terms of topography, is the fact that it is situated in a long extinct volcano, a fascinating alkaline complex produced by volcanic eruptions some 1300 million years ago, known as the "Pilanesberg National Park Alkaline Ring Complex". The area of the volcano is fringed by three concentric ridges or rings of hills. For this reason the park is almost perfectly circular, as can be seen in the map. It is one of the largest volcanic complexes of its kind in the world and only one of three alkaline volcanic complexes in the world. The early presence of man can also be seen in the numerous Stone and Iron Age sites that are scattered throughout the park.


The park covers an area of 55 000 hectares, surrounded by a 110 kilometers fence and is situated in a malaria free zone. In the centre of this fascinating area is a lake, the Mankwe Dam.

Due to the interesting geological history of the Pilanesberg Game Reserve, the park rates amongst the world's outstanding geological phenomena. Its rare rock types and structures distinguish it from any other area around the world, for which reason many geologists like to go there.
A complete list of the geological types is available at the Pilanesberg official site.

These things account for colourful hues and a variety of habitats/eco-types, ranging from mountain-like hills known as "koppies", thickly forested ravines, bushy areas known as " bushveld" and also rolling grasslands and lightly wooded areas.

On top of all this the park also exists within the transition zone between the dry Kalahari and wetter lowveld vegetation. Unlike any other big park, this facilitates unique overlaps of mammals, birds and vegetation. Springbok, brown hyena, the red eyed bulbul, and camel thorn trees usually found in arid areas are found cohabitation with moist-area-limited impala, black eyed bulbul and Cape chestnut trees.

Wind and water have also contributed to the formation of the forming of the picturesque landscape.

Different habitats at the Pilanesberg National Park 

An excellent discussion on the geological history, topography and different habitats can be found in the official guide to the park, as well as official map.

  1. Rocky areas:
    Rocky areas in the Pilanesberg National Park differ sharply from grassy plains and stand out prominently.
    Soil, water and minerals flow between rocks and collect between basins and pockets along the way. Eventually permanent plants settle there.
    Caves and crevices give excellent shelter and protection to little animals like dassies, but also to leopards.
    Animals in rocky areas, like dassie and the klipspringer, are not built for speed like animals of the open planes, but they are able to climb and jump well and flee from predators that way.

  2. Lower, plain-like areas:
    Hillside vegetation differs from plains because the gradient of the slope allows nutrients in the soil to drain to the bottom of the slopes. These areas become waterlogged in summer, resulting in growth of a type of grass known as sweetveld, which is preferred by grazers. This very fact often leads to overgrazing, forcing these animals to the hill slopes in winter.

  3. Thickets:
    Thickets provide less food per hectare than grassland. Small groups of browsers that enjoy leaves, thorns, fruit, pods and bark feed here.
    Many animals rely on the dense cover of thicket for protection, camouflage and agility. Thicket also provides safety for mothers and their young. Many species, like lions, give birth in these areas, keeping their young there until they are strong enough to move into the open.
    Safety of taller trees and availability of food also attracts a wide variety of birds, especially forest birds.
    Browsers gain much of their water requirements from succulent leaves.

  4. "Break-of-slope" thicket:
    Vital minerals, water and nutrients collect at the bottom of slopes, which provide deeper soil and more moisture for "break-of-slope" thickets to grow.
    Due to the density of these thickets, plants here are protected from extreme weather conditions, especially frost. For this reason these plants are still quite nutritious in winter and preferred by many browsers at that time of the year.

  5. Riverine thicket:
    Underground and surface streams often result in riverine thickets. In winter plants maintain their nutritional value due to underground water sources.

  6. "Termitaria":
    Old termite mounds have trees growing from them, known as termitaria thicket. Termitaria are extremely rich in nutrients from the food and excrement of the termites. The channel ways inside the moulds facilitate water storage, which is excellent for growth.

  7. Dams:
    All streams and rivers in the Pilanesberg National Park arise within the park itself and are therefore pollution-free, but they flow only in wet summer, when they refill the dams.
    Man made habitats have also attracted certain animals and plants. Dams have given Pilanesberg water all year round, are well vegetated and support a variety of animals and provide visitors with attractive viewing sites.
    Aquatic species - fish, reptiles, crabs, terrapins, and hippos - live here permanently. Dams with islands and dead trees provide safe nesting sites for water birds.

  8. Roads:
    Roads are used by many species, in particular predators like lions, and they allow visitors to view nature at close range without disturbing or damaging it.

Animal life 

Although proclaimed as a reserve as recently as 1979, this area had been renowned for its game before this proclamation. In the largest and most expensive game stocking and land rehabilitation project ever undertaken in any African game reserve at the time, Pilanesberg National Park has been restocked with more than 6000 wild animals, only with species which originally lived there ("Operation Genesis").

The wide variety of landscapes and associated vegetation have the potential to support a wider variety of game species than any other similar sized game reserve in South Africa. As a matter of fact, virtually all the animal species of southern Africa can be found in this reserve. More than 7000 animals, (61 different mammal species, 65 different reptile species, 23 species of amphibians and 360 different species of birds) live in this reserve. According to EcoTravel Africa the number has already been 10,000 in 2004.

On top of the variety of common wild animals found in nature reserves in South Africa, the topography of the reserve makes it possible to support rare and endangered species such as black rhino, roan, sable, tsessebe, red hartebeest, wild dog, the nocturnal brown hyaena. This area is also free of foot-and-mouth illness, so it supports buffalo free from this illness as well.

Healthy populations of the "Big Five" occur in the Pilanesberg National Park: lions, leopards, black and white rhinos, elephants and buffalos. In 2006 there were 35 lions, 167 elephants, 300 white rhinos, 90 black rhinos and 150 buffalos in the park. (Wikipedia).

A good pair of binoculars could enhance your experience at Pilanesberg. I wrote an article on matters to consider when buying a safari binoculars, so I suggest you check it out.

Ready to check out the lodges and booking right now?

Game viewing 

The Pilanesberg Game Reserve has over 200 kilometers (124 miles) of good, quality roads, serviced by many picnic sites, viewing areas and game viewing hides, which make game viewing from your own motor car a pleasant experience.

On top of this, a number of other options are also available: Game drives, night drives and balloon flights are available. Imagine viewing wild life from a hot air balloon basket!

Game rangers accompany people on hiking and walking trails and bird watching trails.

Trophy hunting also takes place in a highly controlled and sustainable manner in restricted areas of the park.


A complete list of the mammals found in the Pilanesberg National Park is available at the official site of this park.
Detailled description of every mammal, including a photo in many cases, can be found at EcoTravel Africa's website.

I've devoted an entire article to the carnivores of the Pilanesberg National Park. For more information, please consult that article.

  1. 24 species of carnivores

  2. 5 thick skinned species (elephant, white and black rhinos, hippo and buffalo)

  3. 15 antelope species

    I've devoted two articles to the antelopes of the Pilanesberg National Park: Herbivores of the Pilanesberg National Park I,
    Herbivores of the Pilanesberg National Park II.
    For more information, please consult these articles.

    The final article on the herbivores of the Pilanesberg will deal with the mega herbivores, viz. elephants, rhinos and hippos. Buffaloes and giraffes will also be discussed in this article.

  4. 2 pig species, viz. warthog and bushpig

  5. 3 primate species, viz. vervet monkey, Achma baboon and lesser bushbaby

  6. 12 other species, ranging from giraffe and zebra to porcupine


There's as much as 65 different species of reptiles in the Pilanesberg Game Reserve. For details, click here.

  1. 1 species of crocodile (the Nile crocodile) and 2 species of leguaans

  2. 6 gecko, 3 agama, 6 skink, 8 lizard and 1 species of chameleon;

  3. 2 terrapin and 2 tortoise species


Among the amphibians there's 23 different species of toads and frogs. For a complete list, click here.

Birds in the Pilanesberg National Park 

With a bird population of 360 species (locals and migrants), birding in Pilanesberg National Park is excellent.
Birding Habitats of the Pilanesberg National Park include rocky ridges, hill slopes, grasslands, woodlands, dams with connecting streams, and a vlei adjoining one of the dams.

A complete list of all the bird species in the Pilanesberg National Park is available.

  1. The hill slopes have pied babbler, different species of larks and bee-eaters.

  2. The grasslands and savannas support ostrich, secretarybirds, different species of rollers and korhaans, as well as different species of hawks.

  3. The woodland thickets have a variety of species from different species of hornbill to waxbills. The particular nature of the topography of the Pilanesberg National Park supports many west-east species e.g. whitebacked mousebird and speckled mousebird, redeyed bulbul and blackeyed bulbul and Kalahari robin and whitebrowed robin.

  4. In the rocky areas one may see a variety of birds of prey .

  5. There are many small dams in the reserve in addition to the large central Mankwe Dam, where one can see birds accociated with this type of habitat, like fish eagles, flamingos and spoonbills.

  6. A vulture restaurant near reserves Manyane Gate (on the eastern side of the Pilanesberg National Park) attracts 30-40 Cape vultures, and occasionally whitebacked vulture and lappetfaced vulture, and marabou stork.

  7. 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.

Useful links 

Photo Gallery

This link is a gallery of 79 excellent photos of the wildlife in Pilanesberg.

Pilanesberg National Park Official website

The official website of the Pilanesberg National Park of the North West Park and Tourism Board.

South African Birding

An excellent discussion on birding in Pilansberg available on this site.
These people also sell Roberts Multimedia, bird sounds and bird dvd's.

Other things to do in the area 

Twenty minutes from the southern most entrance to the reserve, the Bakubung Gate, but still inside the crater area, lies arguably the world's most unique resort - Sun City. With hotels, a superbowl, an entertainment centre, two world-class golf courses, Butterfly World, big orchid collection, Cultural Village, sky train, a waterworld, "Palace of the Lost City", numerous bars and restaurants, and the well known Grandwest Casino, there is plenty to do at this outrageous resort!

Accommodation in the Pilanesberg National Park 

A tourist has a variety of six lodges to choose from, viz. Ivory Tree Game Lodge and Tsukudu Bush Lodge (both 5 stars), Kwa Maritane and Bakubung (both 4 stars), and Manyane and Bakgatla (both 3 stars).
The SA Tourism star grading says it all. For more information on
the lodges and booking, click here.


The incredible variety of wild animals and plants within a very special topographic setting unique in the world makes a visit to the Pilanesberg National Park something that will stay with you for a very long time.

You have an excellent chance of viewing more species in a short space of time than in any other national park in Africa.

In addition to this, accommodation is excellent and the luxurious lodges actually offer more than expected from lodges in game parks, like conference facilities.

Although you will be in wild nature, the Sun City Resort is only 20 minutes away, where you can enjoy yourself in quite a different way.

Finally, since the Gauteng metropolis is less than 2 hours away, the Pilanesberg National Park is an excellent break-away for people with not a lot of time to spare.


Come August each year, everybody in South Africa and many people around the world know that one of the biggest spectacles in Nature is about to happen: The transformation of an arid, desert-like area of about 200,000 sq. kilometres, known as Namaqualand, into an awe-inspiring, dazzling, spectacular mass-display of wild flowers arguably unequalled on the planet.

» Read full article


Thinking about nature reserves in South Africa, the Kruger National Park immediately springs to the mind, but people tend to forget - or simply do not know - that South Africa boasts a number of other world-class reserves, among which the Pilanesberg National Park/Game Reserve, the fourth biggest in South Africa. In this article I would like to show why it would be worth your while to visit this superb national park in Pilanesberg.

» Read full article