Pilanesberg Game Reserve Safari Guide
The Pilanesberg has a lovely setting and plenty of wildlife. Set in the eroded remnants of an ancient volcano, the Pilanesberg is a very scenic Big Five destination. The fully fenced park is well stocked but might lack wilderness appeal to purists. Only a two-hour drive from Johannesburg, it makes a very attractive weekend option.
Pros & Cons
Good wildlife viewing with all of the Big Five
Beautiful scenery formed by ancient volcanic activity
Lots of accommodation options for different budgets including self-catering
Very close to Johannesburg and Pretoria
Next to Sun City Casino and entertainment park
Big cat sightings are hit-and-miss
Special sightings can get very crowded
Fully fenced and totally stocked, lacking wilderness appeal
Wildlife & Animals
The Pilanesberg has healthy populations of all of the Big Five animals. Elephant and White rhino are particularly common. Black rhino also occurs but is rarely seen. As with any reserve that doesn't allow off-road driving and has thick vegetation, cat sightings are hit-and-miss. There is plenty of general plains wildlife around to keep game drives interesting.
The Pilanesberg is a good place to see the rare nocturnal brown hyena. Night drives will give you the best chance to encounter these shy but inquisitive creatures. Also, keep an eye out for serval, and lucky visitors might come across a pack of wild dog. One of the more unusual antelope species that roam the reserve is the fastest of Africa’s antelopes, the tsessebe.
The Pilanesberg area is an excellent venue for bushveld birding, with more than 300 species recorded. A typical day may yield 100 species or more in the summer months from November to April when migrants are present. For close-up viewing and photography, you can visit the walk-in aviary with over 80 species of indigenous birds. The self-guided camp walk and bird shelters are also highly recommended for bird watching.
Best Time to Visit
The best wildlife viewing in the Pilanesberg is in the dry winter months from May to September. The vegetation thins out as the ground gets drier, and animals tend to congregate around permanent water sources making them easier to spot.
May to September – Dry Season
Best time for viewing wildlife
Little rainfall and clear skies
Low season means fewer tourists
Cold nights and mornings
Hazy, dusty atmosphere
October to April – Wet Season
Landscape and scenery is delightful
There are newborn animals
Migratory birds are present
The Dry season is better for wildlife viewing
There will be crowds in the park, especially during school holidays
Afternoon temperatures are high
Weather & Climate
Pilanesberg is located within an area of summer rainfall. Winter (May to September) is the Dry season and has mild daytime temperatures and cool nights. Warm winter clothing is recommended for night and early morning game drives. The park is located within the southern hemisphere and so experiences summer and winter at opposite times to Europe and North America.
Dry Season – May to September – Winter
There is virtually no rainfall during winter, and thus, the humidity is very low. These drought-like conditions cause foliage to thin and animals are drawn to permanent water sources, making them easier to see.
May – Temperatures gradually drop, marking the beginning of winter. Average temperatures vary from 7°C/45°F in the mornings to 23°C/73°F in the afternoons.
June, July & August – Warm clothes are essential for the cold mornings (4°C/40°F on average). Skies will be sunny and clear with daytime temperatures averaging 22°C/72°F.
September – Average temperatures are a mild and pleasant 27°C/81°F during the day with cooler mornings (10°C/50°F).
Wet Season – October to April – Summer
Regular rains break up the heat. They usually come in the form of afternoon storms. Average daytime temperatures are around 29°C/84°F. Because of the low humidity, the heat is less of a burden when compared to the coastal regions.
October & November – It gets warmer, and the first rains clear the haze in the sky. It rains more as the season progresses. Temperatures range from a typical 15°C/59°F in the morning to 29°C/84°F in the afternoon.
December, January & February – December and January are the wettest months, characterized by torrential downpours in the afternoon. Daytime temperatures are typically around 30°C/86°F.
March & April – Rainfall will decrease, and it slowly gets colder. This continues in April, which has lovely, clear weather and few clouds. The nights get a bit colder at about 13°C/55°F. Daytime temperatures are pleasant, around 27°C/81°F.
The main point of entry for most travellers to South Africa is O.R. Tambo International Airport (JNB) in Johannesburg. You can rent a car there to drive to the Pilanesberg. The 180km/111mi drive is very scenic and takes about 2 hours.