August 2011 / Pilanesberg Game Reserve / North West Province / South Africa
The Pilanesberg Game Reserve is located near Sun City, in South Africa’s North West Province. While not nearly as big as Kruger National Park in Limpopo or the nearby Madikwe Game Reserve, Pilanesberg boasts a thriving population of wildlife within a two-hour drive of the South Africa’s Pretoria-Johannesburg industrial complex in Gauteng. Even the Big Five – the buffalo, rhinoceros, leopard, lion, and elephant – roam within the park’s borders. Like Yellowstone National Park in the United States, Pilanesberg Game Reserve lies within a caldera, the collapsed center of an ancient, giant volcano. Huge, rugged hills rise from the broad valleys, open grasslands alternating with dense scublands.
During training, Peace Corps drove us to Pilanesberg Game Reserve for a game drive. The day was clear and warm, wispy cirrus clouds floating in the air. We spotted wildebeest, ostriches, hippos, rhinoceros, giraffes, zebras, a warthog, and a crocodile. Though we weren’t sure at first that the hippos we were seeing weren’t big rocks on the side of the reservoir, our driver assured us they were in fact hippos, as he had never seen a rock with a tail.
After the reintroduction of its extirpated animals, Pilanesberg Game Reserve was opened by the Republic of Bophuthatswana (one of the semi-autonomous homelands established by the apartheid government) in 1979. Since then the park has become popular among tourists and South Africans alike as a quick and convenient safari, just a day trip from Pretoria and Johannesburg.