When a friend of mine suggested that our next holiday in South Africa should be in the crater of a once active volcano, I wasn’t sure it was a good idea. I’ve seen way too many disaster movies to not know that people say “it’s been inactive for millennia” about fifteen minutes before the thing erupts and the main characters spend the rest of the movie fighting for their lives.
Turns out the main characters in this adventure (a group of friends and myself) spent our time exploring and relaxing for our lives. The long extinct volcano crater in question is now home to the Pilanesberg reserve and was well worth the visions of disaster …
The Pilanesberg Reserve is situated in South Africa’s North West Province and is one of the largest game parks in South Africa. With 50 000 hectares of unspoiled flora and fauna, the Pilanesberg Game Reserve offers a viable alternative to the other large game parks in the country.
With robust populations of buffalo, elephant, leopard, white rhino and lion, you can be sure that you’ll get your fill of game viewing during your stay. We had some truly remarkable close encounters of the wild kind and managed to see everything that was on our viewing list.
The Mankwe Dam offers an excellent opportunity to view game, but it can be overpopulated with tourists who seem more interested in eating and chatting than actually seeing any of the natural beauty. It’s best to pick a hide, the name for the viewing posts situated around the dam, and take your time to appreciate some of the often missed beauty that the dam has to offer.
We did exactly that and were rewarded by great views of giraffe, zebra and antelope. One of the more interesting animals that we hadn’t expected to see (everybody tends just to think about the Big 5 when they go game watching) was the brown hyena, shaggy dog-like creatures that are strangely cute in an ugly-with-jaws-that-can-break-bone kinda way.
In addition to game viewing there are plentiful hiking trails and excellent bird viewing, although I must admit we didn’t get around to watching many creatures of the feathered variety. What we did do, however, was do some stargazing – the African sky offers some incredible stellar eye-candy and we were lucky enough to have a member of our group who knew the positions and names of the stars intimately. If you have the inclination, buy a star map of the Southern Hemisphere and see which constellations you can pick out.
Accommodation in the Pilanesberg is plentiful, with a huge selection of lodges and resorts catering to every possible wallet. We stayed in Bosele Camp, one of the more rustic options, but were entirely satisfied with the accommodation and service. There are several ultra luxurious options on offer, so even if you want to rough it during the day and luxuriate at night, that can be accommodated.
All in all we got away without any volcanic eruptions but with lots of photos and great memories of this beautiful piece of Africa.