Following our week in Namibia, we had one night at the Brown Sugar Backpackers to regroup before taking off to Pilanesburg National Park for Safari.
Most people who head to South Africa, hit up Kruger National Park. During our time in Big Bay though we met a professional Game photographer who recommended Pilanesburg.
In his experience he sees more at Pilanesburg because it has a much denser population of animals given the park is about 1/4 the size of Kruger. He also warned us that many of Kruger’s roads were closed due to flooding earlier this year and therefore many animals hide in those less traffic areas.
Talking with people at our backpackers when we returned, those who went to Kruger had an amazing time.
Given our experience at Pilanesburg and talking with Solomzi–the guide we met, however, we have no doubt when we come back to South Africa that we would return to Pilanesburg.
While a 4×4 would have been nice (1/2 the roads in the park aren’t paved) we managed to navigate the park with once again a sweet little Hyundai Getz.
Pulling into the park mid afternoon we were met by warthogs, Vervet Monkeys, and Impala.
Picking a camp site among the 100’s of other tents, we quickly headed into the park for our first game drive!
We quickly saw more Impalas, 100’s of Wildebeest, Giraffes, and Zebras.
As one backpacker we’ve met said, “Safari is like nothing else! It’s the exact opposite of the zoo, because the animals roam free and you’re caged in the car!)
Unlike most driving, on safari time flies by and soon we noticed it was almost closing time. Turning around, we navigated down the gravel roads as quickly as possible but there was no way we would make it out on time.
This turned out to work in our benefit as we stumbled upon a night game drive shining their flashlights on 2 giant Rhino.–SCORE!!!!
After receiving a scolding from the guide for still being in the park, we hit the main road and were soon at the gate.
We had to sit at the gate for about 30 min as they found a guide to let us out, but at the time it was well worth it as we thought we saw a rare sighting. SPOILER: Rhinos aren’t a very rare sighting as we probably saw about 20+ in the next 2 days!
Travelers Tip: While I don’t recommend staying in the park past closing time because you are unlikely to see any animals (it’s too dark unless you have a flood light like the game drivers) and it’s slightly more likely you could hit one running across the road, it isn’t a huge deal if you are late. Just don’t be more than 10 min late otherwise the guard with the key will go back to their lodge and you’ll have to wait 30+ min for the gate guard to call them and have them bring the keys.
We got back to the campsite to discover we had set up camp next to one of the best game drivers in the park and his crew.
Somonzi (the game driver) has spent his entire life in game parks and is very passioniate about his work.
He spent the entire evening explaining behaviors of the Big 5.
The most interesting of which are the behaviors of Elephants (his personal favorites).
Elephants are a very smart species and take huge pride in heritage.
When an elder elephant is ready to pass, it finds a remote area to lay. Once it dies, those who witness the death send a call to all the elephants around to come pay their respects.
Most will stay for up to a day, eventually leaving the closest relatives who will stay up to a week.
Supposedly after baby elephants are born the mama elephants will return with the babies to the area their ancestors died to show them their heritage.
Solomzi also educated us on the mating process of the Big 5 as well.
According to Solomzi, Monkeys are the only animals who mate for sport. Every other animal is very strategic about this process and it’s part of the pride or clan as a whole to make sure the group as a whole survives and to keep males from fighting over females.
We looked at the clock well after midnight in disbelief how quickly the night had flown by.
We quickly brushed teeth and hurried to bed to catch a couple hours of sleep before heading out for a sunrise drive.
Solomzi was leading a private game drive at 6am and while he wasn’t able to invite us into the truck he did offer to let us follow him in the morning which turned out to be awesome as we spotted a very rare cat, the Caracel.
Game Drives depart both at Sunrise and Sunset (as this is supposed to be the best time to spot animals) and come in all shapes and forms from buses that hold up to 30+ people to private hot air balloon rides to game walks with a guide.
We never paid for a game drive ourselves (although eventually or in the future when our bank account is a little more full we would for sure opt for a hot air balloon + game walk tour as those look bomb!) but we are definitely happy with our experience!
We trust Solomzi, but we found the best time in the park was late morning to mid day. If we hadn’t needed to get gas and food we would have just driven all day as we were never at a loss for sites and there are so many areas of the park to check out.
After turning away from Solomzi’s group we had a spectacular day seeing Elephants, Dung Beetles, Hippos,Lilac-breasted Roller, Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill, crocodile,and Kudo,+ More Rhinos, Giraffes, Zebras, Impalas, Springbok, and Wildebeest ending the day with a triumphant spotting of the King of beasts Mufasa!
Check the video out here: Uno Chasing our car!
Our pictures of Mufasa didn’t turn out that well so check this out: The Lion King
Once again we were late getting out of the park because of the huge traffic jam we got caught in trying to spot the Lion.
This time only 10 min late there was someone waiting to let us out.
Solomzi would be embaressed that I’m writing this (because he was quite helpful and friendly) but most game drivers are quite rude to solo drivers as they want your money.
As we were waiting to spot the Lion we had one game driver start yelling at us that we had to leave. He told us the park was closed (we still had over a half hour to get out).
We kindly responded that we would leave if he would drive his truck out of our way as he was blocking the entire road…I guess he didn’t care that much since he didn’t move.
Despite our epic Lion spotting, (the only one of the trip!) the highlight of the day was when we had 10 elephant walk by, followed shortly by our 2 close encounters with Elephant Bulls. (Both times the Bulls were within 10 feet of the car!)
We got back to our campsite in time to do a little yoga, grill up some meats, and head to bed to wake up for one last day of game driving.
Our last day of game driving was slightly disappointing, but I think that’s only because we’d become desensitized to seeing Elephants, Rhinos, Zebras, and Giraffe–animals who we would stop and watch for minutes the first few days. The poor impalas and wildebeest were getting no love from Courtmas by day 3.
Our last day we did happen to spot 3 separate Jackal, more elephant, about 10 Rhino, including the one with the longest horn you’ve ever seen, and some baboons–which some find obnoxious but any type of Monkey never gets old to me!
Despite the amazing animals we saw, the best part of the trip may have been the Birthday Braai for Solomzi we had the last night in the park.
Not only was dinner amazing, but halfway through the feast it was decided that I couldn’t leave Africa without getting some cornrows.
Once again staying up way too late, we hit the road before sunrise to return our car on time.
Leaving early enough to get in a couple stops, we actually stopped in Hartbeespoort to get a couple pictures of their beautiful dam.
The next time we come back to South Africa we’ll definitely take a couple days to chill in this beautiful lake town after Safari!
We’re wrapping up our last day in South Africa at The Brown Sugar Backpackers once more to get our life in order before we head to South America.
What was your favorite Safari Animal? Leave us a comment below!
Until next time…