The Pilanesberg Game Reserve is an unusual place. It borders Sun City — a glitzy, Vegas-like resort in South Africa’s Northwest Province. Pilanesberg is small by African game park standards, and Pilanesberg’s animals were originally introduced from other parts of Southern Africa when the reserve was created in 1977. (Read more about Pilanesberg’s interesting history on Wikipedia.)

For all of these reasons, in the eyes of many South Africans, Pilanesberg is not a “real” game park. And even though I enjoyed a great trip to Pilanesberg when my mother visited two years ago, I had also recently convinced myself that Pilanesberg is somehow not legit.

I went back to Pilanesberg with my dad last week, and my attitude changed.

rhino rearview

As you know from my previous post, Pilanesberg is full of rhinos.

Don’t believe the hype — Pilanesberg is no zoo. It’s every bit as wild as Kruger, Etosha or any other Southern African game park. To quote an elderly local lady who we met in a bird-watching hide during our safari: “We have everything here that Kruger has. Just on a smaller scale.”

I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

giraffe family

Pilanesberg giraffe family.

giraffe silhouette

Pilanesberg giraffe at sunset.

giraffe sunset

 Pilanesberg giraffe at sunset, Instagrammed. I can’t get enough Pilanesberg giraffes.

baby giraffe

I heart baby zebras. (Note: In South Africa it’s pronounced “ZEH-brah” not “ZEE-brah”.)

elephant drinking

Elephant drinking.

elephant wading

Elephant wading into a lake.

elephant swimming

Elephant swimming. Obviously this is a very deep lake.

elephant walking

Elephant back on dry land, heading straight for us and looking hacked off. We moved out of his way and he passed us by.

pretty bird

Beautiful bird (I’ve forgotten the name) viewed from the bird-watching hide at Mankwe Dam.

kingfisher looking out

An adorable pied kingfisher, relaxing on the wall of the bird-watching hide.

kingfisher on branch

The pied kingfisher’s mate.

kingfisher looking up

One last kingfisher shot.

dam reflection

Instagrammed reflections on the Mankwe Dam. (In South Africa, the word “dam” can refer to any enclosed body of water.)

wildebeest line

Line of wildebeest.

I’ve saved the best for last. On our last morning in Pilanesberg, we saw a leopard. We were driving through a thicket of shrubs and small trees, and as we passed a small clearing I saw the long tail and distinctive spotted fur.

“There’s a leopard! There’s a leopard!” I half-whispered, half-yelled. This was my fifth or sixth African safari and I’d never seen a leopard before.

We saw the leopard quite clearly but he was behind us. Chris, our guide, slowly backed up the Landcruiser.

I shot a photo of the leopard as we reversed. I’m very proud of it.

Are you ready to see?

leopard

Can you find the leopard?

You see, leopards are very elusive. I wanted to symbolize their illusiveness in my image. So I intentionally shot on a slow shutter speed as the vehicle was moving through a dark, shady area. The picture came out perfectly.

Okay, I lie. I didn’t have my camera ready and by the time I did the leopard was gone, melted away into the underbrush. I’m not even sure if the leopard is in my photo or not. But he was there, and he was beautiful. Dad and Chris can vouch for me.

My days as a Pilanesberg skeptic are over. I am now a Pilanesberg believer.

The particulars:

Dad and I stayed in the Manyane Resort, just outside the Pilanesberg gates. It’s not the most exciting lodge I’ve ever stayed in but it has a decent breakfast buffet and offers a wide range of accommodation options. There are several similar lodges around the edges of Pilanesberg, as well as a couple of nice camps inside the park.

We hired Chris Green of Cashan Tours as our guide for the three-day trip. I’ve done several tours with Chris and I recommend him highly. You can self-drive easily in Pilanesberg, but being driven around by an expert guide who knows the park like the back of his hand is a wonderful luxury, especially for someone like my dad who has never taken a safari before.

pilanesberg sunset

Pilanesberg, I will be back. And I’ll be ready for the leopards next time.

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