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Trip Report South Africa, Pilanesburg National Park

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Just outside of Sun City which is about a two hour drive from Johannesburg is Pilanesburg National Park. For about under US$10 admission fee you can enter the park and set off on your own self exploration of some of South Africa's natural wild life.

With a nice map and guide book purchased at the entrance, I am driving along a gravel road into the park. It is not long before antelopes and wildebeest are spotted grazing in the fields not too far away. Going around a corner the road crosses a small stream and I can see huge gray masses moving against the bushy landscape.

Slowing my approach and eventually coming to a stop, I watch as a pair of rhinos walk less than one hundred feet from me. A quick look at my reference guide and I discover that these are white rhinos. Fortunately, I don't have to get any closer to tell this as a view through my camera lenses shows a distinct square nostril compared to the pointed snout of a black rhino.

Moving down the road, I encounter an animal that is familiar to most of us, Pumbaa! He has come down to a small stream for a drink. What a handsome dude.

I know the black and white stripes act as a camouflage for zebras but a group of them that are standing around in an open field is not too hard to spot. I even have a close encounter with a few of them including a mother and her calf that crosses the road right in front of the car.

One of the nice things about doing a self-drive safari is being able to move at your own pace to enjoy seeing the animals. Another is having the discretion to explore many of the side roads off the beaten path.

Parked in one area, I silently watch as heads appear above some tall trees in the distance. A family of giraffes followed by some playful zebras are slowly taking a walk towards a lake apparently for an afternoon drink. An almost surreal scenery to watch. Looking towards the lake there are even ostriches along the shoreline.

Weighing a few tons can make it very difficult to hide but one elephant seems to be doing this behind a densely covered tree. However, his huge ears and hanging trunk gives him away. Eventually, he gives up and comes out in the open. Since elephants tend to be very social and travel in groups this one must be an outcast. A park ranger is nearby and seems to be studying his movements.

In different locations of the park there are well protected hides built around areas where the animals tend to congregate during different times of the day. These hides some with electric fences and barriers, offers protection for visitors while they view the animals in their natural habitat.

At one such hide a group of us watch a hippo laying around a watering hole. Every few minutes it's head goes below the surface of the water and remains submerge for about five to seven minutes.

From others in the hide I am told I just missed a pair of rhino visitors. Meeting others touring the park is helpful as we are all eager to share our animal spotting stories. I am fortunate here to meet some Brits who have spotted “The King” not too far away from here.

Approaching the prized viewing of the day, others have already gathered at the spot. Parked I cannot see anything but trees. However, I can hear the distinct panting of the big cat. It is eerie that he is breathing so loud and that I am so close to hear but not see him. Soon a car leaves and I am able to get a better spot where I can see two lioness resting in the shade. In the distant valley below a herd of antelopes are grazing without a care in the world. I have a feeling that may change later on in the day.

Turning to the left I have a sense that I am being watched. This is confirmed as I am soon steering eye to eye with “The King Of The Jungle”. Having the protection of glass and metal removes some of my fears but not my goose bumps.

It is by no means a stare down but from his prospective he seems to be telling me welcome to the jungle, stick around we can have some fun and games. Your Highness, I think I'll decline the offer. I retreat a bit into my car as he gets up and seems to be walking towards me.

I am relieved when I discover he is just going over to join the lioness. What is striking to me is that they are not as orange colored as I expected and “The King's” mane seems a bit short. Is there such a thing as lion male pattern baldness?

Leaving the park a light rain is falling and I get to witness a migration of a different sort. Stopped at a pedestrian crossing I sit and watch as a group of school children race across the street to their waiting buses.

I hope they have enjoyed Pilanesburg as much as I did!


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