Go Back  Fodor's Travel Talk Forums > Destinations > Africa & the Middle East
Reload this Page > Pilanesberg or Kruger? Please comment on my itinerary!

Pilanesberg or Kruger? Please comment on my itinerary!


Mar 1st, 2013, 04:45 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Apr 2006
Posts: 128
Pilanesberg or Kruger? Please comment on my itinerary!

Hi everyone,

I'll be going to South Africa in early April. I'll be in Pretoria for work and will then have 4-5 days for sightseeing. It's my first time in South Africa, and I know that's not much! So I turn to y'all, the forum experts, for advice.

My main priority is a safari. I've done them before but was never able to make it to Kruger. I'm thinking this is my opportunity - I'd like to do a 3-day tour in and out of Pretoria (I can't drive). But I know that Kruger is extremely far; I've heard it can take as much as 9 hours each way?? Especially if the tour has to pick up others.

So I'm wondering if I should give up on the Kruger idea and aim for Pilanesberg. Is it as spectacular, as full of life? I'm longing to see herds of giraffe and zebra and antelope and elephants, the occasional lion or cheetah, and even rhino, which I've never seen before! Is Pilanesberg comparable to Kruger? (I've heard it's got great birds, which is cool but not my priority)

And in either case, does anyone have recommendations for safari companies they have used??? I'm struggling to identify good ones online. Plus I'll need a company that can pick up/drop off in Pretoria.

Here is the tentative itinerary I've drawn up:

- Day 1: sightseeing in Pretoria
- Day 2 - Day 4: 3-day, 2-night safari to Kruger or Pilanesberg; drop off in Jo'burg; enjoy evening in Jo'burg
Day 5: Sightsee Jo'burg; evening flight home

I know that's cramped. Any comments or suggestions? Thanks so much!
imelda72 is offline  
Reply With Quote
Mar 2nd, 2013, 08:36 AM
Join Date: Jan 2009
Posts: 767
Don't have recommendations for tours/providers but in my mind there's no comparison between the two parks---I'd go with Kruger every time. Nine hrs from Pretoria to Kruger sounds like an overestimate to me.
sdb2 is offline  
Reply With Quote
Mar 2nd, 2013, 08:51 AM
Join Date: Nov 2005
Posts: 4,285
I have no doubt there is no comparison between Kruger and Pilanesburg, but I have been happy with my 2 trips to Pilanesburg, also done whilst working in JNB. For a short trip from JNB it was very good, last trip we drove ourselves from JNB and did a self tour in the park. Considering this, we did see alot of animals but not exactly herds of anything. We saw hippos. elephants, zebra, various antelopes, birds, warthogs to name a few. If you took a tour I'm sure you would see more.
Pilanesburg is also close to Sun City, which is interesting but a poor relation to Vegas. There is lodgings in Pilanesburg, at Bakubung.
Odin is offline  
Reply With Quote
Mar 5th, 2013, 11:32 AM
Join Date: May 2011
Posts: 31
Look at Wild Wings quickie safari. Road transfer to/ from jnb, room & food inside Kruger and a full time guide. We have a trip booked with them but haven't done it yet. They get great reviews on trip advisor.
kayekaye is offline  
Reply With Quote
Mar 26th, 2013, 11:25 AM
Join Date: Mar 2013
Posts: 9
Hope this isn't too late for you: skip Kruger if you want to have a good chance of game sightings, especially the Big 5. It is a legendary park, but you can drive for days, seeing very little. Rather hop on a flight from Jhb to Hoedspruit and visit the Thornybush reserve: it has everything you have listed as a must-see and the density of game is fantastic. It's my favourite South African reserve. You can fly up in just over and hour, spend a day or two and fly back to Johannesburg.

Tangala Private camp www.tangalathornybush.co.za is a good affordable option, Royal Malewane upmarket and a great spoil. BIg 5 viewing is almost guaranteed here and the weather in April is brilliant.

If you have money to spend, consider a fly in to Madikwe game reserve (1 hour flight from Jhb or Pretoria). They have their own airstrip. Madikwe air is worth looking at.
KarinPanainoPetersen is offline  
Reply With Quote
Mar 26th, 2013, 06:27 PM
Join Date: Jan 2012
Posts: 20
The above reply makes no sense to me.

Namely because I have never been to Kruger National Park for even one day and seen very little??!! There is always plenty to see. Timbavati borders Kruger National Park and they share an unfenced boundary.
If you want a look at what an ordinary visitor might see on any given day in Kruger National Park check out www.sanparks.org public sightings galleries or even better the Facebook group 'Kruger National Park - Best Place on Earth' for stunning photos by self drivers in all seasons.
threedogs is offline  
Reply With Quote
Mar 26th, 2013, 07:51 PM
Join Date: Apr 2005
Posts: 5,215
Agree with 3dogs.
I've been to Kruger 3 times for total of 11 days and seen lots, but rhino and leopard are rare (for me at least).
Madikwe - I was there in May of 2008 for 5 nights and it is more like a large fenced in park. Well, a very teeny tiny fenced in park compared to Kruger. And many ugly man made concrete water holes.

regards - tom
cary999 is offline  
Reply With Quote
Mar 27th, 2013, 02:54 AM
Join Date: Dec 2005
Posts: 813
That post on Thornybush is the funniest I've seen in years!

Imelda, you've got to understand that there are a zillion safari options in and near Kruger. It would be easier for us if you told us your budget.

That Thornybush thing mentioned above is FENCED. So are other reserves in that area; Kapama, Makalali and Karongwe. Note that that doesn't mean you can't have a good safari there. In fact, there's plenty of lodges, of various price settings, offering quality safaris; where you get a seat in the lodge vehicle, and a good guide & tracker drive you to the animals. Even off road. Even at night.

The only downside is that all this fencing doesn't feel totally natural. Even if you do not see the fences all the time, and your guides try to stay away from them, it will still be in your head. You will know that you are in some sort of very big wildlife park, but where elephants and lions are on the pill.

Now, KarinPanainoPetersen compares this reserve with Kruger main (National) park, where you either drive yourself, or your lodge takes you to it for day trips. In this comparison, she's actually right; the fenced reserves will give you more animal densities, also because they're being restocked constantly to keep the predator-level above what is natural. In comparison, Kruger NP does have less animals per square mile. Now, you can still find plenty by just going from one waterhole/lake/river to another. But still there's a difference; you are not allowed to drive off road, or after dark. For big cats, it can be a hit or miss (and yes, I had some misses in Kruger NP - don't let anyone tell you that everyone gets lucky with cats. It's not true).

The thing is though, KarinPanainoPetersen should not compare Thornybush with Kruger NP. She should compare with other similar private reserves that are NOT fenced, and where private safaris are conducted in a professional manner, with ability to go off road and do night safaris. To list them all;

- Sabi Sands is the most known. Almost fully commercialized (except Dudley block), so plenty of good lodges to choose from. But; most lodges are rather expensive. They can afford to put their prices that high, as they have become icons. There are exceptions too; Elephant Plains, Arathusa and Umkumbe come to mind. The first two have a huge traversing area, and Umkumbe plays solo (it's privately owned, not company owned, so the owner gives you a personal experience, for example you can sit in the tracker seat on the bonnet ...but it's at the expense of total traverse area.

- Manyeleti is often overlooked. It's comunity-owned. Their town is next to the lake, center of the reserve. In the north of the reserve there's a couple of Honeyguides camps there (but these are 500$ pppn+) and one small bush camp called Pungwe (at 200$ pppn, it's a steal). Pungwe does walks in the morning, drives n the afternoon. The other camps are pure driving. Cool about Manyeleti is that all camps are allowed to drive on the whole reserve. Compared to camps battling for more traverse rights in Sabi Sands (or other reserves), this is a huge benefit.

- Timbavati is partly private plots, partly commercialized. Again there's all sorts of options: camps going solo (like Shindzela, which plot is only 3000Ha - which is not that bad either - and who do walks in the morning), camps sharing traverse (most of which are 500$+ as well, but Simbavati River Lodge is more affordable, and it's got an incredible location), and camps that do not need to share as their ara is big enough (Ngala, property of &Beyond, not exactly cheap). Timbavati is "on the way up" and in term of animals being relaxed around vehicles it's almost as good as Sabi Sands.

- Klaserie; mostly privately owned, but there are two little clusters of commercial lodges all sharing traverse. I am only familiar with the southern cluster; Africa On Foot, nThambo, Gomo Gomo, Baobab Ridge, ... Their total area in about 8000Ha so you never get bored. AOF has got the best foot safaris for sure, and compared to other camps the price is a steal as well. It's also a bush camp the way a bush camp should look and feel. nThambo is on the same plot as AOF but does pure drives. IMHO it's also got the best rooms I have ever had the priviledge to sleep in. A bit more expensive, but if it's your first safari and you're not keen on walking, then this is a very good option. The price becomes a bit less expensive when you realize this is an all-in camp (no bar tab for beverages, wines, sundowner drinks etc) ;-).
Up until a few years ago, the animals were certainly much less accustomed to vehicles, but this is no longe the case. The Ross lion pride (named after the plot where AOF and nThambo sit on) is always around, and a few leopards (that were born after the commercial lodges had started) are just as relaxed with tourists as the cats in Sabi Sands.

- Balule; partly private plots, partly commercialized. Still open to Kruger, but further from Kruger NP, and closer to civilization (depending on the lodge chosen you may have light pollution at night, or even hear the road between Nelspruit and Phalaborwa. There's also a train going through the reserve twice a day). Lodges here are, on average, cheaper. But that may be because some have not acquired the necessary rights to drive on other plots, and to drive off-road on them. Some lodges have to stick to the main roads (loops driveable by all in the reserve, sorta), or even have to take their guests to Kruger NP. So; caveat emptor.

Conclusion of all the above;

- if you have the money, I think it would be better for you to fly from Jo'Burg to Nelspruit and back. You're only there for a couple of days, so it would be a shame to lose two days driving to and from the lowveld area.
- and then you should go for one or two lodges in those private and unfenced reserves. I can assure you that you'll have had a safari experience that will be hard to top. Watch out; transfer costs between lodges can be a lot as well. Certainly if you want to go from a reserve in the north (like Klaserie) to one in the south (like; Sabi Sands). A trick here is to stick to Klaserie and Timbavati lodges; the reserves are next to each other, with a tar road in between leading straight to Nelspruit airport.

Here's a map showing all reserves. Click on the reserves to go to more detailed maps (per reserve) that show the location of their lodges, and even their traversing rights:


Have a good safari!

pixelpower is offline  
Reply With Quote
Nov 27th, 2014, 12:14 AM
Join Date: Jan 2006
Posts: 1,375
kawh is offline  
Reply With Quote
Nov 27th, 2014, 10:39 AM
Join Date: Jul 2014
Posts: 209

I just helped a client who is headed to Joburg for work and wanted to do a "quickie" safari. She had looked at a number of things online (transfer by road to accomodations just outside Kruger gate) but, after speaking with her at length and looking at the added costs for game drives/food/beverage, she realized that it was adding up quite a bit. Ultimately, she was pleased with her booking: a 3 night safari at all inclusive Elephant Plains Lodge in Sabi Sands, flying on SAA Express with a 1.5 hour transfer to the lodge, and all within a very reasonable budget.

I think for short trips, I recommend maximizing "game time". If you can do 3 rather than 2 nights, that would be even better. If you are set on on only 2 nights though, take a good look at your arrival times. If you miss the PM game drive on Day 1 and the AM drive on Day 3, then a 2 night stay results in only one full day in the bush. Long transfers take time away from the bush.

I would consider a splurge for the flight. Again, you get there faster. Tickets are reasonable and the upcharge is so worth it when you don't have that much time. My client will now be able to enjoy game drives on arrival day as well as departure day. The holidays are coming. Maybe a little gift to yourself to create the most incredible memories to last a lifetime! Happy to help. You can contact me if you like..

Happy Thanksgiving!
diannelovestravel is offline  
Reply With Quote
Dec 27th, 2014, 04:58 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Apr 2006
Posts: 128
Hey guys, I wanted to come back and update folks.

Thanks for all your suggestions and advice. I ended up taking a Wild Wings tour. They were very efficient and well-run, and the lodge where I stayed was INCREDIBLE. Unfortunately, their main safari guide had recently been injured, so we ended up with a guide who'd only been there for 6 months.

I don't know if it was because of his inexperience, or because of the nature of Kruger, as Karin implied above, but I wasn't blown away by the game. Well, I shouldn't say that. I saw just about everything - all of the big 5, in fact! But my basis for comparison was a safari I had done in the Masai Mara, in Kenya.

The amazing wildlife that you can see out on the wide, open savannah just overwhelms what I saw in Kruger, where it's bushy and harder to find things.

We did take one drive with a more experienced guide from a neighboring camp, and it was the best by far. So it could be that my guide just wasn't experienced. But overall, I preferred Eastern Africa. I didn't see the big 5 there (no rhino or leopard), but there were just SO MANY animals. You don't really get that in Kruger, I think.
imelda72 is offline  
Reply With Quote
Dec 28th, 2014, 11:29 PM
Join Date: Jan 2006
Posts: 1,375
imelda72.... thanks so much for reporting back... as i research, it's nice to see how the questions posed actually are answered and lived out! what swayed you in your decision in the end? any other tips to share? (we go to s.a. in May but hope to also go to Chobe and Vic. falls).
kawh is offline  
Reply With Quote

Thread Tools
Search this Thread
Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are On


All times are GMT -8. The time now is 04:36 AM.