I am not particularly good at writing about my experiences - I would much rather share them through photographs and let you see for yourself. But there are some things about being out in the wild, open spaces of South Africa that you cannot see or experience through photos alone. It is the feeling of the sweltering sun on your skin, the dust in the air, the constant buzz of insects... the silence! It is the incredible activity everywhere you look, from dung beetles to huge elephants slowly crossing your path. It's the feeling of sitting eating outside in the cool evening air under an enormous clear sky with more stars than you've ever seen, quietly waiting and watching for shooting stars, hearing lions roar in the distance while you lie in bed. It feels like stepping back in time, to a place where you are not in charge, to a wild wonderful place before people arrived. There is something about being in the bush that gets under your skin, and you come away with memories and a feeling you will never forget!
Last time I went home to South Africa, Chris and I stayed at Pilanesberg Game Reserve for 4 nights. One of my close friends recommended it as a wonderful game reserve that is small enough for you to explore (you can buy a self-drive licence for your visit), has all of the Big Five and is only a 3 hour drive from Johannesburg, which sounded pretty great to me!
There was a really good range of accommodation, from luxury chalets to campsites where you can pitch your own tent. We chose to stay in a fixed tent in Manyane Resort as it was a fairly cheap option, and meant we didn't have to lug camping gear across the world and we got to sleep in proper beds! There was a little shop in the campsite and a braai outside our tent so that we could cook our own food. Our tent had a little fridge too so we could bring our own food and drinks. There was a bar, restaurant, swimming pool and mini-golf which kept us entertained when we weren't on a game drive or chilling with a beer and book on our verandah.
On our first morning we woke up to a herd of deer walking through the mist just past the trees, followed by a troop of baboons being chased by one of the game rangers. It was so beautiful and exciting, I didn't want to spoil the moment running for my camera!
We decided it was worth it to pay for a self-drive licence so that we could take a drive through the game reserve each day we were there. It meant we could really take our time exploring and getting out at the different hides where you could see more birdlife. We also paid for a game ranger to take us in for one morning and one night drive which was really worth it. They shared a lot of their knowledge with us and had walkie talkies to talk to the other rangers and share where some of the Big Five might be so we got to see more of the big animals than we might have seen on our own.
On our morning drive with the ranger, we were so incredibly lucky to see a lion kill a wildebeest! We had been distracted by a rhino crossing our path and all of a sudden there was this chase happening right next to us. The first lion was quickly joined by another, and once they'd suffocated and dragged the wildebeest into a bush, they brought out all their baby cubs to enjoy the feast. It was really one of the most incredible things I've ever seen and one I'll probably never see again.
Sun City is only 10 minutes down the road, which if you haven't heard of before, is a sort of oasis/ resort/ Las Vegas in the middle of the bush. It has a world class golf course, casinos, a wave pool, and various luxury hotels. It is worth visiting for the day to have a cocktail, lie by the pool and have a nice lunch (and of course a game of golf or bit of gambling if you're into that sort of thing)!
My only other experience of game reserves is Kruger National Park, which I went to with a school friend for a night when I was younger. Though I have some incredible memories there, I think I was too young to really compare, and Kruger is on a totally different scale. But if you're looking for a nice small game reserve close to Johannesburg I couldn't recommend Pilanesberg more! I think I will probably return again for another visit next time I go home.