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The Pilanesberg area lies in an unusual and ancient geological formation known as a ring dyke complex. This phenomenon occurs when an underground volcano fails to erupt and the magma cools below the surface. The centre collapses and this is roughly where Pilanesberg’s Mankwe Dam is currently located. Millions of years of erosion then exposed the hard rocky mountains surrounding the ring.
In the 1960s, farms and tribal land in the Pilanesberg (named after the Tswana chief Pilane) was purchased by the government with a view to creating a national game park. Vast quantities of wildlife were introduced and today the Pilanesberg National Park is flourishing.
The area is easily accessed via direct scenic roads from Johannesburg and Pretoria and is a popular weekend getaway for these city’s residents.
The malaria-free game lodges and resorts in the area are sophisticated and comfortable, the roads are excellent, wildlife observable and the accommodation is luxurious, no rough living here!
Things to do
Safari in style at the Pilanesberg National Park. The 550km² Park lies in a transition zone between dry Kalahari and humid Lowveld vegetation where you have the opportunity to view the Big 5 and other mammals in their preferred habitat. Self-drive or take a guided 4x4 safari.
Certain resorts offer a hot-air ballooning experience. The best flight times are early morning or towards dusk.
Set aside a few days for your visit to the Sun City Resort. The resort has an infinite number of attractions including a casino, Valley of the Waves water park, Animal World and Kamp Kwena for the children, a thrilling zip line (reaching speeds of 120kph), boutique shopping, etc. The resort is so large that Segway tours are offered!
Gain a firsthand understanding of the Bakgatla-ba-Kgafela traditions at the Moruleng Cultural Precinct. The centre has a thought-provoking display of traditional art and stimulating activities such as traditional dancing, preparation of maize and praise singing, to name a few.
Revel in a beauty treatment at one of the lodges offering spa facilities.
Enjoy a game of golf on the internationally-acclaimed Sun City golf course where Nile crocodiles lurk and golfers concentrate furiously to ensure their shot doesn’t land too close to the waterholes. The course was designed by Gary Player.
There are a number of qualified guides in the area offering guided hikes through the Park.
Where to Eat
Take a break from game viewing at the Pilanesberg National Park for a meal at The Zebra Crossing. Located within the park, the light meals on the menu are well prepared and to be enjoyed looking out over the water hole and salt lick, placed there to attract animals.
Wear your finest for a visit to Plume, a fine dining restaurant at the Palace, Sun City where the head chef describes his food as ‘Afro-French fusion cuisine’. Expect the dishes to gratify the senses.
The burgers at Bakubang Restaurant are well known around these parts. The restaurant also offers sensational hot and cold buffet evenings.
Try some of the local dishes at The Shebeen, Sun City Resort. The shish’nyama (grilled meats) is popular with the crowds.
When driving to or from the Pilanesberg via Rustenburg, do stop off at Die Melkstal (milking shed) for an enticing light meal and perfectly brewed coffee. You can’t miss the place – it has a brightly decorated cow at the entrance.
Also on the Rustenburg-Pilanesberg route is the Brauhaus am Damm Restaurant. The venue has uninterrupted views of the Olifantsnek Dam where patrons are served typical, hearty German fare best enjoyed with a beer in hand. Eisbein (pickled ham hock) is the crowd favourite.
Take a night drive in the Pilanesberg National Park to view the shy nocturnal creatures and the possibility of seeing a lion pride hunt.
The Sun City Resort has a number of late night venues including Cherry, a sophisticated cocktail bar in the hotel complex, the Tusk Bar and Lounge at the Palace of the Lost City with its old colonial décor and mock elephant tusks and Trader’s Sports Bar to watch your favourite team in action or just to chill. And of course, there’s the casino for a fun evening of gambling.
Spend an evening on your patio with torch in hand, looking for the shining eyes reflected by nocturnal animals nearby. Otherwise, enjoy the star show above.
Where to Stay
The various exclusive accommodation facilities in Pilanesberg all strive to provide luxury, entertainment and convenience to guests.
Air The nearest international airport is OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg. To get to Pilanesberg, either charter a flight from Johannesburg to the Pilanesberg International Airport or use a shuttle service, see Taxi below.
Car Hire a vehicle online or visit any of the rental agencies spread throughout the main South African cities to make a booking.
Taxi We don’t recommend using a taxi service, as the cost will be far too high. Several operators offer shuttle services between the airport and Pilanesberg or the main cities and Pilanesberg.
Bus Certain bus lines operate between the OR Tambo Airport and Sun City Resort.
Did you know?
There are few ring dyke complexes in the world and Pilanesberg is arguably the largest and best preserved. The ring can be seen from space.
Translocating the 6000+ animal species into Pilanesberg Park in the early 1980s was codenamed Operation Genesis and was the largest and most ambitious game stocking exercise ever undertaken in Africa.
In the early years, young individual bull elephants were introduced into the Pilanesberg Park and this proved to be a huge mistake. Elephants exist in a matriarchal society and because these young bulls were without a role model providing social skills and discipline, they became violent, developing testosterone too early in life. Several rhino were killed by the young bulls. The lesson learnt is that even animals can’t do without their Mums!
Accidents occur in game parks and we encourage you to be a responsible visitor to the Pilanesberg Park; keep your doors locked and windows up, refrain from hooting and possibly frightening animals and always remain in your vehicle.