Giraffe above dry branches.

First Sightings at Pilanesberg

“Oh! I thought they were real!” I squealed when we entered the Pilanesberg National Park through the Manyane gate late on a Friday night. In front of us on the lawn were dark deer-like silhouettes littered across the lawn – lawn ornaments, I guessed. And then one of them looked up. “Oh! They ARE real!”

And so began our first wildlife sightings at Pilanesberg. The impala ended up being all over the camp, and by the time we saw a rabbit hop across the street, it was like a scene out of Bambi.

An impala grazing.
An impala grazing. They were all around the camp ground, coming out just as it started getting dark.

In the morning, we woke up to our third animal sighting – the baboon, which seemed to have replaced the impala. They were everywhere! Running around, knocking over garbage bins (there were animal proof bins, but many of these were either broken or inadequately closed), being chased from tent sites by people waving chairs to thwart them off from stealing bread. A ranger finally came and shooed them away and back over the fence into the actual park, though many of them just went around and behind him and right back to the garbage they were dealing with in the first place.

The Manyane campsite where we were staying is situated right at the entrance of the park, so it took us about 3 minutes to get to the park gates. The park is big and has a lot of different routes to take. Where do you choose?? We were such amateurs at this. Everyone else seemed so determined, flying off in different directions. Did they know something we don’t?

Luckily, within the first ten minutes we saw the Greater Kudu,  a large horned antelope. Man, it was huge!

The Great Kudu walking.
Our first sighting! We couldn’t believe how massive the Great Kudu actually is.

After that, there were zebra in the distance, and eventually we saw giraffe, and a herd of elephants. We were shocked at how well all of them blended in, like the zebra, though there was nothing specifically black and white around them!

We got to drive real close to the zebras and fully appreciate how gorgeous they are.
A zebra eyes us as we stare. We got to drive real close to the zebras and fully appreciate how gorgeous they are.

And even the three ton elephants walking on the hill! We were one of a few cars to park on the road and watch them for a while as they slowly made their way down a hill on our right, over the plain, and eventually crossing the road in front of some of the cars.

Herd of 11 elephants on a hill.
This herd of 11 came down the hill almost completely camouflaged! We didn’t realize they could walk on such steep surfaces!

One of the elephants stopped in the middle, as if to act as a crossing guard as the other ones passed behind it, but he eventually turned and faced us! The cars directly in front of must’ve had quite a scare because we immediately saw their reverse lights turn on. The elephant didn’t come any closer and once the herd finished crossing, they all disappeared down the valley on our left.

Elephant in the grass.
A final photo before they disappeared behind the brush.

Pilanesberg has a couple of “hideaways” which are covered bungalow shelters that you can look out onto the water to secretly spy on animals, but it was a bit disappointing – you could get a much better view of the hippoes and the animals on the lake by driving right up to them on the other side, and not from the hideaway.

Giraffe above dry branches.
A giraffe pokes a curious head out above the branches of a dried tree. We saw quite a few of them, but could never get quite close enough for it to feel real.

By then it was mid-afternoon and being in the car in the sun was unbearable, so we called it a day, and went to relax at camp instead.

The next morning we managed to get into the park shortly after it opened and took a road that was filled (read: three or four) with rhinos! The hideaway got us a good spot to look at them, but like the day before, we managed to get closer in the car than there.

A rhino.
Our second day was all about rhinos it seemed. Talk about prehistoric – they looked like dinosaurs up close!

And of course, warthogs!  The ugly little pigs are actually quite adorable, especially when their tails point towards the sky like an arrow when they run.

Mama warthog watches us.
The warthogs was one of our favourites! Here the mama warthog watched us as her little ones ate close by.

So in the end, we only did two drives, which was a lot less than we wanted but it was a good first try, and, while we didn’t see any cats, we were pretty pleased with what we saw.

First sightings: Success!

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