Safari at Pilanesberg National Park, South Africa

During our trip to South Africa a few months ago, our safari was hands down the best part of the trip! We spent two nights at Black Rhino Game Lodge in Pilanesberg National Park. When booking the trip, I had thought 4 game drives – one the afternoon we arrived, two during our full day and one last drive in the morning before we left – would be plenty…I was wrong! We could have stayed a whole week and never gotten bored!

In this post, I’ve described why we chose to safari at Pilanesberg National Park, what a typical day was like, and my highlights from our time there!

Why Pilanesberg National Park?

As we were planning our trip to South Africa, we absolutely knew we had to include a safari on our itinerary! While Kruger National Park is probably the most famous and one of the largest game reserves in all of Africa, it is nearly a six hour drive from Johannesburg. We were limited on time which is one of the reasons we chose Pilanesberg, as it was just over two hours away. We arranged for a driver to pick us up in the morning and we were there in time for lunch and our first game drive in the late afternoon!

Another consideration was malaria. Kruger is in a part of the country that is a malaria risk area. Even in the dry season, it’s still recommended to take malaria prophylaxis medication while you are there. However, Pilanesberg is in a different part of the country that is malaria-free! Not having to worry about malaria is another reason we chose Pilanesberg.

And finally, Pilanesberg has all of the Big 5 – elephants, lions, leopards, buffalo and rhinos!

A Typical Day on Safari

A typical day at Black Rhino Game Lodge began at 5:30am with coffee and tea, before the morning game drive departed at 6:00! As the sun came up, we’d leave the lodge, driving towards the main part of Pilanesberg National Park. The driver and guide were in contact with the guides from other game vehicles, communicating where they’d spotted any of the big 5!

The game drive would last about 4 hours, arriving back at the lodge for breakfast around 10:00. Then we had a few hours before lunch at 2:30 so tired from waking up early, we took a nap during our break.

After lunch, there was time to kill before the afternoon game drive. We spent time watching from the viewing area as animals came and went from the waterhole, right next to the dining area (behind a fence of course!) – more on what we saw in my highlights below!

The afternoon game drive began at 4:30. This game drive was in the Black Rhino Reserve, a private area of Pilanesberg that’s nearer to the lodge and only used by the private lodges on the reserve, unlike the area we were in during the morning drive that’s open to the public.

During this drive, at dusk, we’d stop for “sun-downers,” drinks that we’d ordered ahead of time to enjoy as we watched the sun go down! After the sun-downers, we drove around the park looking for game for a bit longer until dark when we’d head back to the lodge.

We’d end the day with dinner at the lodge and then early to bed, as we knew we had to get up early for the next morning’s game drive!

And now for my highlights from our safari!

Lion cubs

On our very first game drive the first afternoon, we saw a pride of lionesses with their cubs – it was incredible! They were right along the road through the reserve, less than a foot away from our vehicle.

Rhino & Baby

We saw several rhinos, but one of the best sightings was an adult rhino with a younger one!

Hippo at the watering hole

While watching at the waterhole after lunch, killing time before our afternoon game drive, we saw a hippo! We’d been watching for about a half hour seeing only impala and kudo, when a hippo plodded over the hill and splashed into the water, scaring away all of the hoofed animals that had been around!


We saw giraffes several times during our game drives, including a few times pretty close to the road. Fun fact: a group of giraffes is called a tower of giraffes when they’re standing still but a journey of giraffes when they’re moving!

Monkeys climbing on our lodge!

While I was napping in our lodge after the morning game drive, I heard some noises that sounded like they were coming from the roof, but they weren’t enough to really wake me up. But talking to my friends who’d been sitting on their patio next door, I found out that it was actually a monkey climbing around on the roof and the outdoor shower!

A dazzle of zebras

We saw zebras a few times during our game drives, including once when a whole herd crossed the road right in front of us!

Lion stalking a wildebeest

And another lion highlight! During our second evening drive in the reserve, we saw an adult male lion, stalking a wildebeest. We watched as he slowly crept closer to the wildebeest, who seemed to know he was there. Rather than run away which likely would have made the lion charge, the wildebeest slowly moved away until the lion seemed to give up. So we didn’t actually see an attack, which in hindsight, I realized I was okay with that – the excitement of watching from only a few yards away was enough!

Our safari at Pilanesberg National Park was incredible! We saw 3 of the Big 5, lions, rhinos and elephants (though we were disappointed that we didn’t see elephants closer up!) but didn’t find the elusive leopard or buffalo. But that’s how safaris go, you never know what you’ll see! Overall, my friends and I had a blast – Pilanesberg was definitely the highlight of our South Africa trip!

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