A 3 day first timers’ itinerary to Pilanesberg from Johannesburg
If you’re coming to South Africa, you want to see animals. Of course. This 3 day first timers itinerary to Pilanesberg includes a safari near Johannesburg. Also a World Heritage Site of historic importance, as well as souvenir shopping opportunities and a bit of a luxurious splurge. A well rounded African experience for first timers. Credit to Fabi of Fabis Ideas and Wanderlust.
Johannesburg to Sun City
Start early. Get on the road for the 2.5h drive to Sun City. You will see some great landscapes on your way, the African savannah at its finest. Sun City is an entertainment complex for day visitors and overnight guests alike. They have so many things to do, it is worth its own blog post.
Take it from Sharon who already wrote about Things to do in Sun City. From swimming in the water park Valley of the Waves to exploring the maze of the lost city. Movie theaters to shopping and restaurants. From casinos to hotels. There are plenty of options.
We decided to go for High Tea at the Palace Hotel, an experience I will always remember. Oh the decadence! Gold rimmed painted china on white table cloths. Devine live piano music in the background. Sandwiches, scones, pastries and cakes freshly prepared by great chefs. Opulently designed grand halls, winding staircases and an elephant fountain. We spent 2h on tea. Rooibos obviously, in line with local specialties.
You can check-in at one of the hotels here if you like action and don’t mind being outside of the park gates. Make your own first timers itinerary to Pilanesberg!
We drove on for 20 minutes to Manyane. Campers at heart, we set up camp just inside the park. It’s still outside the fence, so no wild animals can come close. Manyane is a well maintained camp ground also offering chalet accommodation.
There are serviced and unserviced camp sites, clean ablution blocks (bathrooms, free showers, even bath tubs!), a caravan shop selling snacks, drinks and fire wood, a pool, a bar and restaurant. At our unserviced tent site, running drinking water, trash disposal, fire pit and a barbecue. We couldn’t have wished for more.
Set up tent and go to bed early, as you’ll have an early start. Regardless whether you book a safari tour or drive yourself, in order to see the Big Five you will want to be on the road right after sunrise.
Self-guided Safari in Pilanesberg National Park
On your first time visit to South Africa you will want to see the animals you know from The Lion King. I know I did. I didn’t come out all the way from Johannesburg to not go on safari! To get the best chance, leave camp not after 6am. They are most active in the morning and late afternoons and rest between noon and 4-ish.
Take breakfast with you and eat at one of the picnic sites in the park. If you have a 4×4 vehicle, even better, then you can leave the paved roads and go on the extensive gravel roads.
Get a map of the park at the gate, where you pay your admission. The map also includes pictures of the most common animals and plants in the park, so you can name what you saw. There are also pages on geology and historic land marks. You are in a volcanic crater after all, which must be interesting even to those who still think geology is boring.
Animals of Africa
During our first morning drive we saw White Rhinos, hippos, zebras, giraffes, Impalas, Blue Wildebeest, Vervet Monkeys, Warthogs (Pumbaaaaaaa!), Kudus, elephant herds, lions and the next day a chameleon. I was stunned.
Watching a chameleon cross the road is very entertaining by the way. Looks like insecure aerobics with four attempts of moving each foot forward at every step.
We returned to camp for lunch, but there is also a restaurant at Pilanesberg Centre in the middle of the park.
After 4 hours of driving through the park and having seen a lot of African animals, a siesta was exactly what we needed. We chilled by the pool at camp and had a little nap, talked to our neighbors and made plans to have a Braai that night. That’s a South African barbecue. Then, around 4.30 we got back in the car to drive around some more and see more animals.
Options on your first timers itinerary to Pilanesberg: if you don’t want to drive yourself, you can book game drives with professional driver guides. They are offered by each Lodge in the park. The lodges are upscale accommodations close to the park gates.
We looked at Bakabung Lodge that evening, a very nice place to stay. It has all the western amenities and yet gives you an outdoor restaurant and lobby with views of the bush.
Pilanesberg to Johannesburg
On day three go for another early morning game drive. Then exit the park and on your way back to Johannesburg I recommend two stops. First the African market in Hartbeespoort, only if you’re into bargaining though. Nice place to buy some local souvenirs.
Then go on to the Cradle of Humankind. Make sure you drive to the Maropeng entrance if you want to visit the caves. They offer guided tours. Learn about the World Heritage Site where humans were present over 1.9 million years ago.
There you are close to Johannesburg so drive home and enjoy a relaxing evening talking about all the things you’ve seen and learned.