Monday, February 15, 2010

Adventures in South Africa--Pilanesberg National Park

Less than two hours drive from Johannesburg is Pilanesberg National Park. The Pilanesberg Game Reserve is extremely beautiful with rolling hills and an extinct volcano which is now an expansive lake. Throughout the park thick vegetation contrasts sparse brown grassy fields, where herds of zebra and various species of antelope can be seen and tall giraffes stalk along the horizon.

The abundance of game on the reserve is the result of Africa's biggest game relocation project from the 1970s. Critics use this to argue that the game park lacks in authenticity. The fact that this was a preserve made me happy because it's obvious the animals are protected. They are also in their natural habitat and wild. This is not a petting zoo!

Rhino, leopard, lion, buffalo and elephant make up what is called Africa's Big Five. The Pilanesberg Game Reserve is home to all of them. Pilanesberg is a prime location for viewing lions. These stately creatures can often be spotted padding along the reserve's roads.

Despite our best efforts and sharp eyes, the day Paul and I were there we were weren't lucky enough to see any lions. There were no cat sightings by any of the people we spoke to that day. We were told that many visitors to the park spot whole prides of lions on game drives. The elephant and giraffe populations are large too, and we were fortunate enough to see many, many of both.

We took an escorted ride through the park in an open lorry like the one in the picture above. Our guide rode up front and had a loaded high-power rifle on the dash of the truck. Before starting out we were given instructions about some of the more dangerous animals we might encounter. He told one story of a tourist who had been attacked by a lion. Whether it was true, who knows, but we paid close attention to his instructions.

Soon after we headed out, as an elephant came toward the truck, the guide told us to basically stay seated, be quiet and don't take any photos because he had the power to overturn the truck if he felt like it. Sure enough he walked right along side the truck with his eye level with us. It was obvious he was looking into the vehicle as he walked by. The photo below of the elephant walking away was the only one I got of him!

This car was ahead of us. You can see that the elephant has the right of way in this environment.

This was a "maternity herd" of elephants, just mothers and babies. We watched them for a long time as they fed on the vegetation. They don't just munch on the trees, they wrap their trunks around them and yank them out by the roots. We've all heard elephants on television and maybe even in the zoos, but to hear mothers call to their babies in the wild is something I'll never forget.

The giraffes were my favorites by far. We actually watched two bulls fighting. They look so graceful as they swing their heads around but then they use them as mallets on each other. We could hear the sounds of them striking each other.
Here they were on the move across the grassland. I love that the one all the way to the right was looking straight at us. My favorite shot of the zebra all in a line. In the back is the lake in what was a volcano.

You have to look closely but here is a mother hippo and her baby resting along side the water. They weren't cooperating that day, and we didn't get a better view than this.

Below is a wildebeest often referred to as a gnu. The folk lore in Africa about the wildebeest is that when God was done making all the animals, he had parts left over and made the wildebeest.

As we rode through these hills we hoped to see lions but no luck that day. Here is a herd of Tseebe, a variety of antelope.


Vodka Logic said...

fascinating and great pictures... loved the maternity herd.

Just Breathe said...

Sandy, the pictures are wonderful.
That must have been a great vacation.

Katherine said...

Just amazing. This is absolutely on my life list of things to do. Thanks for sharing.

Elle @ A for Effort said...

Sandy, these pictures are stunning! You've captured some great memories in these beautiful photos.

P.S. I've passed a blog award on to you.

Slamdunk said...

Wow, what an amazing experience that must have been--thanks for sharing some of your views with us.

A 2 Z said...

Great post Sandy. I have been there with my kids and a bunch of people from work. I remember stopping for lunch and one of our guides took out a big riffle. My kids were so afraid. They were 3 and 5 at the time. The big cats were always the hardest to see especially during the day! Take care.

Laoch of Chicago said...


FabulousTerrah said...

What stunning photos Sandy! Loving your blog... off to wonder around some more. Your new follower ~ Terrah


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