Traveller Tails: Green, gold and patriotism in the Pilanesberg

A guest’s story by Judi Davis.

It was early spring and Pilanesberg National Park was in a patriotic mood, covered in Springbok olive green foliage and golden grass.

The green and gold colour scheme had a strikingly beautiful contrast against the backdrop of reds, browns, ochre rocks and pale sand, along with the whimsical blue sky and shimmering water. It didn’t take us long to realise this rugged, undulating park, with its mountains, rocky ridges and steep valleys, was far more beautiful than we ever remembered.

Image: Judi Davis

The North West Province isn’t an area that we were very familiar with but – although quite slow – the trip along the N4 towards Pilanesberg proved to be a pleasant and beautiful one. It was around 3 pm when we decided we wanted to go straight to the camping site, however, as we approached Mankwe Dam, we couldn’t resist a little detour – and man-o-man it couldn’t have been a better choice! The little detour provided us with the majestic sight of four sleeping lions and loads of other wildlife sightings. It was the perfect start to an amazing trip.

Waterbuck drinking at a waterhole.
Image: Judi Davis

When we arrived at the almost empty Bakgatla Camp that afternoon, the excitement started brewing and we couldn’t wait to explore the park. We had enjoyed our previous, short but busy stay, and were now looking forward to having some more time to experience the park – away from the madding crowds.

We set off along the main road, backtracking along the same route we’d taken to Bakgatla the day before, via the Pilanesberg Centre and the extensive Mankwe Dam, and then took our time driving along some of the less-travelled, gravel road loops in the area.

Image: Judi Davis

Taking it slowly, we stopped at a number of the viewpoints, hides, dams and picnic sites along the way, becoming more and more impressed by the park’s many attractive features. It truly is such a visitor-friendly game reserve.

Hide overlooking waterhole.
Image: Judi Davis

And wow! Scenically, the park was fabulous – so dramatic, so rugged, so constantly changing. The birding and game viewing was excellent, too. This really was a gorgeous kingdom of wilderness, and with its many striking physical characteristics, it was even fascinating from a geographical and geological point of view.

Elegant Fish Eagle patiently waiting.
Image: Judi Davis

According to the useful guide and map book provided by the North West Parks Board, the Pilanesberg is one of only three alkaline volcanoes in the world. Back in its prime, it stood 7 000 metres high, rivalling even the infamous Kilimanjaro in grandeur.

It’s a very old formation – millions of years old in fact – and is a result of smouldering hot magma cooling down underneath the ground before it could reach the surface to erupt. Years later, the centre collapsed creating the perception of a volcano and after millions of years of erosion, the ring dyke complex was moulded into place – forming the mountains that surround the centre in concentric circles. Today the highest peak, Matlhorwe, only rises a modest 700 metres above the surrounding valleys, but the formation is still remarkably impressive. Its rugged 25-kilometre-diameter is recognised as one of the single largest volcanoes of its kind to have ever formed anywhere on earth.

What we are seeing now is not the magnificent volcano’s crater but, perhaps more impressively; a cross-section of the magma pipes that were once located far below the mountain’s summit.

After ogling at the geology of the area, we then ticked off a selection of wildlife and birds from our viewing list, and all-the-while were absolutely taken aback by the sheer beauty of this place!

Once back at camp later that afternoon, we did some camping chores and a load of washing before enjoying our final evening at the alluring and peaceful Bakgatla camp. Tomorrow would be another busy day of exploring, after which we’d move camp to spend our final night in the park at the Manyane rest camp.

Hide overlooking waterhole.
Image: Judi Davis

A poster in one of the hides we’d visited that day, had a quote – from the proceedings of the Global NGO conference in Paris in 1991 – that beautifully summed up what Pilanesberg’s splendour and diversity had so clearly demonstrated: “Science has taught us that all creation is matter and energy interacting in an elegant dance of life, and that biological and cultural diversity are the foundations of stability.”

We can’t help but agree.

One Comment

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    Muriel Smuts May 11, 2018 at 2:52 pm - Reply

    Just left, had a wonderful 3 days of exploring the Pilansburg roads, we were blessed with an abundance of animal life, will be back, God willing.

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