Road tripping to the Pilanesberg

Road tripping to the Pilanesberg – Sometimes, it all just gets a bit much and the need to escape becomes overwhelming. This happened to me a few months ago – work wasn’t going too well, my long-term boyfriend broke up with me and I felt like every aspect of my life was spinning out of control. So I pressed pause. I hired a car from Pace Car Rental and I decided to go on a solo road trip to the Pilanesberg for a week. It wasn’t the easiest adventure to embark on, but I felt like it was something I desperately needed to do.

Driving to the Pilanesberg was an adventure in itself. Swerving to avoid potholes in the road and inconveniently positioned cows became a game – luckily my little hired car was up to the task and I got to the park safely. I stayed at Kwa Maritane Bush Lodge which is situated nearby to Sun City, about a two hour drive away from Joburg. I liked the look of the lodge immediately; it had a family feel and I took note of the delightful deckchairs next to the sparkling pool and bar – perfect for sun lizards like me.

afternoon game driveMy room was perfect for what I needed and had a wonderful view of the grassy plains and rocky outcrop beyond. A herd of impala skittishly nibbled the grass nearby and overhead, I could hear a woodpecker busily at work in the tree. For the first time in months, I took a deep breath and felt calm. This was exactly what I needed. I lay on the deckchair outside my room, soaking up the sun and reading a book and I felt myself start to heal.

I decided to go for a late afternoon game drive. My car handled the tar roads beautifully as I pottered slowly along, peering into every tree for signs of creatures’ great and small. I came upon a pair of owls nestled together in the elbow of an Acacia – nearly indeterminable from the bark with their delicate feathery camouflage. I saw flighty springbok gingerly flitting across the plains and a lonesome aged wildebeest bull strutted with all the gallantry of his youthful past. As I headed back to the lodge, I spotted a strange branch hanging from a tree. I got closer to it and realised it wasn’t a branch at all, but rather an unfortunate impala with its proud predator sitting alert, perched delicately next to it. The leopard looked at me unperturbed, still imagining itself invisible. I sat and watched him for a while as he tucked into his supper, then, reluctantly, I left to get back to the gate before sunset.

The next day I wandered through the underground tunnel to the hide by the waterhole. A family of elephants rumbled to each other gently as they played in the water and drank their full. A tiny calf practised using her trunk, attempting to pick up a stick lying in the mud. After several unsuccessful attempts, she abandoned it as a bad job and bounded up to her mama to pull on that unfortunate elephant’s tail instead.

After breakfast, I set off on another game drive and this time I encountered a family of lazy lions basking in the sun beneath a towering termite mound. I waved to a pair of rhinos with their tiny calf and I spotted an opportunistic jackal stalking an unsuspecting bird.

At lunch time I headed to Mankwe Dam to sit and read in the hide for a while. I didn’t expect many animals to be out in the midday sun, but I was delighted to encounter a family of hippos submerged in the cool blue of the dam. I watched the calves sleepily dozing for a while and then a carmine bee-eater caught my eye in an electric crimson flash. It settled on a nearby reed and proceeded to preen its pristine feathers, the light catching the beady glint of its eye. I must have sat in that hide for about four hours, listening to the activity around me and finishing my novel without interruption.

As the sun started sinking in the sky I headed home, just happening to catch a glimpse of a tiny genet as it slid further into the undergrowth.

RathogoDay three started with pancakes – any day that starts with pancakes is automatically going to be a good one. I decided to practice my amateur photography skills at the Rathogo hide and ventured off quite early in the morning to try to catch the best light. I spotted this handsome kingfisher resting on one of the branches and I watched him for a while but he was too far away to get any really spectacular shots.

Minutes later a small terrapin emerged from his hiding spot and slowly made his way across the mud, with the sun softly illuminating his mud-cloaked shell. I paused for a moment to consider what the life of a terrapin must be like – to spend your days swimming, foraging for food and experiencing the first light of the morning on your scaly cheek. I decided it’s probably quite a good life. He certainly looked happy. I tried to take some pictures of him but he wasn’t terribly co-operative, quickly sliding back into his watery abyss.

MankweAfter two hours or so at the hide, I headed back towards Mankwe, driving slowly so as not to miss any creatures along the way. A number of vehicles were stopped up ahead, so I decided to investigate what all the fuss was about.

Pulling up along the side of the road, a kind stranger pointed into the undergrowth and after some frantic searching I glimpsed a pair of fluffy lion cubs hiding together behind the anthill. Their mother lay next to them, watching them as they cuddled and played together, one playfully swatting the other’s ear. I instantly fell in love.

I didn’t want to leave, but my stomach was growling and it was time to return to Kwa Maritane for a very late lunch. On my way I took a quick snap of some happy zebras marching in a solitary line across the road – zebras crossing indeed. They collated on the other side and stood watching me for a moment with their ears pricked. Deciding that I might be dangerous, they hurriedly moved away and I watched them retreat with their tails indignantly raised high.

Every day I encountered something new and I explored different regions of the park, astonished at its incredible diversity. I felt stronger and happier than I had been in ages and I took selfies in the sunshine, communed with nature and left my sorrows behind in the whistling trees. When it came to drive home, I was sad but ready. It was time to head back to reality. It had been a road trip to remember – peaceful, beautiful and restorative.

Kwa Maritane

While I relished this solo trip, there is always the option to embark on a group trip with the cheap minibus rental option for a 9 or 10 person group.

zebras crossing

All images Copyright: Samantha Corbett