Don’t Scream at Hippos in Pilanesberg National Park
Pilanesberg Game Reserve is only about two hours from Johannesburg (adjacent to Sun City) and a great way to view animals if you don’t have time or money for a stay at a game lodge. No bookings necessary, you just drive up to the gate and buy a day pass (it only cost us a total of R180). You can tour the entire game reserve in your own vehicle, with the warning not to get out of your car, which you should take seriously.
We were reminded of that warning when we had stopped to watch some hippos sunning themselves beside a lake. I had opened the sunroof and angled my camera out of it for a better view when Jabulani and Impatience chose that very moment to have a fight over the window, which quickly escalated in a yelling match (it always does). You wouldn’t believe how quickly those hippos got up and stood facing us, menacingly, surrounding their young. It didn’t take much to imagine them charging the car so we quickly rolled up everything and backed up towards the road. Once there, I engaged in some yelling (and perhaps slapping, though I hate to admit it) of my own to get the kids to shut up and reflect on proper behavior around wild animals.
The rest of the trip went smoothly. In addition to the hippos, we saw elephants playing in the water, giraffes, rhinos, zebras, plenty of warthogs, including a huge one right in front of us and two of them going at each other, and your typical array of wildebeest, impala, red hartebeest, and nyala. The restaurant in the center of the park is perfect for more game viewing, as the waterhole it overlooks attracts plenty of visitors while you eat your lunch. We didn’t get to see any lions, though the locations of lion sightings were posted on a map at the cafe. For perhaps even better viewings, you might consider leaving very early in the morning in order to hit the park at sunrise (it opens at 5:30 in the summer and 6:30 in the winter). Or you can spend the night at one of the lodges there, which I hear are very nice but once again not cheap.
All in all, another worthwhile day trip from Johannesburg, one I can highly recommend!