Sadly, our time for exploring the Pilanesberg National Park has very nearly run out by the point we make one final pit stop at the Mankwe Hide. From here it’s only a 12km drive to the exit at Bakubung Gate, and however we try to dawdle the last few miles along Letsha and Kubu Drives the gate still comes into view too soon for our liking…
It is 18:02 as we drive out the Pilanesberg National Park at Bakubung Gate. We’ve spent exactly twelve amazing hours exploring the Park, most of it in drenching, cleansing rain. If you need to catch up on our drive through the Pilanesberg National Park, you can read all the previous posts here.
Now it’s just short of a two hour drive back to Pretoria and, as good a time as any, I think, to look back on how this Park came into existence. More than a billion years ago what is today the Pilanesberg National Park was an active volcano that, during its final eruption, collapsed in onto itself and the remains of which is visible from space as a range of concentric hills in South Africa’s North West Province.
Humans have been living in this area since the Stone Age. When the first European explorers, missionaries and eventually settlers arrived here it was ruled by Chief Pilane of the Bakgatla clan, hence the given name Pilanesberg (Pilane’s mountain). The Pilanesberg quickly became transformed into farmland. In 1961 South Africa’s apartheid government declared the homeland of Bophuthatswana for the Tswana-speaking people and Pilanesberg was one of the pockets of land incorporated into the new nominally independent “country”.
The Bophuthatswana Government started planning the Pilanesberg National Park in 1969 already. The 550km² reserve only opened on the 8th of December 1979 though, following the relocation of the farming communities that lived there originally, the removal of almost all human-made structures and exotic plants, fencing of the entire perimeter, provision of tourism infrastructure and the introduction of nearly 6,000 large wild animals from all over Southern Africa in the epic Operation Genesis.
With the dawn of a democratic South Africa in 1994 Bophuthatswana, and the Pilanesberg National Park, once again officially became part of the country.