Tag Archives: vacation

Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve

With it being a short school holiday we had the opportunity to visit the privately owned Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve for a day this past week.

The reserve was established in 1990 and is located in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site northwest of Johannesburg in the Gauteng Province of South Africa. It covers approximately 1,600 hectares of undulating terrain at the transition between the open grasslands of the Highveld and the savannas of the Bushveld.

Going by the name, clearly pride of place at the reserve goes to two species. The first is the white rhinoceros, which are heavily guarded on the reserve to keep them safe from poachers – in fact, several of the reserve’s rhinos arrived here as orphans after their mothers were poached. Furthermore the horns of the rhinos at the Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve has been infused with a toxin that makes it unfit for human consumption to further deter the unscrupulous syndicates supplying the traditional medicine markets in Asia.

In a corner of the reserve are four large camps through which visitors are allowed to drive to view two prides of lion, African wild dogs and cheetahs in natural surroundings. Whenever we consider visiting a destination where large predators are kept in camps and enclosures we are always very careful that it is not in any way linked to the absolutely abhorrent canned hunting fraternity, cub petting or the lion-bone trade. The owners and management of the Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve have publicly undertaken that the animals on the reserve will not be subjected to such inhumane practices.

The first and most expansive of the predator camps at the reserve is allocated to the tawny lions. We arrived there just minutes before feeding time, and found the lions up and very active indeed!

The next camp visitors enter houses a sizable pack of the highly social African Wild Dog, also known as Painted Wolves for their beautifully blotched coats.

A pride of White Lions is to be seen in the third predator camp (regular readers of our blog will remember how excited we were to have seen one of only three known wild white lions back in January during a visit to the Kruger National Park).

In the fourth camp visitors can try and spot cheetahs, though these lanky cats use their camouflage to great effect and finding them may be neigh impossible if they don’t want to be spotted!

Another positive feature of the reserve is the vulture restaurant – a feeding station where carcasses are regularly laid out for the endangered birds. Throughout our day on the reserve we had regular sightings of the impressive but endangered Cape Vultures overhead, and many other kinds of birds were also in evidence.

Other kinds of mammals, aside from the rhinos and large predators, thrive on the reserve and roam freely over most of it. We were especially impressed by the large herd of eland and beautiful sable antelope, and we also saw black-backed jackal, black and blue wildebeest, blesbok, buffalo, gemsbok, grey duiker, impala, roan antelope, springbok, warthog, waterbuck and yellow mongoose.

Special mention needs to be made of the reserve’s population of Hartmann’s Mountain Zebra. Being not at all indigenous to this part of the country visitors are provided an opportunity to see the least well-known of the three kinds of zebra found in South Africa.

The main visitor centre of the reserve offers an extensive picnic site and playground, restaurant, swimming pool and the wildlife centre – a collection of endangered and mostly non-indigenous reptiles, birds and mammals, obviously well taken care of and displayed in well maintained terrariums and enclosures, among which visitors are allowed to stroll at their leisure.

Visitors can overnight on the reserve in chalets and log cabins, the latter overlooking a portion of the lion camp. Given the rather small size of the reserve the road network, all dirt, is not very extensive but the majority of roads can at least be fairly easily traversed in standard passenger vehicles while there’s also additional routes available to 4×4’s. Unfortunately the Wonder Cave which as adjacent to the reserve was closed at the time of our visit.

Location of the Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve (Google Maps)

 

The end to a most memorable day in Pilanesberg

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…

Mankwe Hide to Bakubung Gate

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.

 

A day in Pilanesberg: Hour 11

We’re driving along Tshwene Drive in the Pilanesberg National Park and have just passed the Korwe Link turnoff when we see two vehicles up ahead, driving very slowly. Is that ANOTHER LION in the road in front of them!? We can’t believe our luck at yet another lion sighting – our fourth for the day – and such an impressive specimen too! He proceeds close to the road for a while with his adoring fans following faithfully, then moves deeper into the veld but still more or less parallel with the road, requiring us to continue along in first gear for the occasional glimpse.

About 200m further along the road we notice a herd of giraffes, and the lion is heading right towards them. Slowly we venture forward to find the best vantage point for the impending attack, but the lion is spotted by his lofty quarry and can only roar about his disappointment… Perhaps the tsessebes another few hundred meters further along would have been easier prey, if he didn’t tell all and sundry he was there with that load roaring!

We decide to pay one last visit to the shores of Mankwe Dam, and guess what? MORE LIONS! These two are doing what lions do best – sleeping. Our fifth encounter with lions in one day at Pilanesberg is decidedly sedate compared to the others, but we appreciate it nevertheless.

In quite a contrast, our next sighting is of two lesser striped swallows serenading each other with the chirpiest tunes at the bridge over the Mankwe stream. It’s so sweet seeing each taking a turn to listen with eyes closed to the other’s melody!

If you’d like to follow along as we explore the Pilanesberg, a map may come in handy (for a large format version click here)

Tshwene Drive to Mankwe Hide via Hippo Loop

If you need to catch up on our drive through the Pilanesberg National Park, you can read all the previous posts here.

To be continued tomorrow, with the final installment.

A day in Pilanesberg: Hour 10

One of the most scenic parts of the Pilanesberg National Park, and there’s stiff competition, is the area around the Tilodi Dam near the eastern entrance at Manyane, and we just have to go see what’s around there even in the pouring rain. We find a nice spot looking out over the water and just take in the peace and quiet for a while.

If you’d like to follow along as we explore the Pilanesberg, a map may come in handy (for a large format version click here)

Mankwe Way to Tilodi and back

If you need to catch up on our drive through the Pilanesberg National Park, you can read all the previous posts here.

To be continued tomorrow.

A day in Pilanesberg: Hour 9

It’s 2pm when we see our first warthogs for the day at the junction of Tau Link with Tshwene Drive. These plucky pigs are usually a common sight in the Pilanesberg National Park but as they do not like cold or wet weather they probably stayed in their burrows for as long as they could before being forced to venture out in search of food. A kori bustard striding the plains near Mankwe Dam is another unexpected and very welcome sight. At the dam itself, seen from the aptly named Hippo Loop, the chubby denizens of the water have taken advantage of the overcast conditions to start grazing early, while an elephant munches leisurely on a tree at the side of the road.

Heading onwards again we opt to go see what’s happening at Mavuso’s carcass, and find that the black-backed jackals and brown hyena are still in attendance at the feast.

If you’d like to follow along as we explore the Pilanesberg, a map may come in handy (for a large format version click here)

Tau Link to Mankwe Way

If you need to catch up on our drive through the Pilanesberg National Park, you can read all the previous posts here.

To be continued tomorrow.

A day in Pilanesberg: Hour 8

After lunch, getting back to the parking area at Rathlogo in the Pilanesberg National Park, we’re welcomed by a very friendly slender mongoose. Normally these animals are exceedingly shy, so this one’s unusual familiarity with humans, and in this specific location, could only mean one thing – that it is being fed by visitors to the hide (a practice that really does not do the animal any favours by the way and should be strongly discouraged).

We head north from Rathlogo towards the northern boundary of the Park, turning right just before the Bakgatla Gate to travel along a loop of the Moruleng and Korwe Drives and then back past Rathlogo to the Tau Link Road. With the rain letting up for a short while there’s a few more birds appearing in the open, though some of them are still so wet and scruffy as to be unrecognisable!

If you’d like to follow along as we explore the Pilanesberg, a map may come in handy (for a large format version click here)

Rathlogo Hide to Tau Link via Kgabo, Moruleng and Korwe drives

If you need to catch up on our drive through the Pilanesberg National Park, you can read all the previous posts here.

To be continued tomorrow.

A day in Pilanesberg: Hour 7

Eventually our own hunger pangs motivate us to leave the scene where the now satiated lions are no longer gorging themselves with the same gusto as an hour ago. We decide to head for Rathlogo Hide, following Sefara, Tlou, Thuthlwa and Kgabo Drives, as at least we should find a bit of shelter from the rain for our picnic lunch there.

Along the way we see another buffalo, giraffes, impalas, jackals, another brown hyena, a big herd of blue wildebeest, and numerous birds, and all of this while surrounded by amazing scenery.

A leopard tortoise coming to drink from a puddle in the road reminds us to also keep our eyes peeled for the smaller fry. Incidentally, while by now we’ve ticked four of the “big 5” this fellow is our only encounter today with one of the “little 5“.

If you’d like to follow along as we explore the Pilanesberg, a map may come in handy (for a large format version click here)

Nare Link to Rathlogo Hide

If you need to catch up on our drive through the Pilanesberg National Park, you can read all the previous posts here.

To be continued tomorrow.

A day in Pilanesberg: Hour 6

We’re still on a high from our sighting of Rain the cheetah and her cubs when we turn from Nare Link into Sefara Drive in the Pilanesberg National Park, following the road uphill. Before we even crest the rise we become aware of the sound of thundering hooves moving at speed…

Buffaloes!”

The Park’s buffaloes are so seldomly seen that they’re known as the “ghosts of the Pilanesberg”, and any encounter with them is a thrilling treat. Even more so these particular buffaloes, as they are in quite a rush to get away as quickly as possible, allowing only a few photos as they run past us, thankfully without smashing into our vehicle. Was it us who scared them?

As the buffaloes stampede down into the valley, we get back our composure and drive on. We don’t get very far however before Joubert yells out, again, “Lions!” Could it really be our third lion sighting of the morning!?

Indeed, there obscured behind some twigs and branches, are a pride of 5 lions wrestling with a buffalo cow on the ground! Now the stampeding herd of buffaloes we saw half-a-minute ago makes perfect sense!

As the bellowing of the cow dies down, no longer to be heard above the sound of raindrops on the car’s roof, and her feverish kicking stops, it’s clear that the fight is all over. In the excitement it takes a while for me to figure out that if I drive past the scene we’d have a much clearer view of it looking back. Just as the feeding starts one of the younger lionesses gets up and walks off, presumably to collect the pride’s cubs to join the feast. While we wait almost an hour for her to return, she doesn’t, so the cubs must’ve been quite some distance away. In the meantime the sights and sounds of the lions tearing the buffalo cow open and apart is as bone-chilling as you can imagine.

And to think we’re only half-way through our day in the Pilanesberg!

If you’d like to follow along as we explore the Pilanesberg, a map may come in handy (for a large format version click here)

Scene where we saw the buffaloes and lions on Sefara Drive

If you need to catch up on our drive through the Pilanesberg National Park, you can read all the previous posts here.

To be continued tomorrow.

A day in Pilanesberg: Hour 5

We’ve just been commenting on the scarcity of giraffe sightings so far into our day at the Pilanesberg National Park when we find ourselves in the middle of a giraffe roadblock on Tlou Drive.

It takes a bit of patient waiting before the giraffes clear the road for us. We turn off into Tshukudu e Ntsho Road to go and see what Makorwane Dam has in store for us. There’s a huge crocodile and a pod of hippos in the water, but a group of very noisy humans in the hide are spoiling the experience for everyone else and we don’t stick around for longer than necessary to use the ablutions. The view from the bridge over the stream feeding the dam is much more serene.

Back on Tlou Drive and then right on the Nare Link, there’s more wildebeest, red hartebeest and giraffes to see, and then…

“There they are! There they are!” Joubert sees the cheetahs first, some distance away from the road but thankfully out in the open and clearly visible despite the pouring rain. A female cheetah known, fittingly, as “Rain” and her three almost fully-grown cubs. We last saw Rain about 5 years ago, when she was still the only adult female cheetah in the Pilanesberg and already raising a litter of cubs. Since then the Park’s cheetah population has grown considerably, in no small part due to Rain’s success as a mother.

As we are watching the distant cheetahs this very wet black-shouldered kite is keeping an eye on us:

Soppy Black-shouldered Kite

If you’d like to follow along as we explore the Pilanesberg, a map may come in handy (for a large format version click here)

Tlou Drive to Nare Link via Makorwane Hide

If you need to catch up on our drive through the Pilanesberg National Park, you can read all the previous posts here.

To be continued tomorrow.

A day in Pilanesberg: Hour 4

Mankwe Dam, a large man-made impoundment that holds water throughout the year and that’s a veritable magnet for wildlife, is located in the heart of the Pilanesberg National Park. On its banks you’ll find the Mankwe Hide, very popular with photographers and recently rebuilt after being destroyed in a veld fire. That is where we are headed next.

Back in the hide’s parking area this southern masked weaver is enjoying a bath in a small puddle- as if he is too scared to go swimming in the big pool on the other side!

Almost immediately after driving out of the parking area at the hide, we come across a pair of lions – our second lion sighting of the day and less than 200 steps from where we were standing outside our vehicle just a few seconds ago! Luckily, being a mating pair, their attentions are focused on satisfying other base instincts than finding food. Our day just keeps getting better!

Leaving the lions to their honeymoon, we head north along Kgabo Drive and take a left into Tlou. Along the way we add further to our list of birds seen, including this rufous-naped lark singing its lungs out from a prominent perch.

Rufous-naped Lark

Just as we get to the junction of Tlou and Thuthlwa drives we find another brown hyena, walking quite purposefully away from an old elephant carcass with a large chunk of bone in its jaws. We follow alongside until it disappears into a thicket, its destination remaining a mystery to us but we like to think that it is headed to a den with hungry youngsters waiting.

If you’d like to follow along as we explore the Pilanesberg, a map may come in handy (for a large format version click here)

Mankwe Hide to Tlou Drive

If you need to catch up on our drive through the Pilanesberg National Park, you can read all the previous posts here.

To be continued tomorrow.