Part 4: Pilanesburg

The start of our second week we traveled north to Pilanesberg National Park, which is near Rustenburg.  It is one of the largest national parks in South Africa and is encircled by four rings of hills caused by a volcano millions of years ago.  Pilanesberg is a natural eco-system and none of the animals are fed by humans, this was real wildlife, unlike the other parks we visited where the predators were kept in cages.

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Pilanesberg Gate.jpgIt felt like Jurassic Park as we entered a big gate enclosed by high walls of electrified fence.  We stayed at a resort inside the park called the Kwa Maritane Bush Lodge which meant "Place of the Rock."  It was a touch of African paradise with fabulous rooms that had private patios overlooking the game park.  We had early morning wake up calls with chattering monkeys right out our window!

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Mom and James at Resort.jpgWe ate most of our meals at the restaurant in the resort.  We ate up on a balcony overlooking the park enjoying the beautiful picturesque view.  For breakfast our favorite was Africa pancakes, thin simple cakes topped with butter and cinnamon-sugar.

Breakfast overlooking Park.jpgThe resort had a watering hole right outside the fence boundary and the patio where we ate gave us a good view.  There was an underground "bunker" with small slits so you can get right up close to the water to watch any animals.  The way to get there was through a dark and damp cement tunnel that connected to the resort. There was also a TV channel in our rooms with live feed 24 hours a day to watch the animals come and go.

Tunnel walk to Hide.jpgWe spent three days in the park driving around in the Kombi, a large travel van with lots of windows for optimal animal viewing.  It was hours of intense "I Spy" to see who could point out things of interest.  James did amazingly well seeing how we had to keep him buckled in his car seat the whole time because the roads were so rough in places. Grandma even made James a pair of his very own binoculars!

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Throughout the park were ponds and lakes and next to these were "hides."  A hide is basically a hut with small openings to see through.  You can get out of your car at your own risk to enter the electrified walkways to the hides.  These tend to be good places to see animals because they come to the water to drink.

The Hide.jpgBehind Jeff is a hut with the bathrooms.  Notice how they aren't enclosed in electrified fence.  It really is "use at your own risk!"

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James on Safari.jpgThere were a few historical markers throughout the park and it was once again get out at your own risk.  We stopped and took this picture overlooking one of the valleys.  We didn't stay out long because we kept picturing leopards or cheetahs hiding in the trees watching us!

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Most interesting creature we saw: The African Dung Beetle
True to its name, this beetle feeds primarily on poo!  They roll dung into spherical balls then roll it to their home to be buried.  The balls of dung are then used for a food source and a place to lay eggs.  The female usually attaches to the ball and is rolled along by the male.  It was so amazing to see this small beetle, using it's back legs, push this 4" diameter ball across the road!

We saw the most amazing things experiencing wild Africa up close. At the end of our first day we came across a herd of elephants as we were driving out.  There were at least 15 and they were everywhere among the trees just eating and wandering!  We managed to get close to a mother and her baby.  As we left we looked off in the distance and saw two elephants fighting!  They were charging each other with tusks banging and clashing.  It was amazing to see and hear branches breaking as they trampled around charging each other.

We spent the next two days looking for more elephants but they were few and far between.  The park is so HUGE that it's hit or miss what you come across.  We were losing hope of seeing any more elephants but the last day we saw one going down a gully to drink in a creek.  We whipped the van around (as fast as turning a big van on a little dirt road can go) and cut through a different road to get closer.  We sat and waited and soon it came up the hill right towards us! In fact, the elephant just walked slowly down the road and let us follow it for half an hour!  We were so close we could have reached out and touched it!  We were also so close that we soon realized how stinky elephants can be! (Pee-eweee!)

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We saw so many giraffes and zebra and although impressive, after awhile we started to groan hoping to see something else.  We were lucky to see groups of giraffes, apparently that doesn't happen too often.  James was so cute because he didn't really notice any animals until we moved his car seat by the window and then he was pointing out giraffes to us.

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Two Zebra Heads.jpgWe also saw lots of Rhinos.  It was exciting the first time, but like Giraffes, they weren't as novel after a while.  They are like big cows.  They stay in groups of 2 or 3 and graze slowly around the same spot.

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Augusta and Rhion.jpgOne of the funniest things we saw was this cameleon crossing the road. It was amazing that Jeff spotted it as we were bumping along looking for animals.  It was doing this funny breakdance thing as it grooved across the road.  Then we saw it climb into the grass and change color.

Chameleon Dance.jpgThere were so many birds and we talked to quite a few tourists who had come to Africa just to watch the birds.  They didn't care about seeing lions or elephants which was what we wanted to see.  However, we did pause to take pictures of some of the more impressive ones. Below are weaver bird nests which are the most elaborate nests of any birds. Each species has its own form and technique, to the point where experts can identify a species from the shape of its nest. The male bird weaves the nest and uses it as a way to lure a prospective female. Poorly constructed nests fail to impress the female.

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Weaverbird Nests.jpgIn the middle of the park was the Pilanesberg Center which had a restaurant and gift shop.  We were having such a great time looking for animals that we didn't want to drive back to the resort for lunch so we stopped to grab some food.

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Break for Lunch.jpgThe Pilanesberg Center burned down two years ago from a brush fire.  They are still in the process of rebuilding as you can see behind James.  They aren't the most efficient in Africa and we didn't see anyone working until the day it rained and then they started putting on the porch roof.

Running free.jpgWe saw lots of hippos but they were always in the water with their eyes poking out.  Then they would occasionally come up for air.  Every day we tried to see if we could see one out of the water but they usually only come out in the evening to graze. The last day we finally saw one across the lake and it really did resemble a pig.

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Hippo Out of Water.jpgThere were thousands of deer-like creatures traveling in herds all over the park. We called them that because we had a hard time remembering all the different names.  However, we learned the trick to identifying the waterbuck because it looks like they have a toilet seat on their rump.

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Wildebeest in Rain.jpgWe passed another car and they told us they saw a lion.  We raced off to the direction they pointed but when we got there it had already moved on.  However, we did see a brown hyena in the same area.  Hyenas are scavengers who live off the scraps from the kills of large predators.   We felt really lucky to have seen one since they are pretty rare.

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The highlight of the trip came our last day in the park.  We were just about to leave when we saw a group of cars stopped on a road which meant there was something good to see.  We nosed our way in on the action but still couldn't figure out what was going on.  Then we spotted it, a cheetah crouched in the grass just a few yards off the road!

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He was stalking a herd of impala who were standing stiffly alert because they sensed something.  As we watched the cheetah stood and stalked through the grass.  It was just like a National Geographic documentary playing out right outside our window! This was wild Africa and a predator was seeking its kill for survival. The cheetah was very patient and us-- not so much, so after half an hour watching we moved on.

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