Perfect PilanesbergYou know a game drive isn't going too well when the ranger stops to talk about impala.
Usually you drive straight by, dismissing them as too common to care about. But so far our 5am safari has yielded nothing but trees and empty clearings, and ranger Danie Fourie doesn’t want unhappy guests.
I’m beginning to wonder whether Pilanesberg Game Reserve was a bad choice when Fourie abandons the impala and picks up speed. We’re on the trail of lion, and suddenly the anticipation is electric.
First we’re squinting at seven white dots on a hillside, with Fourie passing around binoculars so we can see they’re actual lions, not just cunningly positioned rocks. Then one stretches and stands, and soon the whole pride is on the move. We’re on the move too, heading them off and parking on the road exactly where they’re going to cross. Our cameras work overtime as the lions swagger nonchalantly right in front of our Land Cruiser.
Before we stop for breakfast we’ve pulled up beside a crush of five snoozing rhino and witnessed the rare sight of a pregnant giraffe. Two spindly legs are beginning to emerge in a process that takes three hours and ends with the baby plunging two meters to the ground. That clears its lungs and gets its heart beating, Fourie explains. The giraffe, poor lady, walks off as elegantly as she can with a baby protruding, seeking privacy behind the trees.
I’ve always dismissed Pilanesberg as a second rate affair. The place to go if you don’t have time for a ‘proper’ safari in the Kruger, and down market in the accommodation stakes, with massive lodges with too many people and an unseemly scrum for the buffet.
Black Rhino Game Lodge dispels those ideas just as easily as Fourie makes impalas sound exciting. It’s a classy 4-star place in the Black Rhino Game Reserve, a private annex in the Pilanesburg’s north-west corner.
I’d chosen it for a trip with my 82-year old mum purely because the shorter journey from Joburg would shake her old bones less than a schlep into more remote territory.
With 18 individual suites it can accommodate about 40 people, yet the friendly and attentive staff knows everyone by name.
In reality, it’s the compact size of Pilanesberg that makes it a winner, as well as the spectacular mountains surrounding it. The big five are here, and it’s large enough to offer a real safari yet small enough to almost guarantee good sightings.
Back at the lodge there are three small swimming pools to chill in, and spacious decks with settees and swinging chairs. Meals are usually buffet style, which is never my favourite, although you can order lunch a la carte if there are less than 20 guests in residence. The dining area looks out onto a waterhole, and there’s free Wi-Fi in the main lodge.
The bedrooms are lovely, with huge double beds, a private verandah, indoor and outdoor showers and a free-standing bath. Everything is decorated in earthy, natural colours and materials, with thatched roofs and beige walls to blend in with the bush.
I hadn’t planned to join every game drive during our stay, but all that fresh air carrying a whiff of adventure in the breeze filled my elderly mum with enthusiasm, and she carefully climbed into the vehicle ahead of me each time.
As we drove along with a pack of wild dogs trotting in front of us, the sun cast its spectacular light across the mountains. The beam on my mother’s face was almost as bright.
Book directly with http://blackrhinogamelodge.com or check out the booking company Bushbreaks.co.zafor great discounted rates and excellent service.