Into the wilder wild

Plan of return to Jo’burg projected a vision of visiting wild life park. Pilanesberg appeared to be better choice comparing to Kruger Park I considered first, as the former is in one-day-visit roundtrip distance. Budget of two free days was simply managed: day one – visit Pilanesberg not being eaten, day two – visit a friend living in Pretoria and get braai  eaten.

Such plan was obvious as local attractions were already familiar to me, previously I have seen local nature reserve near by, cradle of human kind, Mandela’s house and Soweto, and some other visit-first places.

Rhino and Lion reserve I visited last time was more like “drive thru ZOO” then park: green fields surrounded with fences separating carnivores from herbivores, sometimes even specific species. With such boundaries visitor can drive roads inside the park and in predator zones must stay inside. Boring. I wished this time I could go for real safari, or micro-safari considering limited time.

South AfricaPilanesberg is 180km away, which is 2-3 hours drive from Johannesburg and getting a car is not a bad choice – rental is cheaper than in EU and even in US, gasoline is 3/4 of EU price. Starting trip before the dawn and  getting back before the night makes 8-9 hours inside the park. And darkness is the key here as crimes level is elevated at night; for example one of the rules I was given was “not to stop on red light” which sounds like violation of traffic rules but actually is about being smart;  red light spot from distance should make you slow down while still moving (hard to approach and open doors in car). If the red light catches by surprise in suspicious area it is better to make sure no it is clear to go and and simply move along. And I applied it as I did not get back before night. And driving at night is not fun as 30km road to Jo’burg border was being rebuilt – no sidewalks, barely marked changes in traffic organization every few hundred meters, and worst of all – infinite crowd of black people in dark clothes walking along the road that is black either :/

Another funny thing was interpretation of traffic law. Inside the city it was as expected, as the traffic is left side (driver on right side as in UK/Australia) then yield to cars on left first. To my surprise outside of town crossroads have all four “stop” signs and this rule does not apply – you use FIFO instead: who comes first to crossroad stops and makes move first, no matter of left-hand precedence! What was even more surprising that on main road between cities, driving straight line with 100km limit, there are crossroad with “stop” signs on it! Yes, it is ridiculous! And the first one I did with full speed realizing seconds after that I should slow down and stop… get used to it quickly or get top insurance policy.

While google brings most logistics answers I either was not convinced by or did not know about some hints, like these:

  • Get bigger car if you can – most of the roads are like offroad for small car (only main roads are made of tarmac, in Pilanesberg roughly 10% of total distance of roads); moreover sitting low limits the view due to bushes and high grass.
  • Driving or observing – driver must focus on the road not to hang the suspension especially in compact car with low clearance; if you drive you cannot look for potential chance to spot something unusual and patient observation is a key. Pair-up for better experience or use guided tour in big trucks.
  • Statistics rules the game – sometimes just sitting and waiting gives more than chasing and hunting: animals will more likely cross your road if you do not move. Also it is good to know where to go, observe cars with Rangers, they know the places of animals’ preferences.
  • Longer is better (not only in bedroom) – I have not seen any predator this time because (a) I  spent just couple hours and (b) I simply could not see them; you need to learn new skills of spotting. Hopefully I was gratified by hordes of elephants, giraffes and antelopes around. If you want see more, just plan to stay longer.
  • Half a day hunting mode? If first time or having less time and more pressure on seeing “big five” then go for Rhino & Lion as it statistically guarantees more likely this to happen.

Pretoria, South AfricaSecond day was lazy but surprising as well. I have visited my friend who was working for the same company some time ago and who is living now with his family in Pretoria. The size of houses in enclaves of white people is stunning – they hire 400 square meter house that is one of … smallest (average is near 800 square meters and 1200m2 happens also frequently). Outdoor swimming pool is also a standard. It was amazing to observe people happy of their change in live. I tasted braai, which is in fact local name for barbecue, but it is a size that differs: I got huge steak, nearly a pound of beef, being told it is regular. That was strategic decision though as the evening turned into night same as wine into whiskey and vodka. Greetings to Basia, Marcin and kids!

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