Pilansberg revisited…

Lion drinking from a puddle in the road after heavy rain (© Responsible Traveller)

Lion drinking from a puddle in the road after heavy rain (© Responsible Traveller)

The sound of breaking branches intruded into the still night followed by the sounds of a tussle, and then silence… we stood peering into the night, willing our eyes to see through the darkness, and perhaps catch a glimpse of the kill, the scene dripping with anticipation… It seemed an appropriate welcome to the wilds of the Pilanesberg National Park.  That was eight years ago, our boys are teenagers now, and our age is beginning to show… but our sense of anticipation was still there…

Once again Bakabung Bush Lodge was a welcoming oasis on a sweltering summer afternoon.  “People of the Hippo”, as Bakubung is also known as, is built in the shape of a horseshoe, designed such to ensure that guests have optimal views of the African bush and the wandering warthogs, hippo and buck that venture close to the entertainment areas, hotel studio rooms and chalets.

The Pilanesberg National Park is a comfortable two-hour drive from Gauteng, and is located just beyond Sun City in the Pilanesberg National Park. The Pilanesberg National Park is situated in an eroded volcano that is in excess of 1000-million years old, one of the oldest of its kind in the world, its rare rock types and structure make it a distinctive geological feature, rating high amongst the world’s outstanding geological phenomena.

What makes it unique as a game reserve, is that it is the result of perhaps the greatest ever wildlife relocation since Noah’s Ark, thanks to Operation Genesis.

This involved the game fencing of the reserve and the re-introduction of many species – there have been over 6000 animals relocated to Pilanesberg since 1979.  A wide variety of rare and common species exist, including the brown hyena, cheetah and sable antelope, as well as the giraffe, zebra, hippo and crocodile. Bird watching is excellent with over 300 species recorded, some being permanent residents and others migrant visitors. We found the best time for game viewing was early morning, or late afternoon, with the latter being the most productive.

Our first sighting of the ‘big five’ was a group of three white rhino having a leisurely breakfast.  It was wonderful to watch their pre-historic forms in motion, the folds in their skin bearing testimony to their antiquity.  They appeared totally unaware of our presence, but I am certain that had we threatened them in any way their aggression would have been very evident. Sightings of the ‘big five’ are never guaranteed, and any bush experience should be much more than this – Pilansberg is a delightful place to discover a great diversity of wildlife.

Zebra and wildebeest on the plain (© Responsible Traveller)

Zebra and wildebeest on the plain (© Responsible Traveller)

A wide variety of ‘plains’ game were seen daily, some of these being impala, springbok, red hartebeest, kudu, wildebeest, zebra and giraffe.  These were prolific in the areas around the Mankwe Dam, where some time spent at the viewing platform can be very rewarding.  There are good birding opportunities, as well as views across the water to the plains, which are nestled beneath the domed hills that are evidence of the volcanic activity that created them.

There is something invigorating about being caught in a highveld storm… the clouds gathered and the wind was howling, then the dark sky released a deluge of rain – our visibility was almost zero, the windscreen wipers working furiously. Then it stopped, the roads were awash with torrents streaming from the veld, the sky lightened and the sun gradually appeared – the air was crisp and clean, the grass tinged a translucent green. Slowly the animals reappeared, seeming to rejoice in the newness of the afternoon.

The rain seems to encourage all manner of activities; a rhino family enjoying a mud bath, a pair of francolin’s taking their chicks for a walk, and a male lion marking his territory – again and again. We watched him walk along a wet road for approximately two kilometres, pausing at regular intervals to leave his mark, take a drink of water, and then leave his mark once again.

Not only is the Pilanesberg National Park important to its wildlife, it has also had a significant impact on neighbouring communities by stimulating the local and regional economy through which development, job creation and transformation is being achieved. Emerging entrepreneurs are invited to participate in various tourism activities and opportunities.

Bakubung Bush Lodge is part Legacy Hotels and Resorts International, and caters for timeshare as well as conference and vacation guests.  The hotel has seventy-six luxury rooms and sixty-six self-service chalets with a restaurant, swimming pool, TV lounge and bar. It is a popular destination with overseas tourists, and we felt privileged to be able to spend time there once again. Our two-bedroom, six-sleeper chalet was well appointed with all the facilities that you would expect from a lodge of this quality.  Our stay at Bakubung more than met our expectations, and we were impressed with their new environmental initiatives.

The Lodge is part of the Heritage Environmental Management Programme and has been awarded Gold status by the Heritage assessors for the past three years.  The Lodge is currently in contention for Platinum Status. The Bakubung environmental team manage their resources carefully, and it was this attention to detail that resulted in a major water leak being detected early saving a loss of thousands of litres of water.  Water treatment is all biological with the only chemical used being a final dose of chlorine as a precautionary measure before the purified water is pumped into a dam in the reserve where the animals come and drink.

The services of a local garbage collector is used to remove all garbage – this is collected daily and is separated offsite into the different recyclable categories like pig fodder, glass, paper and cardboard. Bakubung is in the process of replacing all light bulbs with LED type fittings where possible, which will have a significant saving of at least 75 percent on light energy requirements. All electric geysers are set to a maximum of sixty degrees centigrade and are controlled by thermostats.

We had anticipated that we would be rewarded with a wonderful bush experience, what we had not realised was that our visit to Bakubung, and the Pilanesberg National Park would leave a much smaller carbon footprint than we had expected.


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