Your guide on where to go on safari near Johannesburg

Your guide on where to go on safari near Johannesburg

Your guide on where to go on safari near Johannesburg

If you are visiting Johannesburg, you are spoilt for choice when it comes to safari destinations. Some visitors assume that Kruger National Park is the obvious and only option, but there is a myriad of reserves and parks to choose from to get your safari fix.

All are unique and special in their own right offering different environments and experiences, and most importantly lots of animals.

Kruger National Park

Time from Johannesburg: 4 – 6 hours
Recommended length of stay: 4 – 5 days
Big five: yes

The crème de la crème of South Africa’s national parks, boasting the big five and many more animals. It has earned its reputation for being one of the foremost safari destinations in the world.

Off road at Sabi Sand Game Reserve in the Greater Kruger


Although some distance from Johannesburg it is hands down worth the effort. It would be difficult to accomplish in a day trip, so I’d recommend staying for at least a few days as there is a lot to take in.

Kruger National Park is enormous, about the size of Wales in fact. It was established in 1898 then under the name Sabie Game Reserve and is known for the sheer diversity of mammals and birdlife. You can opt for an organised game drive, or self-drive yourself around the park.

Kruger is a malaria area, so you should take anti-malarials if you are planning on visiting. (The highest risk months are from November to April. But that doesn’t mean to say malaria can’t be contracted the rest of the year).

A leopard enjoying his dinner


Where to stay: There are some no thrills options to stay inside the park such as chalets and camping, that means you’ll be close to the action. For more luxurious options consider staying in Greater Kruger, home to private reserves such as Londolozi, Sabi Sand and Timbavati. I recently stayed in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve, which was incredible. Find out why you should visit as well here.

Outside the park, there are plenty of options close by. In particular, Hazyview is an excellent base near two Kruger entrance gates with lots of accommodation options to suit any budget.

Top tip: Ensure you check out the Panorama Route near Kruger for some breath-taking scenery and stunning sights such as Blyde River Canyon and God’s Window. Look here for the perfect two-day itinerary for exploring the Panorama Route.

Pilanesberg National Park

Time from Johannesburg: 2 hours
Recommended length of stay: 2 – 3 days
Big five: yes

Elephants cavorting in the water in the midday heat


If you don’t have quite enough time to visit Kruger National Park during your travels another great option is Pilanesberg National Park. It is located a convenient two hours away from Johannesburg and has the added bonus of being malaria free. Therefore, would be a great option for families.

It is a picturesque park in a long extinct volcanic crater. Experience open grassland, thickets, acacias and kopjes in this diverse habitat that is home to a plethora of animals. Rhino and elephant sightings are very common, and you also have a decent chance of seeing some cats.

As well as this swing by Mankwe dam to look for crocodiles, hippos and abundant birdlife.

A beautiful impala lady


You can opt for a self-drive, or if you don’t have a car there are plenty of tour operators that offer trips to the park. A lot of tour operators do one day options, but these can make for quite a long outing. Remember at least four hours of this will be travel time to and from the park. Therefore, if you have time, try and go for at least two days.

Where to stay: There are lots of lodge options within the park to suit varied budgets. Here are some suggestions:

Budget: Manyane Resort, Bakgatla Resort
Mid-range: Black Rhino Lodge, Morokolo Lodge
Luxurious: Lush Safari Lodge, Tshukudu Bush Lodge
For families: Bakubung Bush Lodge, Kwa Maritane Lodge
Outside the park: I would personally recommend African Elegance Tented Lodge.

Madikwe Game Reserve

Time from Johannesburg: 4 hours
Big five: yes
Recommended length of stay: 2 – 3 days

Wild dogs chilling out at Madikwe Game Reserve


Madikwe is the fifth biggest game reserve in South Africa, located near the Botswana border. It is characterised by its eye catching ochre coloured earth, which as you can see makes a great backdrop for wildlife photography.

There is abundant wildlife and the reserve has healthy rhino and elephant populations.

Even more special is that Madikwe is also home to a handful of wild dogs. They are an endangered species, so it is a real treat if you’re lucky enough to see them. Their numbers have been decimated in the wild due to habitat loss, conflict with humans and contracting infectious diseases, such as rabies.

What really stands out about Madikwe is you can get even closer to the action as your ranger can drive off road for specific animal sightings. This is a massive perk and isn’t something you’re able to do in National Parks or in fact most private game reserves. When we visited, we found ourselves tracking two lionesses through the bush as dawn broke and on another occasion went to join two male lions as they enjoyed their evening meal.

Where to stay: Thadaku River Camp
Game drives: Two (morning & evening)
Inclusions: Accommodation, breakfast, three-course lunch, afternoon tea & cake, three-course dinner.

Find out more here.

Dinokeng Reserve

Time from Johannesburg: 1 hour
Recommended length of stay: 1 – 2 days
Big five: yes

A magnificent kudu bull at Dinokeng


Dinokeng is still young in game reserve terms, opening in 2011, with the self-drive route coming into play in 2014. It is Gauteng province’s first free roaming big five game reserve.

Given its proximity to Pretoria and Johannesburg it is a great option if you only have limited time available and want to get out into the great outdoors and see some wildlife either on a self-drive or on an organised game drive.

Look out for all the usual suspects such as wildebeest, kudu, eland, zebra, giraffe, warthog, ostrich, impala and lots more. The big five are a bit trickier to spot here, but you may get lucky. When we were last there, we still had no less than three separate rhino sightings.

One of our three awesome rhino sightings at Dinokeng


A great way to explore the reserve further is by organising a bush walk through Mongena Lodge. This is an opportunity to learn more about the environment and meet some of the smaller animals that live in the bush. You may also want to stop by their Kingfisher Restaurant to have a scenic lunch on the lakeside. In the grounds of Mongena zebra and nyala wander freely, offering great photo opportunities.

Top tip: Pop into Arlington Brewery either for a bite to eat or simply because they serve gin and tonic on tap…

Where to stay: Choose from a variety of lodges or self-catering options inside the reserve.

Read more about Dinokeng Reserve here.

Nkomazi Game Reserve

Distance from Johannesburg: 3 hours 30 mins
Recommended length of stay: 2 days
Big five: yes

A waterbuck in the morning sun


Why visit:

Why not spend a weekend in a luxury tent in the midst of nature?

East of Johannesburg near the Eswatini (formally Swaziland) border lies Nkomazi Game Reserve. It is a picturesque setting characterised by steep mountains and grassy plains interspersed with kopjes, with the Komati river winding its way through.

The tents certainly scream luxury with their spacious out of Africa feel. Enjoy your own private plunge pool on expansive decking, and not to forget your superb outdoor “bush bathroom,” (complete with roll top bath) all while overlooking this beautiful reserve. If you’re looking for a sumptuous weekend away relaxing in seclusion this one is for you.

Your own private plunge pool with a view!


You’ll head out on adventurous safaris over the rugged terrain. The reserve plays host to the big five, although cats, and in particular leopards are not easily spotted. However, what you will find is it is teeming with plains wildlife, from kudu to ostrich, impala, wildebeest, warthog, waterbuck, giraffe and many more.

Your safari experience will finish as you watch the sun dwindle under the horizon sipping on the sundowner of your choice. Afterwards head back to the lodge for a delicious three course meal accompanied by a glass (or two) of wine. Heavenly.

Where to stay: Komati Tented Lodge
Game drives: Two (morning & evening)
Inclusions: Accommodation, breakfast, lunch, three course dinner and local alcohol

Read more about Nkomazi Game Reserve here.

Top tip: On your way to Nkomazi stop off in the charming town of Dullstroom on the Highlands Meander. Spend an afternoon here or even a few days exploring the town and the surrounding countryside. Find out more here.

All images by Claire White

Article originally posted on AcaciaDiaries original article here:

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