“Why Africa?” – 9/10 times that’s the first question I get.
My biggest reason for choosing Africa was simply because I wanted to go on game drives and experience for myself this foreign place. How I imagined a safari to be was very much what Pilanesberg National Park offered- a picturesque safari.
“Why Pilanesberg Park and not Kruger? Did you visit other countries in Africa? Aren’t the best safaris in Kenya, Tanzania or Zambia?” are other frequently asked questions.
I think it’s tough to conclude which country has the best safaris and near impossible to say which game park is “the best”. Pilanesberg National Park is 550 km², home to the Big Five and boasts in its diverse wildlife (especially the birds species). The landscape ranges from grasslands, forested valleys, rocky outcrops and large bodies of water. Every park has its uniqueness, pros and cons and don’t forget, your safari experience is all about timing and luck. Timing in terms of the weather, season and just being at the right place at the right time! On our first game drive, 2 lions and 2 lionesses casually made their way towards our jeep and strolled RIGHT BY US (within arms reach)! And that was that. We didn’t see a single lion for the remaining 5 game drives. In the end for us, Pilanesberg was a clearer choice due to several factors such as duration of our trip-we spent 4 days in Cape Town (see post here) and had 4 remaining days at a safari-and the park’s location. Located closer to the Pilanesberg airport, the park is just a convenient 3 hours drive. I think under our circumstances, Pilanesberg was the best choice and we absolutely loved our experience!
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Ivory Tree Game Lodge provides 5 star luxury in the north eastern region of the national park. The service there was impeccable! Every staff we met were friendly, genuine and attentive to your needs.
Main lobby at Ivory Tree Lodge
- Dress warm: In the month of May I wouldn’t hesitate to pack a thicker jacket, a fleece sweater and 1-2 pieces of thermal wear. Our morning game drives started at 6 in the morning and afternoon drives ended at 7 in the evening. The temperature drops drastically and the wind can be bitterly chilling when you’re seated in an open jeep with no windows. It’s no wonder that other experienced safari travellers brought hats, mittens and scarves.
Open jeeps can carry 10 passengers maximum.
Ponchos are provided during summer drivers and blankets in winter.
- Wifi: available only in the lobby area and charges apply. After purchasing wifi, they will give you the password but only one device can be connected at a time.
- Stay moisturized: the safari here is a lot more drier than the Western Cape area so if you have dry skin like me and plan to visit during winter months, lip balm and hand cream will be your new best friends. Unfortunately I forgot my hand cream, face cream and Vaseline for lips.. I found my skin cracking and flaking throughout the trip.
- Bring envelopes! It seems to be a common and polite practice to put the amount inside an envelope.
- Assuming you’ve enjoyed your stay, a day-by-day tip is not necessary. Rather, a pooled tip for the staff is a convenient method which ensures that all servers, housekeepers, porters, etc. are tipped. The pooled tip can be passed to the staff at the lobby when checking out.
- Safari guides are usually tipped separately. After discussing with other experienced safari travellers, we concluded that R50 per game drive for 2 people was a decent starting amount.
- Dine alone or with ranger: I appreciate that our game ranger stayed the same throughout the 4 days. They also try to group you with passengers having similar itinerary as you. We had a few travellers come and go but a mother and daughter remained with us for all our 6 drives. Your ranger will also act as your host and will ask you every evening if you want to eat alone or with the ranger and your fellow passengers. Save a few evenings to have dinner with your ranger. You’ll learn more about the park and its wildlife and get to ask your ranger his/her most memorable animal encounter!
- Mingle with the staff: We especially adored our porter, L, who was always smiling and ready to take us on golf cart rides from our “huts” to the main lobby and back. I highly recommend chatting and getting to know these staff! L is such a talented man, currently speaking at least 6 languages and perfecting his English. He claimed that his English wasn’t good but I was so impressed by his dedication and humility already. Likewise our safari guide who’s only 22 y/o with one year of ranger experience, switched from accounting to tourism 3 years ago and started learning English then. I’m still mind-blown not only because he’s young but because he’s extremely knowledgable about wildlife, its habitat and vegetation AND can translate all this knowledge into English. Props to this young man!
- Which lens to bring?!: I brought all three lens with me but my 45-175mm lens was the most practical one on the game drives and I’d recommend bringing zoom lens over prime lens. When shooting landscape and wildlife, zoom lens give the photographer the flexibility to frame a shot by zooming in and out. Whatever lens or lenses you bring, don’t forget to put down the camera and just embrace the moment.
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So much beauty in this land, Africa, you are beyond words! ♡