Friday, October 07, 2011

Pilanesburg, South Africa

At the beginning of each school year, there is a field trip for new teachers to sample the wilds of South Africa: Pilanesburg.

Last year as a new teacher Susan and I were treated to a set up tent, sleeping stuff, and each day a chauffered van to tour the park on a game drive. This year as no longer "newbies", we were on our own. Knowing this we brought our tent and vintage sleeping bags from the states. Vintage? Most sleeping bags today would almost fit in your back pocket. These suckers are the size of Rhode Island and then some.

Pilanesburg from the parks website: Pilanesberg Game Reserve is in the Bojanala Region of the North West Province, adjacent to Sun City. Set in the crater of a long extinct volcano, the Park ranks among the largest of the parks in South Africa (it is in fact the fourth largest park) and covers an area of 55 000 hectare.

The beauty of Pilanesberg is reflected in a large central lake, the Mankwe Dam.

Over time, wind and water have carved a spectacular landscape with rocky outcrops, open grasslands, wooded valleys and thickets.

Pilanesberg National Park accommodates virtually every mammal of southern Africa. Also home to the Big Five.

More About Pilanesburg CLICK HERE

Last year it was as if the park folks planted the big 5 right in our paths. As we entered the park there were two lions walking along a side road right towards our van. The two days ended spectacularly as we witnessed the birthing of a baby giraffe, okay maybe 42% of it. The hind legs and hind quarter were emerging and we ran out of time before the baby giraffe would drop to the ground. Later learned that if the mother giraffe doesn't help the baby get to its feet then the baby won't make it.

The best time to view game is early or late in the day, so up at 5 a.m. to be at the park entrance at opening time of 6 a.m. Each day when we thought we'd be skunked after driving and seeing nothing but springbok, wildebeast, springbok, wildebeast (yawn) all of a sudden there would be a rhino, warthog, elephant around the bend or on the side of a hill. For some reason this year, our sightings were mostly from afar unlike last year where a rhino walked within 2 feet of the van giving us the up close and personal hello.

That was until the last day as we were exiting the park. We turned a corner to find the road blocked by elephants, feeding alongside the edge. All the better was a baby elephant in the shadows of the mom. Good news. Bad news. Good to see a baby. Bad cause Mama be very protective. We had heard stories and seen photos of what an angry elephant can do to a car. Our car was to the rear of the way they were moving....we thunk. Cars on the other side suddenly started driving backwards as the herd moved down the road. Thankfully the gray giants turned left into the brush.

A peaceful two days of game viewing with restful nights under the star filled skies of the southern hemi. Twas a great start to the school year.

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