South Africa: safari with children on Pilanesberg

Elephants look from the lodge

See wild animals, go on safari - this is South Africa. We tried it - in a three-generation holiday.

#Three generations on vacation - South Africa for the family

The sun lowers and colors the grass of the savannah as it can only in Africa. Golden yellow, radiant and full of warmth. The rays are caught in it and bring them briefly to shine again. And the earth underneath appears as if it were wine red. Behind the golden clumps of grass, hills rise as the landscape and the view goes far, until the slopes disappear into the haze. Even as the gaze wanders, it cracks away in the bushes. And then he is suddenly there. Far away and yet close enough that we can follow his movements. An elephant.

He stalks

He comes to the water hole. Lowers his trunk to drink, very slowly and leisurely. He has all the time in the world and he does not have to be afraid of anyone. And then the unbelievable happens: he comes closer. In our direction. The water hole is upstream of our lodge. We are at Pilanesberg in South Africa. Yesterday afternoon we were still at home. Today we are in South Africa, an incredible feeling.

This wide view, directly from the grounds of the Bakubung Lodge.

Not only do I feel like something surreal. I see it in the eyes of the children that they still can not quite grasp where they actually landed. In the rapt glare of her iris, I find my astonishment and my non-comprehension again. But neither my ten-year-old daughter nor my twelve-year-old son have eyes for me, but only for him. The elephant is approaching. So close that we almost only have to reach out to stroke it.

This width.

Fortunately, a thick electric fence ensures that we do not put that thought into action. The fence has moved to our lodge. "Here we are fenced and the animals walk around freely," my daughter sums up my thoughts. I would not be surprised if the elephant immediately lifted its trunk and reached out to us. But he finds a hose, plays with it extensively and pulls away. So there we are. Hardly six hours in Africa and so close to the elephant. A dream came true.

#Pilanesberg: Lodge with elephant look and monkey cinema

I did not seem to have dreamed him alone. Since my Kenya and Tanzania trip many years ago, I had decided to travel to Africa with my children once they were old enough. That's what they should experience once, this nature, this vastness, the wild animals. And above all, these people in their very special way. It was my first trip that made me realize how hurt our Earth is and how great the wonders we find in it, not just scenery and animals, too the warmheartedness of the people.


Apparently, my father had similar associations with Africa, because it was he who made this dream possible. It was he who absolutely wanted to fly to South Africa with his grandchildren to show them this country and this continent and take them on the first long-distance journey of their lives. And it was he, after all, who had planned and worked out the journey, our three-generation holiday. And yes, those are the moments when I think they are worth flying to, messing up our ecological footprint, because it is well considered and something very special. Just luxury that is flying in many ways.

My family on the boardwalk

For two and a half hours I drove the family through the north of Johannesburg to finally be here. Past Sun-City, which I hoped my dad would not get the idea of ​​going to this fun city (he did not come.) To Pilanesberg, to the lodge with the beautiful African name Bakubung. It's a tip from my father - and a good one, because the lodge is beautiful and, above all, not as expensive as others of its kind. The first animal we spot is a capuchin monkey. He greets us already in the parking lot, where it nibbles something and quickly scurries away. The children are enraptured by this fluffy figure with the lanky, long arms and legs. For my daughter is immediately clear: "I buy myself a capuchin monkey cuddly toy."

View from the bus

She had already forgotten that in the next minute, when she sees how we live. The national park starts right behind our terrace. The warthogs come every evening to the fence and hop foraging through the grass. In the morning the red illuminated sky shines into our room. Africa from the picture book and a place from which one really does not want to leave. Even if the swimming pool is too cold, because it is winter in South Africa. But that's just how it is in our summer holidays.

#Game Drive in Pilanesberg

We feel the cold especially in the morning on our first safari. Game Drive, as the expert says. Before that, the doors of the neighboring rooms are already rumbling at half past six and the people are sitting with thick sweaters at breakfast, because at sunrise the first tour into the reserve starts. My son had said, such a game drive as in the Safari Park Hodenhagen: You drive in, sees lions lying around, elephants and giraffes stand decorative in the area and drives out again. He had not expected that finding the animals was not that easy. Above all, not that in the worst case it can also be that we do not even see an animal. His face suddenly becomes long when Walter, our guide, tells us. Nature just. Unpredictable. Unplannable.

That's how Africa has to be

We get on the open safari bus, only two Norwegians are still on tour with us. Time and again, such a safari reminds me of big game hunting, except that today the hunters are armed with cameras instead of guns. Here we go. In the park, the grass is charred in many places. "We do that for one, because the fresh green then grows better. On the other hand, so that tourists like us see the animals better. "Safaris are also an important economic factor in Africa. You may like it or dislike it, but the fact is that not only are the animals better protected again, but also slowly an awareness of the population is established that the animals living in the park might be more valuable than pieces like ivory or rhinoceros horn sold for short-term wealth.

These colors can only be Africa.

We learn that the park was once in the hands of the Bantu tribes, but in 1979 it was converted into a nature reserve. In what is arguably the largest relocation operation in the world, more than 7,000 elephants, lions, cheetahs and other animals such as birds, but also reptiles, were brought from other parks to Pilanesberg to find a new home there. One that once took for granted that they lived there. Until they were just expelled and exterminated. Now they are back. Luckily.

In the evening the animals run across the street.

#Go to giraffes and rhinos

A wildebeest is eating by the wayside. A few minutes later we are at the Kubu dam, a small lake whose trees look surreal on the shore. Ibises perch in the branches, in some cases they also breed. And hippos basking on the other side of the shore. Rhinos, as my daughter learns. And she immediately learns that they are the most dangerous animals in Africa, because when they protect their little ones, for example, they mercilessly use their body weight and strength to defend them.

Resting hippos

Walter is connected by radio with his other guide colleagues and asks oncoming cars always what they have seen. We wrap ourselves in blankets, it's cold, and enjoy the view of the vast landscape, the sun-bleached grass and the terracotta-red earth. That alone I could watch for hours. Something is suddenly moving in the bush. Warthogs (Warthog). A few meters further down in the grass barely visible are large kudu, an African antelope species. They all stay close to each other, graze and move their ears, listening for enemies.


We drive up a hill with scorched earth, suddenly we see it: A rhino with his baby. These are encounters where I could watch for hours, just watch and enjoy the animals. We do that for a long moment, but then Walter wants to continue. The kids are impressed. Not only by sight, but also by the sounds, the crunching under the feet of the animals. My daughter talks diligently to her grandfather while my son and I silently enjoy the scenery. But both children agree on one thing: "We really want to see giraffes!" Not elephants, not rhino or lion, no giraffes are the animals that interest the children the most. But not for long.

Zebras like to show themselves from behind.

Zebras are the next ones crossing our path. Plump zebra rear, a small herd that grazes comfortably. We drive down a hill and suddenly she is there. Right of us. A small herd of giraffes, so close that I almost forget photographing. Anyway, I do not know what is better: you memorize me as images for my memory, be completely in the moment or click, make a click with the camera. For the children, I see that they are sometimes amazed to take pictures. Of course I can not help it and press the trigger. And now I am happy that I have captured these beautiful moments.

The first giraffes in the wild.

This giraffe stretches to better feed the food through the esophagus.

#The big five and the leopards

Unfortunately, we do not see any elephants. But my son learns from Walter that the Big Five exists. And already his collection drive has awakened: "I would like to see all of them, what do we already have?" We already have the rhino. The elephant does not count. While we talk, Walter is already back to the exit. There I see a big cat in the bushes. "Stop," I call, "a big cat."

Our leopard

Only my son still had her in view, but did not know that he was allowed to call. Walter gets restless, sits back and we see a leopard. Perfectly camouflaged between the bushes. He's quite close, but trots off quickly when he notices we're watching him. We are the only ones who see him and watch him pull up the mountain and later sit in a picture book pose on a rock. The young Norwegian, who is sitting in the bus with us, looks at me and calls out to me in exuberance: "I love you." As soon as our bus stops, more and more cars stop and try to catch a glimpse. But as close as he just does not come. After a while Walter continues, finally to the exit.

The desert lynx

But it happens again. I see a big cat, this time on the left side in the bushes and call again: "Stop, a cat." The Norwegians murmur. Walter stops this time, the Norwegians keep the cameras ready and my family also has long necks. Walter hisses in astonishment: "This is a desert lynx, you rarely see it here in the park. I've never seen him before. "We're all alone again, the lynx walks proudly towards our car, crosses the road in front of us and walks a good bit on the asphalt before disappearing into the bushes. What a morning!

shows up again before he disappears.

We'll do two more game drives, see a lioness and cheetahs. And again I call "a cat" because I saw a cheetah in the grass. My father shakes his head: "How did you see him?" Because you can hardly see him. At fenced lookout stations, we see hippos snoozing in the sun from our shelter, watching crocodiles sunbathe, spoonbills and herons. Lots of antelope and kudu, just as we see a whole rhinoceros herd. So many animals. Moments we never forget.

A crocodile

Female Lion: It looks like it's glowing from the inside.

Trappe comes across

Then we try it ourselves and drive with our rental car through the park. I drive. And notice immediately the difference, as we meet the first bus, which parks and in which the inmates shoot strong photos: We are just too deep and can not really see the animals properly. In the bus you have a much better overview of the happenings. Never mind, we enjoy zebras and kudus and drive to the viewpoint on the mountain. There I see a cottage in the bushes. A leopard. Close up in the grass, he crosses the street and disappears somewhere on the surface. A sight that will always be remembered. "And mom has seen him again," says my family. My children call me Catwoman from now on.

Yeah, what a look.

View into the landscape of the Pilanesbergpark

Well, where is the leopard? Our view from the car.

My son now thinks leopards are easy to find, as common as giraffes. When we later tell other safari guests that we have seen two leopards, they break out in delightful tones. He does not care, my son wants to see male lions and especially the buffalo - because of the big five. But we drive to another national park. Later. Until then, we enjoy this beautiful place, where we can watch the capuchin monkeys in the morning at breakfast, how they stub the sugar out of the bags, open it and suck with pleasure. It does not always have to be the Big 5.


Cheetah with child

#Facts and Information Pilanesberg:

The Pilanesberg National Park is 550 km2, larger than a country like Andorra and the fourth largest national park in South Africa. It is located 220 kilometers north of Johannesburg and is due to its altitude malaria-free. The Pilanesberg National Park is located in an old volcanic crater. The best observation time for animals is the winter months (April to September), because the grass is then low. The summer months (October to March) are considered rainy season. In the park you can even drive by car, most roads are so well developed that you do not need SUVs. In 1979, Operation Genesis resettled many large mammals in the area, so that today the Big 5 can be found in the park. Above all, there are many rhinos. Pilanesberg is very close to the amusement and casino city of Sun City. Near the park there are very good shopping, pharmacy, hospital owie gas stations and a little further away also a technology market. In the immediate vicinity of the park is a large mining area, because the region is one of the platinum-richest lands on earth. Especially at night you can see in the distance the winding towers shine.

Tierwelt Pilanesberg: The Big 5 occur on Pilanesberg, ie lion, buffalo, rhino, elephant and leopard. Giraffes and hippos can also be seen as well as the rare African wild lynx (Karakal) or the African wild dog or the wild cat, which is also very shy, as well as the wildcat Serval. More often there is the jackal, the spoon dog or the nocturnal Aardwolf. Crocodiles can be found as well as 15 antelope species. Those who exit the car should not only look for lions and leopards, but also for puffotters and the black mamba. At the hiking area in the Manyane complex there are good opportunities to observe birds. There are over 300 species of birds in the park, including Hornbill, Bustard, Greater Honey Greater, Bee-eater, Stingray, African Lizard or Martial Eagle. Spoonbill and Egret show up as well as Ibis and the gaudy black bird Rotschulter Glanzstar.

Flora Pilanesberg: Among the most striking plants of the park are the acacia trees and the kiwano fruit. Also typical are the aloe marlothii, an aloe species or the red thorn (Red Ivory) and the camphor tree.

Relaxing, the safari on the bus

# Directions Pilanesberg:

The park can be easily reached from Johannesburg, the car ride (much of the highway) takes about 3 hours, some routes are toll, here you should carry cash in small bills. The roads there are well developed, on the trip you should only pay attention to bumpers, the high concrete sleepers in the cities and villages.

# Overnight, prices and child friendliness:

The Bakubung Lodge costs about 150 € per person in a double room in low season, children up to 17 years stay and eat for free. The price includes one game drive per day (takes 3 hours), as well as breakfast and dinner, drinks are extra.

Bakubung Lodge: What a look!

You can find more about our South Africa trip here:

  • Driving in South Africa is not always easy. Here are my tips on how to handle the time in left-hand traffic.
  • We especially liked the Addo-Elefantenpark . He was my personal highlight, nowhere have I ever come so close to the elephant.
  • And here are some tips from other bloggers and me about Cape Town.
  • A township tour, ie a walk through the slums of the country, was oppressive and impressive at the same time. With the children, I found it particularly important. Why? That's what you read here.

This trip to South Africa was supported by my dad. Without which we would never have seen so much. Thank you from the heart for this beautiful time in the three-generation holiday! And anyway!


  1. An incredible story and a unique contribution over a 3 generation vacation. Everything has worked out and your father will be very happy if he sees this post. Of course, the photos are also very successful and the children enjoyed watching the animals without lattices or crates as in the zoo. An experience that you will never forget. You are certainly proud of the grandpa !!!

    • Oh, thank you, dear Manni, for those kind words. Yes, it was something really unique and I also needed some time to blog about it. But there will be more animals and Africa here, so you can look forward to it. And thanks for the praise, it's good. Have a nice weekend!

  2. I'm just a fan of your stories! They read so lively and you can imagine everything figuratively and therefore I like to distribute such a praise !!!!

  3. Hello Andrea, I'm like Manni, I love to read your stories and especially this one with South Africa and the three generation journey I find very nice and an intense memory for your children. Your photos are very well done and I saved the tip with the lodge. I am curious about the continuation of your contributions
    best regards Andrea

    • Dear Andrea, thank you, that makes me very happy! How nice words. Then I am again motivated for my next South Africa stories. Many greetings and thanks

  4. Super nice report, dear Andrea. These are wonderful moments that you will never forget. It is certainly a difference to see the animals live and not "only" in the zoo. Three generations vacation sounds great. There is a really great dad in this world ... LG Simone

    • Dear Simone, I am glad what you write. Yes, it was great, but also exhausting, but I would do it again and again. It's a nice idea that everyone has something to remember for life. And yes, it is a difference to see the animals live because the animals are completely different. Since then, I could (and still can not) endure animals in zoos because it makes such a big difference. Thanks for stopping by. Yes, there is a great dad <3
      Lovely wishes

  5. heather

    Dear Andrea,
    I also read this exciting report with pleasure.
    So we could have this unique trip with your dad and his
    Understand grandchildren
    Great descriptions!

  6. Dear Andrea, I've already been to Pilanesberg. It was a long time ago and I can not remember the name of the lodge anymore. But I was just like your son: I had expected something safari park-moderate - and then was something of a touch - of the animals as well as of the landscape. Your contribution was like a nice memory now - thank you. And best regards, Stefanie

    • Dear Stefanie, oh, I am very happy if I could bring back nice memories. It is a really wonderful place there. Thanks for stopping by and have a very nice evening
      best regards

  7. Wow, just great. Your report really makes you want to Africa. At some point I would like to go to Africa!

    • Dear Katja, I'm glad, but thanks for the praise. Africa is beautiful, a completely different world. I could go right back ...
      best regards

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