The zebra did a good job of hiding itself, but then we took out our camera&

John Grant

When winter kicks in, the cold has a lasting bite to it, the chill factor in the wind is enough to freeze the proverbial monkey’s… but some of us have to see the animals, because that’s the one big thing that makes Africa the continent to travel to.

This time around it wasn’t a luxury villa or hotel resort we stayed at – Jackie and I went caravanning in the Pilanesberg and picked the coldest weekend this year to go.

The accommodation was 5 star (Gypsy4) and the food was excellent, because we cooked it, along with the sherry to warm the cockles of the heart and a cheeky wine to accompany the food.

When we saw the weather forecast we almost had second thoughts, but the lure of the wild called us, so we packed up the van and off we went. We had booked into the Bakgatla campsite for a two-night stay and were told they had a special on for R150 per night. Along with the park entry fee, that made it less than R500 for the weekend – now that’s what I call value. It’s a good 2½- to 3-hour drive sticking to the speed limits from Joburg and we stopped for lunch at one of the many restaurants en route.

You’ve got to be on your toes for this drive, though, particularly if you’re towing a caravan as the road has some very nasty bumpy parts, which are clearly signposted.

We got a lovely warm welcome from reception and they told us: help yourself to any place you want to park… there is no reservation of spots, it’s first-come first-served. It’s always a good tip to park near the ablutions for the missus and we parked right next to it.

I have been going there for quite a few years now and have noticed that even if the prices per stand go up, there has been no sign of improvement to the sites – but they have done a makeover in the ablutions and they are 10 times better. Mind you, it would have been nice to have a curtain between the shower and the bench where you put your clothes, but sometimes you just have to rough it. Jackie said her bath was lovely... after she had washed it out before climing in to soak.

There were quite a few caravans in for the weekend, but there were also quite a few tents and safari-trailer-tents, so we weren’t the only lunatics to go out in this weather. But with a heater and the electric blanket with a cuddly duvet what more do you want?

The first thing we noticed was how the roads have deteriorated since January.

But to get down to what the whole trip was about – the animals. I must admit I prefer driving around in my own vehicle to one of those open air safari jobs, and even with a blanket over your knees it’s still bloody cold. Yes it’s true what Jackie says, that the drivers/rangers know the park better than we do, as they cover it every day, but I think a lot of it’s a hit or miss and two minutes can mean the difference between seeing it or missing it completely.

We saw elephants quite close and on the corner of one of the roads we were lucky to see five huge rhinos lying down in the afternoon sun catching forty-winks, just beautiful… this is what we came for. Plenty of buck, zebra and wildebeast, the odd giraffe here and there and then you have to keep your eyes pealed, for the bird life is abundant.

They have a booklet for sale at the entrance to the park for R20 and it’s well worth the money – not only the animals and bird life but a short history lesson on how the volcanic crater (which is where the Pilanesberg lies) was formed.

The animals are so used to the cars these days that I’m sure they even start posing for the cameras, as one zebra did for us, almost picture perfect. On one of our trips out we saw a bunch of cars parked off and went to investigate, to find that a mother lion with two cubs had killed a wildebeast and were tucking in.

Mother nature at its most raw… the cubs, however, were more interested in fooling around and were playfully romping with each other.

Plianesberg is still a very special place, but it is sad that there seems to be not enough care about the place…