What comes to mind when you think of Gauteng? A sprawling metropolis with an intricate traffic circulatory system in a perpetual thrombotic state? Or perhaps you think of a bustling multi-cultural hub overflowing with some of the best businessmen, cutting-edge artists, and creative politicians? What about a major wildlife destination? No? Think again…
Apparently the last wild lions disappeared from the region about a century ago, but the good news is: they’re back, along with their four famous sidekicks the elephant, leopard, rhino, and buffalo, and between them they’re putting Gauteng back on the map of Big Five destinations.
An area between Rust de Winter Dam, Hammanskraal and Cullinan have been selected to form part of a three-phase government initiative to create Dinokeng Game Reserve. Phase one, already complete and running smoothly as far as we can tell, consists of roughly 270 land owners and covers 18 500 ha of rehabilitating veld with scenery challenging the likes of Pilanesberg, Kruger and even parts of the Kalahari. It’s encouraging to see that in the biggest game drive areas there’s surprisingly little evidence of the area’s former use.
Driving along one of a number of beautiful two-tracks on Mongena Game Lodge, one of the first places to opt in to the initiative, we were amazed to find ourselves in a proper wildlife area with an authentic game reserve feel. The veld is returning to its former glory and the animals are relaxed and healthy, and if you ignore the occasional glimpse of a pylon and the inevitable fence of a cattle farmer who has opted out, you could almost believe you were somewhere in the Sabi Sands. On just two game drives, complete with ranger and ex-Lowveld tracker, we were treated to not only the full range of general game against a range of beautiful backdrops, but also a pair of fat and happy lionesses and a small group of buffalo in the road.
The best sightings aren’t always the easiest, however. On a drive dedicated exclusively to finding the resident elephant herd, after giving up and stopping for sundowners and gourmet snacks, the entire herd melted out of the bush beside us and made our stay. If we hadn’t already known that we were just forty-five minutes from Pretoria we would never have believed it.
With so many properties to convert or fence off, it’s going to take a fair amount of time before Dinokeng Game Reserve has all its ducks in a row, but if things go according to plan phase three will be a Big Five reserve of 100 000 ha – twice the size of Pilanesberg and the second largest Big Five reserve in South Africa. It’s already a gem though, and we can’t wait to see how it shines after the final polish.
Mongena Game Lodge offers the best opportunities for wildlife photographers. Animal lovers can photograph waterbuck, zebra, blue wildebeest and other general game from open game viewers, while bird lovers can get close to squacco herons, African jacanas and pygmy kingfishers (amongst many other birds) on a late afternoon boat cruise. There are, however, two big drawbacks when it comes to photography. Firstly, some animals, like the lions, wear radio collars, which is off-putting for most serious wildlife photographers. Secondly, some sightings might be close to fence lines, spoiling the natural feel. Nevertheless we were still able to get some spectacular wildlife portraits, especially of waterbuck and blue wildebeest.
If I want to go:
Where? Dinokeng Game Reserve is located approximately 30 km north of Pretoria. Drive on the N1 north and take the Hammanskraal off-ramp and turn right across the highway. Then turn left onto the Rust de Winter road and follow it for three kilometres to the Tau Entrance Gate. There’s also an information centre here.
When? Although you can see animals right throughout the year, Dinokeng looks at its best after the rains (December – April).
Mongena Game Lodge
Catered accommodation in a lush camp with a swimming pool and fabulous restaurant.
Cost: From R700/per/night sharing
Activities: Game drives – R200/adult (lasts ± 2½ hours and includes drinks and snacks)
Boat cruise – R220/adult (lasts ± 2½ hours and includes drinks and snacks)
Contact: Mongena Game Lodge on 012 711 8920 or 076 760 4947
E-mail email@example.com or visit www.mongena.co.za
Camping or self-catering accommodation at very reasonable rates on a lovely property on the edge of the reserve.
Cost: A two-sleeper lodge room from R550/night
Contact: Johan Scholtz on 082 787 7789 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.dinokenglodge.com
TOP TIPS: Although this is the closest many people will ever come to a Sabi Sands experience, don’t expect to see the same amount or quality of sightings you would in a private Lowveld game reserve. Remember that you are only a stone’s throw from Pretoria and that the reserve is still in its infancy. Rather come here to relax and soak up the bushveld energy.
Check out the April 2013 issue of go! (Weg!) Magazine for a feature Dinokeng Game Reserve.
Info about the authors
“Tabby Mittins and Villiers Steyn both studied Nature Conservation and now work as freelance travel writers for South Africa’s top travel and outdoor magazines. The job allows them to combine their passions for travelling, writing and photography as they journey from one wild place to the next, exploring Southern Africa’s most beautiful natural destinations.”
Please visit www.villierssteyn.com and www.visionphotography.com