Feb 2017 marked a return visit to Sun City, except this time my wife and I were going to visit Pilanesberg National Park daily in addition to the normal attractions (Valley of the Waves, spa, golf etc.) – in our eyes the only recipe to heal the “wounds” of everyday work-life is time well spent in the African bush.

The trip started with the alarm clock going off at 4 am on Monday morning as our flight was due to depart Cape Town at 6 am to Lanseria Airport.  Approximately 2 hours later we landed in Lanseria and after collecting our luggage, we quickly picked up our rental car and excitedly started our +- 2-hour journey to Sun City. Upon arrival, we grabbed a quick bite to eat before unpacking the camera gear and heading off to the nearest gate of Pilanesberg National Park as we could not wait to lose ourselves in the magic of the wild bush.

As avid birders, we had great expectations of adding a few lifers (birders keep a list of new bird sightings), the other items on our wishlist were, amongst others – leopard, lion, giraffe, hyena and hippo. As we have never seen a leopard in the wild before, so our hopes were high as there had been a fair amount of sightings the week before our arrival. At this point, I would like to share something we learnt over the years and that is that you must rather enjoy every creature you spot and not just focus on a specific animal/s. If you have limited focus you will not appreciate what nature is sharing with you and will most probably not have an enjoyable time… take it slow and enjoy!

On Day 2 we woke at 4:30 am to rather overcast weather with poor visibility but as planned we were one of the first cars at the gate eagerly waiting for our permit. After entering the park I turned onto one of the loops where we spotted our first lions of the trip, the pride consisted of 5 lionesses and 1 large male! Later in the day, after spotting numerous other game, we found a dam where we enjoyed spending time watching the hippos playing in the water but unfortunately, none of them was providing me with the photo I had hoped for – a hippo showing those amazing canines and incisors whilst “yawning”!

Another early start on Day 3 and we were pleased to see that the weather had cleared up giving way to beautiful golden light just right for photography. After entering the park I decided to try the loop that we saw the lions on the previous morning and we were lucky… we were treated to our best ever lion sighting just 10 m or so from the road…. there were 6 lionesses and 1 solitary male… below photo is of the male before he lazily joined the females in an early morning siesta. What a start to the day… Other highlights included our first ever brown hyena but I, unfortunately, I did not manage to get a photograph as it ducked into the long grass before I even thought of grabbing my camera.

Day 4 was very much a repeat of the previous days in the way of early starts, little did I know that it was going to be one of the birding highlights of the trip. We headed off towards Hippo Loop to see what the hippos were up to when, entering the loop, we were treated to our first ever Goliath Heron sighting. As an added bonus he starting spreading his wings showing the surrounding hippos just how big he can be.

A little later that same morning, I spotted a few Bee-eaters catching insects in mid-air, when I noticed a Bee-eater with different coloured feathers perched in a nearby tree. We managed to sneak (as quietly as one can in a car) up to the bird and thankfully it did not take flight, only to realise that it was another lifer, this time a White-fronted Bee-eater.

As it was nearing the end of our trip we decided to enjoy a sunset in the park, so headed towards the nearest dam to see if we could spot some hippos – we just love the noises they make. I was extremely pleased to find a bloat (commonly referred to as a pod) of hippos, hoping that one of them would just “yawn” for us …. and can you believe it!

Unfortunately, time in the bush was up and we had again missed spotting a leopard… maybe next time! Before heading to Lanseria Airport, my wife and I eagerly counted how many lifers (new bird sightings) we managed to add during the trip… it amounted to 19 new birds. Here are the 14 highlights of our trip:

  • White-fronted Bee-eater
  • African Pied Wagtail
  • Yellow-crowned Bishop
  • Cinnamon-breasted Bunting
  • Cape Bunting
  • Golden-breasted Bunting
  • Red-billed Oxpecker
  • Shaft-tailed Whydah
  • White-winged Widowbird
  • Scaly-feathered Finch
  • Rufous-naped Lark
  • Yellow-billed Stork
  • Crimson-breasted Shrike
  • Goliath Heron

As we exited the resort to make our way to Lanseria Airport and ultimately Cape Town, we looked at each other and smiled, not only because we realised how fortunate we were to experience nature at its best, but also because we had already booked another trip for later this year.

Mark Booysen Photography –