Our top five game reserves close to Joburg


Big city living offers the convenience of having everything at your finger-tips, and most importantly jobs, but it can get a bit much and as the months drag on and it’s easy to start dreaming of that end of year holiday.

Fortunately, South Africa being what it is, it’s easy to get out of the city to recharge in nature, leaving you invigorated and capable of facing all the challenges still to come. Here are our favourite nature reserve destinations which are within a comfortable driving distance of Pretoria or Johannesburg.

Mabalingwe Nature Reserve, Bela-Bela

The Mabalingwe Nature Reserve┬áis located 38 km west of Bela Bela, about an hour and a half’s drive from Johannesburg. Covering more than 12 000 hectares there are numerous options for accommodation from campsites to BnBs and luxurious chalets.

While it has a great network of easily accessible roads many of the camps also offer game drives to experience the complete big five as well as hippo, giraffe and a whole lot more. Be warned however that the lions are separated in their own enclosed area of the park and do not wander as the other animals do.

Golden Gate Highlands National Park

The Golden Gate National Park is a treasure set in the foothills of the Maluti mountains. Noted for its dusty orange and gold, heavily eroded sandstone cliffs and outcrops the park displays a unique beauty not seen elsewhere.

At three hours drive from Johannesburg, it’s a little further than most of the destinations on the list, but the spectacular hiking more than makes up for the extra time in the car.

While it is not a big five reserve and is rather home to more simple species such as Zebra, Eland, Blesbok and Oribi, the park delivers in terms of cultural attractions and as a hub for San bush art. It is also one of the last homes for the rare Bearded Vulture and a trip to the vulture restaurant is, therefore, a must. Twitchers will also be delighted with the opportunity to see the rare bald ibis which breeds annually in Cathedral Cave.

Marakele National Park

Marataba is a private concession inside the Marakele National Park, this is the Mountain Lodge camp.

The Marakele National Park sits on a transition zone in the Waterberg, between the dryer biomes in the west of the country and the more rainfall sodden east. It is, as such, therefore a great place to see a variety of game, being home to the Big 5, since the reintroduction of Buffalo to the area in 2013.

With only 80kms of road suitable for everyday vehicles, it is advised that you take a 4×4 or book a few good game drives. The drive to get there from Johannesburg takes about 3h20min, so perhaps consider taking a half-day of leave on Friday if you want to get there in time to witness the spectacular sunsets.

Dinokeng Game Reserve

The Dinokeng game reserve offers the big five just 40 minutes drive north of Pretoria and is the perfect place for a lightning visit to the wild. The park offers a self-drive route complete with picnic sites and bird hides, as well as guided game drives & bush walks.

Perhaps one of the more unique experiences on offer is a sunrise hot-air balloon ride over the park and this can be booked regardless of whether you are staying in a campsite, a self-catering chalet or luxury accommodation.


Set in the crater of an extinct volcano the Pilansberg game reserve offers such a wealth of big five game, that sightings are possible around every corner. Offering ten luxury lodges to (Five in Pilanesberg itself and five in Black Rhino Game Reserve) the park comes highly rated among those who love to feel pampered.

In addition to the big five, the park also offers the potential to see cheetah, aardwolf and brown hyena. It has plenty of easily driveable roads and at 2h40min the dedicated day-tripper can easily put this on their bucket list.