Not all visitors to South Africa are here on an extended holiday, some unfortunately only find themselves in the country on business, with just a few leisure hours to spare. If you are fleetingly in the Johannesburg (or Tshwane) area, there are at least two malaria-free reserves you may wish to consider for a whistle-stop safari excursion from Johannesburg.

Whilst definitely not the same wildlife experience as the iconic Kruger National Park area, nor nearly as relaxing as lengthy sojourn in the bush, a whirlwind safari near Johannesburg will at very least provide you a ‘taste’ of the African wilderness.

Rhino on safari at Marataba Safari Lodge
Just a couple of hours drive from Johannesburg – The Pilansberg  and Marekele National Parks have the Big Five

The Pilanesberg National Park

Set in the crater of a long extinct volcano, roughly two hours north-west of Johannesburg (as well as from Pretoria), Pilanesberg National Park covers an expanse of roughly 58 000 hectares of bushveld.

Although it doesn’t rank among the largest of the Southern African reserves, this well-stocked park has a dramatic landscape and a diverse terrain that supports a remarkably wide variety of plants, birds and wild animals, including the Big Five. Over time, wind and water have carved out spectacular scenery, which presents in the rocky outcrops, open grasslands, and wooded valleys and thickets of the park, all of which are reflected in a large central lake, the Mankwe Dam.

Activities in the reserve include game drives or wildlife safaris, game walks and birding. Pilanesberg also operates spectacular hot-air ballooning safaris over the park.

Should you wish to overnight, accommodation in the Pilanesberg National Park is diverse, with at least nine different lodges across the reserve offering guests higher-end options. There are however alternative accommodations to suit all budgets. Our choice of luxury accommodation in Pilanesberg is Tshukudu Bush Lodge and Ivory Tree Game Lodge (followed by Shepherd’s Tree Game Lodge and Black Rhino Game Lodge).

Set atop a hill, Tshukudu Bush Lodge is a small intimate camp consisting of just six rooms. With glorious views of the surrounding reserve, you best be fit, the lodge itself is accessed by 132 steps!

Sporting a gorgeous feature swimming pool, as well as a bar and boma, and with 63 suites, Ivory Tree Lodge is a bigger lodge, but having mentioned the stairs at Tshukudu, it is slightly easier to access!

Not only is the reserve within an easy two hours drive of Johannesburg, but it also lies adjacent to Sun City, making it extremely convenient for those visitors possibly wishing to combine the two. Pilanesberg promises a thrilling a big game safari near Johannesburg in a malaria-free environment, with various lodgings to choose from.

tshukudu bush lodge
Tshukudu Bush Lodge is a small intimate camp, set on a hilltop in the Pilansberg
Ivory Tree Lodge
Ivory Tree Lodge is a large established four star lodge in the Pilansberg National Park
hot air balloon safari in pilanesberg
With its dramatic landscapes and plentiful wildlife, a wonderful way to see the Pilanesberg is from a hot-air balloon

Marataba Safari Lodge

Just three and a half to four hours drive north of Johannesburg, Marataba Safari Lodge is an exclusive 23 000 hectare private concession within the Big Five Marakele National Park.

Rich valleys of rare yellowwood and cedar trees, five metre high cycads and tree ferns, vast plains, dramatic Waterberg mountains which form the backdrop to the reserve, and the winding rivers of the area that carve through the landscape, make the Marakele National Park, an absolutely breathtaking safari option from Johannesburg. As well as the Big Five, and a plethora of other African wildlife, there is also a wide variety of birds, including the largest colony of endangered Cape vultures in the world, with more than 800 breeding pairs calling the reserve home.

As well as the Big Five, and a plethora of other African wildlife, there is also a wide variety of birds, including the largest colony of endangered Cape vultures in the world, with more than 800 breeding pairs calling the reserve home. Marataba has a large population of leopards, with sightings of these inimitable felines relatively frequent.

This beautiful lodge (owned by the More Family of Lion Sands) features 15 luxury tents, each canvas-and-stone suite tastefully furnished and decorated with a contemporary twist. Interiors are ample, and the attention to detail impeccable. Additional lodge facilities, outstanding food, and excellent service, all harmonise flawlessly; sublime vistas present themselves at every opportunity, from guest suites, lounge, pool loungers, and patches of velvety green grass beneath Acacia trees.

The slightly longer four hour drive from Johannesburg is worth absolutely every minute spent at this reserve, the gorgeous Marataba Safari Lodge is absolutely enchanting, comes highly recommended, and promises to enchant.

marataba safari lodge with incredible landscape backdrop
The dramatic Waterberg mountains form the spectacular backdrop to Marataba Safari Lodge
leopard at marataba safari lodge
Marataba has a large population of leopards. Although elusive, sightings are frequent
marataba safari lodge
Exclusive Marataba Safari Lodge offers guests a five star luxury safari a mere four hours outside of Johannesburg

Wet your appetite with a speedy little safari … and next time plan a little better … bring the entire family for a longer vacation in the glorious Southern Africa bush.