The North West Province is one of the more easily accessible South Africa safari locations.

Three or four hours after stepping off an international flight in Johannesburg, you can be holding your breath as a lion paces confidently towards you in one of the province’s fabulous national parks or game reserves.

There’s a wide choice of accommodation in most of the province’s parks and reserves and, Madikwe aside, all levels of budgets are catered for. Madikwe Game Reserve is open only to high-end, exclusive tourism though prices are lower than in similar reserves in other parts of South Africa.

Stuart Butler

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Where to begin? When to go? How to plan? So many questions, so little time. That's why we've asked leading South Africa safari expert Stuart Butler to answer your most frequently asked questions in this handy four-part email series.

Madikwe savannah landscape in South Africa

Zebras crossing in Madikwe Game Reserve

North West Province reserves

This part of the country suits all budgets and safari types. In some parks, you can self-drive, camp and search for your own big cat thrills. In others, you can set out on foot with expert rangers for the ultimate up-close and personal moment, and in some of the private game reserves, you can wallow in luxury and a highly exclusive safari experience.

Although some of the parks and reserves here are fairly close to major cities (and the gloriously tacky Sun City — South Africa’s answer to Las Vegas), this is a region of real wilderness where wide-open spaces, big skies, stirring semi-desert scenery and star-spangled night skies are the backdrop to some of southern Africa’s most epic wildlife encounters.

  • North West Province

  • North West Province

  • Pilanesberg National Park

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North West Province wildlife

In this often dry and sunburnt region, life can be tough and this is reflected in the fact that compared to greener and better-watered areas such as Kruger National Park, the density of animals can be lower.

However, here it’s all about quality and not quantity. Most of the star players are resident on these open savannahs and bushveld, including all the Big Five. This is a prime region for Africa’s most lethal but persecuted predator, the wild dog. Elephants and rhino are also big fans of this part of the country but the cats, though present, tend to be a bit harder to find compared to other South African safari zones. Birdlife is impressive throughout the region.

In short, this part of the country suits two types of safari-goer: those short on time who merely need a quick safari hit with near guaranteed sightings of most big mammals and, by contrast, those with plenty of time and a willingness to forgo large numbers of animals in exchange for the adventure of never knowing quite what might be around the next corner.

When to visit

North West Province is a wildlife-watching destination all year round, but do be aware that it can get unbearably hot between November and January. April and May are fabulous months to visit with cooler temperatures and (aside from Easter) generally smaller crowds.

Giraffe close up from Pilanesberg National Park South Africa

Giraffe in Pilanesberg National Park.

From farming to conservation

Most of the parks and reserves in the Waterberg area are made up of former ranching and farming land. When the focus shifted towards safari tourism, most of the reserves set up various conservation and animal reintroduction and restocking programmes.

About the author

Safari in South Africa's North West Province

Stuart Butler

Stuart is an award-winning travel journalist covering safari, trekking and conservation in Africa for the Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, BBC, Bradt Travel Guides, amongst many others. He is the author of Walking With The Maasai, a journey through some of Kenya's lesser-visited Maasai lands.

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