The Top Game Reserves Near Johannesburg, Gauteng

Watch out for lions at the Welgevonden Game Reserve in Limpopo
Watch out for lions at the Welgevonden Game Reserve in Limpopo | © Gunter Nuyts / Alamy Stock Photo

Visiting a game reserve in South Africa and seeing the Big Five (lions, leopards, rhinoceros, elephants and Cape buffalo) is a magical experience. Thankfully, if you’re staying in the capital of the Gauteng province, Johannesburg, you won’t need to go far for that special safari experience. Camera ready? Here are the best game reserves to visit near Joburg.

Cradle Moon Lakeside Game Lodge

Safari Lodge
Map View
Take a kayak onto the lake at Cradle Moon Lakeside Game Lodge
Take a kayak onto the lake at Cradle Moon Lakeside Game Lodge | © Ayodimeji Biobaku / Alamy Stock Photo

Beneath Zwartkop mountain in the 1,500ha (3,707 acres) Cradle Moon Conservancy, this lakeside game lodge is the reincarnation of the Heia Safari Lodge, which was founded in the 1970s. There are 50 secluded rondavels (African-style thatched-roof bungalows), each with two bedrooms, ensuites and a verandah that offers the perfect spot for sundowners. While there’s plenty to do here – from game drives and walks to mountain biking and casual lakeside dining – the highlight is the pristine 32ha (79-acre) lake. It’s home to a hippo family, and you can explore the waters by kayak, canoe, stand-up paddleboard, pedal boat or on a 24-seat pontoon. There’s also the opportunity for fly-fishing.

Krugersdorp Game Reserve

Park, Natural Feature
Map View
South Africa Horseback Safari at Krugersdorp reservation
Go on a South African horseback safari at Krugersdorp reservation | © PhotoStock-Israel / Alamy Stock Photo

Just over 40 minutes from Johannesburg lies this small yet richly diverse game reserve. You can spot zebra, giraffe, antelope, roan, sable, hippo and gemsbok in the vast open grassland, and there are even lions in a separate 100ha (247-acre) enclosure – watch them being fed on Sunday mornings between 10am and 11am. Birders and those with a love of ornithology will enjoy the densely wooded valley that runs through the reserve, which is home to around 200 species of bushveld birds. You can even choose to explore by horseback.

Mafikeng Game Reserve

Natural Feature, Park
Map View
Pair of Giraffe looking towards the camera and standing back to back
The Mafikeng Game Reserve is home to giraffes | © AfriPics.com / Alamy Stock Photo

The Mafikeng Game Reserve isn’t exactly a Big Five reserve, but it does conserve large populations of game, including white rhinos, wildebeests and giraffe within the 4,800ha (11,861 acres). It’s located in the city of Mafikeng, which is approximately a three-and-a-half hour drive from Joburg. Once there, take your pick from two self-catering guest houses, a tented camp and bush camps.

Welgevonden Game Reserve

Natural Feature, Park
Map View
Private luxurious lodge located in Welgevonden Game Reserve, South Africa.
Stay in a private luxurious lodge in Welgevonden Game Reserve | © Gunter Nuyts / Alamy Stock Photo

Welgevonden Private Game Reserve, a popular choice since 1993, sits within the Waterberg District of Limpopo. It is about two-and-a-half hours in the car from Johannesburg and home to more than 50 mammals, including the Big Five, as well as approximately 300 bird species. There’s a restriction on vehicles allowed in the park, so it’s not as saturated as many other reserves, which allows for closer interaction with wildlife. Private vehicles aren’t allowed to self-drive within the reserve, but sunrise, sunset and evening game drives can be booked throughout the park. Accommodation includes everything from self-catering to luxury lodges.

Dinokeng Game Reserve

Natural Feature, Park
Map View
SOUTH AFRICA- Tourists on Safari in the Dinokeng Game Reserve
Get your camera ready when you're on safari in the Dinokeng Game Reserve | © Edwin Remsberg / Alamy Stock Photo

Dinokeng Game Reserve, on the outskirts of Pretoria, about 116km (72mi) from Johannesburg, was the first free-roaming Big Five reserve in Gauteng. It’s said to be malaria-free, plus it’s full of activities for guests, including game drives and hot air ballooning. As for accommodation, the reserve has more then 40 lodges, including self-catering accommodation and more luxurious stays.

Mziki Private Game Reserve

Park, Natural Feature
Map View
Zebra's wildlife animals in park reserve alert for predators late in the day.
Zebra roam the Mziki Private Game Reserve | © Chris Van Lennep / Alamy Stock Photo

Mziki Private Game Reserve, a two-hour drive from Johannesburg, is home to three of the Big Five – elephant, buffalo and rhino – plus more than 50 mammal species and more than 300 bird species. The mini-ranger course is great for keeping kids busy, while barge cruises allow you to experience the bush from a different angle. The best bit about the reserve? The rates include accommodation plus a full breakfast, light lunch, dinner and two activities per person per day.

Mabula Game Lodge

Safari Lodge
South Africa Limpopo Mabula near Warmbaths game park visitors in game drive vehicle looking at a giraffe
Enjoy a close-up encounter with a giraffe at the Mabula Game Reserve | © Eitan Simanor / Alamy Stock Photo

Opt for a luxury game reserve experience at Mabula Game Lodge, a Big Five reserve that’s only two hours north of Johannesburg. The lodge has 47 beautifully decorated rooms, an on-site spa, a curio shop to pick up souvenirs, plus a restaurant with a traditional Boma dining venue, where African dancers entertain. There are numerous ways to explore the reserve including on horseback, quad bikes or in open vehicles.

More info

Madikwe Game Reserve

Hotel, Safari Lodge
Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis) crossing a road in front of a safari vehicle. Madikwe Game Reserve
A giraffe crosses paths with a game drive at the Madikwe Game Reserve | © WILDLIFE GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo

Alongside the Big Five, you’ll have the opportunity to see some 60 mammal species at Madikwe Game Reserve. This reserve, a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Johannesburg, offers a tented-safari camp – Thakadu River Camp – on the banks of the Marico River in the eastern section of the reserve. Expect unspoiled views and top-class accommodation in 12 tented suites, each with a private viewing deck.

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  • Pilansberg National Park

    Park
    Map View
    Zebra in open plain, Pilansberg National Park, South Africa
    A zebra stands in the open plains of Pilansberg National Park | © Gallo Images / Alamy Stock Photo
    Pilansberg National Park, a three-hour drive from Johannesburg, is situated in the transition zone between the Kalahari and Lowveld, making it exceptional for spotting all kinds of wildlife. The ecology of the national park is unlike any other in the country, and almost every animal native to South Africa is found here. The park also has a wide range of accommodation options – from luxury lodges to camping.

    Heia Safari Game Reserve

    Safari Lodge
    Map View
    Entrance of famous Maropeng exhibition centre Cradle of Humankind World Heritage site Gauteng South Africa destinations travel. Image shot 02/2007. Exact date unknown.
    The Unesco-badged Cradle of Humankind sits near the Heia Safari Game Reserve | © Frank Kahts / Alamy Stock Photo

    Drive 40km (25mi) from Johannesburg and you’ll reach Heia Safari Game Reserve, in the foothills of the Swartkop Mountains, near the Cradle of Humankind. Here, you can spot rhino, buffalo, hippo and more than 170 bird species while taking in the scenery on a 90-minute game drive. Back at the hotel, make the most of the pool, breakfast buffets and traditional African meals served in the restaurant.

    Plumari Private Game Reserve

    Park, Natural Feature
    Map View
    The back of a safari vehicle with steps in the Magaliesberg near Johannesburg and Pretoria in South Africa
    The bushveld of the Magaliesberg region is home to the Plumari Private Game Reserve | © Gregory Maassen / Alamy Stock Photo

    Plumari Game Reserve, 80km (50mi) from Johannesburg, in Doornhoek in the Magaliesberg Region, has more than 2,000ha (4,942 acres) of bushveld. Look forward to two game drives a day, where leopards, hippos, white rhino, buffalo and the rich bird life are known to make appearances. This reserve is lauded for luxury – think 48 suites, an on-site spa and breathtaking scenery. Askari Lodge is the perfect accommodation option whether travelling solo or in a group.

    The Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve

    Park, Natural Feature
    Map View
    Lion Panthera leo Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve Johannesburg South Africa
    A lion relaxes at the Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve | © The Africa Image Library / Alamy Stock Photo

    Given the close proximity to Johannesburg, about 43km (27mi) away, the Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve is a popular day trip to take. You’ll be surprised at the amount of wildlife at this relatively small reserve; it’s home to the Big Five, as well as many other endangered species. Feed giraffes at the Neck & Deck Café or visit one of the other five eateries while self-driving through the park. If you fancy staying overnight, the reserve has rustic chalets and lodges.

    Mandi Keighran contributed additional reporting to this article.

    These recommendations were updated on May 7, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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