Top Game Reserves to Book Near Johannesburg

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

A trip to South Africa wouldn’t be complete without visiting a game reserve. Spot the Big Five while staying at these wilderness lodges – complete with luxurious bedrooms, private plunge pools and top cuisine – just a few hours’ drive from Johannesburg.

1. Aha Makalali Private Game Reserve, for rustic luxury in Limpopo

Lodge

A member of staff prepares a massage table on the terrace at Aha Makalali Private Game Reserve
Courtesy of Aha Makalali Private Game Reserve / Expedia

Located west of the Kruger National Park within 26,000ha (64,247 acres) of bushveld, Aha Makalali Private Game Reserve is an African-styled sanctuary where you can see the Big Five as well as wild dogs and cheetahs on twice-daily game drives. The Main Lodge has 30 comfortable rooms with patios and outdoor showers. Meals here showcase regional African cuisine and are often served in the outdoor boma (a gathering place to eat dinner around a roaring fire) or in the bushveld under the stars.

2. Zulu Camp at Shambala Private Game Reserve, for an intimate stay in Limpopo

Cabin

A rustic guest room at Zulu Camp in Shambala Private Game Reserve
Courtesy of Zulu Camp at Shambala Private Game Reserve / Expedia

Under the gaze of the Waterberg mountains, you will find the 10,000ha (24,711 acres) Shambala Private Game Reserve, home to Zulu Camp. Reflecting traditional Zulu style, the eight honeycomb-shaped chalets are set in the bush amid river streams. The interiors reflect Afro-French provincial style, with fine linen and French armoires. To make your experience extra special, each room has a personal butler on hand to arrange game drives and bush walks, as well as sundowner cruises and picnics.

3. Royal Madikwe Safari Lodge, for a regal retreat in the Madikwe Game Reserve

Lodge

A wooden terrace at Royal Madikwe Safari Lodge with views over the savannah
Courtesy of Royal Madikwe Safari Lodge / Expedia

Tucked away in one of the best game reserves in South Africa, the ultra-luxurious Royal Madikwe has just five suites, including a two-bedroom villa and three-bedroom house. Designed to maximise views of the waterhole and the surrounding bushveld, the suites all have private decks with plunge pools, sunbeds and outdoor showers. Lavish furnishings and earthy decor are complemented by fine linen and subtle splashes of colour. After your game drive, book onto a bushwalk, drumming session or stargazing session.

4. Kaingo Game Reserve, for a traditional suite in Waterberg, Limpopo

Lodge

Minimal yet elegant room at Kaingo Game Reserve
Courtesy of Kaingo Game Reserve / Expedia

Encompassing mountain landscapes, savannahs and valleys, the 22,000ha (54,363m acres) Kaingo Game Reserve lies on the banks of the Mokolo River. Up to 28 guests can sleep in the Kaingo Elephant Lodge, which is reminiscent of a traditional safari camp with its natural stone, thatched-roofs and contemporary nature-inspired interiors. Artworks by acclaimed local artists as well as ancient rock art can be seen around the reserve, which can be explored via game drives, river cruises and nature walks.

5. Mabula Game Lodge, for a family-friendly getaway in Waterberg, Limpopo

Safari Lodge

A stylish swimming pool at Mabula Game Lodge with a waterfall wall at one end
Courtesy of Mabula Game Lodge / Expedia

Mabula Game Reserve is a popular Big Five game reserve in the Waterberg region where you will find Mabula Game Lodge. The comfortable thatched-roof suites are distinctly African with luxurious furnishings and soft, bushveld-inspired colours. Game drives are offered twice a day, in addition to guided bush walks, quad biking, cheetah tracking, horse-back safaris and hot air balloon safaris. For little ones, there is a kid’s club available during peak months, which aims to teach children about the wilderness.

6. Moolmanshoek Private Game Reserve, for horse lovers in Ficksburg

Resort

A small yet cozy room at Moolmanshoek Private Game Reserve
Courtesy of Moolmanshoek Private Game Reserve / Expedia

Looking for an alternative way to see wildlife? At the Moolmanshoek Private Game Reserve, you’ll have the option to spot zebras, wildebeest and springbuck while riding around the valley on horseback as well as on a usual game drive. Adventurous types can even book an overnight camping trip. On return, kick back in one of 14 ensuite bedrooms housed inside a sandstone lodge; some offer views of the Witteberg mountains.

7. Nkomazi Game Reserve, for tent-style luxury in Tjakastad

Lodge, Camping

A luxury tent with a view at Nkomazi Game Reserve
Courtesy of Nkomazi Game Reserve / Expedia

Surrounded by untamed mountains, rivers and grasslands, Nkomazi Game Reserve is home to an abundance of wildlife and birdlife. The Komati Tented Lodge provides you with a true glamping experience on the banks of the Komati River. Here, you’ll find 14 state-of-the-art Out of Africa-style tents, linked by walkways, which blend into the natural landscape. Birding safaris, fly fishing and ancient rock art viewing are just some of the activities available in addition to the game drives.

8. Izintaba Private Game Reserve, for a self-catered cottage in Vaalwater, Limpopo

Cottages

View of a chalet with a terrace at Izintaba Private Game Reserve
Courtesy of Izintaba Private Game Reserve / Expedia

Izintaba Private Game Reserve is a 1,200ha (2,965 acres) malaria-free game farm in the Waterberg bushveld. The reserve has over 40 mammal species but no dangerous animals, so you can hike and cycle safely through the grounds. Book one of six luxurious, fully-equipped, self-catering thatched cottages, which come with a fireplace and patio. Don’t fancy cooking? Breakfast and dinner are also served in the dining room.

9. Ukutula Lodge & Game Reserve, Brits, North-West Province

Lodge

A large, minimal dining area with a view at Ukutula Lodge & Game Reserve
Courtesy of Ukutula Lodge & Game Reserve / Expedia

Within an hour’s drive of Johannesburg and Pretoria, nestled in the lush bushveld, lies Ukutula Lodge & Game Reserve, also known as the “place of quiet”. Accommodation is provided in chalets with fully-equipped kitchens or kitchenettes. The on-site restaurant serves meals too. The reserve has several wildlife and bird species, including feline predators and plains game. Opportunities to view the lions in their natural environment are available at the Lion Bush Deck and Dam.

10. Saragossa Game Reserve

Resort

A neutral room with views of the terrace at Saragossa Game Reserve
Courtesy of Saragossa Game Reserve / Expedia

Saragossa Game Reserve is a malaria-free nature and wildlife retreat on the banks of the Elands River in the picturesque Elands Valley, which is home to many free-roaming wildlife species. There are two types of accommodation – the Saragossa Game Lodge is the original 1920s homestead while The Twin Thorns guesthouse is surrounded by gardens and farmland and reflects the style of the original farmstead. Most of the food served here is cultivated on the reserve.

This is a rewrite of an article originally by Carina Claassens.

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