8 Best Big 5 Game Reserves near Johannesburg

Best Big 5 Game Reserves near Johannesburg

Johannesburg may be a modern, fast-paced metropolis, but if you are looking for a change in scenery, you don't have to go too far. The proximity to several Big 5 game reserves makes Johannesburg an attractive starting point for a safari whether you’re a Joburger looking for a weekend getaway in the bush, or you’re a tourist embarking on your first wildlife experience.

Let’s start by differentiating between a game reserve and a game lodge. A game reserve is a protected area for wildlife conservation which focuses on preserving natural habitats and wildlife. A game lodge is an accommodation facility within or near a game reserve which provides lodging, meals, and safari experiences for tourists in proximity to game reserves. Here, I focus on the best Big 5 game reserves near Johannesburg and recommend great game lodges I have stayed at in those game reserves.

1. Madikwe Game Reserve

Best Big 5 Game Reserves near Johannesburg

Lion in Madikwe Game Reserve

Distance from Johannesburg: Approximately 4 hours

Madikwe Game Reserve in the North-West province is the fifth-largest game reserve in South Africa. The 75 000 hectare malaria-free  reserve is located in the North-West province, and borders Botswana. The park is renowned for its conservation efforts and boasts a rich variety of wildlife, including the Big 5, cheetahs, endangered African wild dogs, and more. Accommodation options range from community and eco lodges to ultra- luxurious lodges.

Stay at:

Tau Game Lodge

Jaci’s Lodges

Molori Safari Lodge

Morukuru Family Owner’s House

Madikwe Safari Lodge


2. Welgevonden Game Reserve

The Best Big 5 Game Reserves near Johannesburg

Sunset in Welgevonden Game Reserve

Distance from Johannesburg: Approximately 4 hours

Ensconced within the UNESCO Waterberg Biosphere Reserve in the Limpopo province, Welgevonden Game Reserve is a hidden gem in the Waterberg region of Limpopo, known for its pristine landscapes and luxurious lodges. The reserve is spectacularly beautiful, with rugged mountain terrain, interspersed with winding rivers, deep valleys and gorges, and grassy plains. It is also home to over 50 mammals including the Big Five, and over 300 bird species.

Stay at:

Mhondoro Game Lodge

Tintswalo Family Camp

Clifftop Exclusive Safari Hideaway


3. Pilanesberg National Park

Kwa Maritane

Elephant amid the spectacular scenery in Pilanesberg National Park

Distance from Johannesburg: Approximately 2.5 hours

Nestled in the crater of an ancient volcano, Pilanesberg National Park is a popular game reserve near Sun City in the North-West province. It encompasses a diverse range of ecosystems, from rocky outcrops to open grasslands. Day visits are possible and visitors can explore the park through self-drives, guided game drives, or hot air balloon safaris for a bird's-eye view of the stunning landscape.

Stay at:

Kwa-Maritane Bush Lodge


4. Mabula Game Reserve

The Best Big 5 Game Reserves near Johannesburg

Baby cheetah in Mabula Game Reserve

Distance from Johannesburg: Approximately 2.5 hours

The 12 000 hectare malaria-free Mabula Private Game Reserve is set against the backdrop of the majestic Waterberg Mountains. The reserve is home to the Big Five however the lions are kept in a separate predator section along with their prey.  Guided bush walks, quad biking and horse-back safaris are conducted in the non-predator section.

Stay at:

Safari Plains

Mabula Game Lodge

5. Qwabi Game Reserve

The Best Big 5 Game Reserves near Johannesburg

Lioness in Qwabi Private Game Reserve

Distance from Johannesburg: Approximately 2.5 hours

Like Mabula Game Reserve, the 11 000-hectare malaria-free Qwabi Private Game Reserve is also set against the backdrop of the ancient Waterberg mountains in Limpopo. Here, you will be surrounded by ancient landscapes, spectacular scenery, exciting wildlife and bespoke luxury at the two exclusive lodges.

Stay at

Letamo at Qwabi Private Game Reserve


6. Kruger National Park

Leopard - things to do in Limpopo

Leopard in Kruger National Park

Distance from Johannesburg: Approximately 4.5 hours to the southern gates

While a bit further from Johannesburg, Kruger National Park is a bucket-list destination for any safari enthusiast. The largest national park in South Africa and one of the largest and most famous game reserves in Africa, it is the size of a small country, spanning both Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces.  It is known for its incredible diversity of wildlife sightings and beautiful natural landscapes. The Big Five, cheetah, wild dogs and umpteen more species of wildlife can be seen here. It is also an important birding destination, with over 500 species recorded within the park.

Stay at:

In Kruger National Park

Jock Safari Lodge

Hoyo-Hoyo Safari Lodge 

Greater Kruger

Kapama River Lodge

Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge


7. Marakele National Park

South Africas National Parks - Marakele National Park

Marakele National Park

Distance from Johannesburg: Approximately 4 hours

Also in Limpopo, Marakele National Park is set in a stunning mountain landscape, with scenic drives that offer panoramic views of the surrounding countryside. The park is divided into two sections - a normal game section and a wild Big Five section. The latter is fenced off and accessed via an electronic gate after passing through a tunnel. The Big Five and other species of animals and birds, including endangered Cape vultures, can be found in the park.

8. Dinokeng Game Reserve

Dinokeng Game Reserve

Zebras in Dinokeng Game Reserve

Distance from Johannesburg: Approximately 1 hour

The closest Big 5 game reserve to Johannesburg and the only one in Gauteng, Dinokeng Game Reserve is easily accessible. However, if you have more time, I would recommend one of the other reserves on the list as I found the game-viewing experience here to be mediocre.

See what to expect on a safari.

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The Best Big 5 Game Reserves near Johannesburg


4 comments on “8 Best Big 5 Game Reserves near Johannesburg”

  1. We spent three weeks in the Kruger area in 2009 - and I wish we'd had this information back then, it would have made for a much better trip if we'd known more about the accommodation available.

  2. So wonderful to experience these beautiful animals and the stunning SA scenery. I did a day safari in Pilansberg when I had a few days layover in Jo’burg, I loved it.

  3. Great list! Saving for when I finally visit South Africa. Safari and Cape Town have been on my list for a long time!

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