The Wildebeest's guide to South Africa

Polokwane Game Reserve

Afrikaans name: Polokwane Wildtuin

Crimson-breasted Shrike

The beautiful Crimson-breasted Shrike

Photo © Steven Herbert

There are not many towns that can brag about having a game reserve, hosting 58 species of mammal, right on their doorstep. Well, Polokwane is one of those towns. The entrance to Polokwane Game Reserve, previously known as Pietersburg Game Reserve, is just a stone throw away from the world class Peter Mokaba stadium, which was built for the 2010 Football World Cup which was hosted by South Africa. The reserve is actually quite easy to find, if you don’t follow your GPS! My GPS led me on an obscure route that was definitely not headed for the entrance. The easiest way to get to the reserve is to take the N1 and take the Silicon (or Silikon) road exit which is right by the sports stadium. Head away from the stadium side of the freeway and you will find the entrance on your right after a few hundred meters. The entry fee is quite affordable, and one has the option to drive, ride or walk on different routes through the reserve. I must commend the Polokwane Municipality on producing a really great information pamphlet for the reserve. This is handed to you at the entrance gate.

As mentioned above the reserve is home to a wide variety of mammals. The reserve was originally established in 1962 and many species of mammals were re-introduced. Some of the mammals that you may see include White Rhino, Giraffe, Gemsbok, Blue Wildebeest, Sable, Tsessebe, Nyala and much more. Polokwane Game Reserve is not well stocked with predators, but Leopard, Caracal and Brown Hyena are recorded from time to time. A full list of the mammals is given below this article. Game viewing can be difficult during the summer months as the grass and other vegetation grows tall and thick. Like Kruger National Park you will probably have more luck during the cooler winter months.

Summer may not be the best time for game viewing, but it definitely is the best time for birders! Over 300 species have been recorded in the reserve. The local special is the Short-clawed Lark. One of my favourite species of birds is the Crimson-breasted Shrike and they are fairly common in Polokwane Game Reserve. Other birds that have been recorded include White-backed Vulture, Secretarybird, Burnt-necked Eremomela, Marico Flycatcher, Barred Wren-warbler, Violet-eared Waxbill and Black-faced Waxbill. Some of the rarer species seen here include Cape Vulture and Pallid Harrier.

Blue Wildebeest

Blue Wildebeest are common in the reserve

Photo © Steven Herbert

One of the main reasons for the existence of Polokwane Game Reserve is that it includes a substantial area of a vegetation habitat known as the Pietersburg Plateau False Grassland. The reserve is the largest example of this habitat. There is no shortage of trees in the reserve, and the pamphlet handed out at the gate lists 68 species of tree and shrub. Trees on the list include several species of Acacias, Mountain Aloe, Common Tree Euphorbia, Kooboo-berry, Red Bushwillow, Marula and Leadwood.

There are two places of historical interest in the reserve. Firstly, if one turns right from Main Road into Njala Drive almost immediately you will see a grave site and a bust up against the small hill on your right. This is the grave site of Jozua François Naudé who was affectionally known as Oom Tom (Uncle Tom). Tom Naudé was acting president of South Africa from 1967 to 1968. The second historical site is located in the far south western corner of the reserve. Here one can see ash mounds that originate from the Iron Age.

Citrus Swallowtail butterflies

Citrus Swallowtails

Photo © Steven Herbert

Polokwane Game Reserve is approximately 3,200 hectares in size. It has a decent network of roads running through it. At the entrance gate you can start the "Main Loop" which covers much of the northern half of the reserve. It will take you at least two hours to complete this loop assuming that you are driving slowly while you look for game. The "Wahlberg’s Loop" circles around within the Main Loop. The southern half of the reserve has more options to take. One can drive quite a long way by following "Njala Drive", "Kukama Road", and "Tshipa South". You then double back on "Tshipa North" and "Tsessebe Drive". These roads seem to be more interesting than Main Loop and are definitely worth a look.

The roads are generally in good condition, but the area is prone to flooding. When there has been heavy rain the reserve may be closed to vehicles although you may still be able to go for a hike. One rule that I find confusing, and this rule applies at a number of South Africa’s game reserves, is that you cannot leave your car, unless it is at a designated spot, yet you can walk in the reserve.

Tortoise crossing the road

A small Tortoise crosses Main Road near the entrance gate

Photo © Steven Herbert

There are two hiking trails in the reserve. They are the Acacia Walking Trail and the White Rhino Hiking Trail. The Acacia Hiking Trail is 4 km long and suitable for a half day walk. The White Rhino Trail is a different option altogether. It is 21 km in length and may be done in either one or two days. Visitors are also allowed to cycle on these trails.

Day visitors can enjoy a picnic or braai at the picnic site near the entrance gate, which is outside the Game Park, or at the Warthog Picnic site which is in the game reserve. Please not that there are no shops so you will need to bring everything with you.

At the entrance to the reserve there a number of self-catering chalets, of different sizes, that are available. There are also 40 stands, with electricity, for caravans and 30 stands for camping. There is also a lot of accommodation available in and around Polokwane.

Mammals of Polokwane Game Reserve

Please note that this is only a guide and, while we have made every effort to be accurate, we can't be held responsible for any errors.

South African Hedgehog

Lesser Bushbaby

Thick-tailed Bushbaby

Vervet Monkey

Scrub Hare

Jameson's Red Rock Rabbit


Greater Cane Rat

Cape Porcupine

Black-backed Jackal

Striped Polecat

Cape Clawless Otter

Large-spotted Genet

Lesser Spotted Genet

Banded Mongoose

Slender Mongoose

Water Mongoose

Dwarf Mongoose

Yellow Mongoose




Antbear / Aardvark

White Rhino

Burchell's Zebra


Bush Pig


Common Duiker




Mountain Reedbuck





Red Hartebeest

Sable Antelope






Blue Wildebeest

Brown Hyena


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