Here's a look at the four biggest safari destinations within reach of Joburg plus a primer on Kruger.
Distance from Joburg by car: between five and six hours
Accommodation options: SANParks has more than a dozen rest camps and campsites to choose from that are located inside the Kruger National Park. Rest camps can be booked via the SANParks website and for the most popular camps such as Orpen or Lower Sabie, you should book several months in advance.
Around five hours drive east of Johannesburg, the Kruger National Park (run by SANParks) is one of the best places to experience wildlife in the world; the good news for visitors to South Africa is that Kruger is easily accessible and – with some planning ahead – very affordable to explore. At 19,500 square kilometres (360km north to south, 65km east to west) the park is as big as Slovenia, so it's best to focus on exploring a limited area and not drive long distances. Visitors can drive around freely from sunrise to sunset or visit the park as part of an organised package, where capable rangers offer - highly recommended - drives (morning, day, sunset or night) in open jeeps or trucks. Check out our full guide to visiting Kruger National Park.
Distance from Joburg by car: approximately three hours
Accommodation options: The famous Sun City resort sits right on the edge of the national park. For a more rustic experience try the Bakgatla Resort or the Manyane Resort, both of which are close to the park gates and offer campsites as well as big chalets. The upmarket Bakubung Bush Lodge, run by Legacy Hotels, is located inside the park and has a great waterhole view.
Set in the crater of an extinct volcano and nestled within the ecologically rich transition zone between the dry Kalahari and wetter Lowveld vegetation, is the awe-striking landscape of Pilanesberg National Park. Just under three hours drive away in the North West Province this is the closest National Park to Joburg. The park is very easily accessible for one or two-day scenic game drives and is the best destination if you want to experience the authentic African bush without trekking all the way to Kruger. Pilanesberg is home to not only the Big Five, but also the endangered African wild dog. If you are hoping to see rhino you usually have a good chance to spot them here and there is even a dedicated Black Rhino reserve, situated on the western border, that is unfenced to the rest of the park. We recommend staying for at least one overnight and two days, to fit in a full day's game drive (sunrise to sunset) and to experience the extensive natural beauty and bountiful fauna of the park.
Accommodation options: The riverside platform tents at Marakele National Park (run by SANParks) or the boutique luxury lodges at the private game reserves Welgevonden and Mabula are great options.
The Waterberg region, located in the shadow of the Waterberg Mountain Range in the Limpopo Province of South Africa, stretches for nearly 15,000 remote square kilometres and supports a UNESCO-sanctioned savannah biosphere (one of only two on the continent), a designation awarded for its golden rolling bushveld, as well as for the abundance of rushing rivers, inland lakes, streams and plummeting mountain gorges within its boundaries (Waterberg means "water mountain" after all). The remoteness of the region and its untouched natural beauty make it the ideal destination for visitors seeking a more rugged safari experience with reverential views. There are numerous private Big Five game reserves and parks located within the Waterberg region for visitors to choose from, including Marakele National Park, the Nylsvley Wetlands (where the greatest variety of water-birds in South Africa are concentrated), the Welgevonden Game Reserve, the Mabula Game Reserve and the Lapalala Wilderness Game Reserve.
Distance from Joburg by car: four and a half hours
Accommodation options: The sky's the limit at Madikwe with some of South Africa's most luxurious lodges. The very atmospheric Mosetlha Bush Camp & Eco Lodge is the cheapest accommodation available inside the park. See madikwegamereserve.co.za for a guide to all accommodation options.
At nearly 700 square kilometres, the Madikwe Game Reserve situated against the Botswana border, is the fifth-largest private game reserve in South Africa, known for its intimate and luxury safari experiences. Access to Madikwe is only allowed for those with accommodation booked inside the park and no day visitors are allowed, making game drives led by experienced rangers feel particularly exclusive without the usual traffic and crowds. The park exclusively offers four and five star luxury lodges for discerning guests who are seeking that classic safari experience. The endangered African wild dog lives in Madikwe, an extra special sighting on any game drive, as well as all the Big Five.
Distance from Joburg: 1.5 hours
Accommodation options: There are dozens of accommodation options to choose from ranging from camping to bed and breakfasts, conferencing venues and rustic self-catering lodges. See dinokengreserve.co.za for a guide to all overnight options.
Gauteng province, of which Joburg is part, is home to a free-roaming Big Five reserve called Dinokeng Game Reserve, situated on the eastern fringes of Pretoria, a quick and easy day trip for Joburg visitors who are strapped for time. Apart from the Big Five, Dinokeng also boasts cheetah, brown hyena, zebra and giraffe and is a malaria-free zone, so its brilliantly suited to young families. The huge range of accommodation options at Dinokeng means that travellers wishing to stay overnight will have options to chose from at convenient price points. In addition to the game reserve, the area encompasses a fantastic mix of historic and heritage attractions, such as the Roodeplaat Dam and the historic town of Cullinan, where the world's biggest diamond was discovered.