Where do you go when nature calls, but you are in Johannesburg and most of the game reserves are quite a distance away, and your budget not agreeing with a weekend away in the bush? This predicament late in June urged us to visit the Rietvlei Nature Reserve in Pretoria to spend some time in nature, including a search for the elusive cheetahs that roam the reserve.
Unlike some of the dedicated nature lovers who venture into the reserve at the break of dawn, we were not that eager to get up early. While the gates to Rietvlei Nature Reserve open at 06:00 (except for Mondays and Wednesdays), we arrived around 10:30. We planned to explore most of this 4 000 hectare reserve’s roads, capture some wildlife photographs along the way, and spend an enjoyable day out in nature in this reserve bordering the Rietvlei Dam.
Shortly after entering the Rietvlei Nature Reserve, a sizable herd of buffalo greeted us. There were older males, females, and even fluffy youngsters, showing why the reserve is one of the best spots to photograph wildlife in Pretoria. My husband had to remind me that we still had plenty of exploring to do and that I could not just take unlimited photos of buffaloes.
We also ran into another member of the Big Five later that morning, obviously dehorned for safety purposes. We saw several other wildlife species, including eland, red hartebeest, zebra, and ostrich. Book a night drive to spot nocturnal species like aardvark, bushpig, aardwolf, brown hyena and serval. Though, several visitors have seen the serval around Otter Bridge during daylight hours in recent months.
Bird watching in Rietvlei Nature Reserve
The Rietvlei Nature Reserve is about so much more than just the wildlife that calls it home. It is also a bird lover’s paradise. I did not make a list of what we saw, but we spotted so many different bird species. The African stone chat males are still some of the most beautiful little birds in the grassland biome. In addition, I saw my first ever Cape Longclaw but did not get a photo.
We heard the call of the African fish eagle but never got to see this magnificent bird. A single pair calls the reserve home, but because the Rietvlei Dam is quite deep, hunting is much more difficult which is why the reserve does not team with fish eagles. Later that afternoon, we also spotted a black-chested snake eagle on top of a tree in the distance, but my camera lens was not long enough to get a decent photo.
What makes bird watching in Rietvlei Nature Reserve even better is that the reserve boasts a variety of bird hides, some of them like Island View and Coots Corner situated right on the Rietvlei Dam. There is also a bird hide overlooking the water at the Marais Dam Picnic Site. The old homestead at Rietvlei Coffee Shop also attracts numerous bird species and we were lucky enough to spot the brightly coloured crimson-breasted shrike here. Note – rather bring your own food to enjoy at the picnic site or in the car while driving as we found Rietvlei Coffee Shop to be expensive for what you get.
We drove many of the roads in the park, but finding the cheetahs was like finding a needle in a haystack. Their colours blend well with the winter colours of the reserve, so even if they lay down a few hundred meters from the road, it would be impossible to see them.
While the cheetahs remained elusive, a day in nature is much more rewarding than a day at home. With the Rietvlei Nature Reserve right at our doorstep, I couldn’t help but wonder why we do not visit this little piece of heaven more often. It is a brilliant place for spotting and photographing wildlife in Pretoria.
What makes the Rietvlei Nature Reserve unique?
The Rietvlei Nature Reserve in Pretoria is an ecosystem worth conserving. They declared the reserve a protected area in 1929 with the City of Tshwane managing Rietvlei today. The reserve consists mainly of wetlands and grassland, one of the most biodiverse biomes in South Africa. Less than 4% of grasslands enjoy formal protection, making Rietvlei Nature Reserve an important conservation area.
Note: Just a few days after our visit on 28 June 2023, conservationists moved four cheetah youngsters from Rietvlei Nature Reserve. This move forms part of the cheetah metapopulation project to ensure genetic diversity within smaller fenced reserves in South Africa. Two males went to Nyosi Nature Reserve in Gqeberha in the Eastern Cape. The other two now call the Tshukudu Game Reserve in Hoedspruit home.
Need to know about Rietvlei
Entrance fee: R71 per adult, R42 for children, and R14 for preschool children. Prices are valid until the end of June 2024. Season tickets are also available.
Where to enter: There are two sections to Rietvlei. The fishing entrance is separate from the park section. Enter the reserve at 14 Game Reserve Avenue, Irene.
Latest time to enter: 16:00 (gates close at 18:00)
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