SANParks Does Good Work
SANParks manages a collective of 19 National Parks which represent the indigenous fauna, flora, varied landscape and cultural heritage of our country. They are set in areas of unrivalled beauty, be it arid, coastal, mountain or bushveld, ranging from world heritage sites to places of natural biodiversity. Each holding the specific purpose of conserving the game, marine ecosystems and vegetation found in their region. It is significant work.
“accessible and affordable”
Nearly all have overnight facilities which vary in style and level of luxury, perfect to make them accessible and affordable. Activities on offer are diverse and include game viewing (guided or self drive), bush walks, canoeing and lessons in conservation.
“lesser known parks worthy of a visit”
The best known park is the Kruger National Park. Proclaimed in 1898, it is the oldest as well as the largest at nearly 2 million. That’s a lot of European countries. As for the most popular, the Kruger Park and Table Mountain National Park are South Africa’s most visited tourist attractions and it’s easy to see why. Yet, this is more about the unsung heros of the SANParks family, the lesser known parks worthy of a visit.
1. Bontebok National Park, Western Cape
“Perfect for a day visit, although it is wonderful to overnight here and watch the Bontebok grazing from your chalet window first thing in the morning.”
Bontebok National Park is the smallest of the SANParks and just gorgeous. Located on the banks of the Breede River just 5km from the town of Swellendam in the Western Cape. This places it within the Cape Floral Kingdom which explains the rich floral offerings. Perfect for a day visit, although it is wonderful to overnight here and watch the Bontebok grazing from your chalet window first thing in the morning.
Accommodation is at Lang Elsie’s Kraal rest camp, the first SANParks rest camp to be built according to a Touching the Earth Lightly ecotourism design. Named after a Khoe-Khoe Chieftain who lived here with her clan in the 18th century. The camp has ten units and provides pristine scenery towards the Langeberg Mountains. There’s also a very good camping site.
The park is home to 200 Bontebok and the formation of this park is known to have saved the species from extinction. Main attractions include other game such as Grey Rhebuck, red Hartebees and many other smaller mammals. Enjoy a drive around the park, bird watching from the viewing decks, or from one of the numerous picnic and braai areas. On my first visit I took one of the walking trails through the aloes and spring flowers, as well as a linger down at the Breede River. If the weather is warm enough, you can swim here or simply enjoy a nap on the sandbank.
2. Mountain Zebra National Park, Eastern Cape
“On my first visit I arrived as the sun was softening on the land. About 5 minutes in a black rhino walked across the road right in front of us.”
Activities in the park include self-drive and guided game viewing on the 70km of mapped out roads. Visit the San-cave paintings or enjoy the two short self-hike trails within the fenced Rest Camp; the Black Eagle Trail of 2.5km is a more challenging climb to the top of the rocky outcrop with spectacular views over the Park while the Imbila Trail 1 km is an easy, flat trail. Also recommended is the guided Cheetah Trekking (see the video at the bottom of the page) which can be booked on arrival, a very special experience which heightens all senses. Day visitors are welcome and there are a couple of good picnic sites in the park where you can stop for lunch.
On my first visit I arrived as the sun was softening on the land. About 5 minutes in, a black rhino walked across the road right in front of us, pausing slightly before running off. A surreal experience and luck of the bush.
3. Golden Gate Highlands National Park, Free State
The Golden Gate Highlands National Park by Jonathan Gill on Flickr
“listen for the call of the baboons through the wind”
Having grown up in the Free State this is a place of my childhood memories. Located in the untouched foothills of the magnificent Maluti Mountains, the Golden Gate Highlands National Park is named from the sun that catches the sandstone cliffs. The most impressive being Brandwag rock, which simply must be climbed.
This 11 600 hectares showcases true highland habitat and provides a safe environment for the black wildebeest, eland, blesbok, oribi, springbok and Burchell’s zebra. Look out for the rare bearded vulture and bald ibis too. Ribbokkop is the highest point in the park and can be hiked to with a guide.
The Golden Gate Hotel offers assorted luxury accommodation and has excellent facilities, their fireplace is a perfect place for cold winter nights. The nearby Glen Reenen Rest Camp has more affordable rondavels and guest cottages and for those wanting to be out in nature there is a good camping site.
Things to do include a visit to the Van Reenen family graveyard, which has some incredible angels on guard. A hike up the Brandwag mountain and visits to the various lookout points. Numerous walking trails and horse riding. Whilst there listen for the call of the baboons through the wind.
4. West Coast National Park, Western Cape
“this place is idyllic”
Perfect for easy day trips from Cape Town specifically to see the spring flowers. Located just inland from the Langebaan Lagoon, the West Coast National Park is home to thousands of seabirds, sheltered islands and untouched beaches. During spring the land turns into a rich tapestry of wild flowers, often scattered with resident antelope.
For accommodation look to Abrahamskraal self catering cottage and the Duinepos chalets, there are even houseboats available for hire. The Geelbek restaurant offers an excellent option for lunch.
Main attractions include flowers season in Postberg between August and September, a visit to Eve’s footprint and walking trails, driving to the 16 mile beach and taking in the various viewpoints across the lagoon. Cycling and mountain biking, whale watching in season, bird watching and the numerous walking trails. Simply put, this place is idyllic.
5. Kgalagadi Gemsbok National Park
“the camp is unfenced and lion and hyena literally pass through at night”
Bordering Botswana and Namibia where the red dunes appear to go on forever, is the spectacular Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park. Coming into existence with the amalgamation of South Africa’s Kalahari Gemsbok National Park and Botswana’s Gemsbok National Park, the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park has an area of over 3,6 million hectares, making it one of the greatest conservation sites in the world.
Best known for its gemsbok, curious meerkats, black-maned Kalahari lions and sociable weavers (who weigh down telephone poles and trees with their giant nests). You may even find a lone camel on the land. Here the sparse vegetation and dry riverbeds provide a dream backdrops for photographers.
There is accommodation in the three main camp rest camps, namely Twee Rivieren Rest Camp, Mata-Mata Rest Camp and Nossob Rest Camp, which offer a combination of chalets and camping facilities. Although I highly suggest the Kalahari Tented Camp which is situated high up on a sand dune that overlooks a waterhole in the ancient dry Auob River. The camp is unfenced and lion and hyena literally pass through at night, adding a different dimension to the experience.
Activities include self-guided game drives as well as guided drives and walks by arrangement. Mostly though, this is a place to reconnect with nature.
Good To Know
- For more info on the various SANParks and where they are, look at www.sanparks.org.
- Learn more about their important Anti-Poaching fund and how you can help.
- Catch a glimpse of the action before deciding which National Park to visit, by checking out their live Webcams.
- All of the parks listed are malaria free.
- Dress warmly during winter and take good walking shoes, a sun hat and sunblock all year round.
- Check out the gate times too, as you don’t want to be caught on the wrong side when the sun goes down.
- Watch where you put your feet, all of these parks have a healthy population of snakes.
- Do bear in mind that not all parks have shops, restaurants or fuel stations. Stock up prior to arriving just in case.
- Best thing you can do for yourself and your family is get a WILDCARD. Wild Card Membership gives you unlimited access to most of the country’s premier conservation areas. Well worth looking into. After all, discounts for South Africans, when did we ever say no to that?
SANParks certainly do continue to meet all expectations with their collection of reserves well kept and proudly managed.
Personally, I’ve made it my mission to visit as many of the SANParks as possible and encourage everybody in our beautiful country to do the same. To date I’m at 15, although there are many I keep going back to.
Check out the video below – Cheetah Trekking in Mountain Zebra National Park – which will offer an idea of how special the experience is.