A Guide to the National Parks of South Africa
There are some incredible destinations in which to enjoy African safaris but nowhere else seems to engender the spirit and the energy of the land more than South Africa.
This diverse country resides at the tip of the spearhead like Southern Peninsula of the continent and remains Africa’s single most visited tourist hot spot. Taking a little time to explore this colourful world, it soon becomes quite apparent why millions of international tourists endeavour to travel here each year. South Africa is a place of incredible beauty and wonder, of rich cultural history and eclectic environments; not to mention one of the densest populations of wildlife in Africa.
When we immediately think about the wildlife of South Africa we might be drawn towards the rugged majesty of Kruger National Park, South Africa’s most famous conservation area. Home to some of the best rhino spotting in Southern Africa as well as the famed ‘Big Five’ including rhinos, lions, leopards, buffalos and elephants; Kruger has been firmly established as a leading light world wildlife preservation.
Away from Kruger though, South Africa actually boasts a fantastic range of alternative and equally compelling areas of natural beauty of biodiversity. Tens of game reserves, national parks and conservancies litter the countryside offering a range of different experiences and encounters.
In the South West, the renowned Garden Route is perhaps better known for its scenic tranquillity than its wild habitation; but there are in fact a wide range of birds, mammals, lizards and insects that call this gleaming strip of coastline home. The Route actually encompasses the acclaimed Tsitsikamma and Wilderness regions as well as the charming township of Knysna. This succession of ecosystems offers a kaleidoscope of colour and vibrancy; Elephants, Cape wild cats, caracals, vervet monkeys and grysbok can all be observed throughout this area and in the nearby waters thrive bottle nose dolphins, several types of whales including killer and humpbacked species and cape fur seals.
A little further along the coast just north of Port Elizabeth is the Addo Elephant Park. The area’s name unsurprisingly relates to the original elephant section of the park which today has actually expanded to encompass a wide variety of ecosystems and wildlife. Addo today is one of the most ambitious parks in South Africa with further plans to expand into a 263,000 hectare mega park and a proposed reclamation of a 120,000 ha marine reserve that includes several small islands and the breeding grounds of cape gannets and African penguins.
Northwest of Port Elizabeth, nestling in the foothills of the Maluti Mountains just north of the free state of Lesotho, the Golden Gate Highlands National Park is a dramatic and diverse landscape. The park’s name is derived from the brilliant shimmering beams of light that reflect off the sheer sandstone cliffs that can be seen throughout the park. Ungulates in particular frequent the area including black wildebeest, eland, blesbok, oribi, springbok and Burchell’s zebra and a vast array of bird species make the park perfect for so-called ‘twitchers’ (bird watchers). A trek to the highest point in the area, Ribbokkop, promises stunning views across the landscape particularly at sunset when beautiful rolling hills are washed burning hues of orange, red and pink.
There are a whole host of different National Parks and conservation areas to be explored in South Africa all offering unique and completely memorable experiences.