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South African National Parks

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Travel Guide Africa South Africa South African National Parks

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Introduction

Springbok detail

Springbok detail

© All Rights Reserved Utrecht

If there is one country in Africa, where you can easily travel around yourself and combine excellent safaris with beautiful nature, and good service, infrastructure, accommodation and food and drinks, it is South Africa. On top of that, it has one of the best range of national parks and most of them fall under the South African National Parks Service (Sanparks), which offers well maintained parks and on top of that offers a wide range of accommodation in almost all their parks. It also has a so-called Wild Card, which is especially efficient and cost effective if you are planning on doing a lot of exploring in their parks. Note that some of the parks listed below don't fall under the Sanparks service, but are called National Park (or Reserve) as well.

Purchasing a Wild Card

Cheetah: a beautiful creature!

Cheetah: a beautiful creature!

© All Rights Reserved Utrecht


If you are a nature and wildlife enthusiast and you want to visit many parks during your stay, you might consider buying a Wild Card which enables you to unlimited visits of all of the South African National Parks and many others as well, including the Cape parks, Swaziland parks and Kwazulu Natal parks. There are also possibilities to buy 'cluster' cards, for example only the arid parks in the northwest or the parks in Kwazulu-Natal. The card is available for adults/couples/families and is valid for one year after purchasing the card. Especially when you are planning an extensive stay in on of the larger and more expensive parks like Kruger or Kgalagadi, it pays to get one as a 5-6 day stay is already more expensive when paying the per day rate. Wild Cards can be bought online, but also at the entry gates of all the joining parks as well as the park camps if present.

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Addo Elephant National Park

Elephant mother and her young, Addo

Elephant mother and her young, Addo

© All Rights Reserved Utrecht

Addo Elephant National Park is located in the south of the country, close to Port Elizabeth. Although the park is famous for its elephants, there are many more animals here and species include buffalo, the endangered black rhino, antelope species and lion and spotted hyena are here in small numbers as well. The park is about to be called Greater Addo Elephant National Park as it has been expanded to include several islands and marine wildlife, including African penguins! And whales and great white sharks are in those waters as well and as a consequence the park is promoted as the only park to see the Big 7, which includes the famous Big 5 (elephant, rhino, lion, buffalo and leopard) and the whale and great white shark as mentioned above. A truly unique park which is a very easy to visit and located in a malariafree area. Check Sanparks' Addo Elephant National Park website for more information about getting and staying here.

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Agulhas National Park

Agulhas National Park is in the Western Cape of South Africa. Agulhas National Park is located on the southernmost tip of Africa where the Atlantic and Indian oceans meet. The park forms part of the Cape Floral Kingdom UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park was proclaimed in March 1999, but it will take a number of years in order to acquire and consolidate all the land that is to form the complete park.

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Ai-Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park

Ai-Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park straddles the border between Namibia and South Africa. The immense Ai-Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park was formed when the Richtersveld National Park in South Africa was joined with the |Ai-|Ais Hot Springs Game Park in Namibia. It contains the Fish River Canyon Park. The South African part is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

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Augrabies Falls National Park

Augrabies Falls

Augrabies Falls

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Augrabies Falls National Park is in the Northern Cape province of South Africa. Augrabies Falls National Park is a national park located around its main attraction, the Augrabies Falls, about 120 kilometres west of Upington. The park covers an area of 820 km² and stretches along the Orange River. The area is very arid. The waterfall is about 60 metres high and is awe-inspiring when the river is in flood. The gorge below the falls averages about 240 metres deep and runs for 18 kilometres. The gorge provides an impressive example of erosion into a granitic basement.
Established in 1966, the original Khoikhoi people named the waterfall Ankoerebis, meaning the "place of big noises". The Trekboers who later settled in the area derived the name Augrabies. The name is sometimes spelt Aughrabies.

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Bontebok National Park

Bontebok National Park is a species-specific national park in South Africa. It was established in 1931 to ensure the preservation of the Bontebok. It is the smallest of South Africa's 20 National Parks, covering an area of 27.86 km2. The park is located 6 kilometres south of Swellendam, in the foothills of the Langeberg Mountains. It is bordered to the south by the Breede River. There are around 300 Bontebok in the park. Before the park was founded, only 17 of this species remained alive, due to excessive hunting. Today around 3,000 individuals form the world population, of which ten percent can be seen here. There are also a number of Mountain Zebra, Red Hartebeest, and smaller antelopes. The park also has a variety of birdlife, with more than 200 recorded species. The Bontebok National Park is located within the Cape Floral Kingdom (fynbos), the smallest of the six worldwide kingdoms, but the one with the highest number of different species.

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Golden Gate Highlands National Park

Golden Gate Highlands National Park is located in Free State, South Africa, near the Lesotho border. It covers an area of 340 km2. The park's most notable features are its golden, ochre, and orange-hued deeply eroded sandstone cliffs and outcrops, especially the Brandwag rock. Another feature of the area is the numerous caves and shelters displaying San rock paintings. Wildlife featured at the park includes mongooses, eland, zebras, and over 100 bird species. It is the Free State's only national park, and is more famous for the beauty of its landscape than for its wildlife. Numerous paleontology finds have been made in the park including dinosaur eggs and skeletons.

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Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve

Impala

Impala

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Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve is located in the east of the country, in KwaZulu Natal, north of Durban. The park is around 96,000 ha big and is the oldest national park in Africa and the only one in KwaZulu where you can see the Big Five. Apart from these (lion, rhino, elephant, leopard and buffalo) you can see crocodile, hippo, cheetah, hyena, wildebeest, jackal, giraffe, zebra, waterbuck, nyala, eland, kudu, impala, duiker, suni, reedbuck, warthog, bushpig, mongoose, baboons, monkeys and wide varieties of birds, over 300! All this can be done by your own car, tours and even boat tours and walking safaris are a possibility. For more information about getting and staying here have a look at the official Hluhluwe Umfolozi National Park website.

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iSimangaliso Wetland Park

The iSimangaliso Wetland Park is a park in the South African province of Kwazulu-Natal. It is the country's third largest protected area, covering 3,300 square kilometres of natural habitat. The park was previously known as the Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park, but was renamed effective 1 November 2007. The word isimangaliso means "a miracle" or "something wondrous" in Zulu. The name came as a result of Shaka's subject having been sent to the land of the Tsonga. When he came back he described the beauty that he saw as a miracle. The park is due to be integrated into atransfrontier park, the Ponta do Ouro-Kosi Bay Transfrontier Conservation Area, straddling South Africa, Mozambique, and Swaziland. This is in turn planned to become a part of the greater Greater Lubombo Transfrontier Conservation Area.

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Karoo National Park

Karoo National Park, founded in 1979, is a wildlife reserve in the Great Karoo area of the Western Cape, South Africa near Beaufort West. This semi-desert area covers an area of 750 square kilometres. The Nuweveld portion of the Great Escarpment runs through the park. It is therefore partly in the Lower Karoo, at about 850 metres above sea level, and partly in the Upper Karoo at over 1,300 metres altitude. The Karoo National Park is a sanctuary for herds of springbok, gemsbok (or Oryx), Cape mountain zebra, buffalo, red hartebeest, black rhinoceros, eland, kudu, klipspringer, bat-eared foxes, black-backed jackal, ostriches, and, since fairly recently, lions. It also has the greatest number of tortoise species of any park in the world - five in total. The endangered riverine rabbit has been successfully resettled here. A large number of Verreaux's eagles have nests on the cliffs of the Escarpment. Martial eagles, booted eagles and the shy Cape eagle-owl are other raptors that can be seen in the Park. A wide variety of smaller birds occur in abundance, making the Park a birder’s paradise. The park has also been populated with Rau Quagga which are Plains or Burchell's zebras that have been back-bred to resemble the quaggas that roamed the karoo in great profusion until the middle of the 1800s, when they were hunted to extinction. The last quagga died in Amsterdam Zoo on 12 August 1883.

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Kruger National Park

Ellie

Ellie

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Kruger National Park is the largest of all of South Africa's game parks with around 19,000 square kilometres to explore. The park is located in the northeast of the country in both the provinces of Mpumalanga and Limpopo, at the borders with Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Recently the park has become part of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, a peace-park consisting of Kruger National Park, Gonarezhou National Park (Zimbabwe) and Limpopo National Park (Mozambique). It is the most visited of all national parks in South Africa and can become very busy during the South African holiday periods. Also, some of the roads are tarred, which makes this park one of the best to visit when you just have a small 2wd vehicle. More about Kruger National Park or visit the official Kruger Park website.

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Madikwe Game Reserve

African Wild Dogs meet White Rhino

African Wild Dogs meet White Rhino

© All Rights Reserved Utrecht

The Madikwe Game Reserve is an off the beaten track park in the central north of the country. In the north the border of the park forms the border with Botswana. Despite the fact that it might not be known to the general public, it is the 5th largest park in South Africa and is regarded as one of the better conservation areas in Africa. It offers all the major species, including lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo, both white and black rhino (Big Five) along with almost all the regular antelope species on these plains. The park can be reached by a short drive from Pilanesberg National Park (see above) via a good gravel road. You can also take a longer route along tarmac roads, approaching the park from the south instead of the east. From Johannesburg and Pretoria it is roughly a 4-hour drive. It is quite a luxurious place to stay and you need to arrange accommodation before you arrive (you can not drive in the park yourself!). These usually include fullboard and a couple of game drives and sometimes a minimum stay of 2 nights is required (which is actually the minimum to enjoy a stay anyway). There is only one relatively affordable accommodation but prices are already around $200 a night! For more information check the official Madikwe Game Reserve website.

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Mapungubwe National Park

Mapungubwe National Park is a national park in Limpopo Province, South Africa. It is located by the Kolope River, south of the confluence of the Limpopo and Shashe rivers and about 15 kilometres to the NE of the Venetia Diamond Mine. It abuts on the border with Botswana and Zimbabwe, and forms part of the Greater Mapungubwe Transfrontier Conservation Area. It was established in 1995 and covers an area of over 28,000 hectares. The park protects the historical site of Mapungubwe Hill, which was the capital of the Kingdom of Mapungubwe, as well as the wildlife and riverine forests along the Limpopo River. The Mapungubwe Hill was the site of a community dating back to the Iron Age. Evidences have shown that it was a prosperous community. Archaeologists also uncovered the famous golden rhino figurine from the site. It is one of the few places in Africa that has both meerkats and Nile crocodiles. Mapungubwe National Park is renowned for its scenic landscape. Unique sandstone formations, woodlands, riverine forest and baobab trees combine to give it a fascinating look. In the 21st century Mapungubwe has been embraced as a site of significance by South Africans and the international community. The Mapungubwe National Park was declared in 1998. The Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape (MCL) was declared as a National Heritage Site in 2001 and it was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2003.

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Marakele National Park

Marakele National Park is a national park that is part of the Waterberg Biosphere in Limpopo Province, South Africa. The park is dominated by the Waterberg mountains with lush bushveld in the lower regions of the park. Marakele is home to the big five (buffalo did not exist in the park, but 20 disease-free buffalo (nine cows and eleven bulls) were re-introduced on 15 October 2013) as well as sixteen species of antelopes and over 250 species of birds, including the largest colony of Cape griffon vultures in the world (around 800 breeding pairs). The Matlabas River runs through the park.

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Namaqua National Park

Namaqua National Park is a South African national park situated approximately 495 kilometres north of Cape Town and 22 kilometres northwest of Kamieskroon. It has an area of more than 700 km2. The park is part of Namaqualand, an area covering 55,000 km2 located within the semi-desert Succulent Karoo biome. This biome is a biodiversity hotspot with the largest concentration of succulent plants in the world. The park also has an arid environment with succulent plants. The park was created to protect its flowers. During the spring, wildflowers bloom there in a spectacular fashion. The park's main tourist attraction is this abundant spring bloom of brightly coloured wildflowers.

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Pilanesberg National Park

Pilanesberg Park Elephant

Pilanesberg Park Elephant

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The relatively small Pilanesberg National Park (around 580 square kilometres) is located just a few hours of driving northwest from Johannesburg and Pretoria near Sun City and despite the fact that it is small, there are huge numbers of animals. It is a park which is somehow undervalued but for no apparent reason. The park is centred around a crater of a long extinct volcano and Pilanesberg is one of the largest volcanic complexes of its kind in the world, with rare rock types and structures making it a unique geological landmark. The park has enormous numbers of both birds and mammals, and although for some mammals this wouldn't have been their national habitat, numbers have been introduced here in the 1970's and have been growing ever since. Lions, elephants, white and black rhinos, buffaloes, leopards, zebras, hyenas, giraffes, hippos and crocodiles are all present, but not in the numbers you would find in Kruger National Park. On the other hand, you can visit most of the park in 1 or 2 days, so densities are almost comparable. Have a look at the official Pilanesberg Game Reserve website for more information.

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Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park

Leopard in Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

Leopard in Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

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The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is located in the arid northwest of the country and is actually comprising two adjoining national parks, namely the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park in South Africa and Gemsbok National Park in Botswana. The part in South Africa is more easily accessible than the park in Botswana and although technically you don't really need a 4wd vehicle, still it is better and gives you the opportunity to visit some more remote parts where several off the self catering wilderness camps are located. The park is located in the southern reaches of the Kalahari desert and red sand dunes with some sparse vegetation is the main vegetation here. Much of the wildlife can be found along the dry riverbeds of the Nossob and Auob rivers and the main gravelroads run along these riverbeds. Animals which you are likely to see are predators like black-maned Kalahari lions, cheetahs, leopards, and hyenas, hunting for animals like oryx, springbok and wildebeest. From December to February it can get extremely hot here, with temperatures well over 40 °C. Access is from the towns of Upington and Kuruman towards the main gate at Twee Rivieren (meaning Two Rivers). Check Sanparks' Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park website for more information. It's advised to book well in advance as accommodation quickly fills up and there are few possibilities of staying outside the park.

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Mountain Zebra National Park

Moutain Zebra NP

Moutain Zebra NP

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The Mountain Zebra National Park is another park in the East Cape Province, just like Addo Elephant NP, and therefore makes for a good combination to visit this park as well. Although it is much smaller, it is especially made a national park to preserve the endangered Mountain Zebra, a subspecies of the common zebra. Apart from zebra, you are likely to see many other mammals within the park like caracal, buffalo, black rhino, eland, black wildebeest, red hartebeest, gemsbok and grey rhebok. Have a look at Sanparks' Moutain Zebra National Park website for more detailed information.

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Royal Natal National Park

The Royal Natal National Park is in the KwaZulu Natal province of South Africa and forms part of the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site. Notwithstanding the name, it is actually not a South African National Park managed by the SANParks, but rather a Provincial Park managed by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife. The park will be included into the Maloti-Drakensberg Transfrontier Conservation Area Peace Park. The main features of the park are the Drakensberg Amphitheatre, a rock wall 5 kilometres long by up to 1,200 metres high, Mont-Aux-Sources peak where the Orange and Tugela rivers have their source, and the 948-metre Tugela Falls, the world's second-highest waterfall. The best time to visit is in late summer (March to May) when all the rivers are full, the air is crystal clear and vegetation is lush and green.

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Table Mountain National Park

Cape Town

Cape Town

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Table Mountain National Park is located in and near Cape Town, South Africa and was established in 1998, for the purpose of protecting the natural environment of the Table Mountain Chain, and in particular the rare fynbos vegetation. The most famous feature of course is the Table Mountain itself: like the 1,000 or so geysers on the world which are named after the Icelandic Geysir, Cape Town's Table Mountain is the grandfather of all table mountains in the world. It towers above the city, while Devil's Peak and Lion's Head tower above the mountain itself. The flat top is about 3 kilometres wide and offers tremendous views over the city and the ocean. There are only small differences in height on this flat, with the cable car station only 19 metres lower than the highest point. Although in 2 to 3 hours you are able to climb (walk) up to the top, the Table Mountain Cableway takes passengers up and down the mountain, ascending over 700 metres from Table Mountain Road.

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Tsitsikamma National Park

Tsitsikamma National Park is a protected area on the Garden Route, Western Cape and Eastern Cape, South Africa. It is a coastal reserve well known for its indigenous forests, dramatic coastline, and the Otter Trail. On 6 March 2009 it was amalgamated with the Wilderness National Park and various other areas of land to form the Garden Route National Park. The park covers an 80 kilometres long stretch of coastline. Nature's Valley is at the western end of the park, and the main accommodation is at Storms River Mouth. Near the park is the Bloukrans Bridge, the world's highest bridge bungee jump at 216 metres. The word "Tsitsikamma" hails from the Khoekhoe language tse-tsesa, meaning "clear", and gami, meaning "water", probably referring to the clear water of the Tsitsikamma River. Other meanings are 'place of much water' and 'waters begin'.

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Wilderness National Park

Wilderness National Park, also called the Wilderness Section, is located around the seaside town of Wilderness between the larger towns of George and Knysna, in the Western Cape. It is a protected area of South Africa forming part of the Garden Route National Park. This natural area stretches from the Touw River mouth to the Swartvlei estuary and beyond, where it links with the Goukamma Nature Reserve, giving protection to five lakes and the Serpentine, which is the winding strip of water joining Island Lake to the Touw River at the Ebb & Flow Rest Camp. The wildlife in this natural area is varied, and includes the Knysna seahorse, pansy shell, pied kingfisher, Knysna lourie, grey heron, and little egret. This park protects three major zones of indigenous forest, four types of fynbos (wild shrubs), plus various lakes and winding waterways. There are also a number of archaeologically significant sites. The Touw River connects a series of three lakes: Eilandvlei, Langvlei and Rondevlei, which host a variety of aquatic species and have been designated as a Ramsar site (wetlands of international importance). Dolphins and whales can be seen from Dolphin Point. Sports within the park include canoeing or bicycling, abseiling, kloofing, paragliding, boating, fishing and hiking.

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This is version 20. Last edited at 14:02 on Sep 15, 17 by Utrecht. 1 article links to this page.

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