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National Parks and Reserves Top 5 in South Africa
A Tour of South African National Parks and Nature Reserves.
A quick count of the national Parks and Nature Reserves in South Africa comes up with a total of about 45 distributed widely across the country. During this time I have been fortunate enough to visit about 30 of these National Parks and Nature Reserves. Some I have returned to several times because they have been conveniently located close by or because of their particular beauty and magic.
The Parks and Reserves vary from the huge and world famous Kruger National Park to a relatively small National Park like the Candeboo National Park near Graaff-Reinnet or the local Nahoon Point Nature Reserve overlooking the Indian Ocean. Let me take you on a quick journey as we visit some of my favorites. Here are just five to start with:
Top of my list would be Kruger National Park in the Limpopo Province in N/E South Africa. Probably one of the greatest game reserves in the world. 350km from north to south and 60km across it hosts the largest selection of wild life in the country. 147 mammals, 508 bird species, 114 reptiles and 34 different amphibians, more than 2000 different plants and 336 trees and bushes and 235 grasses. The magic of Kruger is that it is easy to drive in, has excellent facilities and almost always provides a surprise or two. We have on several occasions been fortunate enough to see the ‘big five’ in a single day. It is however the smaller situations that thrill us- such as a green snake swimming across a stream suddenly being attacked and devoured by a crocodile.
Secondly I would list the iSimangaliso Wetland Park in Kwa-Zulu Natal that includes coastal areas such as Sodwana Bay where I saw the biggest Great White Shark imaginable while skin-diving. In land is uMkuze game reserve that boasts a bird list of 450 in a relatively small area (40 000 ha). Here the Fever Tree lined Nsumo Pan is one of my favorite places to stop for a picnic while viewing the Pelicans and Spoonbills and watching an African Jacana walking on the back of a Hippo. Audrey and I were fortunate to spot a Cheetah there on our last visit.
Third on my list would be the Table Mountain National Park in the Western Cape. Covering about 30 000ha it is in fact a mountainous peninsular that overlooks the City of Cape Town to the N/E and the Atlantic Ocean to the West. A cable cart will take you to the top of Table Mountain or you can hike up Platteklip Gorge or one of the other hiking trails. Here is some of the most dramatic mountain scenery in the world, several game species, excellent bird life and a large selection of wildflowers types as part of the Cape Floral Kingdom. There are only 6 plant kingdoms recognized in the world and here you can see Proteas, Disas and many other ‘fynbos’ species.(there are over 2 200 flowering plants in the floral kingdom and over 1400 are found on Table Mountain) You can drive the scenic coastal highway around Cape Point, visit the great beaches like Clifton and Muizenberg, the only mainland colony of Penguins at Simonstown, and spend time on the Waterfront at the Cape Town Harbor. A visit to the prison island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned can be organized.
In fourth place for this review would be the Namaqua National Park in the Northern Cape. Covering over 150 000ha this is semi-desert bordering on the west coast (the Skeleton Coast) of the Country. After the winter rains in July and August and Spring starts the desert blooms with a spectacular show of wild flowers. The seeds lie dormant in the dry summer season waiting for the rain to come. The annual rainfall is low; averaging less than 200mm, but when it rains it becomes a wonderland of color, comparable to the leaf change in New England. Many of the about 120 bird species in this area are endemic (only found here in South Africa) and Cape fur seals can be seen on the coast and the graceful Springbok and elegant Gemsbok have been introduced to the area.
Number five would be the Kgalagadi Trans-frontier National Park bordering, and in fact extending into, the countries of Botswana and Namibia. This huge semi-desert area also has great facilities in the rest camps and a good road network. The roads mainly follow the dry river beds that have an occasional water hole where the herds of Gemsbok and Springbok come to drink. This is perhaps the best place in South Africa to see the 'Big Cats'. Birding wise Vultures and other Raptors are plentiful with my favourite being the tiny Pygmy Falcon. The African Sky at night has to be seen to be believed as the stars put on a display that stretches from horizon to horizon. A visit to the nearby town of Askam will provide an opportunity to meet some of the remaining Bushmen who provide nature trails in their area.
While these are the big five in my opinion, if you asked any other South African nature lover they may well disagree or add their own personal favorite, but really the only way to know is to come and see for yourself. Addo Elephant Park, Golden Gate Highlands Park, Royal Natal Park and the Karoo National Park come to mind. The photos are my wife Audrey’s or mine, sometimes we debate the issue. Thanks to digital records we can eventually be certain, but I use her’s with permission.