I’ve made it my mission to visit all of SA’s National Parks and encourage everybody in our beautiful country, to do the same. There are currently 21 national parks closely protected under the SANParks umbrella. Ranging from heritage sites to natural and cultural biodiversity’s, each holding the specific purpose of conserving the game, marine eco-systems and vegetation found in their areas.
A recent stay at the Mountain Zebra National Park in the Eastern Cape reminded me how SANParks continues to meet all expectations with the reserve beautifully kept and proudly managed. The 28 000 hectares Mountain Zebra has situated about 12km from the town of Cradock and is accessed off the R61 between Cradock and Graaff-Reinet. It’s very well signposted and you’ll note the drop in speed limit as you approach, this is to be on the lookout for kudu and eland, which are known to jump the fence and cross the road.
The park was originally proclaimed with the express purpose of saving the Cape mountain zebra from extinction; the population was down to four stallions and one mare here at the time. Supported and protected breeding now has a population at over 700 zebra and other wildlife such as endangered black rhino, lion and cheetah, previously hunted out in the area, have successfully been reintroduced. This park boasts a success story.
Arriving just as the afternoon was nearing its end, it took only five minutes before a black rhino walked across the road right in front of us. Pausing briefly before running off … Vervet monkeys played on the warm tar while red Hartebeest and springbok could be seen on the short drive to our accommodation.
The fenced-off Rest Camp is located about 12 kilometres from the entrance gate and offers comfortable family cottages, a campsite with communal facilities, a restaurant and a shop. There is also a Guesthouse (currently being renovated) and two Mountain Cottages located further into the Park. All accommodation is serviced daily and fully equipped. Whatever your preference or budget, there’ll be something here to suit you.
I stayed in a two-bedroom family cottage and can highly recommend it. I loved sitting on the patio overlooking the bushveldt as the sunset over the Karoo land. The cottages are a short walk from the restaurant, which allowed a good chance for star-gazing after dinner. There are numerous activities on offer, but well aware that walking in the bush heightens the senses, I booked cheetah trekking for after breakfast. Together with ranger Charl Lyell, we headed out on a drive, stopping regular for signs of a signal from one of the tagged cheetahs. We were looking specifically for Angela, a 6-year old pregnant cheetah that the reserve was monitoring for research purposes.
As soon as we heard that beep-beep come in, we drove as close as we could before taking the last stretch of about a kilometre by foot. There’s always an element of risk in the bush, yet with a professional guide to lead the way it’s the smells, sounds and feel of nature that holds the focus. Approaching from below, we found her relaxing in the shade under a tree. What a pleasure to spend time in her company as she all but ignored our presence. It was fascinating how we were almost on top of her before she actually came into sight, such incredible camouflage. I highly recommend this special experience.
Other activities on offer in the park
Visit the San-cave paintings. A good level of fitness is required for this as there will be clambering over rocks. Visitors can also explore the park in their own vehicle on almost 70km of mapped out tourist roads. Most are gravel but of a good standard and suitable for all vehicles. There are two short self-hike trails within the fenced Restcamp; the Black Eagle Trail (2.5km) is a more challenging climb to the top of the rocky outcrop with spectacular views over the Park while the Imbila Trail (1km) is an easy, flat trail.
Day visitors are welcome and there are a couple of picnic sites in the park where you can stop for lunch. If you are travelling between Graaff-Reinet and Cradock, this would be the perfect place to detour.
For more information look at the SANParks website where you can make online accommodation bookings email: email@example.com or call: +27 48 8812427. Check the gate times too, as you don’t want to be caught on the wrong side when the sun goes down.
Additional points to note when planning your visit
– The park is Malaria free
– Activities can be booked on arrival, but if you have a specific preference it may be worth booking in advance. Do bear in mind that some require a minimum number to run.
– The food and service in the restaurant is excellent.
– There’s strong free wifi at reception.
– Basic food supplies and toiletries are offered in the gift shop.
– All accommodations have self-catering facilities if you prefer this.
– Dress warmly during winter and take good walking shoes, a sun hat and sunblock all year round.
– Watch where you put your foot, there are some aggressive plants out there, not to mention a healthy population of snakes.
Best Value Tip: Invest in a Wild Card, offered in various configurations to suit your needs, they can be used at all of the national parks and offer excellent savings. On a personal note, Mountain Zebra National Park was my 15th park and is certainly one of my favourites.