Bontebok National Park

Unique vegetation abounds in the Bontebok National Park.

Bontebok National Park is located in the Western Cape along the Langeberg Mountains.

Size:
3 900 hectares
Established:
1931
Province:
Western Cape
Number of mammal species:
Johannesburg
Specie-specific conservation:
Bontebok, renosterveld

Introduction

The Bontebok National Park is found in a region that has a rich bounty of sanctuaries, including the wild coastal beauty of Tsitsikamma National Park. Bontebok National Park is the traditional home of the bontebok, where this once threatened animal is increasing dramatically in numbers. Other antelope that occur in the Bontebok National Park include the grey rhebok, Cape grysbok, steenbok and grey duiker. The birdlife is prolific and includes the stately secretary bird, Stanley's bustard, several species of sunbird, fish eagle, Cape whydah, guinea fowl, hamerkop, francolin and even a couple of spur-winged geese which remain in the park throughout the year. Jackals and foxes prowl the renosterveld which dominates the low shrub and grassland vegetation in this transitional fynbos region.

A couple of centuries ago, hunters nearly wiped out many of the animals, of which the bontebok was a prime target. Thanks to farmers in the area, the bontebok got a chance at survival, but it was only in 1931, when the National Parks Board established a national park and rescued the species from extinction, that the bontebok began to flourish. Today, the Bontebok National Park is a powerful reminder about the importance of conservation.

There are close to 500 different plant species in the park, including a variety of proteas and pin cushions known as leucospermum. Along the Breede River are some beautiful indigenous tree species, including sweet thorn, Breede River yellowwood, boekenhout, wild olive and milkwood. Fishing in the Bontebok National Park has a high rating amongst avid anglers. Game viewing from your own vehicle can also be done. Two short nature trails, starting and ending in the rest camp area, are also available at Bontebok National Park.

Reasons to Visit

1

Conservation Breakthrough

Although it is known for many attractions today, the Bontebok National Park was established for one reason, and one reason only – saving its namesake, the Bontebok, from sure extinction. It is a testament to how the conservation efforts of a small group of people can make an enormous contribution. You can’t help but feel awed when you witness what so many believed to be impossible.

2

Extinct to Rare

A safari in the Bontebok National Park is different in so many ways to any other safari you will experience anywhere in South Africa, not just because of the bontebok and the unique fynbos environment, but also the prevalence of other rare wildlife such as the Cape mountain zebra, grey rhebok and a great variety of marine and other birds.

3

The Beautiful Breede

The park is situated perfectly on the banks of one of South Africa’s best known rivers. The Breede River, which translates directly to “Wide River”, provides both a peaceful charm and an adventurous allure to the area. Recreational fishing and kayaking are popular, whilst birdwatching canoers can be seen goggling through their binoculars along the riverine vegetation, and a dip on a hot summer day is simply sensational.   

Useful Info

Getting There
Plane

By Air

Traveling to the Bontebok National Park will start in either Cape Town or George, depending on your tour choice. Being the smallest of the national parks, it is recommended that you combine the park with other destinations in the area. It is easily accessible from both sides, with flights available daily between OR Tambo, Cape Town and George International airports.

 

Car

By Road

You will be transferred to the Bontebok National Park in your own private, air-conditioned vehicle from either the George or Cape Town International Airport, or an alternative park or reserve on your chosen safari. The park is conveniently located approximately two hours from both the airports, and the routes are characterized by the striking panoramic scenery of the Western Cape region.

Weather & Best Time To Visit

The region is well-known for its moderate climate, with dry hot summers and rainy winters accompanied frequently by mild winds. The coastline is extremely popular in summer among South Africans and foreigners, especially during the summer holidays, because of the comfortable summer conditions.

It is, however, best to visit the park at the end of the rainy winter through to late spring, between July and October, when the Cape fynbos and the revered proteas are everywhere to be seen. It is also during this time that the migratory birds start visiting the park for their annual summer in the south, and the various antelope have their young.  

History

Thousands of years ago, as was customary for the historic Khoi-khoi people of Southern Africa, the nomadic people settled close to life-giving waters. The Breede River was a perfect location for the Hessequa herders of sheep and cattle, and the Bontebok National Park lies where two Hessequa captains and their people lived. The arrival of the European settlers eight years after their arrival at the famous Cape of Good Hope was disastrous for the locals – disease, addiction and rivalry reduced the people to a fraction of their once powerful clan. The park works hard to protect its cultural history as well.

Agriculture is extremely popular in the Overberg region, and the mineral-rich lands have been used as grazing lands since people arrived in the area. The arrival of the descendants of European farmers and their guns meant that antelope and other animals in the area were quickly eradicated from their lands. Sheep, wheat, fruit and canola farms can still be seen from miles away. The bontebok were hunted until the species neared extinction. Upon realizing the magnitude of the destruction, local land owners set up private reserves. In 1931, with just 17 left, the Bontebok National Park was established, and today these beautiful animals can be seen in large numbers throughout the park.

Wildlife

As the name indicates, the park is best-known for the bontebok that roam the region. Bontebok are extremely unique antelope, not just because of their rarity, but also for their multifaceted appearance. The prominent white backside is in actually a signaling mechanism, and acts as a ‘follow me’ sign to their young. These magnificent creatures are joined on the park grounds by many other plains game, including the unusual Cape mountain zebra, grey rhebok, red hartebeest, grysbok and steenbok. Carnivores are harder to find because of their nocturnal hunting habits, but the caracal, aardwolf, Cape fox and bat-eared fox frequent the area.

Birding at Bontebok is exceptional, and you can look forward to seeing the blue crane, secretary bird, malachite and pearl-breasted swallow, to name a few. The area is also particularly well-known for hosting the Denham’s bustard, one of the largest of the bustard species. The river valley also sports the water thick-knee and makes a perfect home for the Cape clawless otter. It should be noted that the region is also home to various reptiles, which includes venomous snakes such as the puff adder. Snakes are shy and tend to avoid humans, but be vigilant at all times, especially when hiking or venturing into unpopulated areas.

Vegetation & Terrain

The Bontebok National Park falls within the prolific Cape Floral Kingdom that is part of the fynbos biome, and conserves critically endangered fynbos species such as renosterveld, which is found nowhere else on earth. It is one of the most biologically diverse biomes endemic to the Western Cape. Despite its initial dull appearance, upon closer inspection, you will see an assortment of fauna and flora. An medley of multi-colored wildflowers and the famous protea can be seen everywhere. With over 650 plant species of which approximately 30 are globally threatened, the conservation focus at the park is not limited to animals alone.

Nestled between the Langeberg Mountains and the coastline of the Western Cape a couple of kilometers from Swellendam, the park and its rolling hills are testament to dedicated conservation efforts. It is quite unheard of to physically move a national park, but for the Bontebok National Park this is a reality. Upon finding that the vegetation at the initial location of the park in Bredasdorp lacked the minerals to effectively sustain the bontebok, the decision was made to move the entire park to another location. Thus, the relocation of the park next to the Breede River at the foot of the mountains was meant to be, as it coincided with the conservation of the rare fynbos species.

Activities

The Bontebok National Park is extremely popular amongst fans of hiking. The differentiating features of the fynbos biome are emphasized splendidly along these routes, and each is beautiful in its own way. The routes range from 1.6 km to 5.5 km, and are easy to moderate in terms of difficulty. Game viewing and bird watching is spectacular all year round, but spring is truly special, with the antelope rearing their young, the flowers in bloom and the migratory birds’ presence. Mountain biking activities are also available in the park and are a great way to see a larger part of the park whilst getting some exercise.

A range of water-based activities are also available in the area, including canoeing, fishing, water-based birdwatching and non-propelled boating. It is highly recommended that you spend some time at or on the water when the sun sets and the pink, purple and orange colors are mirrored by the river. Swimming in the river is allowed, but it is at one’s own risk, and children should be supervised at all times. A picnic next to the river or a local ‘braai’ at one of the designated areas is a perfect way to relax whilst taking in the surroundings. If you’d like to take part in a specific activity, please contact us so that we can arrange the necessary equipment.

Experiences to be Savored

A bontebok spotted on safari in the Bontebok National Park.

Wander where you wish

Unlike many of the other parks in South Africa, Bontebok is open to wander freely by yourself. A variety of trails are available covering different physical and fitness capabilities. The shortest mapped route, the Acacia Route (1.6 km), embraces the beautiful vegetation and is easy to complete, even for less experienced hikers.

A Blanket of Tranquility

From the serene waters of the Breede River to the absence of large carnivores (the Caracal or “Rooikat” is the largest found in the park), the beauty of the fauna and flora and the songs of the wide assortment of birds, combined with the ever-present scenic view – Bontebok is a place where visitors leave feeling rested.

Unique Sightings

The bontebok has a very striking appearance; a combination of chocolate browns, a prominent black line across the face and, most notably, a striking white behind that acts as a ‘follow me’ sign for their young. You'll frequently encounter visitors craning their necks to find and better see this rare antelope in all its colorful glory.

FAQ

How long should you stay in the Bontebok National Park?
1 to 3 days are enough to see the main attractions. For avid birders, a few extra days might be necessary.
Can I also see the Big Five?
The Big Five cannot be seen at Bontebok, but if you combine a visit to the park with a visit to Addo or Shamwari in the Eastern Cape, it would possible.
How many trails are there in the park?
There are three mapped trails of varying degrees of difficulty.
Where do the trails start?
The Acacia, Bushbuck and Aloe walking trails start at the same point close to the Ou Tuin.
How many bontebok are there?
The park can ecologically sustain approximately 200, but many have been sent to other reserves and more than 3 000 can be found worldwide.
How far is the closest town?
The park is situated only 5km from the historically acclaimed trade post town of Swellendam (the third oldest town in South Africa).
Can I walk the trails on my own?
Yes, but remember to always be on the lookout for snakes on the path.

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