South Africa is blessed with more than twenty enchanting national parks, each with its own distinctly magical natural elements.
South Africa protects a large diversity of its natural heritage in a number of national parks. South Africa's national parks stretch from the southern tip of the continent to the game-rich areas of the north and northeastern parts of the country. The most visited national parks in South Africa include the Kruger National Park, Addo Elephant National Park and Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.
The national parks of South Africa are well-managed and each serves to protect a unique part of the country with different mammal, plant and bird species which are natural inhabitants in the area. Re-introduction programs have contributed greatly to the re-establishment of specific species in areas where they had become endangered. The white rhino, which was saved from the brink of extinction in the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi National Park, is one of the greatest success stories in recent times of how effective wildlife management in the national parks of a country can ensure the that we do not deprive future generations of some of the most magnificent mammals in the world.
Home to over 500 elephants and a wide diversity of other wildlife, including black rhino, spotted hyena and leopard, the reserve ranks as the third largest national park in South Africa. Addo currently stretches over 180 000 hectares (444 700 acres) and also happens to be in a low-risk malaria area, which makes it ideal for families traveling with small children.
This beautiful coastal park is situated on the southern-most tip of Africa where the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet. Known as the 'Cape of Storms', these treacherous waters are responsible for many shipwrecks in centuries past. In season, visitors may be spoiled with sightings of Southern Right whale, while the endangered African Black Oystercatcher can be spotted year-round.
The main attraction of the park is no doubt the thundering 56m Augrabies Falls, which the Khoi people called 'the great noise'. Besides the falls, which form part of the immense Orange River Gorge, the park boasts many other unique sights, including fascinating geological formations, like Moon Rock and the Swart Rant. Though the park is not known for its wildlife, dassies (rock hyrax) and klipspringer enjoy frequenting the rocky, arid landscape.
The picturesque Bontebok National Park park is situated in the Cape floral region under the imposing gaze of the Langeberg Mountains and full of myriad plant, animal and bird species. The park was established to protect the bontebok, which faced extinction in the 1800’s. From the original 17 bontebok, the park is now home to approximately 200 of the 3000-strong global estimate.
The park is located in the Eastern Cape within the uniquely beautiful region of the Karoo. The vast, arid landscape surrounds the sleepy town of Graaff-Reinet and includes the Valley of Desolation, with its giant, towering dolerite pillars. A variety of activities are available to visitors, from boating on the Nqweba Dam to scenic hiking trails.
Boasting some of the most awe-inspiring scenery in South Africa, the Drakensberg region is characterized by lush green valleys and breathtaking mist-covered peaks, including the famous Giant's Castle and Champagne Peak. This UNESCO World Heritage Site boasts one of the largest concentrations of rock art south of the Sahara and is also listed under the Ramsar Convention's Wetlands of International Importance.
Found in the Maluti Mountains of the northeastern Free State, Golden Gate National Park is characterized by striking sandstone rock formations that display magnificent golden hues when bathed in sunlight, most notably the Brandwag Buttress. Black wildebeest, eland, blesbok, oribi, springbok and Burchell's zebra roam this handsome landscape, while rare bird species like the bearded vulture and bald ibis own the skies.
Located in KwaZulu-Natal, the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve is home to the Big Five and particularly high numbers of white rhino, due to a responsible focus on conservation. The park was home to Operation Rhino back in the 1950’s and 60’s, and many of Southern Africa’s current white rhino populations can be traced back to Hluhluwe. Established in 1895, Hluhluwe-iMfolozi is the oldest proclaimed nature reserve on the continent.
Because of its numerous waterways and lush vegetation, Ithala Game Reserve is rich in wildlife and offers a rewarding game viewing experience. Interesting flora such as red Pride of De Kaap flowers spread over the Ngotshe Mountains and Phongolo River valley. Ithala is known for its high concentration of giraffes and the KwaZulu-Natal province's only breeding herd of tsessebe.
This boundless semi-desert region is known for the wide diversity of life that ekes out a living and survives in this harsh environment. In recent years, many species have been reintroduced that used to occur here naturally, including lion, brown hyena and Cape mountain zebra. South Africa’s national animal, the springbok, is quite common throughout.
The Knysna Lakes area forms part of the Garden Route, arguably the most scenic and picturesque stretch of South Africa's coastline. The region is rich in biodiversity and offers many unique locations, from dense forests to unspoiled beaches and sparkling lakes. Popular activities include a deluge of watersports, hiking trails, birding and mountain biking. Keen birders will delight in sightings of the colorful Knysna Turaco.
The internationally acclaimed Kruger National Park is considered to be the crown jewel of South Africa's national parks. The park boasts an impressive 2 million hectares teeming with a multitude of mammals, birds and reptiles. In fact, 147 different mammal species call Kruger home, as do 507 unique species of bird. Nowhere else in Southern Africa will you find the unparalleled diversity of species, landscapes and even accommodation options.
The park shares its borders with Botswana and Zimbabwe, making it part of the Greater Mapungubwe Transfrontier Conservation Area. Its collection of archaeological treasures has also earned it UNESCO World Heritage Site status. Mapungubwe Hill marks the remnants of an Iron Age African civilization that once prospered here. Elephant, giraffe, white rhino, eland, gemsbok and numerous other antelope species occur in the area.
Marakele National Park lies deep within the captivating Waterberg Mountains. The park is remarkably diverse in wildlife due to its location, habitat and climate. Marakele also plays sanctuary to the largest colony of endangered Cape vultures. Elephant, rhino, lion and leopard roam this malaria-free reserve, which is known for its particularly handsome kudu population. In addition to basic park accommodation, luxury lodges have recently begun to emerge across this magical landscape.
This Eden in northern Zululand is bordered by and named for the Mkhuze River on the eastern slopes of the Lebombo Mountains. The habitats, which include wetlands, woodlands, riverine forest and swamps, make this region a bird watching paradise. The 40 000 ha reserve also forms part of the Greater iSimangaliso Wetland Park. Mammals frequently encountered include black and white rhinoceros, elephant, giraffe, nyala, blue wildebeest, warthog, eland, hippo, impala, kudu and other smaller antelope.
Vast sandy plains, dolerite hills and semi-desert terrain provide the setting for one of South Africa's newest additions to its family of national parks. The park boasts a host of indigenous plant species, such as the culturally valuable camelthorn tree. Situated south of the historic Northern Cape mining town of Kimberley, Mokala is named precisely for the camelthorn tree that sprouts across its koppieveld and sandy, open plains.
28 000 hectares in the Eastern Cape make up this scenic sanctuary for an assorted collection of wild animals, most notably the once-threatened Cape mountain zebra, which is now flourishing as a result of concerted conservation efforts. Today more than 700 Cape mountain zebras enjoy refuge in the park. Other endangered species thriving include black rhino and cheetah – the only major predator that occurs here.
The park forms part of Namaqualand, a semi-desert area in the succulent Karoo biome. With the advent of spring, this normally arid region undergoes a fairy tale transformation into a sea of color with a dazzling display of flowering plant species. Remarkably, more than a 1 000 of its estimated 3 500 plant species are found nowhere else on earth.
The sub-tropical utopia of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park is renowned for its diverse habitats comprising dunes, coral reefs, coastal forests, swamps and mangroves, to name a few. The park is South Africa’s first declared UNESCO World Heritage Site. The region offers many outdoor activities, the most popular being scuba diving, deep sea fishing and the scenic safari boat cruises on Lake St Lucia – Africa’s largest estuarine system.
The Cape Peninsula is considered to be one of the most beautiful natural locations in South Africa. Table Mountain National Park incorporates various stretches of the peninsula, comprising scenic hiking trails, pristine beaches and wonderful wildlife encounters. It is also home to world's smallest yet most diverse floral kingdom. Table Mountain National Park encompasses popular sites like Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve.
Extraordinary arid landscapes unfold in the Tankwa desert of the Northern Cape. This vast, flat park is one of the finest destinations in South Africa for stargazing. Though wildlife occurs far and in between, sightings of springbok, gemsbok and red hartebeest are frequent, as are encounters with reptiles like tortoises and skinks. The park is situated within the Succulent Karoo Biome, one of the 25 richest and most threatened reservoirs of plant and animal life on earth.
This dramatic protected area forms part of the Garden Route National Park. The acclaimed region is known for its rugged, untouched coastline, lush indigenous forests and its hiking trails, most notably the Otter Trail. Various species of dolphins and whales are often spotted from the shore, while the forested trails host many lesser mammals like badgers, genet, mongoose and even African wild cat.
The West Coast National Park is a World Ramsar Site, widely celebrated for the wetland bird species that migrate to the area. The Geelbek Hide is a popular spot to observe rare lagoon waders from. Immaculate beaches, flower-covered fields and the crystal-clear waters of the Langebaan Lagoon provide the stunning scenery. As in Namaqua, the flower season flourishes between August and September.
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