Not all of the game parks in South Africa are Big Five destinations. Many of them feature secluded spots to enjoy and smaller creatures that are every bit as fascinating as better-known species.
These are some of South Africa’s lesser-known wildlife destinations, although they’re every bit as interesting as their more famous counterparts.
Ai-Ais Richtersveld Transfrontier National Park
The Ai-Ais Richtersveld Park forms part of the Southern African Peace Parks initiative and is jointly run by SANParks and The Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism.
It’s a large park occupying 6 045 square kilometers of land which straddles the border of South Africa and Namibia. The park was set up in 2003 when the Ai-Ais and Fish River Canyon Park in Namibia was merged with South Africa’s Richtersveld National Park.
This vast tract of land is best known for its beautiful barren landscapes, unique plants and the huge canyon which slices through it. It’s also home to some fascinating species which you can discover on walks and drives through this rugged terrain. Hartmann’s mountain zebra and the halfmens boom are the stars of the show here, and rare augur buzzards make up one of the 200 bird species in residence.
There are no dangerous predators in the park, apart from a few elusive leopards and some hyenas. You can look forward to seeing klipspringer, steenbok and grey duiker while out and about as well as bat-eared foxes, jackals and porcupines if you’re lucky.
The Ai-Ais Richtersveld Transfrontier Park is for higher-grade explorers with rugged accommodations and few amenities. The biggest attraction here is healthy doses of solitude and stillness.
Those who prefer home-away-from-home luxuries will prefer the plush lodges located on the outskirts of the park.
Your accommodation options in this park include:
- Wilderness camps with canvas and reed cabins and communal facilities
- Campsites where you need to bring everything with you
- A rest camp offering rustic camping with shared ablutions or chalets with private facilities
- The De Hoop Camp Site for overnight hikers
It’s important to call ahead to make sure that you pack everything you need for a stay in these rustic accommodations.
Mountain Zebra National Park
You’ll find this interesting little park close to Cradock in the Eastern Cape.
Dedicated to conserving the dwindling numbers of Cape Mountain Zebra, this 284 square kilometer park is also filled with fascinating archaeological sites and is home to a thriving cheetah conservation project. The park started out with just 6 zebras, but today boasts a population of over 1 000 animals. Lions were introduced into the park in 2013.
You can enjoy Mountain Zebra National Park on guided walks and drives to see these attractions or go it alone on self-drive excursions into the park and hikes within the camp confines. A novel attraction here is the chance to track cheetah on foot while accompanied by armed game guards.
Other creature features include the Drakensberg rock jumper, ground woodpecker and several species of raptor. Chacma baboons and vervet monkeys are regularly sighted, and you could also catch a glimpse of bat-eared foxes, caracals, aardwolves, genets and polecats.
The park is an excellent destination for a day trip but also offers overnight accommodation in the form of mountain chalets, cottages and camping in the rest camp. There are spacious grassy picnic areas allocated for day-trippers.
Agulhas National Park
Located at the southernmost tip of Africa, about 200 kilometers from Cape Town, Agulhas National Park is dedicated to preserving the unique species of plants found here. There are approximately 2 000 species of indigenous plants occurring within this 20 000 hectare park, including 100 which are endemic and 110 which are severely threatened.
Along with rich floral diversity, you’ll also find archaeological attractions, shipwrecks and historic sites within the confines of the park and it’s common to see whales passing by during the springtime. You can enjoy these diversions on self-guided walks along well-marked trails.
While ambling through the fynbos you’re likely to come across Denham’s bustards, secretary birds and blue cranes while the wetland areas reveal sighting of flamingos, plovers, Eurasian curlews and swamp hens. Keep a lookout for martial eagles, booted eagles and jackal buzzards in the skies above. Mammals to look out for include dolphins, whales, Cape fur seals and Cape grysbok.
There are two rest camps within Agulhas National Park which feature eco-friendly chalets, a guest house and family cottages.
Augrabies Falls National Park
Centered on a 56m waterfall along the Orange River, the Augrabies Falls National Park incorporates 820 square kilometers of diverse Orange River Broken Veld. You can explore this unique biome on self-guided walks and drives as well as a 3-day hike into the wilderness.
The park is a hit with day-trippers wanting to see the waterfall, and there are picnic sites and a restaurant onsite. Overnight accommodation takes the form of grassed campsites, family cottages and chalets.
Resident bird species include Verreaux’s eagle, Ludwig’s bustard and Karoo long-billed lark, and you can look forward to seeing unusual light-colored giraffe, steenbok, gemsbok, kudu and eland. Creatures of the night include leopards, African wild cats, bat-eared foxes, aardwolves and small spotted genets.
Camdeboo National Park
This lesser-known park showcases the beautiful and diverse landscapes of the Karoo biome and is one of the most scenic places to spend time around Graaff-Reinet in the Eastern Cape. The park encompasses 194 square kilometers of fragile Karoo grassland and thickets as well as wetland areas.
Hikes, walks and drives to scenic outlook points are the main attractions here, while the Nqweba Dam is a pleasant destination for indulging in windsurfing, boating, canoeing and fishing. Birdwatchers enjoy the chance to spot some of the 250 resident species including black-shouldered kites, blue cranes and golden-breasted buntings. Buffalo, gemsbok, eland, red hartebeest and springbok are also present in the park.
There are several picnic spots dotted around Camdeboo National Park, and overnight accommodation is available in permanent tents and a campsite alongside the dam.
Cape Point National Park
Cape Point National Park is part of the Table Mountain National Park and is a bastion of rich biodiversity and stunning views. Here cliffs tower hundreds of meters above the raging Atlantic currents and paths lead through beautiful landscapes filled with fynbos vegetation.
The towering cliffs are attractive to nesting seabirds, and you can expect to see gulls, oystercatchers and terns along the coast while sugarbirds, robin-chats, kestrels and falcons are often seen inland. Bontebok, mountain zebra and eland are some of the larger creatures that you could encounter while walking here.
A highlight of any visit to Cape Point National Park is climbing up (or taking the funicular) to the top of the Cape Point lighthouse to gaze over the ocean, while a meal at the onsite restaurant with its jaw-dropping views will not disappoint.
Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Park
Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Park is the only state-run park in Kwa-Zulu Natal that features the Big Five. It’s located in Zululand, close to the iSimangaliso Wetland Park and is a popular choice as an add-on for travels to this World Heritage site.
The park includes 96 000 hectares of pristine coastal scarp forests and valley bushveld, and is home to a host of wildlife and bird species. Apart from the Famous Five, the park is also home to Nile crocodiles, cheetahs, hippos, spotted hyenas, nyalas, kudus and abundant plains game species. There are about 30 wild dogs in the park.
Hluhluwe Imfolozi is famous for bringing the black rhino back from the brink of extinction and still hosts successful breeding projects for both black and white rhino.
Apart from excellent game viewing opportunities, the park abounds with evidence of stone age settlements left over from its past as the royal hunting grounds of the Zulu Kingdom.
Hilltop Camp offers basic accommodation in the form of huts, chalets and camping sites while Mpila Lodge is a more luxurious option. Rhino Ridge is the only privately run option within the park and features luxury lodge accommodation and fully-inclusive stays.
The best way to explore the park is on guided game drives under the auspices of an experienced game ranger, but you can also enjoy self-drives as you desire. Guided night drives, game walks and overnight walking trails are also available.
Mapungubwe National Park
Located near Musina in Limpopo Province, Mapungubwe National Park is a World Heritage Site filled with ancient treasures dating back to 1290 AD. It’s the site where the famous golden rhino was unearthed in 1932 and is the first example of a class-based civilization living in southern Africa. It’s also the site of several examples of fossilized plants, dinosaur footprints and termite mounds.
History takes center stage at this game park, where you can find out more about these ancient civilizations at the Mapungubwe Museum or on walks to the ancient gravesite where these artefacts were discovered. The park is also home to elephant, lion, white rhino and leopard as well as a host of plains game and smaller mammals. African rock pythons are a common sighting here too.
There are four camps in the park with accommodation options as follows:
- Leokwe Main Camp featuring cottages and guest cottages
- Limpopo Forest Tented Camp with permanent tents on offer
- The Luxury Tshugulu Lodge which sleeps 12
- Vhembe Wilderness Camp with 4 rustic cabins
- Mazhou Camping Site
- Maloutswa Bird Hide
Mapungubwe National Park consists of two sections separated by private farmlands. The Maloutswa Bird Hide, Tshugulu Lodge, Limpopo Forest Tented Camp and Mazhou Camping Site can only be accessed via the gate in the Western section of the park.
Namaqua National Park
Namaqua National Park incorporates 700 square kilometers of the unique Karoo Biome and rugged shoreline, which is a world diversity hotspot containing the largest concentration of succulent plants on Earth. It’s best known for its incredible flower displays during the springtime but is a fantastic destination to embrace nature in solitude year-round.
Apart from its unique flora, Namaqua National Park is an excellent destination to see oryx, klipspringer, black-backed jackal, duiker and the occasional leopard. Birds are abundant, and you could get to see Karoo larks, black-headed canaries and black harriers among the 92 resident species.
The park is located close to Springbok in the Northern Cape Province, about 5-hours drive from Cape Town and offers rustic accommodation options for overnight travelers. The Skilpad Rest Camp has just 4 chalets available, the Luiperdskloof guest cottage sleeps 6 people, and there are also beach campsites available for those who really want to rough it.
From 23 August to 23 September every year, the park hosts privately-run flower camps featuring a luxury glamping experience for floral enthusiasts.
The main activity at Namaqua National Park is always going to be rest and relaxation, with the chance to capture some remarkable photographs during your stay. There are also 3 official walking trails within the parks confines and a challenging 4×4 trail. Mountain bikers have free reign along the roads and tracks.
Explore the Game Parks in South Africa
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