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Bucket List Ideas for Nature Lovers

Bucket List Ideas for Nature Lovers

Do you love getting out into nature? We asked some of SA’s top travel writers, birders and foodies for their top nature bucket list ideas.

From game parks to wetlands, wildlife and birding hot spots, here’s our pick of SA’s best nature getaways to visit on your next holiday.

Quick links: jump to the bucket list item that interests you the most, or scroll down to see them all.

  1. Turtle time in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, Northern KwaZulu-Natal
  2. Birding in the Kalahari’s Witsand Nature Reserve, Northern Cape
  3. Wildlife wonderland at Nyamithi Pan, Maputaland, Northern KwaZulu-Natal
  4. Birding in Mossel Bay, Western Cape
  5. Meerkat Magic in Oudtshoorn, Western Cape
  6. Stargazing in the Tswalu Kalahari Private Game Reserve, Northern Cape
  7. Candelabra flowers in Nieuwoudtville, Northern Cape
  8. Chasing waterfalls in Lupatana, Wild Coast, Eastern Cape
  9. Scenic game drives at Welgevonden Game Reserve, Waterberg, Limpopo
  10. The seal colony in the Namaqua National Park, Karoo, Northern Cape
  11. Breathtaking natural beauty on the Otter Trail, Garden Route, Western Cape
  12. Birding Mkhombo Dam Nature Reserve, Gauteng
  13. The best bush sundowners at Jaci’s Tree Lodge, Madikwe Game Reserve, North West Province
  14. Kalahari Desert, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
  15. Camping in the Kruger National Park
  16. Spotting the Big 7 at the Addo Elephant National Park
  17. Oceanfront splendour at Oceana Beach & Wildlife Reserve, Wild Coast, Eastern Cape
  18. Wilderness trail in the Kruger Park

iSimangaliso Wetland Park, Northern KwaZulu-Natal

 

Bucket list ideas: iSimangaliso Wetland Park

Regular COUNTRY LIFE contributor, Andrea Abbott

iSimangaliso Wetland Park is an absolute MUST and, in my opinion, the BEST wildlife destination by far in South Africa.

A world class wildlife park, South Africa’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, a place of outstanding natural beauty and exceptional biodiversity, this great park just keeps getting better thanks to a far-sighted and fully dedicated management team.

Top on my list to see and experience:

    • Excellent wildlife viewing – all historically occurring species, including wild dogs and lions, have been reintroduced and the park is noted for leopard sightings. It’s home to what’s considered the largest congregation of hippos and crocodiles in South Africa. Bird life is exceptional – more than 500 species.
    • Pristine beaches, a 220 km coastline and an expansive marine reserve afford a variety of activities ranging from whale and turtle watching to underwater photography, scuba diving and snorkelling.
    • Accommodation ranges from camping to luxury, fully-catered lodges. Superb infrastructure  includes fabulous viewing decks set within the forests or above the lakes, and a good road network that makes for easy access; you don’t have to have a 4×4.
    • Wetlands abounding in wildlife give a sense of being in the Okavango Delta.

Must-do activities:

    • iSimangaliso is the last significant breeding ground for leatherback and loggerhead turtles. Go during breeding season and take a turtle tour to watch these giant turtles come out of the ocean to lay their eggs or, some weeks later, to see the hatchlings emerge and make the hazard-filled dash to the sea.
    • Superb bird hides at the edge of pans and lakes offer the closest views of charismatic species like Spoonbills, Pelicans, Flamingos, various Kingfishers, Fish Eagles, Herons. Crocodiles and hippos are plentiful, and other animals arrive to drink, risking life and limb to do so. There is often so much going on at these hides you’ll want to spend hours there so take a well-stocked picnic basket.

Birding the Kalahari’s Witsand Nature Reserve, Northern Cape
bucket list ideas: Kalahari’s Witsand Nature Reserve

BirdLife South Africa CEO, Mark Anderson

Take a walk on the white dunes of the Kalahari’s Witsand Nature Reserve. Run your hand across the roaring sand (brulsand) and hear just why they have that name

The sands will only roar when they are hot and dry (so make sure you go in the months with an ‘r’ in them, i.e. September-April).

Look for ghost crickets and dancing white lady spiders and other invertebrates during a night-time walk in the dunes.

Sit quietly in the underground bird hide and watch waxbills, canaries, sandgrouse and other birds from close quarters.

COUNTRY LIFE RECOMMENDS:

From birding to sandboarding, here’s our pick of your best options in Witsand and beyond into the wider Kalahari.

Nyamithi Pan, Maputaland, Northern KwaZulu-Natal
Bucket List Ideas: Nyamithi Pan

Regular COUNTRY LIFE contributor, Anita de Villiers

 

A late-late afternoon drive through the fever tree forest along Ndumo Game Reserve’s expansive Nyamithi Pan tops my destination bucket list.

The guided drive takes only a small group of people into this secluded area, where you can see an abundance of wildlife and bird life. It’s one of the few places in South Africa that can be described as wilderness.

Tembe Elephant Park is near enough for a day-trip and one I’d highly recommend you experience too.

COUNTRY LIFE RECOMMENDS:

If you’re travelling to northern KwaZulu-Natal, here are some other things you might be interested in.

Birding in Mossel Bay, Western Cape
Bucket List: Faansie Peacock

Professional birder, author and artist, Faansie Peacock

Mossel Bay is very popular with the holiday crowd in December, but few people realise that the area also has wonderful attractions from a biodiversity perspective. It is the perfect base from which to explore.

The highly range-restricted Agulhas Long-billed Lark, first described by famed South African ornithologist Austin Roberts in 1941, occurs on the stubbly wheatfields just west of town. I’ve also had a couple of encounters with the impressive and aptly named large grey mongoose in this area.

There are a number of small estuaries, some only accessible by foot from the beach, that are worth checking for rarities and vagrants. I once found a fearless Parasitic Jaeger just sitting on the mudflats.

If you have a ‘scope why not try your hand at sea watching? The cave at Mossel Bay’s Point is ideal as it offers shelter from the wind, plus a little elevation. On days with persistent onshore winds I’ve had good results, including great views of the Cory’s Shearwater.

To the east, a number of sought-after herpetological specials occur around George, including the parrot-beaked tortoise, Knysna dwarf chameleon, blue-spotted girdled lizard and plain rain frog.

Or head inland and explore the secluded kloofs for the elusive Protea Canary and Victorin’s Warbler. Mossel Bay offers a lot more than sun, sand, surf and soft-serves!

COUNTRY LIFE RECOMMENDS:

Read up on a few more recommendations for Mossel Bay and George.

Bucket list: Mossel Bay image by Keri Harvey www.keri-harvey.comBucket list: Agulhas Long billed Lark - image by Peter ChadwickBucket list: Pinnacle Point Caves image by Fiona McIntosh
Dweza Nature Reserve, Transkei

Kevin Evans, Professional Cyclist

Before our last visit it had been about twenty years since we visited Dweza Nature Reserve in the Transkei.

Dweza is approximately 80km from Butterworth, or a three hour drive from East London, and I must say that in twenty years, nothing much has changed.

The lodges are self-catering, without electricity and there is no cellphone reception. They do have paraffin fridges and lights which adds to the wonderful feeling of ‘getting away’ from the normal hum drum of daily life.

I recommend packing your bicycles, running shoes, surf boards and head straight into the heart of the Transkei for a week long break.

There are a few small ‘spaza shops’ if you need the basics but we went loaded with good food and managed to buy fresh crayfish and fish once we were there. The people are friendly and helpful and for most of the week we were the only ones there.

It is really affordable and the time out of the modern digital world gives gargantuan amounts of quality time spent with the family or friends. Well worth the trip off the beaten track.

 I would definitely suggest trail running, mountain biking, fishing, surfing or just reading your book on the unspoiled beaches.

 

Country Life Magazine recommends:

Meerkat Magic in Oudtshoorn, Western Cape
bucket list ideas: Meerkat Magic in Oudtshoorn

Regular COUNTRY LIFE contributor and photographer, Shaen Adey

Meerkat Magic in Oudtshoorn is definitely on my bucket list.

It’s mind-blowing to sit quietly at dawn and watch the fascinating little creatures going about their lives.

They are used to people but not habituated, so you really get up close and personal. (Learn more about meerkats here).

Swartberg Pass is a must in the area. I recommend driving the whole way to Prince Albert and back, it’s a great town to explore.

The pass is open to normal SUVs, and if you feel adventurous take your bicycle or hire one in town and fly down.

COUNTRY LIFE RECOMMENDS:

After mingling with the meerkats in Oudtshoorn, take the road through the Swartberg pass to Prince Albert and enjoy our selection of things to do there. Or if you’re up to it, why not experience some Black Mountain magic with a cycle tour through the Swartberg mountain range?

Tswalu Kalahari Private Game Reserve, Northern Cape
bucket list ideas: Tswalu Kalahari private game reserve

Michelin Star chef, Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen

Tswalu Kalahari is the largest private game reserve in South Africa and has the most incredible sunsets.

Think romantic dinners in the middle of nowhere. Sleep under the stars in the heart of the Kalahari. I have never seen stars like these before! (Learn more about what Jan Hendrik loves most about South Africa)

COUNTRY LIFE RECOMMENDS:

While in the Northern Cape, here are some other activities to explore.

Candelabra flowers in Nieuwoudtville, Northern Cape
bucket list ideas: Nieuwoudville, northern Cape

Regular COUNTRY LIFE contributor, Fiona McIntosh

The northern Cape dorpie of Nieuwoudtville, the Bulb Capital of the World, is famous for its spring flower extravaganza.

But if you want to add something very different to your bucket list, visit the area in autumn to catch the blooming of the magnificent candelabra flowers (Brunsvigia bosmaniae).

Top spots for seeing the annual phenomena are Hantam National Botanical Garden and the Nieuwoudtville Wild Flower Reserve, but if conditions are right you’ll see the otherwise drab veld around town covered with these dazzling pink lilies.

The candelabra blooms about three weeks after late summer rains so check the status with the Hantam Garden or Nieuwoudtville Tourism.

Must-do attractions:

  • A hike in the garden or the wildflower reserve is fabulous at any time of year.
  • Oorlogskloof Nature Reserve nearby has incredible backpacking trails that showcase the natural rock features and diverse flora of this rugged landscape.

COUNTRY LIFE RECOMMENDS:

If you’re in the Northern Cape to see the flowers, here are some other spots to add to your list.


READER’S CHOICE: Lupatana, Wild Coast, Eastern Cape

Top of my bucket list is Lupatana on the Wild Coast. Minimal cell signal means it’s just you and nature. It’s also close to one of only five waterfalls in the world that fall directly into the ocean. – Julie Lee, COUNTRY LIFE reader

COUNTRY LIFE RECOMMENDS:

Tour the Eastern Cape with our pick of accommodation and towns and markets to visit.


Welgevonden Game Reserve, Waterberg, Limpopo
bucket list ideas: Welgevonden Game Reserve, Waterberg

COUNTRY LIFE sub editor, Julia Lloyd

Welgevonden Game Reserve in the Waterberg tops my bucket list. It’s renowned as one of the best-managed and conserved reserves in the country, and so it should be.

Here the scenery – the plains, the gorges, the cliffs, the koppies, the magnificent trees and grasslands – is as heartstoppingly gorgeous as the game viewing.

It should be officially named a National Treasure. And for Joburg dwellers it’s right there, just three hours away.

Treat yourself to some stylish African bushveld living at the exclusive lodges in the area. I stayed at Makweti Safari Lodge, where the best game drives I’ve ever had are almost topped by divine meals, massages at the spa, and the utter peace from my private pool overlooking the gorge.

COUNTRY LIFE RECOMMENDS:

While in Limpopo, here are some other local spots to explore and activities to try.

The seal colony at Namaqua National Park, Karoo, Northern Cape
bucket list ideas: seal colony at Namaqua National Park

SANParks Times editor, Taryn Arnott van Jaarsveld

The seal colony at Namaqua National Park’s coastal section is an absolute must to experience.

Watching dozens of pups and their parents basking on the rocks and barking excitedly on sensing our presence had me in tears of laughter.

Thousands of Cape fur seals, from small pups to males weighing up to 360kg, can all be seen basking in the sun and wading in the waters off the beach.

Being in the presence of this heaving mass of peculiar creatures is an enlightening experience. Keep an eye out for the breeding Cape Cormorants that share their perch with the seals.

A few kilometres away, in the central western part of the park, the Bitter River Dunes are an active dune system of almost 20km.

The dunes are a haven for breeding pairs of ostriches. In the Groen River and Spoeg River sections, long stretches of rocky shores and white sandy beaches remain relatively untouched by human development.

The Spoeg River Caves are a must for history buffs. Here, shell middens from 1,900 years ago can be found, demonstrating the presence of hunter gatherers in the area in 100AD.

Adventurous travellers can camp at one of the nine rustic camping spots along the coast, such as Boulder Bay near the seal colony, or at Groen River mouth on the southern tip of the park.

COUNTRY LIFE RECOMMENDS:

Out and about on the West Coast? Here are three more must-try nature experiences..


READER’S CHOICE: Hiking the Otter Trail, Garden Route, Western Cape

Doing the Otter trail tops my bucket list because it was the most spectacular exhibition of wild untouched beauty. Every second was amazing. – Jessica Burgess,COUNTRY LIFE reader

COUNTRY LIFE RECOMMENDS:

If you’re out and about in the Garden Route, here are some other options to add to your travel to do list.

Birding Mkhombo Dam Nature Reserve, Gauteng
Bucket list: Fanie du Plessis

BirdLife SA finance & operations manager, Fanie du Plessis

My favourite birding destination close (within 1.5 hours) to Gauteng’s bustling urban centres is Mkhombo Dam Nature Reserve (previously known as Renosterkop Dam).

The main focus point of the reserve is the dam itself. Very variable and dynamic water levels make each visit an unpredictable but rewarding experience.

After good rains, the grasslands surrounding the dam can become partially flooded, which creates ideal habitats for different types crake, moorhen and gallinule.

When water levels recede, vast mudflats are exposed which attract waders, including some rare vagrants. The open water area of the dam is a magnet for herons, egrets, storks and ducks plus aquatic raptors such as the osprey and African Fish Eagle.

On top of this, the remainder of the reserve is covered by prime camel thorn and umbrella thorn woodlands, which hold a large variety of thornveld specialists including Violet-eared Waxbill, Crimson-breasted Shrike and Southern Pied Babbler.

The combination of all these habitats results in a very impressive bird list of about 370 species for the reserve. If you include a visit to the neighbouring Mdala Nature Reserve, with its broad-leaved woodlands and rocky hillsides, you can add another 15 or so species to the bird list.

In summary, the proximity to Gauteng, the large bird list and the very real promise of an unexpected mega-tick makes Mkhombo Dam Nature Reserve my top birding spot.

Readers not familiar with Mkhombo and Mdala must note that these are not regular game reserves in the vein of Kruger or Pilanesberg. There are no facilities and most of the roads need at least high-clearance vehicles and preferably 4×4. Mkhombo is also partially open to the town of Libangeni, so don’t be surprised to come across fishermen and cattle while birding.

The general area surrounding Mkhombo is relatively undeveloped from a tourism perspective. However, the Big 5 Dinokeng Game Reserve with its numerous lodges and accommodation options are only approximately 70km away. You can also combine birding with camping and fishing at Rust de Winter Nature Reserve which is about 50km away.

COUNTRY LIFE RECOMMENDS:

If you’re a keen birder, here are some other birding expeditions to try around the country as recommended by our top twitchers.

Bucket list: Birding Mkhombo Dam Nature Reserve

Jaci’s Tree Lodge, Madikwe Game Reserve, North West Province
bucket list ideas: Abri Kriegler

CANON product manager Abri Kriegler

My suggestion for the bucket travel list would definitely be Jaci’s Tree Lodge in the Madikwe Game Reserve in the northern part of South Africa. The reserve is currently the fifth-largest park in South Africa and offers the visitor an abundance of game and bird life.

Rooms have a private balcony and outside shower, the meals are excellent and knowledgeable guides accompany you on splendid game drives.

Enjoy sundowners while watching the sunset and spend a night in the Star Bed next to the waterhole, under the stars  and surrounded by the sounds of the African bush. When it comes to pure indulgence in Nature, this is it.

COUNTRY LIFE RECOMMENDS:

When visiting the North West province, there’s plenty more to do

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, Kalahari Desert

Damon Crawford, photographer

The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is where time truly revolves around sunrise and sunset. The lack of cellphone reception in the park allows you to disconnect from the world and engage with your surroundings.

It is a beautiful and harsh landscape that will etch itself into your heart forever.

It’s remarkable how anything can survive here, let alone thrive in this environment but the immense variety of mammals and insects, and impressiveness and abundance of the large carnivores such as the Kalahari black-maned lions will forge memories you won’t forget.

You’ll be back for more, and your appetite for exploration of the vastness of Southern Africa will have been awoken. The red dunes of the Kalahari are something to behold.

Stay at Urikaruus Wilderness Camp. Set on wooden stilts overlooking the Auob River, you’re a couple of hours away from other camps and there are only five wooden units accommodating a maximum of two people per unit in the wilderness camp itself.

This will provide some extremely personal sightings in the early hours of the morning and late afternoons (the best times to see game) as other visitors to the park simply won’t be on the roads around you.

Visit the Auchterlonie Museum – approximately 35km from Urikaruus heading south-east – and see what it was like to live here 100 years ago. There’s also a picnic site there, where you can leave your vehicle (at your own risk of course – seriously, check properly before doing so as there may well be a pride of lions relaxing in the shade nearby). The museum preserves the way the borehole caretakers lived, and you’re in for an interesting history lesson.

The route along the Auob River that traverses Namibia and South Africa is filled with history and the museum will leave you enlightened about a unique part of South Africa’s history.

COUNTRY LIFE RECOMMENDS:

If you enjoy desolated destinations untouched by throngs of tourists we recommend you also read Damon’s other top bush destinations. If you’re heading to the Kgalagadi, here’s some travel advice from our experts.

 

The Kruger National Park
bucket list: Kruger

SA Country Life editor, Nita Hazell

I’m a self-confessed bush junkie. I crave everything about it – the open space, the anticipation, the smell of the potato plant, the serendipity of camp life and the obligatory braais and condensed milk coffee.

It’s an addiction born of early childhood holidays when the family would decamp for three glorious weeks every July to the Kruger National Park. I’ve been to 7 of our 19 national parks, but the Kruger is still king for me.

COUNTRY LIFE RECOMMENDS:

With Kruger being so vast, it’s helpful to have an expert’s advice on where to go – here are some of our top Kruger recommendations.

Photo by Anita de Villiers
Photo by Anita de Villiers
Photo by Anita de Villiers
SA COUNTRY LIFE EDITOR NITA HAZELL ALSO RECOMMENDS: The Addo Elephant National Park, Eastern Cape

Our brief stop-over at the Addo Elephant National Park was just long enough to whet my appetite. You need at least a week or 10 days to really appreciate the magnificence of this the most diverse game park on Earth where you can see the Big Seven – elephant, lion, leopard, buffalo, rhino, great white shark and southern right whale.

COUNTRY LIFE RECOMMENDS:

The Big Seven aren’t the only attraction in Addo. Here are more activities to try there.

 

Oceana Beach & Wildlife Reserve, Wild Coast near Port Alfred, Eastern Cape
South African Bucket List: Ivan Carter, photgrapher & conservationist

Photographer & conservationist, Ivan Carter

There are a few off the beaten track places that are worthy of a visit, one in particular the Oceana Beach & Wildlife Reserve and is on the Wild Coast near Port Alfred.

It is a stunningly beautiful lodge on some high dunes overlooking the Indian Ocean. There is a good population of wildlife but the combination of unique views, wildlife and birds is amazing.

This place should be on one’s bucket list because its a rare chance to feel like you are on a piece of oceanfront that’s truly special, truly yours and scenically, experientially and architecturally unique.

If you go there you MUST walk down to the beach (a few hundred metres’ walk) to experiences the huge dunes, the roar of the ocean and the smell of the sea.

The beach dunes are a few hundred yards wide at that point and devoid of even footprints – go down there and leave some of your own.

To learn more about what Ivan Carter does, visit his website. 

COUNTRY LIFE RECOMMENDS:

If you’re travelling to the Eastern Cape, here’s three ways to make the most of your trip.


READER’S CHOICE: Wilderness trail in the Kruger Park

I would recommend a wilderness trail in the Kruger Park as it is an amazing and authentic experience like no other. – Lynsey McEwan, Country Life reader

COUNTRY LIFE RECOMMENDS:

Here are some other options for a great Kruger holiday.


READER’S CHOICE: Howick Falls in the Midlands

Howick Falls in the Midlands, it’s also known as KwaNogqaza, which means “Place of the Tall One” these spectacular falls measure an impressive 95m in height. The waterfall has so many stories about Local legend that believes that in the pool lives a giant snake-like creature. The view from the top, in particular, is pretty inspiring, and the volley of water mesmerising. There are also a series of interesting walks and trails, some to the bottom of the falls. – Brandon Booysen, Country Life reader. – Brandon Booysen, Country Life reader

COUNTRY LIFE RECOMMENDS:

Find out more about this beautiful palce.


READER’S CHOICE: Sabie

With the most waterfalls in one area, this place is something to see. It has the most tranquil spots and you can have a picnic at many of them. – Charlotte Pretorius, Country Life reader

COUNTRY LIFE RECOMMENDS:


READER’S CHOICE: Paternoster

Paternoster Absolute magic and tranquillity. – Ester Schoeman, Country Life reader

COUNTRY LIFE RECOMMENDS:

Stop at all the right places on your next trip to Paternoster.


READER’S CHOICE: Richmond, KwaZulu-Natal. (Hella Hella)


Words cannot describe the natural beauty, peace and tranquillity of this place. I can’t wait to return. – Francine van Pletzen, Country Life reader

COUNTRY LIFE RECOMMENDS:


READER’S CHOICE: The Midlands Meander in KZN

The Midlands Meander in KZN is a fantastic experience to add to anybody’s bucket list. The countryside is lush and gentle yet vast and breathtaking. The people are down to earth and warm. There is an amazing assortment of high quality crafts and goods for sale all along the way, amazing places to visit and fine dining to be experienced. It’s romantic for the romantic, adventurous for the adventurous and relaxed for the relaxed. It is fabulous! – Janet Perry, Country Life reader

COUNTRY LIFE RECOMMENDS:

Make sure you stop for a bite while your in KZN.


If this bucket list inspired you, have a look at our other bucket list ideas:

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