South Africa is famous for its wildlife and with good reason. There are hundreds of different reserves and even more individual camps offering a wealth of different experiences for the nature lover. These are seven of our favourite places to get back to nature.
Mountain Zebra National Park, Eastern Cape
If you book into one of the Rock Chalets at Mountain Zebra National Park outside Cradock, here’s my insider tip ‒ before going to sleep, open your curtains. In the morning you’ll wake to an Imax movie amphitheatre in your bedroom, the clear dawn light sweeping up the ironstone krantzes of the Bankberge in dramatic silence. If there weren’t lions, cheetah and mountain zebra roaming this park, with its open horizons and Pierneef-purple mountain backdrops, you might be tempted to watch this astounding real-time movie until mid-morning, in your pyjamas, under fine linen and mohair blankets. I certainly was.
The Rock Chalets were opened in September 2017, and have added luxury to the accommodation offerings at this popular national park. Expect leather couches, an enclosed wood-burning fireplace, air conditioning, DStv and a modular kitchen. There are even private outdoor showers outside each of the two bedrooms. From the lounge
or stoep, the view includes bustling fat skinks, Karoo Chats and the graceful flight of a Pale Chanting Goshawk. After sunset, look out for the charming Cape rock elephant shrew with its long, whiffling nose. – Julienne du Toit
048 801 5700, sanparks.org/parks/mountain_zebra
Fernkloof Nature Reserve, Western Cape
Visitors to Hermanus are spoilt for choice when it comes to activities. As newcomers to the area, we explored the wine route, restaurants and boutique shops before donning hiking boots for Fernkloof Nature Reserve in the Kleinrivier Mountains. It offers picturesque views of the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, the Babylonstoren mountain range and Hermanus town, as well as ocean vistas across Walker Bay – and has the distinction of being the only place on Earth where so many plant species (more than 1 250) grow in a space as small as 18km².
Depending on the season, there’s the chance to spot rare, endemic flora, including Erica aristata var. aristata, known as ‘pride of Hermanus’. We didn’t walk all of the 60km of graded paths, but the few we completed were exhilarating. To stay overnight in the reserve, Galpin Hut is a moderate two-hour hike from the visitors’ centre. With an elevation of about 600 metres, it has a spectacular outlook but basic facilities that include two double bunks with mattresses and little else. For the less adventurous, and with each of the hiking paths within a day’s walk, staying in a guest house in town with a hot shower and cooked meal is an alternative. – Olivia Schaffer
082 570 3403, [email protected], fernkloof.org.za
Haak en Steek Camp
Mokala National Park, Northern Cape
When cloudy, cold weather arrives in the Cape, we escape north, looking for clear, dry, blue-sky country. At Mokala National Park,about 70km south-west of Kimberley, we find it. Winding our way along red sandy roads, through typical Karoo thornveld and golden grasses heavy with seed, we pass dolerite outcrops where red hartebeest graze among scattered boulders. We marvel at a gnarled black thorn tree supporting a gigantic Sociable Weaver’s nest. Accommodation at the park varies from luxury bungalows to camping.
We chose Haak en Steek Camp, a private, rustic cottage complete with its own watering hole. Game viewing throughout the day from your stoep (or even your bed) is addictive. The self-catering cottage, which can sleep four, is surrounded by haak-en-steek (umbrella thorn) trees, but the crowning glory is the massive kameeldoring (camel thorn) tree, its heavy branches providing welcome shade and a home to a wealth of birdlife – we are spoilt for spotting choice. As the copper sky fades, we relax with sundowners, the braai wood crackles, a kudu dips his head to the water and a Freckled Nightjar calls. Ah, perfect. – Liz McKenzie
053 204 8000, sanparks.org/parks/mokala
Anysberg Nature Reserve, Western Cape
The semi-arid Klein Karoo is a place close to my heart and, in this piece of paradise, between the towns of Ladismith, Laingsburg, Touwsrivier and Montagu, lies Anysberg Nature Reserve. At almost 80 000 hectares encompassing vast open plains, the Cape Fold Mountains, valleys and gorges, it offers peace and tranquillity.
At night, thousands of stars decorate the unpolluted sky, and the reserve has plenty of activities for those with an interest in astronomy. Apart from trained guides and a stargazing platform adjacent to the office, the Planet Trek is a route to the self-catering accommodation at Tapfontein that has markers placed proportionately to reflect the distances between the planets. This experience can be enjoyed on foot, bicycle or horseback.
Spend the night in one of the four wooden Wendy houses, named after constellations, which can sleep two people each. Bring your own food, bedding, towels, and other supplies. Additional accommodation in the reserve includes self-catering cottages and camping sites. Look out for Cape mountain zebra, eland, Springbok and oryx during your stay. – René de Klerk
023 551 1922, capenature.co.za/reserves/anysberg-nature-reserve
Bateleur Bushveld Camp
Kruger National Park, Limpopo
“There’s the baobab!” Towering over the mopanes and russet red bushwillows stands the ancient, elephant-ravaged tree. This landmark means that Bateleur Bushveld Camp, the oldest and smallest bushveld camp in the Kruger National Park, 140 kilometres from Phalaborwa Gate, is nearby. The seven well-equipped, self-catering cottages are situated among towering trees and close to the perimeter fence, which makes viewing of all things great and small possible right from our stoep.
After an efficient check-in, we are eagerly welcomed at our cottage by Hornbills, Crested Francolins and cheeky tree squirrels eager to run off with anything not locked away out of sight. As the bush camp and its access road are restricted to residents only, there’s no congestion, a blessing at both Bateleur Camp’s Silvervis and Rooibosrand dams, where we spend several quiet hours observing the wonderful world of the park passing by. From the game-viewing hide just outside the camp, we watch a small herd of elephant drift off contentedly from the waterhole as the sun slips away. So do we, our comfortable beds calling at the end of another magical Kruger day. – Liz McKenzie
013 735 6843, sanparks.org/parks/kruger
Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve, Western Cape
Dominated by indigenous Afromontane forest, Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve near Swellendam and Heidelberg is one of my favourite places for a hike or a bike ride. Within the reserve, there are numerous trails – some relatively easy, some more challenging, but the majority are circular loops. Start the day with a five-kilometre walk through valleys of yellowwoods, take a rest at lunch, and then cycle in the afternoon along the mountain jeep tracks. Nothing is too taxing, but all of it is scenically spectacular, with flowering fynbos and craggy peaks, fern-covered gullies and tea-coloured forest streams.
The self-catering cabins are on a ridge slap bang in the middle of the trail network, with amazing views over the Langeberg mountains, particularly in the early morning or at sunset. Made of reclaimed materials, each of the 11 units can comfortably sleep four people, with two bedrooms, a fully equipped kitchen, an open-plan living room with a fireplace for chilly evenings, and both an indoor (kuierkamer) and an outdoor braai area. When it’s hot, there’s a newly built, communal swimming pool close to the cottages. There are also campsites available in the reserve. – Dale Morris
087 087 8250, capenature.co.za/reserves/grootvadersbosch-nature-reserve
Ivory Tree Game Lodge
Pilanesberg National Park, North West
For a city slicker like me, Ivory Tree Game Lodge is an easy weekend getaway as it’s only two and a half hours from Johannesburg. The lodge is situated within the Pilanesberg National Park, so get ready for loads of game viewing on tap. The Big Five are at home here and we were fortunate enough to spot all of them during our two-day stay, even the ever-elusive leopard made a brief appearance from a distance. Morning and evening game drives with a qualified guide are included, or you can go it alone in your own vehicle as the lodge has direct access to
the reserve via the Bakgatla Gate. The rooms are plush with king-size, four-poster beds shrouded in mosquito netting – a touch that always makes me feel like a princess in a fairytale. We had the choice of enjoying the wonders of the bush from our huge bath tub, or getting closer to nature in our outside shower. Don’t worry, there’s more than enough privacy for you to soap up in peace. The lodge’s restaurant serves buffet-style meals, and dinner at the outdoor boma under the stars is a must. – Leigh Hermon
014 556 8100, ivorytreegamelodge.info