Did you know?
During the 1900s, British soldiers played long-distance chess in this area, using a heliograph to transmit their moves.
The Mountain Zebra National Park is situated on the northern slopes of the Bankberg mountain range near Cradock, in the Eastern Cape Midlands.
The park was first proclaimed in 1937, when the former National Parks Board, the fore-runner of the South African National Parks, realised that Cape mountain zebra numbers had plummetted.
A 1 712ha park was hurriedly proclaimed, but the remaining six zebra failed to breed, and by 1940, these handsome beasts existed in name only. A decade later, local land owners bordering the park stepped in, and donated animals from dwindling herds still in existence on their farms. Foal by foal, the Cape mountain zebra fought its way back from extinction.
Today, population numbers are healthy enough for zebras to be relocated to re-establish herds elsewhere.
In keeping with the park's conservation legacy, small numbers of plains zebras, bearing a strong genetic resemblance to the quagga, an extinct subspecies of plains zebra, have been reintroduced.
The park's size has increased to nearly 29 000ha, thanks in part to money raised by British artist David Shepherd. As a result of this initiative, endangered black rhinos are also thriving in the thorny plains and Cape buffalo and cheetah have also been reintroduced.
There are two main routes to explore. Along the Kranskop loop, spy tiny klipspringer antelope, mountain reedbuck and grey rhebok in the uplands; then descend into the territory of Cape buffalo, black rhino and eland.
The Rooiplaat loop traverses the grasslands that sustain springbok, Cape mountain zebra, blesbok, black wildebeest, red hartebeest and gemsbok. Predators in the park include caracal, omnivorous brown hyena, and more recently cheetah, the first to roam this area in a century.
Around 216 bird species have been recorded here, including ostrich, secretary bird, blue crane and Ludwig’s bustard, which make for interesting sightings, as do Verreaux’s (black) and martial eagles, and jackal buzzards.
Besides its uncommon wildlife, the park is notable for its threatened vegetation biomes (grassland, Nama Karoo, thicket and savannah), which all contribute to the biodiversity and wild, elemental beauty of the park.
Whether you escape to the craggy peaks, so typical of this landscape, for a secluded picnic, or braai (barbeque) beside the pool before a late afternoon game drive, you’ll find the Mountain Zebra National Park a rare, rewarding wildlife experience.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Mountain Zebra National Park
Tel: +27 (0)48 881 2427/3434
How to get here
The Mountain Zebra National Park is 12km from Cradock on the road to Graaff-Reinet, and just under three hours from Port Elizabeth. From Port Elizabeth take the N10 north to Cradock then take the R61. The road to the park is well signposted.
Best time to visit
The park is open all year round. Visitors are advised to check with the park in advance if they plan to stay over on a national public holiday as accommodation might be full. Summer opening hours are 7am to 7pm (October to March), and winter are from 7am to 6pm (April to September).
Around the area
In Cradock, you could visit the house of renowned local author Olive Schreiner, now a museum. Have a light meal in famous Market Street where about 30 historic houses have been restored. Historic Graaff-Reinet is also worth exploring.
Tours to do
Go on a guided tour to see evidence of San habitation in the park at three different shelters; hike the three-day, two-night Impofu hiking trail; or take it easy on the Imbila, Black Eagle and Idwala day trails.
Unless travelling with a tour operator, you will need a car to visit this park. Some sections are only for 4x4 vehicles, but most roads are suitable for all vehicles.
What will it cost
Camping starts at R200 and chalets cost around R800 for two.
What to pack
Summers in the Eastern Cape are warm to hot. December to February is when annual rainfall is experienced. Pack a hat, walking shoes, sun block, camera, binoculars and sufficient water if you plan to hike. This mountainous park occasionally receives snowfall, so pack a warm jacket, woolly hat, scarf and gloves if you plan to visit in winter time (May to August).
Where to stay
In the park, stay at Doornhoek Guest House, a self-catering, restored Victorian homestead; or a four-bed family cottage. Two family units specially accommodate disabled visitors; and there are 20 caravan and camp sites with communal ablution facilities.
What to eat
An a la carte restaurant serves light refreshments, and there is a shop selling basic commodities. There are two picnic sites with braai facilities for day visitors.
All the roads in the park have recently been upgraded, as have the hiking huts on the Impofu Trail. A swimming pool for day visitors is available.
This is mohair country, and you can buy hats, scarves or blankets made from this luxuriously warm fibre.