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Whether you dream of relaxing in a luxurious 5-star safari lodge or roughing it round a campfire with only the sounds of the bush for company, South Africa’s 19 national parks offer every wildlife experience you can imagine… and then some. 

South African National Parks (SANParks) manages a system of conservation areas that showcase the full spectrum of the country’s fauna, flora and landscapes. 

Where would you like to stay? Take your pick from all kinds of accommodation options ranging from rustic camping sites to intimate 5-star safari lodges. Adventurers can opt for a 4x4 trail or a walk on the wild side with a trained guide. 

With so much to choose from we suggest you take an online safari by province to help you find the park that best fits your needs. 

Kruger National Park 

The renowned Kruger National Park was the first conservation area to be proclaimed in South Africa. Now it forms part of the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park. 

Stretching north to south for 350km along the eastern border with Mozambique (the size of a small country), the Kruger contains a rich diversity of wildlife. Here you will encounter the Big 5 (lion, elephant, rhino, buffalo and leopard) among the 147 different mammal species and 500 species of birds. 

Kruger’s historic southern region is bordered by the Crocodile River in the south and the Sabie River in the north. Much of the area is characterised by open savannah dotted with red bushwillow, jackalberry and acacia trees. 

The northern part of the Kruger National Park is distinguished by mopane, fever and giant baobab trees. Here are large herds of elephant and buffalo and plentiful antelope, predators and birdlife. 

Highlights: 

  • In the south, you should see lion and cheetah and, if you're lucky, a solitary leopard or endangered wild dogs. Most of Kruger’s white rhino occur here. 
  • Impala, kudu, zebra, giraffe, buffalo and elephant are common, as are hippos and an enormous variety of birds. 
  • Sandy riverbeds often hold pools of water that attract a wide variety of game, so it pays to stop frequently at the many viewing spots. 
  • In the far north are archaeological and historical sites such as Masorini and Thulamela. 
  • Cool off beneath the fever trees on the banks of the Luvuvhu River to view crocodile, hippos, nyala, the migrant Abdim’s stork and the elusive leopard. 
  • Look out for nocturnal bush pigs, the shy Sharpe’s grysbok and samango monkeys in the riverine forest. 

 Addo Elephant National Park 

Just east of Port Elizabeth is the malaria-free world-famous Addo Elephant National Park − now the third largest national park in South Africa. Spend quality time in the presence of these remarkable giants. 

Highlights: 

  • Addo’s finely tuned ecosystem is home to over 450 elephants. Here, too, is the pocket-sized flightless dung beetle, which is only found in this park. 
  • Addo also has 5 of the 7 vegetation biomes found in South Africa. These include coastal forests, subtropical thicket, a section of arid Nama Karoo, cycads, grassy fynbos, dune fields and marine islands. 
  • It is touted as a Big 7 park, boasting the Big 5 terrestrial animals, as well as whales and great white sharks. 
  • Here you will find the world's largest breeding population of cape gannets, and the second biggest population of African penguins. 

 Camdeboo National Park 

Encircling the historic Karoo town of Graaff-Reinet, Camdeboo National Park offers visitors a visual feast of spring flowers, prehistoric landscapes and weird and wonderful geological formations. 

Highlights: 

  • Marvel at the sheer cliffs and bizarre dolerite rock formations of the Valley of Desolation − the result of millennia of natural erosion. 
  • It has 220 species of bird, 336 plants and 43 types of mammals. 
  • Set in the Karoo’s mountainous sub-desert, the park protects 3 special forms of vegetation – shrub land, dwarf shrub land and succulent thicket. 
  • There are short walking trails and overnight hikes with picnic sites for those who simply want to be surrounded by awe-inspiring scenery. 

 Mountain Zebra National Park 

This park near Cradock was proclaimed in the early 20th century to save the Cape mountain zebra from extinction. From just 6 animals there are now more than 350 of this subspecies in the park. 

Highlights: 

  • The zebra share the park with cheetah, black rhino and buffalo. 
  • Numerous antelope species graze on the beautiful plains and deep valleys here. 
  • For birders there are blue crane, Stanley’s bustard and other elusive species. 

 Garden Route National Park 

This park consists of three parts: Wilderness, Knysna and Tsitsikamma. 

Wilderness is the ultimate nature-lover’s retreat – a place of lakes, estuaries, rivers and ocean set against a forested mountain backdrop. 

The Knysna section protects the unique lake system and the rare Knysna seahorse. 

The Tsitsikamma section, known as 'the place of clear water', is a combined marine and forest park protecting offshore reefs and virgin coastal forest and offers accommodation in a beautiful setting right next to the sea. 

Highlights: 

  • The colourful Knysna turaco, with its distinctive call, is the icon of the park. Five kingfisher species also frequent the lakes and wetlands. 
  • Adventure activities such as paragliding, hang-gliding, abseiling and kloofing. 
  • It's a magical place of deep ravines, cool rivers and misty forests along a magnificent rugged coastline, as well as lakes and estuaries. 
  • This Eden is a year-round destination for walkers, hikers and nature lovers. Most famous is the Otter Trail: a challenging coastal hike to Nature's Valley. 

 Golden Gate Highlands National Park 

In the foothills of the Maluti Mountains, the Golden Gate Highlands National Park takes its name from the glorious golden shades of the breathtaking sandstone cliffs. 

Highlights: 

  • The sculpted sandstone cliffs that tower above meandering streams. 
  • This highland region is home to zebra, oribi, eland and numerous other antelope. 
  • There are various trails in the area, and nature photographers will be enthralled by the contrasting colours and textures of the sandstone rock formations. 
  • For bird lovers there is a bearded vulture restaurant, while bald ibises can be seen nesting on cliff ledges. 
  • Horse ride, mountain bike or hike to the top of the plateau. 

 Mapungubwe National Park and World Heritage Site 

Visitors to Mapungubwe Hill get to explore the capital of an ancient iron-age African civilisation that existed on the banks of the Limpopo River from 900AD to 1300AD. 

Highlights: 

  • A guided tour of Mapungubwe Hill, which includes a game drive through the park. Once atop the hill you can take in the spectacular scenery of rugged valleys dotted with iconic baobabs as your guide brings to life legends of kings, Arab traders and golden rhinoceroses. 
  • Picnic where 3 countries (Zimbabwe, South Africa and Botswana) meet at the confluence of the Shashe and Limpopo Rivers. 
  • Traverse the treetops along a specially constructed wooden walkway, which will give you a bird's-eye view of the riverine forest and its inhabitants. 
  • Spend 3 magical days doing the Vhembe Wilderness Trail. This slackpacker hike (all meals, luggage and accommodation are taken care of) includes archaeological sites, field interpretation and game-viewing. 

 Marakele National Park 

In the heart of the Waterberg Mountains is Marakele National Park: a veritable wonderland of natural treasures. 

Highlights: 

  • Situated on the transition zone between the dry west and moist east of South Africa, Marakele boasts an unusual mix of bird and animal life. 
  • The park is home to ancient cycads, rare yellowwoods and cedar trees, among other indigenous plant life. 
  • It boasts the world's largest breeding colony of Cape vultures. 
  • Just 250km north of Johannesburg, it is home to the Big 5 in malaria-free conditions. 

 |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier National Park 

Situated in the far west of the country, this surreal landscape is the only mountain desert in South Africa. 

Highlights: 

  • Unusual rock shapes and the world's richest desert flora give the Richtersveld National Park a unique and primeval aspect. 
  • Look for rock hyrax (dassie), ground squirrels and Hartmann’s mountain zebra. 
  • Marvel at the unique vegetation of the area – gnarled quiver trees, towering aloes and the extraordinary halfmens (half-human) tree. 

Please note that this park can only be accessed by 4x4 vehicles. 

 Augrabies Falls National Park 

With a thundering 56m waterfall, Augrabies Falls National Park on the banks of the Gariep River is a place of extreme contrasts. 

Highlights: 

  • A river runs through the Augrabies Falls National Park, yet the surrounds are sheer lunar landscape. 
  • Here klipspringers can be seen atop stony outcrops, while rock hyraxes (dassies) soak up the hot sun around the waterfall. 
  • Predators include caracal, the African wild cat, black-backed jackals and leopard. 
  • Birdlife is prolific in the area. Look out for the pygmy falcon and black stork. The rare Verreaux’s eagle breeds in the park. 
  • View the exquisite landscapes from Moon Rock, Arrow Point and Echo corner. 
  • White-water rafting down the river is a favourite activity. 
  • Hiking trails and adventure sports are also popular in this part of the world. 

 Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park 

Straddling the border with Botswana in the remote north of South Africa is the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Its name is taken from the Bushman word for a ‘place of thirst’, but desert lovers will also find food for the soul where this arid landscape gives life to exotic animals and indigenous flora. 

Highlights: 

  • This unique park, with its shimmering sandscapes and red dunes, is home to the creatures of the Kalahari Desert. 
  • View gemsbok, meerkats and the famed black-maned Kalahari lions. 
  • Admire sociable weavers and their huge communal nests. 

 Mokala National Park 

Mokala National Park, the newest SANpark, is very accessible as it is just 80km southwest of Kimberley by tar road. Mokala is Setswana for camel thorn tree. 

Highlights: 

  • The park comprises Kalahari thornveld, savannah and Nama Karoo terrain interspersed with rocky outcrops and a wetland area. 
  • Distinctive camel thorn trees dominate the landscape. 
  • Tsessebe and red hartebeest are resident here, as are endangered roan antelope. 
  • Mountain bike trails, day hikes, game drives and the chance to unwind round a campfire in the immense stillness are on offer. 
  • The park at present is focusing on conference groups, with plans for the addition of more self-catering accommodation. 

 Namaqua National Park 

Just inland from the West Coast is the Namaqua National Park: home to the richest bulb flora in the world. This is the place to visit after the first spring rains when the flowers come out in magnificent displays. 

Highlights: 

  • Each spring (from late August through October), wild blossoms transform the area into a flower carnival, offering a floral banquet for nature lovers and photographers. 
  • Take in the amazing quiver tree forest. 
  • Look out for the world’s smallest tortoise, the Namaqua speckled padloper. 

 Tankwa Karoo National Park 

The Tankwa Karoo region is 1 of 2 global diversity hotspots in South Africa as many of its succulents are endemic and found nowhere else on earth. The western section of the park is extremely arid, with massive variations in temperatures and almost no rainfall. 

Highlights: 

  • For the most mind-blowing view of the Tankwa Karoo, travel up the Gannaga Pass to the top of the 1600m Roggeveld escarpment. 
  • Revel in the freedom of the seemingly infinite semi-desert plains. 
  • Spring rains permitting, the plains of the Tankwa put on a floral spectacular from August to October. 
  • Birders should visit during the cooler spring months for the tiny black-eared sparrow-lark and the robust Karoo korhaan. 

 Agulhas National Park 

The Agulhas National Park is where the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet at the southernmost tip of Africa. While shipwrecks pepper the coastal waters, on land there is an incredible plant diversity of over 2000 indigenous species. 

Highlights: 

  • Nearby wetlands protect the endangered Cape platana and the micro frog. 
  • Rare sea birds, such as the Damara tern and African black oystercatcher, can be seen circling overhead. 
  • The southern right whale is often spotted in this part of the world. 
  • Agulhas is home to unique vegetation, such as limestone fynbos. 

 Bontebok National Park 

The Bontebok National Park beneath the Langeberg mountains near Swellendam is the smallest national park in the country. Proclaimed in 1931 to preserve the dwindling number of bontebok, the region now boasts over 3000 of these striking animals. 

Highlights: 

  • See bontebok and Cape mountain zebra. 
  • Spot unusual antelope such as grey rhebok, red hartebeest and Cape grysbok. 
  • It is a birder's paradise with over 200 species, including Stanley’s bustard. 
  • Lazy sundowners on the banks of the Breede River. 

 Karoo National Park 

Once an inland lake and stomping ground for dinosaurs, this arid park is fossil rich. Dominated by the Nuweveld Mountains and rolling plains, it is also home to a huge diversity of small reptiles and succulent plants. 

Highlights: 

  • The Park boasts the Karoo Fossil Trail, which takes in the geology and palaeontology of the Great Karoo. The Interpretive Centre holds a wealth of information on the history and culture of the area. 
  • This remote park near Beaufort West protects the endangered riverine rabbit and is home to one of the largest populations of Verreaux's eagles in the country. 
  • The park has 5 different species of tortoise. 
  • It's also home to lions. 
  • Enjoy views of springbok as they graze in large herds. 
  • The park offers 4x4 enthusiasts the opportunity to negotiate a challenging trail. 

 Table Mountain National Park 

Incorporating various sections of Cape Town and the Cape of Good Hope, Table Mountain National Park is South Africa’s only urban national park. 

Highlights: 

  • The smallest of the world’s 6 floral kingdoms and a World Heritage Site, it is home to 2285 different plants. Of these, 90 occur nowhere else on earth. 
  • During the summer months, Kirstenbosch hosts free Sunday evening concerts featuring some of the country’s best musical talent. Bring a blanket, friends and a chilled bottle of fine Cape wine. 
  • Offering magnificent views of the city, the revolving Table Mountain Cableway is not to be missed when visiting the park. When you reach the top look for dassies, tiny antelope and baboons. 
  • Sunsets atop Table Mountain are breathtaking, so enjoy sundowners while the magic of the Mother City washes over you. 

 West Coast National Park 

The West Coast National Park is a birder's paradise and a wonderland of sea, sand and lagoon, particularly popular in spring for its wild flowers. 

Highlights: 

  • You can spot penguins, gannets, cormorants and flamingos amongst the thousands of water birds and waders feeding in Langebaan lagoon. 
  • Migratory birds from the Arctic Circle also visit the area. 
  • Miles of pristine beaches. 
  • The Postberg Flower Reserve is open in spring. 

 

Did You Know?

TTravel tips & planning  info 

Who to contact 

South African National Parks  

Tel: +27 (0)12 428 9111  

Email: reservations@sanparks.org 

 

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