National Parks of South Africa

Kruger National Park

The Kruger National Park is the primary destination in South Africa for many international tourists. Each year more than half a million visitors are registered.

The National Park was opened in 1898 at the instigation of then-president Paul Kruger. After hunters had considerably decimated the originally rich game stock, all the land between the Sabie and the Crocodile Rivers was put under the protection of Nature Conservation to ensure the survival of the remaining animals. Only as recently as 1961 was the extended Kruger Park fenced in.

The park stretches from the Crocodile River in the south up to the Limpopo River, which is the international border in the north. Altogether it is 350 km long, 65 km wide and comprises an area of about 20,000 sq km.

The game stock in the Kruger National Park is globally unique. 114 different species of reptiles, 507 bird and 147 mammal species are represented here. About 3000 hippos and just as many crocodiles live in the rivers which have water all year long. On land, the Impala antelopes are the most numerous animals, with more than 90,000 specimens. Some 30,000 zebras and 15,000 buffaloes also bustle about in the vast savannah, and 5,000 giraffes and 8,000 elephants keep them company. Only the rhinoceros seems to be a bit under-represented with a population of only 300. However, the number of predatory cats is considerable: 1,500 lions, 900 leopards and 300 cheetahs are part of this magnificent eco-system.


Addo National Park

The first settlers in the Addo region immediately decimated the big elephant herds, because they frequently devastated their fields and plantations. So the number of elephants continuously decreased, until there was eventually hardly a dozen of them left. The remaining elephants became protected in the Addo Elephant Park, established in 1931. However, the surviving elephants were known to be highly aggressive. In an attempt to mollify them, they were fed whole truck-loads of rotting oranges.

All together this experiment was successful and the elephant population started to grow again. These special feedings were soon stopped, but still today the elephants are mad for oranges, and will smash any car if they sense the smell of their favourite citrus fruit in it.

Nowadays about 400 elephants live in the park as well as 450 buffalos, numerous zebras and a number of antelope species. In 2003, 6 lions were released, which have well adapted to the new environment. This also applies to the hyena population. The park was continuously extended and now comprises an area of 145000 hectares. There are plans to extend the well frequented, malaria-free park by another 200.000 hectares.

The elephant park also deserves a visitor's attention for some smaller creatures, like the flightless dung beetle, which has survived in South Africa only in few areas. The insects roll big balls from elephant dung and transport them into subterranean breeding chambers. So a perfect recycling system has developed: the digested plants eventually become dung for the soil.


Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park - the former Kalahari Gemsbok National Park - in the northernmost corner of South Africa is still one of the best kept secrets in South African tourism, attracting 50,000 visitors annually. From any starting point, the journey to the remote nature reserve is a long drive over dusty roads. The park provides an insight into the fascinating ecosystem of the Kalahari with its orange-red sand dunes and a flora and fauna specially adapted to the arid conditions in the Kalahari desert.

The Kalahari park was declared a National Park in 1931, mainly to put a stop to the destructive game poaching. After the amalgamation with the bordering Gemsbok National Park in Botswana in 1998 the reserve is now called Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and comprises an area of more than 36,000 sq km. The border is marked only by whitewashed stones, so that the animals can roam freely through both parks.

Access to the park (South African part) in the south leads through the restcamp Twee Rivieren ("Two Rivers"). Excellent accommodation is available here with a swimming pool, restaurant and other amenities. The two main routes through the National Park start here and run along the - usually dry - riverbeds of the Nossob and Auob rivers to the remote restcamps Mata-Mata and Nossob. In distances of 5 to 20 kilometres, one can find waterholes along the riverbeds, most of them fed by wind pumps. Here is where the game gathers, especially in the early hours of the morning and late in the afternoon.

The cooler winter months from April to September are more suitable for a visit to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park than are the very hot summer months, when temperatures might rise above the 40° C mark. The most favourable time for game observation is right after the rainy season, which usually ends in March or April. If you don't mind the heat, January and February are good months to spot lions.

The roads in the park are untarred and quite sandy in parts. However, a 4x4 vehicle is normally not required. Occasionally, during the rainy season, the roads might be flooded in certain areas, at which time the park is sometimes closed to normal vehicles.

The Kalahari is an arid region with a rainfall of 200 mm per annum, mainly between January and April. In some years, rainfall was less than 100 mm. In summer, day temperatures can easily exceed 40°C. Winter days are sunny with night temperatures often below zero.

Despite the arid conditions, the Kalahari is a biotope for a fauna of great variety. More than 58 mammal species live here, amongst them the majestic Kalahari lion which is well adapted to the desert conditions.

The park is famous for its large antelope herds. Quite frequently one can see hundreds of graceful springbok, orx or gemsbok and blue wildebeest moving about grazing through the softly rustling veld.


Madikwe National Park

The Madikwe Game Reserve belongs to the latest park developments in South Africa. It was opened in 1991 and is still in the initial stages. The reserve comprises 60.000 hectares of bushland north of the small town Groot-Marico up to the Botswana border. In the south, the Dwarsberg Mountains are the border. The terrain is mainly open grasslands and bushveld plains, interspersed with rocky outcrops and single mountains. Except for the Marico river in the east of the park, water resources are scarce and several dams had to be built.

With the "Operation Phoenix" which began in 1993, more than 8,000 heads of game were brought into the park. In 1996, predators were introduced in Madikwe, first cheetahs, wild dogs and hyenas, later also lions from the Etosha National Park (Namibia) and the neighbouring Pilanesberg National Park. 180 elephants came from the Gonarezhou Game Reserve in Zimbabwe which had been hit by a disastrous drought. The resettlement of the elephants was a great success and their population in Madikwe has grown to 250 animals.

Today some 12,000 animals live in the Madikwe Game Reserve. All predator species are represented and also black and white rhino, buffalo, giraffe, zebra and a great number of antelopes. More than 350 bird species have been registered.


Tsitsikamma National Park

Tsitsikamma National Park is an 80 kilometre long coastal strip between Nature's Valley and the mouth of the Storms River. In the park the visitor finds an almost untouched natural landscape. Two long hiking routes with some huts for overnight stays are well established. The popular Otter Trail of 48 km and the Tsitsikamma Trail of 72 km, both offer the well-trained hiker an experience of a unique plant and animal world. Some indigenous Yellowwood trees still exist here, over 800 years old. Besides the diverse birdlife, one can also observe smaller mammal species, the cute dassies for example, which often graze near the beach.

Or the less physically active visitors there is a comfortable holiday resort with camping and log huts right on the coast. Short walking paths lead through the coastal rainforests, to the hanging bridge at the mouth of the Storms River and to the famous Schietklip, a rock in the sea which causes thundering giant waves.


Sabi Sands Game Reserve

The Sabi Sands Game Reserve is undoubtedly the most exclusive private game reserve in South Africa. The 65,000-hectare Sabi Sands Game Reserve is located on the south-western corner of the Kruger National Park. There are no restricting fences between the Kruger Park and Sabi Sands Reserve and the wildlife roams freely between the two game reserves. Your Wildlife Safari cannot be complete without exposure to every facet of life in the bush.

Leopards are a main attraction of the Sabi Sands Game Reserve and are so accustomed to cars that they do not take much notice of them. Even when hunting, a leopard in the Sabi Sands will not mind a vehicle following it, even if this means following it off-road though the bush. Some of the best and most exclusive private game lodges in the country are in the Sabi Sands Game Reserve and the chances of seeing the Big 5 (lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and rhino) are excellent.


Kapama Game Reserve

Kapama Game Reserve is situated in the Limpopo Province, South Africa and was proclaimed a private nature reserve in December 1993. Covering approximately 13 000 hectares of prime big game territory, Kapama Game Reserve has succeeded in combining the wilderness of the bush with the comforts of five-star hospitality and facilities. The name comes from Kapama, a Swazi king, whose tribe inhabited and hunted the northern Drakensberg mountain region around Mariepskop back in the 1880s.

A game relocation programme was introduced and the Kapama reserve now supports a wide variety of wildlife including elephant, buffalo, rhinoceros, and large populations of giraffe, impala, blue wildebeest and kudu. Predators include lion, leopard, cheetah, spotted hyena and many smaller species. Bird-watching is most rewarding and more than 350 bird species have been recorded, including the rare Gymnogeg and Knob-billed duck. Game viewing during the hot summer months (October to April) is more comfortable in the early mornings and late afternoon when it is cooler. Late afternoon rain showers and not uncommon and provide much relief for both humans and animals.


Thornybush Game Reserve

Adjacent to and incorporated into the Greater Kruger National Park lies 10 000 hectares of pristine African bushveld, which is the 'Thornybush Game Reserve'. With an abundance of birdlife and wildlife species including the 'Big 5'. Explore the African bush on foot and from the back of an open safari vehicle. Discover the animal world, from the smallest termite to the giraffe, mongoose and buffalo.

Listen to the distant roar of the lion whilst relaxing around the campfire, or simply appreciate the silence, space and brilliant night skies. Thornybush Game Reserve is approximately 5 hours drive or 1 hour flight from Johannesburg. There are daily scheduled flights to Hoedspruit Airport. In the Thornybush Game Reserve you will find the Big Five roaming freely between the Thornybush and Kruger National Park, including Lion, Elephant, Leopard, Buffalo, and the Rhino.


Mabula Game Reserve

Only two short hours’ drive North of Johannesburg lies the African wonder that is Mabula Private Game Reserve. This 12000ha of malaria free reserve is home to an abundance of wildlife and birdlife, including the world famous Big Five. Home to some 60 mammals, 300 bird species, 100 plant types and numerous reptile and insect species, at Mabula Game Reserve, all natures' wonders are revered - from the 'Big Five' (lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and rhino) to the 'small five' (ant lion, leopard tortoise, buffalo weaver, elephant shrew and rhino beetle). This is the Heartland of the South African Safari experience.

All of Mabula Game Reserve's activities have a common goal - to awaken the senses and quicken the pulse by presenting the African bush in ways you would never have imagined. Highly qualified game rangers with years of experience and knowledge expertly handle all activities. For the wild-at-heart seeker of true bush adventure, nothing could compare with the excitement and thrill of big game viewing on horseback - a deliciously unique close encounter of the wildest kind. Morning and evening game drives are daily highlights, surpassed in pleasure only by the feeling of camaraderie in sipping sundowners as you watch a truly spectacular African sunset from the luxury of one of Mabula's four wheel drive vehicles.

If keeping your feet on the ground is a particularly satisfying sensation, Mabula Game Reserve's informative bush walks guided by a highly professional and experienced game ranger, will impress you beyond expectation. If you are however looking for a unique game viewing experience, then you will be sure not to pass up the opportunity of viewing the Big Five from a hot air balloon.


Timbavati Game Reserve

The Timbavati Private Game Reserve lies in the western region of the Kruger National Park, north of Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve, the borders between all of them unfenced allowing greater freedom of access to wild life. This is typical lowveld terrain and home to the big 5, not least because the huge tracts of land that make up the Timbavati Game Reserve have only ever been very lightly inhabited and have thus remain largely unspoilt and wild. The Game Reserve has never had to resort to restocking its wild life.

The other famous fact about the Timbavati is its association with the white lions, known as the 'white lions of Timbavati'. Timbavati in ancient Sangaan means 'the place where something sacred came down to earth from the heavens' and refers to these genetically rare specimens that are not albino lions but are actually listed as a sub species of lion. Chris McBride first spotted two white lion cubs in the Timbavati Reserve back in 1975 and today there is a whole pride of white lions in the greater Timbavati area. People come from all over the world to spot them, and they're the stuff of legends.

The number of lodges within the Timbavati remain few in a bid to keep the level of game drive vehicles low and the number of visitors to a minimum, thus sustaining the amount of game in the park, which is one of the best. You can hope to see elephant, cheetah, buffalo, rhino, over 360 bird species, 79 reptiles and over 80 species of tree.

Timbavati is in turn divided into smaller private game reserves that include Motswari, Ngala and Umlani Game Reserves. It lies but five or six hours' drive from Johannesburg and normal sedans can reach all of the lodges in the Timbavati reserve.


Kariega Game Reserve

The private Kariega Game Reserve is situated in the malaria-free, upper reaches of the Kariega River Valley, 14 km from Kenton On Sea on the R343 to Salem and Grahamstown and 145 km from Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape, South Africa.

Located in pristine surroundings, the tranquillity and splendour of Kariega Game Reserve is beyond doubt awesome. Sanctuary to abundant game and wildlife such as lion, elephant, leopard, rhino, hippo, giraffe, zebra, eland, wildebeest, waterbuck and a variety of antelope, as well as a myriad of bird species, including nesting Martial Eagle, Crowned and Fish Eagles, this 9000 hectare private game reserve is a must, for those seeking the retreat and the thrill of the great outdoors and an African Safari vacation of a lifetime.

Set high above the spectacular Kariega River Valley, you cannot get closer to nature than in this wondrous African wilderness, in the heart of the 1820 Settler Country, with its rich historical heritage.


Pumba Game Reserve

Lying in a particularly breathtaking setting that includes five of the world’s seven biomes, Pumba Private Game Reserve has a couple of major advantages: one, it is set in a malaria-free part of the Eastern Cape, and two, it provides really easy access to big game viewing, including the Big Five, making travelling to the nether regions of the country for luxury game viewing almost redundant. Pumba Game Reserve lies 105 kilometres from Port Elizabeth and virtually outside historical Grahamstown.

The 6000 hectare reserve claims a list of game that includes the significant seven - giraffe, zebra, hippo, cheetah, warthog, hyena and wild dog -, the diminutive dozen (including the likes of the scrub hare, antbear, Cape fox and aardwolf) and a more than fair selection of antelope. A further draw card is free roaming white lions, there as a result of the reserve’s white lion breeding programme, whilst over 300 bird species allow for hours of restorative bird watching.

For those who want to do more than to bask in the beauty of the surrounds and easily spot animals, there are also bass fishing, spa treatments, nocturnal bush drives and walks on the wild side - walking through the bush.


Shamwari Game Reserve

Shamwari Game Reserve is the Southernmost, Big Game, private reserve in Africa - Malaraia Free. This ultimate African adventure stretches along the Bushman's river, halfway between Port Elizabeth and Grahamstown, and forms a natural extension to the famous Garden Route. The 25 000 hectare game reserve is steeped in Settler history, and dates back to the time when game roamed freely in the Eastern Cape. Shamwari is about conserving a vanishing way of life, and has been awarded a number of International awards for it's efforts in conservation coupled with tourism.

Shamwari's highly trained game rangers, with skilled service staff will ensure a memorable adventure, personalised to your needs. In keeping with it's conservation policy, Shamwari has a complete wildlife research team as well as it's own anti poaching unit, ensuring an ecological balance prevails on this reclaimed piece of wilderness.

Shamwari Game Reserve has received numerous international awards, including the World's Leading Conservation Company and Game Reserve for a number of consecutive years. It is situated in verdant bush along the Bushmans River, halfway between Port Elizabeth (45 minutes drive outside the city) and Grahamstown, a pleasant drive from Cape Town, forming a natural extension to the famous Garden Route.

Shamwari is about conserving a vanishing way of life and is the realisation of one man's dream, and the success of many people's passion. Steeped in Settler history, and dating back to the time when a multitude of game roamed wild and free, the 25 000 hectare reserve boasts five eco-systems, thus enabling the support of many forms of plant, animal and bird life.


Pilanesberg National Park

The Pilanesberg National Park, which covers some 55 000 hectare, is the fourth largest in southern Africa. This malaria-free park is perched on the eroded vestiges of an alkaline volcanic crater - one of only three such craters in the world. The history of the Pilanesberg Park is also unique amongst national parks in South Africa. Pilanesberg National Park's special features of rugged landscape, well-watered valleys and attractive dwelling sites have made it a preferred site for human settlement for thousands of years. Prior to its proclamation as a reserve in 1979, the Pilanesberg National Park Complex was degraded and depleted of indigenous wildlife populations due to fairly intense settlement by commercial farmers. At considerable expense, the land has been restocked with game, the scars of human settlement were removed and tourism infrastructure was developed during the first 15 years (1979 and 1993). This constituted the largest and most expensive game stocking and land rehabilitation project ever undertaken in any African game reserve at the time.

A 110 kilometre peripheral Big Game fence was erected over some very rugged terrain, 188 kilometre of visitor roads have been developed and more than 6 000 head of game were introduced during the Operation Genesis game translocation programme. Thus, while wildlife resources are rapidly declining in most developing countries in Africa, Pilanesberg National Park is one of the few areas where this trend has been dramatically reversed. For this far-sighted action the North West Province (Previously Bop Parks) and its people have received worldwide acclaim and recognition. The challenge that lies ahead is to further develop and manage Pilanesberg National Park in such a way that the conservation, cultural, recreational and economic benefits of this far-sighted action can be optimally utilised to the benefit of current and future generations.

Pilanesberg exists within the transition zone between the dry Kalahari and wetter Lowveld vegetation, commonly referred to as "Bushveld". Unlike any other large park, unique overlaps of mammals, birdlife and vegetation occur because of this transition zone. Springbok, brown hyaena, the redeyed bulbul, and camel thorn trees usually found in arid areas are found co-habitating with moist-area-limited impala, blackeyed bulbul and Cape chestnut trees. Pre-sunrise and post-sunset drives are possible owing to gate opening and closure times.

Since late 1979, thanks to Operation Genesis - the largest game translocation ever undertaken at the time, tourists have been able to take note of nature's alphabet - from aardvark to zebra. The park boasts healthy populations of lion, leopard, black and white rhino, elephant and buffalo - Africa's "Big Five". A wide variety of rare and common species exist with endemic species like the nocturnal brown hyaena, the fleet-footed cheetah, the majestic sable, as well as giraffe, zebra, hippo and crocodile, to mention but a few.


Phinda Private Game Reserve

Come face-to-face with lions and rhino before breakfast, swim with dolphins after lunch and catch a marlin before dinner - that's the Phinda experience, one of the most exciting safari destinations in South Africa. Located between the azure waters of the Indian Ocean and the lush waterways of the World Heritage Greater St Lucia Wetland Park, Phinda's 17,000 ha span seven unique ecosystems.

Phinda Private Reserve is situated in the lush KwaZulu Natal region in northern South Africa. Sandwiched between Mkuze Game Reserve and the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park (a World Heritage Site). The Phinda Game Reserve comprises 14,000 hectares of prime conservation land. Seven distinct habitats shelter an abundance of wildlife including Africa’s Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, buffalo) and over 380 bird species, while the marine diversity off the nearby coast of Sodwana Bay is said to rival the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

Guests can look forward to exciting game-drives in open 4x4 safari vehicles led by experienced rangers and Zulu trackers, as well as thrilling optional activities on the water, in the air and on the beach.


Botlierskop Game Reserve

Botlierskop is named after one of the spectacular rock formations on the reserve. Botlierskop is a well stocked, free roaming private game reserve, which gives visitors the opportunity to view South African wildlife from the safety of 4x4 vehicles, in its natural habitat. Rhino's, buffalo, giraffe, zebra, eland, bontebuck and 26 more species, make up a total of more than 1800 animals. Botlierskop is proud of their relationship with the IFAW, which enabled them to assist in the rescue of 3 African lions, which are also seen during the game drive.

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