Exploring SA's lesser-known parks

2012-10-24 16:00

It's no secret that game reserves and the wildlife they house are some of South Africa's biggest tourism drawcards. However, many locals and tourists alike aren't aware of the really broad selection of parks to explore.

While Kruger definitely is awesome, we think checking out these nine lesser-known parks is certainly something for every serious nature-lover's bucket list. 

Tankwa Karoo


Situated within the Succulent Karoo Biome, an area renowned for its rare and endemic plant species, rich birdlife, and landscapes that will take your breath away. While you won't spot the Big5 here, you're sure to experience peace and quiet at its best, a night sky that will twinkle like you've never known it to before and a refreshing look at our country's natural bounty.

Creatures to spot: springbok, gemsbok and red hartebees

Accommodation: The park offers a variety of cottages, wilderness camps and campsites. There is also the Tanqua guesthouse and Gannaga Lodge for those who prefer catering accommodation. Check out the SANParks website for more details.

Location: On the southern border of the Northern Cape and only 4 hours drive from Cape Town. Closest towns - 110km from Calvinia, 180 km from Ceres



Home to the surreal landscape of the Valley of Desolation with its dolerite cliffs plunging 120 metres to the ground, Camdeboo National Park is a wonderland for photographers, geological enthusiasts and nature lovers of all creeds. The 19 405-hectare park surrounds the picturesque and historically significant Eastern Cape town of Graaff-Reinet, yet the diversity of the fauna and flora is incredible and attracts 225 species of bird, 336 plants and 43 types of mammal. 

Creatures to spot: Bat-eared foxes and meerkats, Cape Buffalo and Mountain zebra, among other intriguing mammal species. Colourful cardinal woodpeckers, lesser honeyguide. 

Accommodation: You can either stay at the Lakeview tented camp - each tent sleeps two people and has a braai unit, fridge, table and 2 chairs. Bedding and towels are provided. Or do your own thing at the Nqweba Campsite. Alternatively one could stay in Graff-Reinet and explore the park on a day trip or two. 

Location: 14 km outside of Graaff-Reinet in the Eastern Cape interior



When a park's tagline reads "Where endangered species roam" you know it's going to be something rather special. Located close to the Northern Cape town of Kimberley, Mokala creates the feeling of being delightfully isolated, although it's not located far from the N12. As with Camdeboo and Tankwa, Mokala is home to an incredible array of scenic views, making it a photographers dream, but also home to a selection of endangered species you'll be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. 

Creatures to spot: Tsessebe, Roan antelope and Black wildebeest. The rocky hillocks that characterise the park attract bird species such as freckled nightjar, short-toed rock thrush and cinnamon-breasted bunting.

Accommodation: The park has five different accommodation offerings. Mosu lodge has a mixture of self-catering and catered bungalows, and Mofele Lodge/EE Centre offers a more rustic farm setting, perfect for large family get-togethers. Then there's the Lilydale rest camp, the Haak en Steek camp and the brand new Motswedi camping site. Check out the SANParks website for more details. 

Location: About 50km outside of Kimberley off the N12


(Nature Reserves)

Situated right on the border of Mozambique in Northern KZN, Ndumo is perhaps best known for its magnificent bird life with the highest bird count in South Africa - some 430 species! Run by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, Ndumo's remote location grants it a special kind of pristine beauty. The park boasts many beautiful pans set about with yellow fever trees and extensive wetlands and reedbeds as well as acacia savannah and sand forest.

Creatures to spot: Hippo, kudu, giraffe, zebra, buffalo, nyala, among other mammals. Some of the more special bird species include: Pell's fishing owl, the broadbill, and southern banded snake eagle.

Accommodation: Ndumo Camp provides seven twin-bed chalets situated in a parkland setting under spreading marula trees. A camp cook provides excellent meals from the food provided by the guests. There is also a campsite that can accommodate 48 people.

Location: 75 km north of Jozini on the border of Mozambique 



Located right in the heart of Limpopo's Waterberg mountains, Marakele has become a 'place of sanctuary' for an impressive variety of wildlife due to its location in the transitional zone between the dry western and moister eastern regions of South Africa. The park is home to the Big5, which makes it an excellent, smaller alternative to Kruger. 

Creatures to spot: The Big5, hyenas, a variety of antelope and many smaller mammal species. Marakele is also home to the largest colony of Cape Vultures in the world, boasting no less than 800 breeding pairs!

Accommodation: The park has two accommodation offerings - the Tlopi Tented camp where you will find tents containing two beds, private bathroom and a fully equipped kitchen. There is also the Bontle Camping Site, which offers 38 campsites with power arranged into 3 clusters.

Location: Near Thabazimbi, approximately 250km north of Johannesburg, in a malaria-free area.



Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve covers approximately 13,337 ha of kloofs, ridges and plains that support a diverse range of plant, animal and bird species. Located just outside Heidelberg, about an hour from Johannesburg, this park plays an important role in providing an outdoor recreation area for the densely populated urban areas of Gauteng. Visitors can either enjoy a relaxed self-drive through the park or they can take on one of the many hiking trails. 

Creatures to spot: Grey duiker, mountain zebra, baboon, oribi, and Eland. The park is also home to small predators like the Brown Hyena. Over 200 South African birds can be observed here.

Accommodation: Overnight accommodation is available at the Protea Hotel or the Kareekloof Resort.

Location: From Johannesburg, take the N3 highway towards Heidelberg. Take the R550/Alberton Road off-ramp and turn right, across the highway. Turn left to the reserve.

Gariep Dam Nature Reserve

(Night Jar travel)

A combination of the 36 487 ha Gariep Dam on the Orange River and an 11 237 ha game sanctuary on its northern shore, the Gariep Dam Nature Reserve is the largest in the Free State. Situated between Bloemfontein and Colesberg in the Free State, the Gariep Dam is an ideal place to stop over on your way between Cape Town and Johannesburg. This reserve definitely has a lot going for it in the fun category, as visitors can indulge in a variety of watersports on the dam. 

Creatures to spot: Springbok, Cape mountain zebra, klipspringer, black wildebeest, red hartebeest, ostrich and a variety of birds and fish. 

Accommodation: The reserve has no accommodation offering of its own, but borders the Forever Resorts Gariep. 

Location: off the N1 at the R71 off ramp, halfway between Springfontein and Colesberg.

Dullstroom Nature Reserve


Known as an excellent spot for trout fishing, the Dullstroom Nature Reserve is a picturesque Highveld spot for city-dwellers to break away to. Located close to the quaint town of Dullstroom, the park also offers easy access to pubs, restaurants, shops and amenities. Temporary fishing licenses can purchased easily and will allow the holder to fish for brown and rainbow trout at the 2 well stocked dams.

Creatures to spot: Bush pig, red hartebeest, black wildebeest and blesbok. 

Accommodation: The accommodation facilities comprises of Self Catering Accommodation, as well as Camping & Caravan facilities. 

Location: 10 minutes drive away from the business centre of Dullstroom, with easy access to the R540 connecting to the N4.

Borakalalo National Park

(Nature Reserves)

Borakalalo - meaning "Place where people relax", is a 14000-hectare, malaria free National Park, situated 60 km north of Brits in North-West. The unusual eco diverse terrain within the National Park, consists of broad-leafed and Acacia woodland together with the riverside forests along the banks of the Moretele River. The 800-hectare Klipvoor Dam is situated in the Park and is renowned for its excellent fishing.

Creatures to spot: Giraffe, Leopard, Zebra and a wide variety of Antelope. Over 350 bird species have been recorded, including rarities such as the African Finefoot and White backed Night Heron.

Accommodation: There are two tented camps, of which Moretele is the more rustic with no electricity and tents only being equipped with paraffin lamps. There is also a campsite for visitors to pitch their own tents at Moretele. Phudufudu tented camp comprises 10 safari tents, of which four are luxury. 

Location: 60 km north of Brits on the R566. 

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