Leave the hustle and bustle and head to one of South Africa’s many National Parks which offers breathtaking scenery, up close and personal encounters with the country’s amazing wildlife and stunning views of our diverse landscape. Once you experience what nature has to offer, you are guaranteed to keep coming back for more!
Mzanzi Travel has put together a list of some of South Africa’s best national parks across the country to help you plan your next adventure
Golden Gate National Park, North-Eastern Free State
This South African National Park got its name from the brilliant shades of gold that are cast by the sun on the Park’s sandstone cliffs especially on the imposing Brandwag rock which overlooks the main rest camp. The Golden Gate National Park rests at the rolling foothills of the Maluti Mountains of the north eastern Free State and 300km northeast of the city of Bloemfontein. You can spot antelopes and kudu’s aplenty across the open spaces and wide horizons.
Visit in summer to escape the heat in the lower-lying areas. Best for spectacular African sunsets
Karoo National Park, Western Cape
The great Karoo is a vast and unforgiving landscape of which the Karoo National Park is but a small portion. Towards late afternoon, the great, unyielding canopy slowly softens its fierceness, and from pastel shades of pink and blue, the colours deepen, setting the endless Karoo canvas ablaze with glorious hues of orange and red. The area is mostly semi-desert and is well known for its isolation. Being the largest ecosystem in South Africa, the Karoo is home to a fascinating diversity of life, all having adapted to survive in these harsh conditions. Karoo National Park is dominated by the lofty Nuweveld Mountains and rolling plains, where many species that originally occurred here now once again occupy their former ranges.
The Karoo National Park has a wide variety of endemic wildlife. Many species have been relocated to their former ranges – such as brown hyena, lion and Cape mountain zebra. Over 20 breeding pairs of Verreaux’s eagle find sanctuary within the park. There is also a wide diversity of succulent plants and small reptiles
This national park is home to several desert mammals primarily the Verreaux’s Eagle and various species of tortoise. You can also spot endangered species such as the Black Rhino and Riverine Rabbit that have been successfully resettled here. Best for spotting the Black Rhino.
Kruger National Park, Limpopo – Mpumalanga
The Kruger National Park is one of the largest game reserves in South Africa where all of nature’s drama is played out. Covering an area of nearly 2 million hectares, the Kruger National Park stretches over the provinces of Limpopo and Mpumalanga in north-eastern South Africa. This South African national park boasts of being home to the famous Big Five (lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard and rhino). The Kruger National Park also has the largest rhino population that can be spotted in the grasslands and riverine forests. Best for wildlife watching.
Marakele National Park, Limpopo
Part of the Waterburg Biosphere in the Limpopo province, Marakele is one of South Africa’s most stunning national parks. The park features majestic mountain landscapes, grass-clad hills and deep valleys. All the large game species from elephant and rhino to the big cats as well as an amazing variety of birds, including what’s probably the largest colony of endangered Cape vultures in the world, have settled here. Contrasting majestic mountain landscapes, grass-clad hills and deep valleys characterize the park. Rare finds of yellowwood and cedar trees, five metre high cycads and tree ferns, are some of the plant species found here. All the large game species from elephant and rhino to the big cats as well as an amazing variety of birds including what’s probably the largest colony of endangered Cape vultures (more than 800 breeding pairs) in the world, have settled here. Best for close encounters with the endangered Cape Vulture.
iSimangaliso Wetland Park, KwaZulu-Natal – South Africa’s very first Heritage Site
iSimangaliso Wetland Park (previously known as the Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park) is situated on the east coast of KwaZulu-Natal, about 275 kilometres north of Durban.
The 332 000 hectare Park contains three major lake systems, eight interlinking ecosystems, 700 year old fishing traditions, most of South Africa’s remaining swamp forests, Africa’s largest estuarine system, 526 bird species and 25 000 year-old vegetated coastal dunes – among the highest in the world. The name iSimangaliso means miracle and wonder, which aptly describes this unique place.
From coral reefs and sandy beaches to subtropical dune forests, savannahs, and wetlands, this national park offers immense diversity. Animals occurring in the park include elephant, leopard, black and white rhino, buffalo and in the ocean, whales, dolphins, and marine turtles including the leatherback and loggerhead turtle.
Namaqua National Park, Western Cape
Namaqua National Park is a South African national park situated approximately 495 km north of Cape Town and 22 km northwest of Kamieskroon. This picturesque South African national park is renowned for its floral displays and has valleys filled with Namaqualand daisies and other spring flowers and conserves the world’s richest succulent flora. The park is part of the semi-desert Succulent Karoo biome, one of the most unusual biomes in the world. You can spot a myriad of wildlife that has adapted to the rigorous climate of this area and it is also home to the world’s smallest tortoise, the Namaqua Speckled Padloper. Best for the most spectacular Spring flower displays.
Mapungubwe National Park, Limpopo – WORLD HERITAGE SITE
Mapungubwe lies alongside the Zimababwe and Botswana borders in the steamy Limpopo River Valley where elephants, giraffes, leopards and baboons roam between the baobob trees. As a World Heritage Site, this park has considerable historical significance, making it well worth the 550km journey north from Johannesburg. Mapungubwe was the heart of Southern Africa’s first indigenous kingdom; more than 9000 people lived here around AD1300 and archaeologists have discovered a hill-top graveyard, containing treasures including a golden rhino figurine. You can spot predators like lions, leopards and hyenas here. The National park is home to 400 species of birds including Kori Bustard, tropical Boubou and Pel’s Fishing Owl. Visitors can take in the awe-inspiring beauty of the sandstone formations here. Elephant, giraffe, white rhino, eland, gemsbok and numerous other antelope species can be spotted in the area. Guided tours offered. Best for history.
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, Northern Cape
The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is an amalgamation of the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park in South Africa and the Gemsbok National Park in Botswana. The Park stretches across 3.6 million hectares of land and is home to the striking desert antelope – the Gemsbok, the black-maned Kalahari Lions, weaver birds, the pygmy falcon and the meerkat. Red sand dunes, sparse vegetation and the dry riverbeds of the Nossob and Auob make spotting wildlife easier and provide excellent photographic opportunities. Kgalagadi is a haven for birders, especially those interested in birds of prey. Best for bird watching.
Addo Elephant National Park, Eastern Cape
Addo Elephant National Park is a diverse wildlife conservation park situated close to Port Elizabeth and ranks third in size after Kruger National Park and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Stretching from the semi-arid Karoo area in the north around Darlington Dam, over the rugged Zuurberg Mountains, through the Sundays River Valley and south to the coast between Sundays River mouth and Bushman’s river mouth, Addo covers about 180 000 hectares (444 700 acres) and includes the Bird and St Croix Island groups. The Park is home to lions, elephants, Cape buffalo, endangered black rhino as well as a variety of antelope species.