There are millions of acres of land dedicated to conservation in South Africa. Big and small, each of these pockets of pristine wilderness have something to add to your African experience. Many offer exceptional game viewing experiences, while others provide an intimate return to nature and tranquility at its best.
In no particular order, here’s a heads up about some of the best game parks in South Africa.
Kruger National Park
Rightfully, ‘Kruger’ is the word on everybody’s lips when it comes to safaris in South Africa. This iconic wilderness destination spans 3 521 square kilometers along the country’s eastern inland border. The park incorporates 5 ecozones and is home to a huge range of living creatures. There are 147 mammal species found in the park, including the Big Five, over 507 types of birds have been identified, and there are 336 different types of trees to admire.
You can explore your surroundings self-drive style on over 1 800 kilometers of well-maintained roads or embark on guided game drives and walks from the major camps. Your accommodation alternatives are spread across 21 rest camps, 2 private concessions and 15 private establishments, with a variety of camping and caravanning, permanent tents, chalets, rondavels, guest houses and luxury lodge options.
Most of the camps have swimming pools and restaurants, but there are also private bush lodges with limited facilities for those who like to rough it. When you visit the Kruger National Park, it’s up to you how much luxury you want on your South African safari.
Table Mountain National Park
One of South Africa’s most iconic destinations, Table Mountain dominates the skyline above the Mother City, but the National Park associated with this inselberg expands far further afield. Table Mountain National Park incorporates several conservation hotspots extending from Green Point in the North to Cape Point in the south.
The park is lauded for containing the largest diversity of flowering plants in the world (2 200 different species) and is a world heritage site. In fact, the Cape Floral Kingdom is so unique that it is recognized on its own as one of the 6 major floral kingdoms on earth.
It’s not all about the flora though; the park boasts healthy populations of animals like Cape hyrax, eland, Cape mountain zebra, bontebok, grysbok, duiker, grey rhebok and steenbok among others.
The most notable avian residents of the park are the penguins of Boulders Bay, but bird lovers will find over 300 species to check off their list while wandering the many trails which crisscross this 3 300 hectare chunk of protected land adjacent to Cape Town.
West Coast National Park
Along the western shore of the Western Cape Province, the West Coast National Park is most famous for the abundance of blooms which erupt in the Postberg section of the park during the springtime. Whales are a common seasonal visitor to the area and can be seen from the beach or from elevated rocky outcrops along the shore.
The Langebaan Lagoon is one of the main features of this park and is acknowledged as a birding hotspot of international significance. Over 250 species of birds can be spotted here during the summer months.
Inland, you could come across eland, ostrich, kudu, mountain zebra, gemsbok, bontebok and steenbok, as well as bat-eared foxes, caracal and Cape grey mongooses. Driving and walking are the most popular ways to explore this park.
Garden Route National Park
Another coastal treasure, the Garden Route National Park incorporates 121 000 hectares of coast and forest across both the Eastern and Western Cape Provinces.
The park includes a number of important conservation areas like the Tsitsikamma Forest, Knysna Estuary, and Wilderness lakes. Some 371 species of birds flock to these lush environments, and there are 15 different species of marine mammals found in the park’s offshore protected areas.
Bushbuck, blue duikers, baboons, vervet monkeys, and rock hyrax are some of the more common land-dwelling animals found here. Multi-day hiking trails with rustic overnight accommodation are a popular way to get to grips with this gorgeous national park, while boating trips will take you out onto the oceans in search of whales and dolphins.
Addo Elephant National Park
There’s no better place to see elephants en masse in South Africa than this nature reserve, Addo Elephant National Park, which is dedicated to their preservation. Here you won’t be looking out for the Big Five. This is Big Seven country, with the great white shark and southern right whale added to the usual mix.
After a recent expansion, Addo is now the third-largest national park in South Africa and boasts the greatest density of elephants on earth. The reserve currently extends from the semi-arid Karoo, across the Zuurberg Range all the way to St Croix, which is home to the largest African penguin colony in the world.
You can take in all this excess on self-drive and guided game drives while staying in regular camps and lodges, as well as a few plush private establishments dotted all over the park.
Karoo National Park
The Karoo National Park is a unique environment and a great place to see raptors in South Africa. There are 20 breeding pairs of black eagles in the park, along with jackal buzzards, rock kestrels, booted eagles and pale chanting goshawks.
On land, you can expect to come across Cape mountain zebra, black rhino, buffalo, and lion. Uniquely, the park boasts a herd of Burchell’s zebra that have been selectively bred to resemble the extinct Cape quagga.
The park offers a range of activities including mountain bike trails, 4×4 trails and un-guided walks in predator-free areas, as well as the usual guided walks and game drives.
Accommodation options include camping, chalets and cottages, as well as the isolated Afsaal Cottage, which was once a shepherd’s hut.
Golden Gate Highlands National Park
Located in the foothills of the Maluti Mountains in the northern Free State Province, this nature reserve is a scenic wonderland of rolling hills and towering sandstone cliffs. It’s no surprise that walking is the big attraction here with several routes on offer.
Guided tours are offered along the Herbal Trail to see the San Rock Art where you will learn about the local bushcraft. The tours continue on to the onsite Basotho Cultural Village and along the ancient paths of QwaQwa.
Accommodation is offered in a luxurious hotel, at campsites and in lodges, dormitories, huts and chalets contained within the park’s 5 main camps. You can even spend a night Basotho-style, in a recreated village.
There are no dangerous predators in the park, and the most commonly seen animals include springbok, blesbok, black wildebeest, eland and oribi. Birdlife is prolific, and the park is home to numerous vulture which you can see from the recently-built vulture hide.
iSimangaliso Wetland Park
Another World Heritage site, this incredible destination stretches along the Kwa-Zulu Natal coastline and for over 350 hectares and incorporates numerous important landmarks. These are:
There are over 530 bird species that spend time here throughout the year, and it’s one of the few places on earth where you can see hippos and whales in one panorama. The park is an excellent destination for whale watching, as well as hippo and croc tours on the waters of St Lucia Estuary.
Most of the accommodation in this area is privately run, some offering extremely luxurious lodge options. There are also campsites, huts, backpackers, chalets and permanent tents available within St Lucia as well as operations that fall under the auspices of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife on offer at Cape Vidal, Kosi Bay and Sodwana Bay, which is one of the world’s best scuba diving destinations.
Seaside and safari adventures are offered all over this vast park and you can enjoy unique activities such as tours to watch the turtle eggs hatch on the beach, horseback safaris, fishing, and boating.
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
This 38 000 square kilometer reserve is one of South Africa’s Transfrontier Parks. These vast protected areas are created when the fences are taken down between protected areas in neighboring countries to further the interests of conservation. In this case, Botswana and South Africa have joined forces to protect the unique species which thrive in this semi-arid habitat.
Many hardy desert-adapted lifeforms are found in these parts. Gemsbok, tsamma melons, camel-thorn trees and black-maned lions are some of these, while more ordinary animals like blue wildebeest, eland and giraffe are common.
This park is well known for predator sightings, and visitors are often rewarded with sightings of cheetah, leopard, brown and spotted hyenas as well as the iconic black-maned lions.
Smaller animals like ground squirrel and suricate provide light relief from the carnivorous action, while pangolins, honey badgers and bat-eared foxes may be spotted on guided sunset and sunrise drives and walks.
Accommodation is provided in traditional rest camps with a variety of options ranging from camping to family guest houses, 1 tented camp and 2 unfenced, exclusive use camps, one of which is a tented camp. There are also 3 off-the-grid wilderness camps and a 24-bed luxury safari lodge, owned by the local San community.
Kgalagadi National Park offers exceptionally comfortable experiences and spectacular scenery as well as outstanding opportunities to see around 280 species of birds including raptors, owls, larks and sparrow larks.
Bontebok National Park
The Bontebok National Park is the smallest national park in South Africa, including 2 786 hectares of Renosterveld near Swellendam in the Western Cape. The park is ideally suited to day visits and picnics but does offer the option to stay overnight in self-catering chalets and campsites located alongside the Breede River. It’s a popular overnight stay while travelling the Garden Route from Cape Town.
While the park is dedicated to the bontebok, you’ll also see hartebeest, grey rhebok, steenbok, grysbok and Cape mountain zebra. If you’re lucky, you could also get to see Cape clawless otters, bat-eared foxes, caracals, Cape foxes or aardwolves.
Birding is exceptional, and it’s one of the best places to see Denham’s Bustard as well as South Africa’s national bird, the blue crane among the 650 plant species found within this park.
Exploring Game Parks in South Africa
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