We’re particularly enamoured with the Mountain Zebra National Park – South Africa’s most understated, and under visited, national park.
Here is why …
No-one seems to know Mountain Zebra Park exists!
Even Lonely Planet ignored the Mountain Zebra National Park on their blog list of top parks and game reserves in South Africa. And we can’t think why? But this can work in your favour. Go whilst you still have the park to yourself! (the park has recently added another eight units due to the increase in visitors, so the word is already out).
Mountain Zebra National Park is one of the most beautiful parks in the country, and it lies in the heart of the Karoo, which means it’s easily absorbed into a road trip through some of the most scenic countryside, littered with characterful towns. Find it just outside Cradock.
Mountain Zebra National Park does have lions!
Not only are there four adults (two females were introduced to join the males only in late 2015), but in August last year the very first litter of lion cubs in the area for 130 years was born in the park. Which should dramatically up the chances of your spotting a lion whilst visiting.
There are also leopard, caracal and brown hyena (only about five hyena, though, so you’ll need to keep your eyes peeled).
Mountain Zebra are not Burchell’s Zebra.
Look out for the large dewlap and reddish-brown noses that distinguishes them from their plains’ brothers. You will find them as often as not on the park’s signature mountain slopes, and in herds on the open grasslands.
You can track Cheetah on foot!
In 2007 the park introduced four cheetahs. At last count there were 17 of them. You can track cheetah on foot, although a sighting is not guaranteed – the mountains tend to interfere with the radio tracking. Following on foot can mean bundu bashing (cheetah generally don’t oblige by walking in the road) and often they head for the mountains, making sightings difficult.
At the same time your guide will point out other action you might miss in the park – an aardwolf’s burrow, a herd of eland close by. Cheetah tracking is only for those over the age of 16.
The campsite makes a visit to the park really affordable for families.
It’s really well maintained with hot water, kitchen and laundry facilities, and spotless ablutions. Best out of season, obviously.
Shongololos and ground squirrels…
There are shongololos (something I hadn’t seen since leaving Durban) but the ground squirrels are a real treat, particularly as visitors tend to, unfortunately, feed them, so they’ll come right up to your car wheels – a little frightening if you don’t want to run them over. Try the Kranskop loop.
Despite its small size, Mountain Zebra National Park is quiet, gentle and filled with game.
Expect to see herds of zebra, eland, springbok, kudu, and red hartebeest.
The mountain cottages
The mountain cottages, deep in the park, are absolutely wonderful and the best-kept secret of the reserve (you will need a 4×4 vehicle to reach them), although, to be fair the chalets are equally as great, just not as private or as exciting (although the views out over the valley are superb).
Each of the mountain cottages sits up on a hill with marvellous views out across the park. Neither has electricity but there are gas stoves, fridges and solar lights. Doornhoek farmhouse, another option, overlooks a dam and the effect is to make you feel as though you’re the only people staying in the park.
The Sunset Drive is worth every cent.
Don’t forget warm clothes as the vehicle is open to the elements (you have only a roof over your heads). This is an exciting way to see the park with a guide, and watch how different the park becomes when day changes to night. It leaves reception daily at 5pm and takes about two hours (no children under six).
Don’t forget the other animals in the reserve
Black wildebeest, oryx, secretary bird, eland, Cape buffalo, aardwolf, bat-eared fox, aardvark, meerkats, spotted eagle owl, falcons, the blue crane, fiery-necked nightjars, and larks…
Drive the 4×4 Sonnenrust Trail
Most visitors inevitably do the Kranskop and Rooiplaat loops, two great loops for spotting herds game and ground squirrels; even the odd buffalo or rhino but, if you can, drive the 4×4 Sonnenrust trail in the north-west section of the park. It heads up onto a plateau after curving around the unusual rock formation, Saltpeterskop.
The views from up here, particularly if you’re trying to spot birds, black rhino and cheetah, are fantastic.
Get into the park for free …
Time your visit with the annual SA National Parks Week (usually mid September) and you can get into the park for free.
If you need WiFi, the best place for it is at reception; the restaurant is not brilliant (rather self-cater, although the lamb shank gets good reviews); there is a shop but it is limited and pricey (they do sell homemade koeksisters); take warm clothes, even in summer, as the evenings get chilly (winter even more so).
With a Wild Card you get unlimited access to the Mountain Zebra National Park and another 80 odd parks across the country (including Kruger); there are three rock art sites in the park.
Find the park:
12 km from Cradock