One of the most exciting attractions South Africa has to offer is its game and wildlife. An encounter with the Big Five in the spectacular setting of the African bush is truly an experience of a lifetime and one that won’t be forgotten. From the calls of the wild and shimmering horizons to the pulsating heat of the bush by day and the endless starry skies by night – a visit to one of South Africa’s game parks is an absolute must.
South Africa is home to a variety of world-renowned game parks and reserves including the Kruger National Park, which extends through both the Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces, the Addo Elephant National Park in the Eastern Cape, the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park in KwaZulu-Natal and Pilanesberg National Park in the North West, to name but a few. In addition there are many privately owned game reserves and camps – each offering the guest an exclusive and one-of-a-kind safari experience in accommodation ranging from luxurious tented camps to colonial lodges reminiscent of yesteryear.
The national parks of South Africa are some of the best in the world – offering excellent facilities and well-maintained roads that give visitors the ability to enjoy self-drive excursions into the parks. Most of the national parks offer accommodation within the parks – this is often basic, but comfortable and affordable, and comprises either tented camps, bungalows or rondawels. Parks are usually open from early morning to early evening and in this way visitors can also choose to stay in accommodation outside of the actual parks and make daily game viewing trips.
Private parks and lodges usually offer a comprehensive safari experience with accommodation, meals and safari activities included. A typical day would most likely include an early morning guided game drives as well as a late afternoon or night drives. Guided walks with a trained guide and tracker are usually also offered - a chance for an up-close encounter with the sights and sounds of the bush. In between there is plenty of time for relaxation with most lodges offering private viewing decks, secluded swimming pools – and some spa facilities. Meals too are usually an experience in themselves – often being prepared and served outdoors in traditional style open-air boma’s accompanied by a roaring campfire.
The world-renowned Kruger National Park covers vast expanses of both the Mpumalanga and the Limpopo Provinces in the northern parts of South Africa and offers the visitor an exhilarating and up-close wildlife experience. This is Big Five country – where lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo roam freely and in large numbers. The sheer size of the park as well as its varied landscape and terrain offers the visitor a diversity of wildlife found in few other parts of South Africa.
If you are interested in being led by professionally trained guides and staying in private, unfenced camps, click here to find out more about tours to the Kruger Park and African Ivory Route.
Situated in the fertile Sundays River valley the Addo Elephant National Park is well-known for its large herds of elephant. Alongside the other members of the Big Five and a wide variety of antelope and birdlife, over 350 elephant inhabit the park and are a testament to a great conservation success story since the park was proclaimed with only eleven elephant in 1931. The park is in a malaria free zone and is only 50 kilometres inland from Port Elizabeth – making it easily accessible to visitors. Also in the surrounding area are the privately owned Shamwari Game Reserve and a number of other small and exclusive reserves.
The beautiful Pilanesberg National Park in the North West Province is one of the largest in South Africa and is also a malaria free zone. Covering an area of 55 000-hectares, the park is extremely rich and fertile as the land was once part of a volcanic crater. Majestic hills encircle the park and a large central watering hole is ideal for game viewing - and, due to the fact that the park is found in the transition zone of the Kalahari and the Lowveld, both types of vegetation are found.
Pilanesberg National Park is home to all of the Big Five and other large game including giraffe, hippo, zebra and crocodile, as well as an extreme diversity of birdlife - over 300 species have been recorded.
Opened in 1979, the park can lay claim to having one of the most successful resettlement projects in South Africa. Over 6000 animals were reintroduced to the park during the 1980's and the park today is home to nearly all of the animal species of Southern Africa.
Covering over 70 000 ha, the spectacular Madikwe Game Reserve in the far north of the North West Province is the fourth largest in South Africa and shares its border with Botswana. This malaria-free park is home to the Big Five, including Black and White Rhino, as well as cheetah, wild dog and an abundance of plains game and birdlife. Situated in a unique transition zone on the edge of the dry Kalahari, the landscape gives way to open woodlands, grasslands and rocky outcrops providing landscapes and habitats to support a great diversity of exciting wildlife, flora and fauna.
Created in 1991, Madikwe is testament to conservation at its best with over 8000 animals having been reintroduced to the area, and is one of South Africa's best-kept secrets. Here visitors can enjoy an untouched and unique safari experience with intimate lodges and camps, game drives, night excursions and guided game walks. Let the sights and sounds of the bush enthral and envelope you as you relax beneath starry African skies.
Madikwe is a three-hour drive from Johannesburg and Pretoria and can also be reached by private charter flight.
Greater St Lucia Wetlands
The town of St Lucia is an excellent base from which to explore the surrounding region - in particular the wonders of the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park. St Lucia itself is situated at the estuary of Lake St Lucia and offers plenty of accommodation as well as a wide range of activities from whale watching in winter and turtle tours in summer, to boating, canoeing, horse riding and bird watching. Alternatively, sit back and relax or enjoy some shopping at one of the nearby craft centres.
The Greater St Lucia Wetland Park was declared a World Heritage Site in 1999 and is an eco-tourism haven offering amazing outdoor and wildlife experiences. Incorporating various national parks, game and marine reserves the park covers an area of more than a quarter of a million hectares, making it the third largest reserve in South Africa. Encompassing five eco-systems the park offers one of the most exciting eco-experiences in the world.
The Greater St Lucia Wetland Park offers everything from bird watching and walking to hiking trials and diving. Experience scuba diving with the giant Manta Ray at Sodwana Bay, and the birth of Loggerhead and Leatherback turtles in the Maputaland Marine Reserve. Mangroves, swamps, lakes and rivers provide opportunities for sightings of hippo, crocodiles, leopard, antelope, bush pig and warthog as well as an amazing array of birdlife.