South African National Parks (SANParks) manages a system of conservation areas that showcase the full spectrum of the country’s fauna, flora and landscapes.
Where it All Began
The renowned Kruger National Park was the first conservation area to be proclaimed in South Africa. Now it forms part of the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park.
Stretching north to south for 350km along the eastern border with Mozambique, the Kruger contains a rich diversity of wildlife. Here you will encounter the Big 5 (lion, elephant, rhino, buffalo and leopard) among the 147 different mammal species and 493 types of birds.
There are a variety of accommodation options ranging from rustic camping sites to intimate 5-star safari retreats. Adventurers can opt for a 4X4 trail or a walk on the wild side with a trained guide.
With so much to choose from we suggest you take an online safari by province to help you find the park that best fits your needs.
Eastern Cape Province
Addo Elephant National Park
Just east of Port Elizabeth is the world-famous Addo Elephant National Park where you can spend time in the presence of these remarkable giants. And it’s malaria-free.
- Addo’s finely tuned ecosystem is home to over 450 elephants. Here, too, is the pocket-sized flightless dung beetle, which is only found in this park.
- It also has 5 of the 7 vegetation biomes found in South Africa. These include coastal forests, subtropical thicket, a section of arid Nama Karoo, cycads, grassy fynbos, dune fields and marine islands.
- It is touted as a Big 7 park, boasting the Big 5 terrestrial animals as well as whales and great white sharks.
- And here you will find the world's largest breeding population of Cape gannets and the second most African penguins.
Camdeboo National Park
Encircling the historic Karoo town of Graaff-Reinet, Camdeboo National Park offers visitors a visual feast of spring flowers, prehistoric landscapes and weird and wonderful geological formations.
- A must see are the sheer cliffs and bizarre dolerite rock formations of the Valley of Desolation, which are the result of millennia of natural erosion.
- It has a rich biodiversity with 220 species of bird, 336 plants and 43 types of mammals.
- Set in the Karoo’s mountainous sub-desert, the park protects 3 special forms of vegetation – shrub land, dwarf shrub land and succulent thicket.
- There are short walking trails and overnight hikes, with picnic sites for those who simply want to be surrounded by awe-inspiring scenery.
Mountain Zebra National Park
This park near Cradock was proclaimed in the early 20th century to save the Cape mountain zebra from extinction. From just 6 animals, there are now more than 350 of this subspecies in the park.
- The zebra share the park with cheetah, black rhino and buffalo.
- Numerous antelope species graze on the beautiful plains and deep valleys of the area.
- For birders there are blue crane, Stanley’s bustard and other rare birdlife.
Tsitsikamma National Park
This park, known as 'the place of clear water', is a combined marine and forest park protecting offshore reefs and virgin coastal forest.
- It's a magical place of deep ravines, cool rivers and misty forests along a magnificent rugged coastline.
- Conveniently situated just 200km west of Port Elizabeth, this Eden is a year-round destination for walkers, hikers and nature lovers. Most famous is the Otter Trail; a hike that winds along the coast to Nature's Valley.
- Many adventure activities such as blackwater tubing and scuba-diving are offered in and around the park.
Free State Province
Golden Gate Highlands National Park
Nestling in the foothills of the Maluti Mountains, the Golden Gate Highlands National Park got its name from the golden shades of the breathtaking sandstone cliffs.
- The sculpted sandstone cliffs which tower above meandering streams.
- This highland region is home to zebra, oribi, eland and numerous other antelope.
- There are various trails in the area, and nature photographers will be enthralled by the contrasting colours and textures of the sandstone rock formations against grasslands.
- For bird lovers there is a rare bearded vulture restaurant, while bald ibises can be seen nesting on cliff ledges.
- Horse ride, mountain bike or hike to the top of the plateau to be uplifted by the magnificent surrounds.
Central and Northern Kruger National Park
The northern part of the Kruger National Park is distinguished by mopane and baobab trees. Here are large herds of elephant and buffalo, and plentiful antelope, predators and birdlife.
- In the far north are archaeological and historical sites such as Masorini and Thulamela.
- Cool off beneath the fever trees on the banks of the Luvuvhu River to view crocodile, nyala, the rare Abdim’s stork and the elusive leopard.
- Or look out for nocturnal bush pigs, the rare Sharpe’s grysbok and Samango monkey’s in the riverine forest.
- The Kruger knocking sand frog is found in the extreme north.
Mapungubwe National Park and World Heritage Site
Visitors to Mapungubwe Hill get to explore the capital of an ancient iron-age African civilization that existed on the banks of the Limpopo River from 900–1300AD.
- A guided tour of Mapungubwe Hill, which includes a game drive through the park. Once atop the hill you can take in the spectacular scenery of rugged valleys dotted with iconic baobabs as your guide brings to life legends of kings, Arab traders and golden rhinoceroses.
- Picnic where 3 countries (Zimbabwe, South Africa and Botswana) meet at the confluence of the Shashe and Limpopo Rivers.
- Traverse the treetops along a specially constructed wooden walkway, which will give you a birds-eye view of the riverine forest and its inhabitants.
- Spend 3 magical days doing the Vhembe Wilderness Trail. This ‘slackpacker’ hike (all meals and accommodation are taken care of) includes archaeological sites, field interpretation and game-viewing. Day walks are also a possibility.
Marakele National Park
In the heart of the Waterberg Mountains is Marakele National Park; a veritable wonderland of natural treasures.
- Situated on the transition zone between the dry west and moist east of South Africa, Marakele boasts an unusual mix of bird and animal life.
- The park, amongst other indigenous plant life, is home to ancient cycads, rare yellowwoods and cedar trees.
- It boasts the world's largest breeding colony of Cape vultures.
- Just 250km north of Johannesburg, it is home to the Big 5 in malaria-free conditions.
Southern Kruger National Park
Kruger’s historic Southern Region is bordered by the Crocodile River in the south and the Sabie River in the north. Much of the area is characterised by open savannah dotted with red bushwillow, jackal-berry and acacia trees.
- In this part of the park you can see lion and cheetah, and perchance a solitary leopard or endangered wild dogs.
- Most of Kruger’s white rhino occur here.
- Impala, kudu, zebra, giraffe, buffalo and elephant are common, as are hippos and an enormous variety of birds.
- Sandy riverbeds often hold pools of water that attract a wide variety of game, so it pays to stop frequently at the many viewing spots.
- At Pretoriuskop an old wagon trail crossing a stream marks the birthplace of the park’s most famous canine, Jock of the Bushveld.
Northern Cape Province
|Ai|Ais /Richtersveld Transfrontier National Park
Situated in the far west of the country, this surreal landscape is the only mountain desert in South Africa.
- Unusual rock shapes and the world's richest desert flora give the Richtersveld National Park a unique and primeval aspect.
- Look out for the rock hyrax, ground squirrels and Hartmann’s mountain zebra.
- The unique vegetation of the area – gnarled quiver trees, towering aloes and the extraordinary ‘half-mens’ (half-human) tree.
Please note that this park can only be accessed by 4 x 4 vehicles.
Augrabies National Park
Sporting a thundering 56 metre waterfall, Augrabies National Park on the banks of the Gariep River is a place of extreme contrasts.
- A river runs through the Augrabies National Park, yet the surrounds are sheer lunar landscape.
- Here klipspringers can be seen atop stony outcrops while rock hyraxes soak up the hot sun around the waterfall.
- Predators include caracal, the African wild cat, black backed jackals and leopard.
- Birdlife is prolific in the area. Look out for the pygmy falcon and black stork. The rare Verreaux’s eagle breed in the park.
- View the exquisite landscapes from Moon Rock, Arrow Point and Echo corner.
- White-water rafting down the river is a favourite activity.
- Hiking trails and adventures sports are also popular in this part of the world.
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
Straddling the border with Botswana in the remote north of South Africa is the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Its name is taken from the Bushman word for a ‘place of thirst’, but desert lovers will also find food for the soul where this arid landscape gives life to exotic animals and indigenous flora.
- This unique park, with its shimmering sandscapes and red dunes, is home to the creatures of the Kalahari Desert.
- View gemsbok and meerkats while looking out for the famed black-maned Kalahari lions.
- Admire sociable weavers and their large nests.
Mokala National Park
Mokala National Park, the newest SANpark, is very accessible as it is just 80kms southwest of Kimberley by tar road. It derives its name from the Setswana word for the camel thorn tree.
- The park comprises Kalahari thornveld, savannah and Nama Karoo terrain interspersed with rocky outcrops and a wetland area.
- Distinctive camel thorn trees dominate the landscape.
- Tsessebe and red hartebeest are resident here, as are endangered roan antelope.
- Mountain bike trails, day hikes, game drives and the chance to unwind round a campfire in the immense stillness are on offer.
- The park at present is focusing on conference groups, with plans for the addition of more self-catering accommodation
Namaqua National Park
Just inland from the West Coast is the Namaqua National Park; home to the richest bulb flora in the world. This is the place to visit after the first spring rains when the flowers come out in magnificent displays.
- Each spring (from late August through November) wild blossoms transform the area into a flower carnival, offering a floral banquet for nature lovers and photographers.
- Take in the amazing quiver tree forest.
- Look out for the world’s smallest tortoise, the Namaqua speckled padloper.
Tankwa Karoo National Park
The Tankwa Karoo region is one of two global diversity hotspots in South Africa as many of its succulents are endemic and found nowhere else on earth. The western section of the park is extremely arid, with massive variations in temperatures and almost no rainfall.
- For the most mind-blowing view of the Tankwa Karoo, travel up the Gannaga Pass to the top of the 1600m Roggeveld escarpment.
- Revel in the freedom of the seemingly infinite semi-desert plains.
- Spring rains permitting, the plains of the Tankwa put on a floral spectacular from August to October.
- Birders should visit during the cooler spring months for the tiny black-eared finch lark and the robust Karoo korhaan.
Western Cape Province
Agulhas National Park
The Agulhas National Park is where the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet at the southernmost tip of Africa. While shipwrecks pepper the coastal waters, on land there is an incredible plant diversity of over 2 000 indigenous species.
- Nearby wetlands protect the endangered Cape platana and the micro frog.
- Rare sea birds, such as the Damara tern and African black oystercatcher, can be seen circling overhead.
- The southern right whale is often spotted in this part of the world.
- Agulhas is home to unique vegetation, such as limestone fynbos.
Bontebok National Park
The Bontebok National Park beneath the Langeberg mountains near Swellendam is the smallest national park in the country. Proclaimed in 1931 to preserve the dwindling numbers of bontebok, the region now boasts over 3 000 of these striking animals.
- Watching the bontebok roaming the coastal plains, and photographing the Cape mountain zebra.
- Spotting rare and unusual antelope such as grey rhebok, red hartebeest and Cape grysbok.
- It is a birders paradise with over 200 species, including the Stanley’s bustard
- Lazy sundowners on the banks of the Breede River.
Karoo National Park
Once an inland lake and stomping ground for dinosaurs, this arid park is littered with fossils. Dominated by the Nuweveld Mountains and rolling plains, it is also home to a huge diversity of small reptiles and succulent plants.
- The Park boasts the Karoo Fossil Trail, which takes in the geology and palaeontology of the Great Karoo. The Interpretive Centre holds a wealth of information on the history and culture of the area.
- This remote park near Beaufort West protects the endangered riverine rabbit, and is home to one of the largest populations of black eagles in the country.
- The park has five different species of tortoise.
- Enjoy views of springbok as they graze in large herds.
- The park offers 4x4 enthusiasts the opportunity to negotiate a challenging trail.
Knysna National Lake Area
Found along the scenic garden route, this park was proclaimed to protect the unique lake system and the rare Knysna seahorse.
- Dominated by the imposing Knysna Heads, the area offers a great variety of marine and land-based activities for visitors to enjoy.
- This is also the place to dine on fresh oysters from the estuary.
This is the only SANPark that does not offer overnight accommodation.
Table Mountain National Park
Incorporating various sections of Cape Town and the Cape of Good Hope, Table Mountain National Park is South Africa’s only urban national park. It protects the Cape Floral Kingdom.
- The smallest of the world’s six floral kingdoms, it is home to 2 285 different plants. Of these, 90 occur nowhere else on earth.
- It is a World Heritage Site.
- The hike from Constantia Nek to Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens provides just enough exercise to work up a healthy appetite. Picnic amidst proteas and other floral delights.
- During the summer months Kirstenbosch hosts free Sunday evening concerts featuring some of the country’s best musical talent. Bring a blanket, friends and a chilled bottle of fine Cape wine.
- The Hoerikwaggo Trail is a luxury, fully catered 3 day hike. Taking in many of Cape Town’s best tourist attractions, and including two night’s accommodation in the park, it is a must for nature lovers and culture buffs alike.
- Offering magnificent views of the city, the revolving Table Mountain Cableway is not to be missed when visiting the park. When you reach the top look for dassies, tiny antelope and baboons.
- Sunsets atop Table Mountain are breathtaking, so enjoy sundowners while the magic of the Mother City washes over you.
West Coast National Park
The West Coast National Park is a wonderland of sea and sand, with wetlands between.
- This is a paradise for birders. You can spot penguins, gannets, cormorants and flamingos amongst the thousands of water birds and waders feeding in Langebaan lagoon.
- Migratory birds from the Arctic Circle also visit the area.
- Miles of pristine beaches.
- The Postberg Flower Reserve, which blooms during spring, is a photographers dream.
Wilderness National Park
Situated along the scenic Garden Route, the Wilderness National Park is the ultimate nature lover’s retreat – a place of lakes, estuaries, rivers and ocean set against a forested mountain backdrop.
- The emerald green Knysna loerie, with its distinctive call, is the icon of the park. Five kingfisher species also frequent the lakes and wetlands.
- Look out for whales and dolphins from Dolphin Point.
- Adventure activities such as paragliding, hang-gliding, abseiling and kloofing are popular in this park.
Make that Call
If you love the great outdoors, bright blue skies and the warm African sun, then South Africa's national parks are for you. For more information and reservations visit the listed SANparks websites.
- Addo Elephant National Park: www.sanparks.org/parks/addo/
- Camdeboo National Park: www.sanparks.org/parks/camdeboo/
- Mountain Zebra National Park: www.sanparks.org/parks/mountain_zebra/
- Tsitsikamma National Park: www.sanparks.org/parks/tsitsikamma/
- Golden Gate Highlands National Park: www.sanparks.org/parks/golden_gate/
- Kruger National Park: www.sanparks.org/parks/kruger/
- Mapungubwe National Park: www.sanparks.org/parks/mapungubwe/
- Marakele National Park: www.sanparks.org/parks/marakele/
- |Ai| Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier National Park: www.sanparks.org/parks/richtersveld/
- Augrabies Falls National Park: www.sanparks.org/parks/augrabies/
- Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park: www.sanparks.org/parks/kgalagadi/
- Mokala National Park: www.sanparks.org/parks/mokala/
- Namaqua National Park: www.sanparks.org/parks/namaqua/
- Tankwa Karoo National Park: www.sanparks.org/parks/tankwa/
- Agulhas National Park: www.sanparks.org/parks/agulhas/
- Bontebok National Park: www.sanparks.org/parks/bontebok/
- Karoo National Park: www.sanparks.org/parks/karoo/
- Knysna National Lake Area: www.sanparks.org/parks/knysna/
- Table Mountain National Park: www.sanparks.org/parks/table_mountain/
- West Coast National Park: www.sanparks.org/parks/west_coast/
- Wilderness National Park: www.sanparks.org/parks/wilderness/
Mountain Zebra National Park, Marakele National Park, Mokala National Park, Mapungubwe National Park and |Ai| Ais / Richtersveld Transfrontier National Park images courtesy and copyright of SANParks