South Africa is blessed with several national parks. It takes time and travelling long distances to visit even some of them, yet none disappoint. Today I will feature scenes from a few of them. The Addo Elephant National Park is not very far from where we live and so, every now and then, we go there for a day visit. Given its name, visitors naturally expect to see elephants there:

It is also a good place for birding, where one might be fortunate to see raptors such as this Jackal Buzzard:

The Mountain Zebra National Park is also easily accessible to us and is the perfect place to spend a few days. Visitors here would obviously expect to see mountain zebras:

However, one might also be fortunate to spot a cheetah lying in the yellow grass:

There are red hartebeest in the Karoo National Park – which makes a good stopping point between where we live and Cape Town:

One can also enjoy seeing ostriches striding along the open veld:

The world famous Kruger National Park is several day’s journey from here and hosts an enormous variety of plants, birds, insects and animals. When we consider the alarming rate at which rhinos are killed in this country, we cannot help but feel privileged to see them from close quarters here:

The name on every visitor’s lips is ‘lion’. Mention the word and people speed up and jostle for space to see even the tip of the tail of one. Equally exciting to see though are leopards:

The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is the furthest away from us and – despite its remote location – is such a popular destination that one has to book accommodation about a year ahead. This is an incredible place for seeing lions:

It is also a marvellous place for seeing the very beautiful crimson-breasted shrike:



Readers sometimes ask what it is like to camp in our national parks. The picture below shows our campsite in the Karoo National Park. Our trailer is in the foreground and our vehicle is parked next to the tent. Each campsite is supplied with a bin for rubbish as well as an electricity point – that you can see attached to the lamp post on the right. We use electricity for lighting and boiling the kettle. Less clear in the background on the right is a braai stand.

Having access to electricity meant that I could also use my laptop to download the many photographs I had taken each day. The braai stand is to the right of the number 9.

We pitched our tent facing away from the traffic and so that we could enjoy this view through the trees. The latter provided shade during the day and hosted a number of birds, which I enjoyed watching.

While one can braai on the stand provided, I generally cook on a gas stove or use the camp kitchen. This is the kitchen, built in a typical Karoo style.

Here is a view of part of the interior of the camp kitchen showing the sinks, a microwave and a toaster. In addition there are two-plate stoves, a fridge and a freezer for the use of campers. On the left of the window is a hot water dispenser – very useful indeed. Like the ablution blocks, the kitchen is kept beautifully clean throughout the day.

Lastly, once the cooking has been done and darkness falls it is pleasant to sit back in one’s camp chair and to reflect on the day’s sightings with a goblet of wine. Here is yours truly with a campervan in the background.


I find it strange that so few sites extolling the virtues of staying in the Karoo National Park mention the 1.15km Rest Camp Trail.

Granted, this isn’t very long and is in essence a shortcut through the veld from the camping area towards the bird hide, chalets and the restaurant. Much more is made of the nearby 400m long Fossil Trail which depicts the geology and palaeontology of the Great Karoo. As short as that is, it is both fascinating and well worth spending some time on.  Back to the Rest Camp Trail though: like most things, you will get from it what you put into it. Treat it as a shortcut instead of walking along the road and you will see very little; walk along the sandy – and at times rather stony – path slowly and you might be taken aback by what you see. Very close to the camping area is a clearly demarcated graveyard.

Apparently Pokkie Benadè was a tracker who worked for the South African National Parks. I imagine Stolzhoek Farm is one of several farms that make up the land now encompassed by the Karoo National Park. It is worth stopping every now and then to enjoy the view and to have a close look at the immediate environment. It was during one such stop that we saw this kudu looking at us warily from where she had been browsing on some low bushes not all that far from the path.

There is a magical element about sharing the outdoors with such a regal animal. Then there is the delight of coming across a fresh spoor on the path.

Several plants are clearly identified along the path – a useful way of developing an understanding of what we can see while travelling through the rest of the park. This Asparagus capensis (wild asparagus), for example, is common all over the park.

Easily accessible from either this trail, or from the road, is an example of a long disused Hyena trap – a remnant from early stock farmers, who used these primitive stone structures to lure and kill what they considered to be ‘problem animals’ in order to protect their flocks.

Looking up, I saw this pair of South African Shelducks flying past – possibly on their way to the small dam at the bird hide.

Paying closer attention to the rocks we were walking over, I found this fine example of weathering.

This trail would offer a variety of things to see depending on what time of the day you walk along it.


It might be because my father took great care of the veld and the soil on his farm that I have always taken an interest in the various means taken to combat erosion and to rehabilitate the natural environment. There are a number of methods to be seen in the Karoo National Park.

The erosion control fences look a bit odd when one sees them for the first time. The above sign explains that they are low wire netting and jute geotextile fences with a thick mulch layer. These help to slow and trap runoff water and, by so doing, in time become a productive vegetated belt across degraded veld. They are also used to stabilise small dongas and drainages. Water can filter through these fences, but the silt and plant litter carried with it remains behind, thus helping to build topsoil.

Stone gabions have been used to combat erosion for years. Essentially, these are box-shaped wire baskets made from galvanized steel wire which are then filled with rocks to form a gravity wall.

The gabion walls help to slow down the speed of run-off while sieving the soil it carries.

A reader wondered about the rough path I featured recently that leads to one of the lookout points in the park. The sturdiness of this path prevents the erosion of the ground which would have been inevitable with so many visitors walking along the same path in such friable soil. The stones help to create a non-slip surface for the safety of visitors, especially in wet weather.

Similar care is taken over the drainage ditches next to the roads that wind up the steep mountains.


Driving through any of our national parks can be both exciting and tiring. Exciting because of all the trees, flowers, birds and animals to be seen, and tiring because of the distances and time spent in one’s vehicle. Lookout points and picnic sites provide a welcome relief from the latter. In most of the parks one has to keep a careful lookout for lions and not assume that just because one can get out of one’s vehicle that one is absolutely safe. There are two main picnic sites in the Karoo National Park. The Doornhoek Picnic Site is situated in the game area under shady trees that are alive with the sound of birds. Another is Bulkraal, situated along the Lammertjiesleegte drive.

Apart from the welcome ablution facilities, there is a beautifully maintained swimming pool, picnic tables and a number of braai places.

Fairly private picnic sites are dotted around the area and visitors are encouraged to stick to the clearly demarcated paths to reach them.

The Rooivalle Lookout Point provides an opportunity to stretch one’s legs and admire the beautiful vista of the Karoo stretching out in all directions.

The path and sturdy fencing is not to protect you from dangerous animals, but to protect the fragile soil and to prevent visitors from falling over the edge of the cliffs!

It could be easy to lose one’s balance whilst drinking in this awesome sight of the dolerite capping across the deeply incised valley.

As the dolerite has a high iron content, it weathers to the red we see on the exposed rock band.

The Doornhoek Lookout Point has equally fantastic views.

One could spend hours in each of these places …