Tag Archives: sanparks

Wild Flower Watching in the West Coast National Park near Langebaan (2019-09-01) Nature and Animal Attractions | Photo Gallery 10 APR 2020

With the start of each Spring, the months of August and September see our West Coast region bursting with colorful carpets of wild flowers, instantly transforming this laid back and generally quiet part of South Africa into a total tourist mecca. With people streaming in from all over Cape Town and its surrounds, the West Coast and its sister Namaqualand are simply put, the places to be if you want to go flower watching.

The West Coast National Park (one of the few national parks that I’m actually older than seeing as it was only officially proclaimed in 1985, a full 5 years after I was born) is a 36,000 hectare strong nature reserve centered around the Langebaan Lagoon. Lying 120 km north of Cape Town, the park is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean and the R27 coastal road, and stretches from Yzerfontein in the south right up to Langebaan and its lagoon in the north. (It also has a few islands in Saldanha Bay attached as well).

The park is home to a number of antelope species, including eland, red hartebeest, bontebok, kudu, gemsbok, steenbok, and duiker, as well as ostriches and a host of smaller animals like the bat-eared fox, caracal, and Cape gray mongoose. Bird life is of course abundant (a bird watcher’s dream to be sure) and many Palearctic migrants spend their winter months around the Langebaan Lagoon. The coastal islands at the mouth of the lagoon are important breeding colonies for Cape and Hartlaub’s gull, Cape gannet, cormorants, terns and even the African penguin.

Then there is the flora of course, and coastal fynbos and scrub aside, the Postberg Flower Reserve (privately owned land situated within the national park’s bounds and which is included as a “contractual national park”) is the site where the majority of the annual Spring wild flowers bloom, making it the focal point come flower season.

The lack of big predators means that much of the park is open for human outdoor activities like walking, hiking, mountain bike riding, and jogging. There are a number braai facilities scattered around at sites like Tsaarsbank and Preekstoel (named after a large uniquely shaped rock found there), as well as spots to cool down on both the banks of the lagoon and the ocean. (The lagoon is also home to house boats that you can rent as accommodation).

I took Chantelle and the girls out for a flower watching jaunt last Spring, and as expected (due to the lengthy period of drought that the Western Cape had just emerged from), the flower bloom really wasn’t nearly as good as what we’ve encountered before, with many previously blanketed swathes of fields and koppies devoid of any of the characteristic carpets of colour that we’ve come to associate them with.

Nevertheless, it was a delightful drive through nature, and the lack of large crowds (because of the decreased amount of flowers on display) meant that it was slightly less stressful and we had a lot more opportunity to stop and explore than what we have had before.

We ended off our day of flower watching with a slightly overpriced lunch at the onsite Geelbek Restaurant (love its historic Cape Dutch building though!), before heading back out of the park to hit the long road home – but only because by this point Chantelle had had enough viewing for the day and wouldn’t let me traipse over to the bird hide on the lagoon!

I’ve mentioned before that the West Coast National Park is probably not the most exciting of our national parks to take a self drive through if you are interested in actual game watching, but regardless of that, the wide open space, the fresh air, and the long empty views do make for an excellent break from city/suburban life. Plus, if you go there during flower season (on a good year and somehow manage to miss the big crowd that comes along with it), it truly is an amazing natural sight to behold!

Cape Agulhas Lighthouse and the Southernmost Tip of Africa (2019-03-23) Nature and Animal Attractions | Photo Gallery 05 APR 2020

In March of last year I decided to drag the family out on a spur of the moment day trip to the see the Cape Agulhas Lighthouse and visit the southernmost tip of Africa marker in the Agulhas National Park. Of course, seeing as we were headed out that way anyway, I also managed to throw in a visit to the Bredasdorp Shipwreck Museum – but only in exchange for a light breakfast in Bredasdorp first. (Chantelle and the girls drive a hard bargain!)

Much like say Strand and Gordon’s Bay, the two small coastal holiday towns or settlements of Struisbaai and L’Agulhas have pretty much merged into one another these days (i.e. you can just about get away with using either name synonymously), and is a particularly popular coastal holiday destination for many Afrikaans speaking families.

Built around a natural harbour and with some of the best fishing waters on offer, the area has done well to maintain a very laid back, undeveloped charm and it is quite easy to see just why this is such an attractive weekend getaway destination for a lot of Western Cape folks.

Operated by Transnet National Ports Authority and sitting at the entrance of the SANParks-operated Agulhas National Park, the Cape Agulhas Lighthouse holds the honour of being the third ever lighthouse to be built in South Africa and is the second-oldest still operating (after the Green Point Lighthouse in Cape Town).

Built in 1848 and operated until 1968 before being taken out of service due to its crumbling sandstone walls, the lighthouse (with its design inspiration taken from the Pharos of Alexandria) was declared a national monument as well as a Western Cape provincial heritage site in 1973, leading to a restoration and reconstruction effort lead by the Bredasdorp Shipwreck Museum and local council that resulted in its recommission in 1988.

The red and white banded lighthouse welcomes visitors and as such has become a popular tourist destination, a fact made quite apparent by the number of people squeezed into the small building on the day of our visit. That said, I don’t exactly have the body circumference conducive to climbing up lighthouse tower stairs, so I did give this one a skip.

SANParks and the Department of Tourism have put a lot of effort into making the Southern Tip of Africa (and the official meeting point of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans) as tourist friendly as possible, going so far as to lay out a boardwalk that you can follow just about all the way from the lighthouse to the official (and photo famous) marker.

Last year also saw the unveiling of a large 3D relief map of Africa known as the Iconic Map of Africa Monument. Part of a project funded to the tune of R15 million, this monument pays homage to the African continent. The map is aligned with the earth compass (with the tip of Africa pointing to the south) and to represent the differing landscapes across the continent, the map has been sprayed with various metal powders that over time will react with chemicals in the environment and atmosphere to change color and represent the different biomes and vegetation across different regions of Africa. (Bonus, this makes climbing Mount Kilimanjaro a heck of a lot easier than what it would normally be!)

The open access Agulhas National Park itself isn’t one of South Africa’s largest national parks, covering an area of around 20,959 hectares. That said, it does boast some 2,000 native plant species (hello fynbos) and a wetland that provides refuge to birds and amphibians.

The waters are of course teeming with Southern Right whales over the November to January whale watching season and there are plenty of sea birds like the Damara tern and African Black oystercatcher for birders to tag.

Apart from all the scenic rocks, crashing waves and fynbos, the treacherous, fish rich waters of Cape Agulhas is of course infamous for its many shipwrecks over the years (aka the reason for a lighthouse in the first place), with names like De Zoetendal, HMS Birkenhead, and HMS Arniston all counted among its victims. (This is also then why we have a shipwreck museum in Bredasdorp of all places).

In fact, just a short drive into the park (or about a 20 minute walk from the southern tip marker) will lead you to a rusted prow resting on the rocks, the final remains of the Meisho Maru No. 38, a small Japanese fishing trawler that met its end at Cape Agulhas in 1982.

Picture perfect, untouched, rugged, unbridled coastal views that stretch out in every direction that you look. Tranquil, fresh sea air and fynbos everywhere. Can’t say then that I didn’t love our visit to this most southernmost tip of Africa.

Antelope Spotting at Bontebok National Park in Swellendam (2019-09-27) Nature and Animal Attractions | Photo Gallery 29 DEC 2019

Bontebok National Park is an unusual SANParks site in that it is a species-specific national park, originally established in 1931 to try and ensure the survival of the relatively rare Bontebok antelope. In this they succeeded and today the park is home to around 200 Bontebok, the maximum amount of antelope a park of this size can support.

Situated 6 km south of Swellendam in the foothills of the Langeberg Mountains and bordered to the south by the mighty Breede River, the Bontebok National Park is the smallest of South Africa’s 19 national parks, covering an area of about 27 km².

In addition to Bontebok, the park is also home to Cape Mountain Zebra, Grey Rhebok, Cape Grysbok, Duiker, Red Hartebeest and the African clawless otter. Bird species thrive, with over 200 different types recorded, including Stanley’s bustard, Secretary birds and Blue Cranes (South Africa’s national bird).

The park also serves as a protected area for the conservation of coastal renosterveld and other endangered fynbos veld types, with a total of nearly 500 grasses and other plant species on the books. Home to some of the largest remaining ‘renosterveld islands’, the park also contains several plant species that are found nowhere else in the world.

With no large predators prowling the grounds, this park is open for self-guided drives, hiking, picnics, fishing and all manner of other outdoor recreational activities, and with both camping and accommodation options available (at the Lang Elsie’s Kraal Rest Camp), the park welcomes both day and overnight visitors.

September saw Jessica and Emily join me for a little long weekend up in Mossel Bay, and on the way up I decided to take the opportunity to swing left and first head off for a spot of Bontebok spotting – marking the first time that I had actually ever visited this particular park.

(We were successful in our antelope spying mission and in the end, despite the heat, enjoyed a lovely drive and stroll around the area.)

Much like the West Coast National Park, the Bontebok National Park is certainly not the most thrilling of national parks to visit (unless of course you are REALLY into birding), but if you are looking for veld, wide open space to enjoy, and the tranquility that comes with all of that, then this site certainly ticks all the right boxes!

Ferns and Forest in the Garden of Eden, Knysna (2019-01-05) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 29 JUL 2019

Halfway between Knysna and Plettenberg Bay sits an ideal spot to introduce your kids to the gorgeous forests of the Garden Route National Park, a literal stop and stretch your legs point right along the N2 itself.

Part of the Harkerville Forest, the Garden of Eden is a long running site that has been welcoming visitors to its short shady paths since 1926. A superb example of the Wet High Forest biosphere, the Garden of Eden contains a number of moist ferns and tree species, including tall stinkwood, kalander, and wit-els.

The site only has about 1 km or so of wooden boardwalks to follow through the forest (arranged in two 500 m loops), making it particularly suitable for young kids, the elderly and of course the disabled. There are plenty of benches and tables scattered about, so you could also theoretically enjoy a nice picnic whilst watching all the moss and lichen grow.

During the day the site is manned (and so there is a small SANParks entrance fee to pay), and on the whole the Garden of Eden is a very well maintained and signposted taste of the Garden Route’s gorgeous nature.

So naturally we had to stop and take some pictures.

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Tracking Zebras and Warthogs in Addo Elephant Park (2017-07-06) Nature and Animal Attractions | Photo Gallery 16 MAR 2019

The Addo Elephant National Park is somewhat a story of people coming to their senses in the absolute nick of time. In the early centuries, great herds of wild animals roamed the Addo region, living alongside a handful of native clans. However by the late 1700s, most herds of elephants and other species had been all but decimated thanks to overzealous hunting activities. Fast forward to the 1800s and farmers being to colonize the area around the park, leading to even more flash points with the remaining elephants (due to competition over water and land). By 1919 this conflict had come to a head when the government agreed to help exterminate the problematic elephants, leading to the death of around 144 animals between 1919 and 1920.

Luckily though, public sentiment had finally begun to change, and in 1931 the Addo Elephant National Park was proclaimed, set up to protect the last remaining 11 Addo elephant!

Now the third largest South African National Park (after Kruger National Park and Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park), the Addo Elephant National Park has come a long way in terms of animal population, with it currently being home to around 600 elephants, 400 Cape buffalo, lions, spotted hyenas, leopard, Burchell’s zebra, and a LOT of warthogs. There are also plenty of antelope species roaming about, including red hartebeest, eland, kudu and bushbuck.

In addition to the mammals, given the excellent habitat contrasts between dense thickets of spekboom interspersed with open grassy areas and wooded kloofs, Addo also presents a fantastic opportunity for birding, with the park being home to an extensive number of bird species. (Consequently, there are thus a LOT of lizards, snakes and tortoises too to be found as well!)

And then of course there is Addo’s famous rare flightless dung beetle, who is recognized as the king of the local roads thanks to the plethora of road signs posted in the park reminding visitors that this super recycling machine has the right of way!

We travelled to Addo as part of our June holiday back in 2017, making our way from Oudtshoorn via a weirdly unsettling strip of concrete road past the blink and you’ll miss them towns of Willowmore and Steytlerville. We overnighted in the very comfortable SANParks’ accommodation (staying inside a park is always fun), and completely ignoring the kids moaning, Chantelle and I then proceeded to spend as much time as possible out on the tracks taking in the wildlife around us.

And while Addo isn’t necessarily my favourite park to visit, it is easily one of the best when it comes to elephant watching and we were blessed with some fantastic viewings (despite the region’s dryness) to go along with the great weather conditions.

Of course, given the fact that neither one of us is a photographer and thus there is not a single piece of decent camera equipment between us, you’ll just have to take our word (and slightly grainy cellphone footage) as proof of this!

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Drive up Signal Hill, Cape Town (2018-11-17) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 23 FEB 2019

While the Noon Gun still merrily continues its daily midday pigeon onslaught from the slopes of Signal Hill, the signal flags from which this Cape Town landmark derives its name have long since left, leaving behind the perfect viewpoint for those of us who don’t always feel like physically climbing up Lion’s Head just to experience the stunning views out over our Mother City.

I took the girls up the hill for a quick jaunt towards the end of last year, their first time up, and they immediately super excitedly fell into tourist mode by demanding to take photos of everyone and everything around them.

So my phone was obligingly passed around, lots of photos of pretty much everything around us were snapped, and then we did some strolling whilst successfully avoiding the various vendors and picnicking crowds on the other side of the hill.

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Spring Flower Season in the West Coast National Park (2016-09-04) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 01 OCT 2016

The West Coast National Park is not the best SANParks national park to recommend visiting if you are looking for some big game to spot. However, with the idyllic Langebaan lagoon as its focal point, the 27,500 hectare large West Coast National Park is certainly more public friendly than most, with it being one of the few national parks where you can cycle, jog, braai, suntan, swim in the sea, picnic, swim in a lagoon, or even camp out on houseboat!

(Plus, there are actually antelope and smaller creatures to be spotted, and of course plenty of diverse bird life for the enthusiast).

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Spring however is when the park really comes to life, where the annual carpets of colourful wild flowers show their faces and turn the area into an amazing sprawl of delight.

Naturally, SANParks immediately hikes the entry fee to take advantage of this surge of interest in the area, but it is money well spent, believe you me (unless of course you own a Wild Card, because well then entry is free) – if you haven’t yet witnessed the incredible carpeted fields of colour that the private Postberg Flower Reserve unveils come Spring, then you simply have to make a plan for next year.

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Capetonians (i.e. people from Cape Town) descend on the park in their hordes, with lengthy queues at the entrance gate quite the norm. (Tip: If you don’t enjoy waiting in queues, you can go the long way around and enter via the Langebaan gate – usually a much less busy gateway into the park!)

Apart from these few weeks in Spring, the Postberg Flower Reserve section of the park is closed to the public, meaning that it remains unspoiled for much of the year. Every year this then pays dividends when the hills literally start exploding with colour as the flower season begins.

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Chantelle and I had seen this spectacle for ourselves for the first time last year (we even overnighted in Hopefield of all places!), and this year we were quite eager for the girls to also see this wonderful sight of nature at her best.

Having enjoyed a big family bash in celebration of Cheryl’s birthday the day before, Sunday saw us head out down the N7 and then R27 to Langebaan, where we met up with my Mom and Dad for a day of flower watching.

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This turned out to actually be a great plan, because we knew that the girls would probably become bored quite quickly (and thus start annoying each other in the back), so we split them up, with Jessica riding in Mom and Dad’s car while Emily stayed with us (on Chantelle’s lap).

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We spent the next couple of hours driving through the park, admiring all the colours and of course getting slightly flustered with all the traffic. As you would imagine, cars were parked everywhere, with pretty much anyone with even the slightest inkling of calling themselves a photographer spilling out to capture as much of the flower covered landscape as possible.

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We were treated to some amazing sights, and explored a bit more of the area than what we did last time around (this time I made sure I had enough petrol before going in!), and after our visual senses were properly sated, we headed down back to the lagoon for a bite to eat at the park’s Geelbek Restaurant.

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At least, that was the plan until we quickly realized that perhaps they were simply too busy to actually give good service, and so opted to abandon our table and rather exit the park to grab a now very late lunch from the nearby Beulah Farm Deli instead.

So in the end it was a day well spent, and I therefore suspect that next year we will probably be back again. Though perhaps this time even more prepared to make an even fuller day out of it! (In other words, remembering to pack a picnic basket for a change…)

Oh, and once again, taking pictures of fields of flowers doesn’t really work all that well when all you have is your Huawei cellphone for the job. Nevertheless, I tried my best:

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(Oh, and sadly we did see less animals than what we did last time around. Not a big train smash though, so long as you go into the park knowing that animal spotting is not the big drawcard here!)

Related Link: West Coast National Park | Wikipedia | Postberg Flower Reserve

The Boardwalk of the Pied Kingfisher Trail in Wilderness (2016-06-26) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 20 JUL 2016

The Pied Kingfisher Trail is situated in Wilderness in the Western Cape, South Africa. The 11 km long trail is popular with birdwatchers and makes for an ideal morning hike that should take about 3-4 hours to complete. It is an easy going flat circular trail that begins at the Ebb and Flow South Rest Camp in the Wilderness National Park.

However, with two little girls, one toddler and a baby, we weren’t really interested in all that, now were we?

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Instead, with our hunger and thirst now satisfied, we next struck out for the popular boardwalk section of the greater Pied Kingfisher Trail, a pleasant walk all along the edge of the Touwsrivier.

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Access is easy enough (you can jump on the boardwalk directly from Waterside road), and the result is an easy, pleasant stroll along the water’s edge and through the reeds – affording you some great bird-watching opportunities in the process!

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The views are great and for the kids it is a big adventure, meaning that this little stroll definitely has something for everyone!

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(And from there, it was back to Far Hills Country Hotel for a bit of a rest break following the day’s activities, before we once again headed out for some well deserved supper and play time at the classic George Geronimo Spur!)

Related Link: Pied Kingfisher Trail