A Quick Guide To South Africa’s National Parks
How Complete Is this guide?
South Africa has a lot of amazing national parks and places to visit. Although we try our best, its difficult to cover every single detail about these parks. In fact, you can likely write books about many of these places. It is far from complete and the guide is still growing.
If you feel we left something out, feel free to reach out and suggest changes or contribute.
Located 72 kilometers from Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape Province, The Addo Elephant National Park is the third largest park in South Africa. The Addo region surrounds the Sundays River, which has its entrance at the mouth of the Indian Ocean.
The park was established in 1931 to protect 11 Elephants on the brink of extinction. Today, the thick bushveld is the sanctuary of hundreds of elephants, as well as Cape buffalos, endangered black rhinos, Transvaal lions, spotted hyenas, a variety of antelope species, hundreds of bird species and the endangered flightless dung beetle.
Mile after mile of the Sundays River Valley is vegetated with evergreen citrus trees that bear fruit all winter and fragrance the air with their blossoms in spring. Interesting fauna and flora can also be found in the Zuurberg Mountains, which falls within the park, such as three rare cycad and two yellowwood species.
Unique Facts and Figures
The park covers 120,000 hectares of land.
The average annual rainfall is 450 millimeter and is spread throughout the year, although peaks do often occur in February/March and October/November.
The Sundays River has its entrance at the mouth of the Indian Ocean and is tidal from the mouth for 17 kilometers.
The park is home to more than 350 elephants and 280 Cape Buffalo.
The Addo Elephant National Park encompasses a unique and complex bit of earth history covering about the last 500 million years.
Bird Island, which is included in the park, is home to the world's largest breeding colony of gannets – about 120,000 birds – and also hosts the second largest breeding colony of African penguins.
The largest remaining population of the flightless dung beetle (Circellium bacchus) is located within the park.
The park receives about 120,000 visitors annually. International visitors make up 54% of this number, with German, Dutch and British nationals in the majority.
Must See/To Do
Visitors can choose between guided game drives, hop-on guides and self-drive game viewing. Two-hour guided game drives take place in the morning, afternoon and night, as well as at sunrise and sunset. Visitors are also allowed to view wildlife from their own vehicles and local hop-on guides are available to accompany them.
Visitors have the choice of two horse trails: the Addo Horse Trails (where large game can be viewed from horseback) and the Zuurberg Horse Trails (which does not provide encounters with wildlife but instead offers beautiful scenic views from the mountains.
The Bedrogfontein 4x4 trail provides breathtaking views and is rich in history. This route was the scene of fierce battles between the Afrikaner and British and Afrikaner troops during the Anglo-Boer war. Rock art paintings can be viewed throughout the area. From the route a variety of the South African vegetation types can be observed, including riverine thicket, afromontane forest, fynbos and arid nama-karoo.
The park offers numerous hiking trails. The Alexandria Hiking Trail is a 32 kilometer, two-day circular trail – with the first day covering a distance of 18.5 kilometers and the second day a distance of 13.5 kilometers. Shorter hiking trails are also available. One-hour and three-hour trails can be hiked in the Zuurberg Mountains, while the PPC Discovery Trail is a short walk in the main camp.
Marine Eco Tours
Visitors interested in seeing a great white shark and/or southern right whale might want to partake in a Marine Eco-tour.
Day visitors can enjoy something to eat in the picnic area.
Agulhas National Park
Situated at the southernmost tip of Africa in the Western Cape Province of South Africa, the Agulhas National Park stretches for 45 kilometers along the coastline, from east to west, and extends up to 25 kilometers inland. The cold Benguela current, of the South Atlantic Ocean, and warm Agulhas current, of the southwest Indian Ocean, meet at the edge of the Agulhas Bank.
Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias was the first to discover the southernmost tip of Africa on 16 May 1488. In 1999 the Agulhas National Park was declared as a formal protected area not only because of its geographical location, but also to protect the lowland Fynbos, the unique wetland systems, the rich cultural heritage aspects and the diverse marine life of the area.
Cape Agulhas Coast is known as the Graveyard of Ships because numerous shipwrecks of early explorers – attempting to conquer the wild seas off the southern tip of Africa – dot the coastline. The navigators of the 1400’s to the 1700’s, who discovered the sea route around the southernmost tip, observed the sun at noon when it passed the meridian and found that the magnetic compass pointed to true north. Today it points some 25 degrees west of true north.
Unique Facts and Figures
The park expanded to 21,971.0161 hectares in 2014.
As of 3 July 2015, Agulhas National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The highest point in the park is 309 meters above sea level.
The region has a Mediterranean climate – hot, dry summers and cold, wet winters.
The mean annual air temperature is 15˚C, with the average temperature in summer at 21˚C and the average temperature in winter at 14˚C.
Sea temperature averages 21˚C in summer and 14˚C in winter.
Annual rainfall varies between 400 and 600 millimeters, with 60 to 75 percent of the precipitation occurring between May and October.
Prevailing winds are westerly in winter and south-easterly in summer. Cape Agulhas is the windiest area along the South African coast year-round, with the least number of calm days.
It is believed that the waves at the southernmost point are, after those at Cape Horn, the highest in the world.
The sea is shallow, with the 30 meter isobath situated between 3- and 8 kilometers offshore.
Agulhas National Park has approximately 2000 species of indigenous plants, including 100 which are endemic to the area, and over 110 which are Red Data Book species.
People have occupied the Agulhas area for well over a million years and the Agulhas Plain is an exceptionally rich archaeological region. Tools from the Middle Stone Age (200,000 to 20,000 years ago) and the Early Stone Age (2 million to 200,000 years ago) have been found. Stone hearths, pottery, shell middens and tidal fish traps from the Later Stone Age (20,000 years before pre-colonial history in southern Africa) have also been discovered.
In the 1700s the Europeans settled as stock farmers in the area and pioneered the merino wool farming industry in South Africa.
Must See/To Do
The Cape Agulhas Lighthouse & Museum
The Cape Agulhas Lighthouse was the third lighthouse to be built in South Africa, and the second-oldest still operating. It has been in operation since 1849. The design of the lighthouse was inspired by the Pharos of ancient Egypt. Attached to the lighthouse is the former keeper’s house, which currently houses a restaurant and museum.
The Southernmost Tip of Africa
A cairn marks the exact location of the tip where the Atlantic and Indian oceans officially meet.
The remains of the Meisho Maru 38 wreck can be seen on the shores of Cape Agulhas. Showpieces from other shipwrecks found along the Agulhas coastline are also on display at the Bredasdorp Shipwreck museum.
The Agulhas National Park is one of the world’s six floral kingdoms. The Agulhas Plain has great diversity of indigenous flora and unique vegetation such as limestone fynbos. Most species bloom between May and September, but there are flowers to be enjoyed year-round.
The Park has exceptional birdlife, including endangered avifauna, such as the African Black Oyster-catcher. A famous birding spot is the Springfield salt pan, which was exploited by the Springfield Salt and Farming Company (Pty) Ltd, from 1914 and 1950, and the remains are now part of the cultural heritage in the park.
The Southern Tip is a preferred spot for rock- and deep sea fishing.
Agulhas National Park provides wonderful vantage points from which to spot whales. Whale watching season is from June to September.
Agulhas National Park offers two hiking trails. The circular Two Oceans Hiking Trail covers a total distance of 10.5 kilometers, which takes four to five hours to complete. However, two alternative routes with shorter distances are offered on the trail. The circular Rasperpunt Hiking Trail covers a distance of 5.45 kilometers and takes three hours to complete.
Kruger National Park
In the heart of the Lowveld, nestled between South Africa’s northeastern provinces Limpopo and Mpumalanga and bordering Zimbabwe and Mozambique, the iconic Kruger National Park is the largest national park in South Africa and one of the largest national parks in the world. The park is approximately 352 kilometers long and has an average width of 60 kilometers.
The park was first proclaimed in 1898 as the Sabie Game Reserve by the then president of the Transvaal Republic, Paul Kruger, and later expanded into the Kruger National Park in 1926. The park was initially created to regulate hunting and protect the diminished number of animals in the park.
In 1927 the first three tourist cars entered the park. Today, hundreds of thousands of local and international tourists enter through the park’s nine gates each year – hoping to catch a glimpse of Africa’s Big Five (the African lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, African leopard and rhinoceros).
Unique Facts and Figures
Approximately 950,000 people visit Kruger National Park annually, with South Africans accounting for 80 per cent of all visitors. According to the SANParks Annual Report, 1,659,793 people visited the park in the year ending on 31 March 2015.
The park covers a massive 1.9485 million hectares.
There are almost 254 known cultural heritage sites in the Kruger National Park, including nearly 130 recorded rock art sites.
More than 300 archaeological sites of Stone Age man have been found in the park, as well as cultural artifacts for the period 100,000 to 30,000 years ago.
The park provides a sanctuary for 147 mammal species, 500 species of birds, 116 reptiles, 34 amphibians, 49 fishes, 457 types of trees and shrubs, 1 500 smaller plants and countless insects.
A 2,600-kilometre network of all-weather roads allows visitors to explore the diverse habitats in the park in their own vehicle.
Income from tourism and trading activities generates more than R200-million per year, and the Kruger Park plays a major role in the Lowveld's economy.
Must See/To Do
The Big Five
Buffalo, Elephant, Leopard, Lion and Rhino
The Little Five
Buffalo Weaver, Elephant Shrew, Leopard Tortoise, Ant Lion and Rhino Beetle
Birding Big Six
Ground Hornbill, Kori Bustard, Lappet- faced Vulture, Martial Eagle, Pel’s Fishing Owl and Saddle-bill Stork
Baobab, Fever Tree, Knob Thorn, Marula and Mopane
Letaba Elephant Museum, Jock of the Bushveld Route, Albasini Ruins, Masorini Ruins, Stevenson Hamilton Memorial Library and Thulamela
Park & Ride
Visitors eager to spot the Big Five can make use of the "Park and Ride Scheme."
The Kruger National Park offers several trails through its wilderness areas and has numerous rest camps. The duration of all the wilderness trails is two days and three nights. Longer backpacking trails, lasting four days and three nights, are also available.
The park’s guests can take advantage of early morning and afternoon guided walks, where two armed field guides accompany a small group of guests to share their knowledge of the fauna and flora to explain natural wonders.
Morning-, sunset and night drives are available.
The park offers several self-drive 4x4 routes ranging in distance from 48 kilometers to 500 kilometers. A guided one-night, motorized adventure trail is also available.
Mountain Bike Trails
Mountain bikes are supplied to visitors, who can then cycle the unspoiled bush along with two armed field guides.
Surrounded by the rich wildlife sanctuary, the Skukuza Golf Course sits unfenced within the park – allowing for uninvited spectators to make their appearance during a round of Golf.
The park has an abundance of avifauna viewing opportunities. Some of the bird species in the park cannot be found anywhere else in South Africa.
A game drive takes visitors to an open area filled with burning lanterns and fires where, whilst listening to the sounds of the bushveld and the distant animals calling, the food is grilled on open fires.
Golden Gate Highlands National Park
Located at the foothills of the Maluti Mountains in the Free State Province of South Africa, near the Lesotho border, Golden Gate Highlands National Park was officially proclaimed on the 13 September 1963. The park is more renowned for the beauty of its landscape, which offers panoramic views, than for its wildlife.
The grassland biome of the park is pierced by multi-hued, eroded sandstone cliffs and outcrops. Golden Gate derives its name from the color of the setting sun on the west facing sandstone cliffs, especially the picturesque Brandwag Buttress cliff. The park also features the spectacular Cathedral Cave – a 250 meter long and 50 meter deep cavern carved into the sandstone over millions of years by water, wind and fluctuations in temperature.
During the 1800s the plains around Golden Gate was swarming with game – most of which were migratory in nature. Today, the highland habitat is the refuge of a variety of mammals (mostly antelope species), birds, snakes and fishes. The rare bearded vulture (lammergeier) and the equally rare bald ibis can be found in the park.
Unique Facts and Figures
The park covers 11,630 hectares.
The park is situated in one of the most important Water Catchment Areas in South Africa and more than 50% of the water supply of South Africa comes from this area.
Golden Gate Highlands National Park is currently the only proclaimed National Park that protects the grassland biome, which is the most neglected biome from the point of view of conservation.
There are more than 50 grass species in the park. Three of the most common species are the Tambookie grass (Miscanthidium erectum), Red grass (Themeda triandra) and Thatch grass (Hyparrhenia hirta).
The ouhout (Leucosidea sericea) is the most common tree in the park.
Golden Gate Highlands National Park has 10 antelope species, which are the eland, red hartebeest, black wildebeest, blesbok, springbok, mountain reedbuck, grey rhebuck, grey duiker, steenbok and the endangered oribi.
Over 210 bird species have been observed in the park.
There are seven snake species in the park, including the puff adder, mountain adder and rinkhals.
At a height of 2829 meters above sea level, Ribbokkop is the highest loose standing peak in the park as well as in the Free State Province.
The first ever fossilized Triassic dinosaur eggs were found in the park at Rooi Draai in 1973. An array of examples of fossilized dinosaur bones, roots, ferns and footprints were also discovered in the Park.
Upon completion of the Golden Gates Tourist facilities, there would be a total of 526 beds available in the park.
Must See/To Do
Visitors can abseil the cliffs of the park under the guidance of certified guides.
Canoeing is offered on the Gladstone Dam, under the guidance of experienced guides, for groups of 4 to 20 guests.
Guided horseback riding is available.
Visitors can swim in a natural rock pool is situated in the hills behind Glen Reenen.
The park offers two self-drive loops that are tarred and well maintained. The Oribi Loop covers a distance of 4.2 kilometers and includes the Vulture Feeding Project and magnificent views of the Drakensberg. The Blesbok Loop covers a distance of 6.7 kilometers and offers breathtaking scenery, including the Generaal's Kop viewing point.
The park offers six unguided, one-hour hiking trails; one guided, four-hour hiking trail; and one 28 kilometer, overnight, unguided hiking trail.
Basotho Cultural Village Activities
Visitors can take the Cultural Route, which traces the footsteps of the first occupants by visiting the historical sites of Qwa Qwa.
On the Herbal Trail visitors can learn about all the medicinal herbs on the trail from a village traditional healer, as well as view San rock art in the caves.
The Museum Tour displays a depiction of the architecture and life style of the Basotho people from as early as the 16th century to the present day.
The Golden Gate Highlands Hotel offers a tennis court, volleyball and mini soccer ball.
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
Situated west of the southern African subcontinent in the Kalahari Desert, the second largest desert in Africa, lies the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. The park straddles the border between South Africa and Botswana, and borders Namibia to the west. Approximately three-quarters of the park lie in Botswana, called the Gemsbok National Park, and one-quarter lies in South Africa, called the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park.
The Park was proclaimed in 1931 to protect migrating animals from poaching. Kgalagadi means "land of the thirst." The park is characterized by red dunes, camel thorn trees and dry riverbeds. Two predominantly dry rivers run through the park – the Nossob and Auob Rivers, which are said to flow only once per century.
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is especially renowned for watching predatory animals. Mammals, like Namibian cheetahs, leopards, brown- and spotted hyenas and the black-maned Kalahari lions, as well as birds of prey, like raptors, vultures, buzzards and secretary birds, are popular attractions. Seasonal migrating animals, such as blue wildebeest, springbok, eland and red hartebeest, can also be found in the park.
Unique Facts and Figures
The park covers 3.8 million hectares.
The semi-arid region has an average annual rainfall of 150 millimeters in the southwest to 350 millimeters in the northeast, mainly between January and April.
Temperatures vary greatly from -11°C on cold winter nights to 42°C in the shade on summer days.
Botswana quietly sold the rights to frack for shale gas in more than half of its portion of the park in September 2014.
The park has a list of approximately 280 bird species; of which 92 are resident species, 17 are nomadic species, 50 are migratory species and 121 are vagrant species.
There are an estimated 450 lions, 150 leopards, 200 cheetahs, 600 brown hyenas and 375 spotted hyenas in the park.
There are three traditional tourist lodges and six wilderness camps within the park.
Must See/To Do
The park conducts morning and sunset drives.
The park has six 4x4 trails ranging in length from 85 kilometers to 257 kilometers.
There are five picnic sites throughout the park with barbeque facilities.
Namaqua National Park
Namaqua National Park is situated in the western part of the Northern Cape Province of South Africa, just south of the Namibian border. The park is part of the Namaqualand region, which falls within the semi-desert Succulent Karoo biome – a biodiversity hotspot with the largest concentration of succulent plants in the world.
The Namaqua National Park was proclaimed on 29 June 2002 for the purpose of conserving the rich diversity of succulent plants. However, people have long since been visiting the area to admire its renowned “carpets” of colorful wildflowers. The landscape, with its breathtaking beauty and contrasting colors, is also a photographer’s paradise.
After the winter rains, tourism peaks during springtime (August and September) when a burst of spring wildflowers appear. Most of the wildflower species are protected under law and visitors who decide to pick themselves a bouquet will face fines.
Unique Facts and Figures
The park covers 70,000 hectares.
An estimated 100,000 tourists visit Namaqualand every year; of which 65% are South African.
The area has a low but reliable winter rainfall pattern, with most precipitation occurring between May and August. The eastern part of the park receives more rainfall than the west.
Winter wind is usually from the east, which can turn to a cold north-westerly with the approach of a frontal system, and is predominantly from the south or east in summer.
The bedrock within the Namaqua NP largely comprises Quartzo-feldspathic Gneiss of the Kookfontein subgroup within the Namaqualand Metamorphic Complex.
The park covers an altitudinal range from sea level (western boundary) to 948 meters (at Wolfhoek se Berg) on the eastern boundary.
Fifteen bioregions are represented within the boundaries of the park.
Namaqualand has about 3,000 plant species (1,500 are endemic) made up of 648 genera and 107 families.
Seventeen percent of Namaqualand’s plant species are listed as Red Data species.
It is estimated that the Succulent Karoo bioregion has about 16% of the worlds approximately 10,000 succulent plant species.
Must See/To Do
The wildflowers during spring time (August and September) are an absolute must see. The Namaqua National Park has not yet been fully developed and the Skilpad area of the park can only be visited by tourists during the flower season. A circular drive with viewpoints is available during this time.
The Caracal Eco Route stretches from the mountains to the coastline to allow visitors to experience a wide range of Namaqua habitats. The distance of the route range from 176 kilometers to 200 kilometers, depending on which tracks are selected.
Even though there are no formal mountain biking trails in the park, there are a wide range of roads and terrains which visitors can cycle.
The park has two hiking trails (5 kilometers and 3 kilometers) from which visitors can view flowers, as well as a longer hiking trail (6 kilometers) along the coastline.
Species to search for include Cinnamon-breasted Warbler, Cape Long-billed Lark, Karoo Lark, Black-headed Canary and Cape Bulbul.
Picnic sites are available throughout the park.
Table Mountain National Park
Situated in the city of Cape Town in the Western Cape Province of South Africa, Table Mountain National Park is a uniquely urban nature reserve – fragmented by urban development and privately owned land. Beaches, bays, valleys, forests the Cape of Good Hope and the famous Table Mountain are all incorporated into the park.
Table Mountain National Park was proclaimed on 29 May 1998 to protect the natural environment of the Table Mountain Chain. In 2011, Table Mountain was declared as one of the world's new seven wonders of nature. The mountain and acclaimed landmark offers spectacular views of Cape Town as well as unique flora. Table Mountain National Park is part of the Cape Floristic Region World Heritage Site.
The other two sections of the park are the Silvermine-Tokai section and the Cape Point section. The Silvermine-Tokai section was formed from the Tokai State Forest and the Silvermine Nature Reserve. The Cape Point section covers the most southern area of the Cape Peninsula and includes Cape Point and Cape of Good Hope.
Unique Facts and Figures
The park includes 25,000 hectares of the Cape Peninsula Protected Natural Environment, as well as 1,000 km² of the seas and coastline around the peninsula.
Because the park has open access, it is the most visited of all National Parks – with 4.2 million visitors annually.
The park has 8,200 plant species – of which around 80% are fynbos. Many of the plants found in the park are endemic.
The Cape Floral Kingdom is the only kingdom confined to one continent.
Table Mountain National Park is included as part of the UNESCO Cape Floral Region World Heritage Site.
The main feature of Table Mountain is the level plateau, which is approximately 3 kilometers from side to side.
The highest point on Table Mountain is towards the eastern end of the plateau and is 1,086 meters above sea level.
Table Mountain National Park and Cape Town have a Mediterranean climate – characterized by typically hot, dry summers and short, wet, yet mild winters.
Must See/To Do
The Cape of Good Hope
The top tourist destination is rich in cultural and natural heritage. Wildlife, including eland, red hartebeest, bontebok and zebra, are found in the area. Visitors can visit the two lighthouses situated at the most southwestern point in Africa. Cape of Good Hope also offers hiking, surfing, angling, picnicking, beaching and cycling opportunities. Free guided walks are also available at Cape Point. The Cape of Good Hope Hiking Trail is an overnight hiking trail.
Boulders Penguin Colony
A colony of endangered, land-based African penguins can be viewed at the Boulders section of the park, which is situated in Simons Town. There are also three beaches and three boardwalks in the area.
The mountain offers a variety of hiking trails – ranging from light strolls to rigorous hikes. The summit of the mountain provides spectacular views of the city, while the ascent takes visitors through the ancient, indigenous Afromontane forest. A shortcut to the top of Table Mountain is also available via the Table Mountain Arial Cableway.
Lion's Head is the peak to the right of Table Mountain when facing it head on and offers a short but popular hike with 360 degree views of the Atlantic seaboard, the city and Table Mountain. It has become popular to hike Lion’s Head in groups during full moon.
Signal Hill, the Northern-most tip of the terrestrial area of the park, is a popular viewpoint which offers excellent views of the city and harbor. It is from here that the noon day gun marks 12:00 in Cape Town.
Silvermine offers some of the best hiking trails in the park, which passes by fynbos landscapes, a dam, a river and a waterfall. Bird spotting, picnics, dog walking and mountain biking are also favorite activities in the area.
Table Mountain National Park has a variety of diverse beaches on offer.
The Table Mountain National Park Marine Protected Area is a popular fishing area for shore and boat-based fisher people as well as extractive divers.
The Table Mountain National Park Marine Protected Area is a scuba diving haven. What makes the area popular among divers is the numerous wrecks that scatter the coastline as well as the six restricted areas ("no take" zones) that have been established as breeding and nursery areas for marine species. Popular dive sites include the Maori wreck off the Sentinel in Hout Bay, Oudekraal on the Atlantic Seaboard and Miller's Point and Smitswinkel in False Bay.
A plethora of rocky points, reefs, beaches and open ocean Atlantic swell provide numerous breaks that work in different conditions.
Table Mountain, with its rocky ledges and huge boulders, attract climbers from all over the world.
The park has numerous picnic and braai (to grill on open flames) areas.
There are numerous designated launch areas in the park, including Lion's Head and Silvermine.
Popular horse riding areas include Tokai, Noordhoek Beach and Black Hill.
Apart from Table Mountain’s Afromontane Forest, the park also includes Newlands Forest, Orange Kloof in Hout Bay and Echo Valley and Spes Bona on the Muizenberg mountains.