After doing some travelling in Botswana and Namibia, we decided to make a tour of the parts of South Africa to the south of Pretoria where we live. Naturally, we planned to make use of the National Parks network of Sanparks, knowing that they offer good quality camping and also other accommodation for those days when we do not want to camp - mostly when the weather looks a bit too threatening.
Advantages of travelling in South Africa are many. No customs exercises, no confiscating of meat and other foodstuff and a rather constant connectivity through Vodacom in the more remote places. That is some of the reasons why we decided to do the Three Capes - Eastern Cape, Western Cape and Northern Cape. We also pass through the Free State and I will include the places where we slept over here as well.
The trip between Pretoria and Mokala Park should be started early in the morning, since one have to drive through a lot of roads known for heavy traffic, so make sure you leave before sunrise. That will also give you the time to visit the Big Hole in Kimberley, which is very interesting and very well presented. Mokala Park is a very beautiful Karoo park and a pleasure to visit because of the friendly staff, the good accommodation and camping, the arid countryside and its beautiful animals.
Because of the lack of carnivores and parasites and its favourable soetveld grazing, it is well suited for the establishment and multiplication of rare and endangered species like the Tsessebe, Roan Antelope and Sable Antelope. These animals are allowed to multiply and then relocated to other parks and also to private nature reserves.
We suggest a stay of at least two nights to leisurely take in the whole place, spend time in the hide and enjoy a picnic at one of the picnic sites and to enjoy a meal at their restaurant.
After covering quite a long distance through Karoo landscape on the N1, you reach Beaufort West and a little distance past it, the gate to the Karoo National Park.
The Karoo National Park offers neat camping between trees and shrubs as well as huts for those who prefer the extra protection offered by mortar and bricks. 4x4 Enthusiasts can have a good time here with tracks that vary from easy to difficult. One has an overnight hut where you can overnight in the mountain.
They also now have Lions and Brown Hyena added to the many other species they protect in this park, so keep your eyes open for the lions and very scarce Brown Hyenas.
We recommend at least a two night stay to take in the fossil trail and other walking trails as well as day and night drives, and of course for the 4x4 enthusiasts, the 4x4 trails with their wonderful views, which may necessitate a third night in the mountain as well.
Doing the route from Karoo National Park to Tankwa National Park in one day will be a bit too stressful for one on holiday, so we decided to make an inspection of Matjiesfontein, which is situated about halfway between the two parks. We were pleasantly surprised with what we found there. Apart from a rather grand hotel, there are many little historical shops one can visit. The Lord Milner Hotel offers bed and breakfast as well as self catering in an outside building. At night, you can also have a meal in their restaurant from a fixed menu.
We don't think a second night's stay is necessary. Rather get up early and after breakfast hit the road to The Tankwa Karoo National Park.
After about 150km, first on the R354, then on a gravel road along the Tankwa River, you reach the Tankwa National Park. This is an arid park and normally very dry, with the strongest drawcard the remoteness and loneliness of the place. After good rains at the right time, it can become a sea of flowers which I did not see the equal of. It is truly breathtaking. Another view to die for, are the sunsets, especially seen from Steenkampshoek, one of the informal camps in the park.
The park offers accommodation in several self-catering cottages, a guesthouse, camping facilities at two different settings and then six informal camping spots where only one party may stay in totally self-reliant circumstances, as there are no facilities. These camping areas are something very special for those who want to be alone and who like to do "wild camping" or "boskamp".
People who visit this park for only one night will most probably be disappointed. It will be a good idea to sleep in more than one area of the park. For the informal camps, it will be a very good idea to camp one night at each of them to get an idea of the atmosphere and feeling of the different areas of the park.
The trip between Tankwa Karoo National Park and Cape Nature's Algeria camp in the Cedar Mountains includes five mountain passes with the accompanying views to enjoy along the way. You also pass through Clanwilliam where you can touch up on your stocks before going on to Algeria, where you can camp or stay in a chalet while enjoying the beautiful nature among the Cedar Mountains and also do a few hikes and maybe visit the cave.
The road today runs through wheat, citrus and wine areas where you may sample the produce from these areas right where they are produced. There are also a number of guest houses and camping site on the way, should you elect to stay over a night or two in this very interesting area.
The Bontebok National Park is a good stopover for one or even two nights if you would like to do a hike or two. There is also a very nice picnic spot and very good, natural swimming in the river.
A short drive from Bontebok National Park at the coast is Cape Nature's De Hoop Nature Reserve with a number of hikes and bicycle routes. The Sout River runs into the reserve, but stops a short distance from the sea with a few milk-white dunes between the potential river mouth and the ocean. This river is a huge drawcard since it harbours fantastic birdlife which can be appreciated from the riverbanks with binoculars. Most hikes and bicycle tracks also takes you to the river.
To cover the offerings of de Hoop properly will probably take three to four days, but will be worth the while. It is also the home of the famous Whale Trail.
From De Hoop, the road goes through Malagas where you ride the only remaining pontoon in South Africa, then down to Witsand to see the old harbour, then on through Riversdale, Mosselbay and on to Wilderness and Ebb & Flow camp, part of the Garden Route National Park, where you can camp or reside in the cottages they offer. This camp is a popular base from where a whole lot of sites and activities can be explored.
We recommend a stay of at least three nights to properly get the feeling of the camp as well as everything else that is offered in the immediate vicinity.
From Ebb & Flow camp you drive through beautiful natural surroundings past Sedgefield and through Knysna (It will be a good plan to have something to eat on Thesen Island before carrying on) to the Diepwalle State Forest where a total new form of camping took form. You may describe it as treetop camping or, as the official brochures say:"Camping Decks" between the trees in the forest. This is a must-do for nature-loving campers and very enjoyable complete with the fireplace and a small bar counter also on deck!
We recommend two night's sleep to make a thorough investigation of the immediate surrounding forest possible and if you find it very interesting, stay another night and explore a bit deeper into the forest on one of the hiking trails.
After camping between the branches of the trees in Diepwalle, another great Sanparks camping spot is on the route, namely the De Vasselot camp, a small distance from the townlet of Natures Valley and the beach. The camping sites in this camp are under deep shade and will be great when the temperatures are high elsewhere. This is also where the famous Otter Trail ends.
We recommend at least a two-night stay to enable you to spend a day at the beach or swimming in the river although you may find it a perfect spot to spend a few days just relaxing in the shade between the trees.
After spending quite some time in the vicinity of the sea, the road now leads to the interior with the famous and popular (among nature lovers with rough transport) Baviaanskloof as the main lure. We decided to go via Humansdorp so that we can enter the Baviaanskloof from the Patensie side, which will give us the opportunity to travel from Willowmore to Addo Elephant National Park via roads we have not travelled before to see the "Deep Karoo" that is a bit off the beaten track.
The road to our overnight camp, Komdomo was easy and interesting. We enjoyed camping at Komdomo and were not surprised to meet a few campers from not-too-far who camped there for longer periods and who use Komdomo as their regular camping destination. We, however think that Komdomo for travellers on the go, is wonderful for just an overnight spot on the way to the Kloof.
The road from Komdomo through the Baviaans Kloof to Doringkloof camp takes you about halfway through the Kloof with the rest of the beauty saved for tomorrow.
Doringkloof Camp is a popular stayover for people travelling the Baviaaanskloof and it is easy to see why when you get there and see the care that the owner put into the place. There is also a bush camp some distance from the main Diringkloof camp, which is more secluded and ideal for people who like to camp in private. Ask the owners about this option.
Both the camp and the bushcamp has enough going for it to warrant a two-night stayover to enable you to do some of the hikes offered.
The road from Doringkloof pass through the rest of Baviaanskloof, past Willowmore, Steytlerville and Kirkwood to Addo Elephant National Park where we will sleep tonight. This park is in an expanding stage where they added a coastal section, complete with its own islands and also a large mountainous section called Cabouga. It is also becoming one of the busier park in the Sanparks stable with the main activities still happening at the Main Camp.
We recommend staying at least three nights if you want to explore the coastal section together with the main section.
To get to the Cabouga section, you will need to return the short distance to Kirkwood and book in there for the beautiful Mvubu camp. It is recommended that the 4x4 route over the moun tain to the Darlington Dam be taken as indicated on the map.
For the Kabouga section two nights will be sufficient if you want to use the canoes on the river and explore the 4x4 routes a bit, otherwise one night will be suitable.
From Mvubu camp, a very beautiful trip which includes a 4x4 section which can hold its own against any of the more famous 4x4 routes, lead past the Darlington Dam where you may camp for the night if you like to catch a fish or two, or carry straight on to Graaf Reinet and the Camdeboo National Park, where you can now camp or stay in a safari tent next to the Inqweba Dam.
At least two nights are recommended to be able to enjoy a trip to the Valley of Desolation, a 4x4 trip as well as one or two of the hiking trails. Beautiful picnic spots are also available to enjoy a nice picnic while enjoying the view.
The trip from Camdeboo National Park to Mountain Zebra National Park is rather straight forward unless you want to turn off towards Nieu Bethesda to visit the little town and its famous Owl House. This detour can be done without adding another day and is recommended for those who like to learn about past histories and intrigues.
Mountain Zebra National Park is situated near Cradock in a mountainous area with large grassy areas where plains game can forage to their hearts content. There are also places that are quite bushy, especially if you choose to take some of the beautiful 4x4 routes.
We recommend at least two nights to enjoy the game driving routes, maybe track the cheetas and be sure to enjoy the Lamb Shank at their restaurant.
Gariep Dam is very well situated to serve as halfway between Gauteng and The Western Cape. It also offers a wide variety of accommodation and camping as well as activities.
We normally just use the place as a good sleepover, but if you are interested in boating, angling or just relaxing for a day or two, it should be very enjoyable to stay for a longer period. The place can become very busy and crowded during school holidays.
On our way to Golden Gate Highlands National Park from Gariep Dam, we passed Lesoba Guest Farm and Hiking Trails and decided to go and have a look what they are offering there. We were pleasantly surprised with the camping and espaecially the sandstone chalets they have there. The owners are very friendly and we recommend the place without hesitation.