South Africa is a vast country of great biodiversity. It has stunning game reserves, magnificent mountainscapes, glorious beaches, winelands, forests, coral reefs, lagoons, vibrant cities, and charming rural towns. You can sleep under a canopy of stars in a desert, scale a snow-capped mountain, drift along in a hot air balloon, or go diving with sharks! Here are just a few of South Africa’s best nature spots:
#1 - Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve, Mpumalanga
The extraordinary 16-mile-long Blyde River canyon lies at the center of this Reserve. Spectacular rock formations and dense forests characterize this dramatic junction of the Drakensberg and the scenic Lowveld. The Panorama Route, mostly along the R532, provides many exceptional viewpoints to see awe-inspiring sights like God’s Window, Bourke’s Luck Potholes, the Graskop Gorge, and the Three Rondavels.
Numerous walking trails allow hikers to explore the area on foot. The diverse wildlife here includes antelope, hippos, crocodiles, rock hyrax, bush babies, vervet and Samango monkeys. The rich diversity of bird life includes Narina trogons, a large variety of eagles, hawks, buzzards, passerines and owls.
#2 - Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, Northern Cape and Botswana
The Kgalagadi comprises one of the last unspoiled desert ecosystems in the world. It consists of the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park in Namibia, and Botswana’s adjoining Gemsbok National Park. The Kgalagadi is a land of extremes. Frequent droughts occur, so shifting red and white sand dunes, bone-dry riverbeds and sparse thorn tree thickets characterize the landscape.
And yet, the park teems with wildlife! Predators like lions, brown and spotted hyenas, leopards, cheetahs, jackals, wild dogs, African wild cats, genets, polecats, silver foxes, and caracals occur. Eland, blue wildebeest, aardvark, springbok, giraffe, kudu, porcupines, red hartebeest, ground squirrels, meerkats, and many rodent species proliferate. Rare and endangered species in the Park include wild dogs, pangolins, Woosnam's desert rat, and honey badgers. And more than 307 bird species have been recorded here! That’s why many people refer to Kgalagadi as the perfect bird-watching destination.
#3 - iSimangaliso Wetland Park, KwaZulu-Natal
This spectacular wetland park’s name means ‘miracle’ or ‘wonder, and it’s aptly named! This Unesco World Heritage site protects five ecosystems: offshore reefs and beaches, lakes, woodlands, wetlands, and coastal forests. Loggerhead and leatherback turtles nest on the shores, and dolphins and whales are regular visitors.
The Park’s 115 mammal species include elephants, spotted and brown hyenas, kudus, zebra, bushbuck, reedbuck, waterbuck, duikers, a large population of Nile crocodiles, and no fewer than 800 hippos! It's also a bird watchers’ paradise, with a staggering 482 bird species including great white and pink-backed pelicans, flamingos and purple-crested and Livingstone's turacos. Reptile species include pythons, rock and water monitors, and many tree agamas.
#4 - The Greater Kruger, Mpumalanga and Limpopo
The Greater Kruger includes the iconic Kruger National Park and various private game reserves and concessions. The area is renowned for its superb accommodations like the Sabi Sand safari lodges, and its spectacular leopard and predator sightings. Game fences between the various areas were removed in 1993, allowing the wildlife to move freely throughout a vast wilderness area known as the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park which comprises a mind-blowing 36,000 square miles.
The area contains many of Africa's iconic species – elephants, lions, cheetahs, leopards, black and white rhinos, buffalo, hippo, zebra, giraffe, wildebeest, and many antelope species. With more than an astonishing 500 bird species and close on 150 other mammal species, the Greater Kruger is a wildlife paradise bar none!
#5 - Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, Cape Town, Western Cape
Kirstenbosch is a beautiful and internationally significant botanical garden located below Cape Town’s famous Table Mountain. Established in 1913, it consists of 1,305 acres and is administered by SANBI, the South African National Biodiversity Institute.
Kirstenbosch has become synonymous with responsible conservation. It cultivates indigenous species to preserve South Africa’s native flora and the Cape floral kingdom’s unique fynbos in particular. The garden’s large conservatory exhibits plants from different regions like the Karoo, savanna and fynbos. The rest of the garden focuses on plants native to the Cape, most notably its spectacular array of proteas. Kirstenbosch received a TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice Best of the Best award for 2022 which places it in the top 1% of ‘things to do’ internationally.
#6 - Namaqua National Park, Northern Cape Province
To say that this small and remote Park becomes a global destination each spring is no exaggeration. Flower enthusiasts flock here from all over the world to see its normally stark landscapes transformed into unbelievable fields of breathtaking color by the yearly wildflower bloom. Nature trails and drives with particularly good viewpoints allow visitors to enjoy this abundance in full.
When the flowers are not in bloom, the Park offers visitors excellent hiking trails and a large variety of wildlife to enjoy. This includes birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammal species that are well-adapted to this harsh area. These include baboons, klipspringers, springbok, gemsbok, steenbok, black-backed jackals, aardvark, duikers, porcupines and even leopard. Bird species found here include bustards, canaries, fairy flycatchers, larks, Cape eagle owls, sunbirds, babblers, and warblers.
South Africa is a premier destination for wildlife enthusiasts and nature lovers. It’s impossible to even begin to do it justice in a single article! However, maybe the superb nature destinations we have highlighted will get you so enthusiastic that you’ll simply have to come and see for yourself!