A guide to South Africa’s National Parks

Posted by Binny Shah-Patel     Posted on 07/01/2019
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  • South Africa has a vast and diverse collection of national parks, both public and private, which offer amazing game sighting opportunities across distinct landscapes, ranging from deserts to mountainous ranges.

    Lion cub

    The Eastern Cape

     The Eastern Cape, birthplace of Nelson Mandela, is scattered with traditional African villages and offers fantastic game reserves. Shamwari, which is home to the famous Born Free Foundation, is the oldest reserve in the region.

    The region is becoming one of the fastest growing nature conservation areas in South Africa and the main highlight of the Eastern Cape is its malaria-free game reserves. We recommend Addo Elephant National Park for the Big Five and Mountain Zebra National Park to see the endangered black rhino, cheetahs and zebras.

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    Kruger National Park


    Situated along the Mozambique border and covering close to 2 million hectares, Kruger National Park is the most well-known, and one of the largest parks in Africa. A number of private reserves run along the western border – with no fences between the national park and the private reserves, wildlife roam freely across the area, providing you with the ultimate safari experience in South Africa.

    Kruger National Park is ideal for self-drive safaris, with entry gates situated in key areas, smooth roads and accommodation strategically positioned around the park. When you choose one of the many private game reserves, game drives are operated with a game ranger.

    If you’re looking to travel on a budget and are happy to drive yourself around the park, you can choose from an array of government run lodges and camps within the park boundaries. For a more luxurious and exclusive experience the private game reserves are highly recommended.

    Sabi Sands is arguably the most famous private game reserve in the Greater Kruger Region, but there are also a number of smaller ones such as the Timbavati, Thornybush and Klaserie Private Game Reserves. Both the Sabi Sands and Timbavati have unfenced borders with the Kruger National Park, so game is free to move in and out.

    Safaris in the Greater Kruger Region are predominantly vehicle based, but it’s sometimes possible to take a bush walk too.

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    Madikwe, the second largest game reserve in South Africa is classified as malaria-free, making it popular particularly with families. Located near the border with Botswana you can arrive in around five hours by road, or in just one hour by light aircraft from Johannesburg.

    If you saw the painted wolves on BBC Earth’s Dynasties show, Madikwe has got a good populations of these fascinating animals.

    The quality and variety of the game viewing in Madikwe is unique and appeals to those who want a more traditional safari experience with fewer vehicles spotted in the park whilst on game drives. There are also over 400 species of bird, so it is a popular choice for bird watching too.


    Makalali Game Drive


    Makalali Private Game Reserve is one of the country’s major privately-owned conservation areas with over 22,000 hectares set in the Lowveld region of Limpopo, an hour west of the Phalaborwa gate of the Kruger National Park and roughly 80 kilometres from Hoedspruit.

    It has a series of undulating hills that offer incredible viewpoints and panoramic views across the reserve.

    Makalali means ‘place of rest’ in Shangaan and has as its conservation mission to expand South Africa’s green frontier. The conservancy, spearheaded by the Makalali Land and Wildife Trust, has been actively involved in trying to re-establish the ancient traditional wildlife migration routes that link the Kruger National Park in the east to the Drakensburg Mountains in the west.

    A mixture of wildlife has been re-introduced onto the reserve that includes lion, leopard, elephant, cheetah and rhino, making Makalali home to a rich diversity of animals including the ‘big five’.


    Phinda comprises 22,000 hectares of prime conservation land. Seven distinct habitats, from mountains to forests, shelter an abundance of wildlife including Africa’s ‘big five’ and over 380 bird species.

    In Phinda you will see animals that you are unlikely to spot elsewhere in Africa such as the Suni antelope. You can experience Phinda in numerous ways such as on game drives, pontoon boat trips and walking safaris.

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    On the east coast of South Africa, this fascinating region offers warm weather all year round. You will experience a great mixture of adventure, big game, stunning beaches, magnificent landscapes and a rich culture and heritage. KwaZulu-Natal is the only province with a surviving monarchy known as the Zulu Kingdom, it is steeped in history and culture, with the battlefields of yesteryear brought to life by historians.

    We recommend the Elephant Coast, situated on the northeastern side of the province stretching 220km long and 70km wide. The stunning landscape consists of beach, bushveld, mountain and the Isimangaliso Wetlands Park, which is a world heritage site. The area offers a wide range of safari options including the ‘big 5’ wildlife safari, birding safari, ocean safari and cultural safari, plus many more.

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    Suggested South African Itineraries

    Elephant crossing

    If you are inspired to visit South Africa, we would love to work with you to plan the holiday of a lifetime. For more information on how our safari experts can help you, call Somak Holidays today on 020 8423 3000, or visit our website.

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