The summer holidays are fast approaching and many of us will travel long distances by car to get to our destinations of choice. But, for many, long haul car journeys exact their toll. Cramping, pressure care and ablution regimes mean that spending all day in a vehicle may not be desirable. South Africa’s national parks make excellent and accessible en route transit destinations providing a welcome couple of days break to an otherwise arduous journey.
Many of the national parks are wonderful final destinations. Kgalagadi Transfrontier, Kruger, Table Mountain, Addo Elephant and Garden Route National Parks are holiday venues in their own right, but some of the smaller national parks, crucial to the country’s biodiversity conservation, are excellent stop over venues that are beautiful, filled with fauna and flora, safe and accessible. They can be visited in passing - for a single night - but to get the most out of these smaller parks I recommend a stay of two nights to explore the place and absorb their intoxicating treasures.
I hope readers will have been given some ideas and inspiration on how and where to enjoy some unexplored faraway spots of South Africa’s unique natural heritage in mostly accessible environments as they travel around the country.
Karoo National Park is five hours from Cape Town and 10 hours from Jo’burg and is located in the Nuweveld Mountains immediately adjacent the N1, 10km shy of Beaufort West. From the Western Cape take the N1 to 3 Sisters then either choose the N1 via Colesberg and Bloem or the N12 via Kimberley. The park has three accessible units in its rest camp (two 3-bed units with rollin showers and one 6-bed guest cottage with a bath with grab rails). There is also an accessible ablution (with roll-in shower) at the campsite. The campsite is particularly recommended to fellow wheelchair users as a place to propel around as it is flat and one gets excellent, up close encounters with amazingly tame birdlife and tortoises. Two other attractions for wheelchair users are the Fossil Trail - which hosts geological and fossil displays of proto-mammals and dinosaurs uncovered within the park by palaeontologists - and the Ou Skuu Interpretive Centre with rich displays of the cultural and biological history of the area. The whole centre is accessed via a boardwalk adjacent to a dry river bed which, apart from the smooth ride, is great for allowing close encounters with nature.
Elsewhere in the park - the drives offer visitors breath-taking scenery and many large animals including black rhino, springbok, buffalo as well as smaller species unique to the arid environs of the region. The park has recently predator-proofed its fences and lion will be reintroduced soon, after an absence of two hundred years. The park’s restaurant does have a bit of a suicide ramp to descend, but the Karoo lamb dishes are popular and well worth the effort.
Mokala National Park, SANParks’ newest park is 70km south of the diamond city, Kimberley. It has one accessible unit with a roll-in shower at Mosu Lodge, which is a catered unit, served by the camp’s wonderful restaurant (constantly ranked by guests in the top three of all SANParks’ restaurants) where venison pie is the most sought after dish! Another accessible unit is under construction at Lilydale Camp. This camp is a little closer to Kimberley and is self-catering.
Mokala as a park is at the interface between the Nama-Karoo and Savanna Biomes (locally represented by Kalahari Thornveld), resulting in a fascinating biodiversity. The park is a breeding ground for many endangered species such as the two African rhino species, tsessebe, roan and sable antelope, and disease-free buffalo.
One will also have the opportunity to view enormous, communal, sociable weaver nests and the enigmatic pygmy falcons that use the nests as a supermarket.
Thanks to funds donated by the West Rand Honorary Rangers a viewing hide, at one of the few water points, was built with a ramp into the toilet, a secure walkway from the parking area to the hide, a section of benchless space in front of the viewing slot for wheelchair users, and clearance below the shelf to accommodate legs. This new facility will open to the public when the walkway is completed.
The Eastern Cape and the Interior, the Mountain Zebra National Park is a must to break the journey. The park is located in the Bankenberg Mountains, just off the N10, near the town of Cradock, and is about three hours’ drive from Port Elizabeth, four from East London and Bloemfontein and eight from Johannesburg. Scenically the park is sensational – particularly the Kranskop Loop – which with its craggy heights - is the sanctuary of the Cape Mountain Zebra. Visitors will secure sightings of black rhino, buffalo, and several antelope species. Quite recently (2007) cheetah and brown hyena were reintroduced. The cheetah, in particular, have done so well - and increased to such an extent - that many of the new offspring have had to be captured and held in bomas until they can be relocated elsewhere.
The park’s main complex is ramped and, accommodation-wise, there are two accessible 4-bed bungalows with roll-in showers, while the new ablution block in the campsite has an accessible ablution cubicle with a roll-in shower.
For those people travelling between Cape Town and the Garden Route or beyond, then the Bontebok National Park at Swellendam, just off the N2, is an ideal stopover. The park is in the shadow of the Langeberg Mountains about 240km west of Cape Town and 540km east of Port Elizabeth. On the banks of the Breede River is Lang Elsie’s Kraal Camp where two 2-bed accessible units are found (each with a double bed sleeper couch - ideal for children).
The park is not large and visitors can easily cover all the ground and observe, amongst others, the beautiful bontebok - which were saved from extinction by the park’s establishment - whilst they immerse in the beautiful remnants of the Cape Floral Kingdom’s threatened habitat (one of South Africa’s eight World Heritage sites). The rest camp most conducive to self-propulsion, where one can enjoy close encounters with several of the south-western Cape’s endemic bird and butterfly species.
Making you Safe
Menzies are one of the service providers, contracted to airlines, who board and disembark people in need of assistance. They have recently fitted their vehicles with state of the art tie-down systems and, in the interests of passenger safety, will not affect transfer if a wheelchair user refuses to be secured using their new tie-down system.