SANParks of the Western Cape: Things To Do + Where To Stay

SANParks of the Western Cape: Things To Do + Where To Stay Robberg Nature Reserve, Plettenberg Bay (in the Garden Route)

From wildflowers to windswept coastlines, South Africa’s southwestern corner has it all…

“There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness, that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy, and its charm.” These words were uttered by Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States, after a camping trip to the Yosemite National Park, which he likened to “lying in a great solemn cathedral, far vaster and more beautiful than any built by the hand of man.”

Founded in 1926, South African National Parks (SANParks) has the sacred duty and honour of protecting the 21 national parks of South Africa, covering around 20 000 kilometres of land. And while Kruger National Park may be the first one that comes to mind, the Cape is a world unto itself, with environments ranging from deserts and long stretches of white sand beaches to lush forests to glistening coastal regions.

Whether it’s game-watching, hiking, water-based activities, wildflowers or long stretches of shining night sky you’re after, South Africa’s southwestern corner has it all. Here is our guide to SANParks in the Cape.

Good to know If you’re a frequent visitor to SANParks, you should consider purchasing a Wild Card, which grants unlimited access to their national parks for a year. The cost depends on which cluster of parks you purchase access to, and whether the card is for an individual, couple or family. You can purchase a Wild Card online, or at select gates (not all the parks allow you to purchase wild cards at the gates, so contact the park’s office ahead of time to confirm).

Important note Although the Cape is rich in natural beauty, tourists and locals alike are urged to take necessary precautions when exploring secluded areas, as crimes and accidents do happen.

Those venturing into the Table Mountain National Park should have the following emergency numbers on hand: 086 110 6417/ 107 or 021 480 7700. Criminal incidents should be reported to the nearest police station as soon as able.

We also recommend @safetymountain as a useful resource for hikers. This free safety tracking service allows you to notify local trackers of your contact details, intended route and travel time via WhatsApp. You are then able to provide hourly updates on your progress, and to notify trackers when you are safely off the mountain.

The New Wonder of the World: Table Mountain National Park

 Table Mountain National Park Sanparks

Distance from CT 10 to 90 minutes from the City Bowl, depending on which section you visit.
A mountain range surrounded by ocean, this national park is unique for its diverse topography. Encompassing Cape Point, False Bay and, of course, the distinctive flat-topped mountain that gives the park its name, the environment ranges from coastal regions to majestic mountaintops, fynbos fields and lush forests.
It’s no wonder the park draws tourists from all around the world, and even many locals have yet to truly experience the full breadth of what Table Mountain Nature Park as to offer. Growing up surrounded by such beauty, it’s easy to take it for granted, but every now and then, one does have to stop and marvel at the sight of mountains looming above the vast ocean that crashes against their sides.
Distinctive feature Table Mountain – the Cape’s most iconic landmark, and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Its formation is believed to have begun around 260 million years ago, making it one of the oldest mountains in the world (older even than the Himalayas).
Things to do

  • Hiking trails, including day hikes, overnight hikes, hikes that ascend Table Mountain itself and those that wind their way throughout the surrounding park
  • Table Mountain Cable Car
  • Pristine, secluded beaches of Cape Point
  • Penguin colony at Boulder’s Beach
  • Picnic and braai spots, including those at Newlands, Deer Park, Tokai and Silvermine
  • Gentle forest walks in Newlands, and coastal walks in the False Bay area
  • Mountain biking (only allowed in select areas of the park, including Signal Hill, Deer Park and Tokai). This requires a Level 3 My Activity Permit. Contact Tokai Plantation Office (021 712 7471) for more information
  • Dog walking is allowed in certain areas of the park, such as Deer Park, the Pipe Track, Silvermine and Tokai Forest. Dog-walkers must have a Level 1 My Activity Permit. Contact Tokai Plantation Office (021 712 7471) for more information

Where to stay

  • Slangkop Tented Camp (within walking distance of Kommetjie), Smitswinkel Tented Camp (at the entrance to Cape Point) and Orange Kloof Tented Camp (in the ancient Afromontane Forest) offer tented accommodation. (Please note the tents are permanently erected; there are no campsites.)
  • Olifantsbos Guest House, a secluded family cottage next to a beach in Cape Point, runs on solar power, and there’s little to disturb your solitude aside from the occasional wandering ostrich.

Good to know The SANParks’ My Green Card entitles you to 12 free entries into the pay points of the Table Mountain National Park (TMNP) within a one-year period. If you are a frequent visitor to Cape Point, Boulders, Oudekraal, Silvermine, and the braai and picnic areas at Tokai, Newlands and Perdekloof, this card is worth purchasing.
Note The My Green Card may only be bought by South Africans with an ID number who have proof of a Cape Town address not older than 3 months.
Cost
Entry is free for certain sections of the park, mainly those closest to the City Bowl area (such as Deer Park).
However, other sections do require conservations fees. The rates (valid from 1 April 2018 to 31 October 2018) are:
Boulders (R76 per adult; R41 per child)
Cape Point (R147 per adult; R76 per child)
Newlands (R26 per adult; R16 per child)
Oudekraal (R41 per adult; R26 per child)
Perdekloof (R16 per adult; R8 per child)
Silvermine (R51 per adult; R25 per child)
Tokai Picnic & Braai Area (R26 per adult; R16 per child)
Contact 021 712 0527, TableM@sanparks.org (main office)
086 110 6417/ 107 or 021 480 7700 (emergency numbers)

Land of Windswept Coastlines: Agulhas National Park

Agulhas National Park Sanparks

Distance from CT 2.5 – 3 hours
In this national park you will find the southernmost tip of Africa, and the place where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet. Though many come here to do the “one foot in each ocean” thing, to be fair the park’s main appeal is its mesmerising topography. It may be the edge of the world, but it’s certainly a world unto itself, populated by a diverse range of flourishing flora and marine birdlife.
Not quite as popular an attraction as Cape Point due to its greater distance from the city, this only enhances its appeal, as there’s little the disturb your solitude as you gaze out upon the vast ocean.
Distinctive feature Its rugged, windswept coastline, sprinkled with hidden caves, secluded beaches and the bones of ancient shipwrecks.
Things to do

  • The Two Oceans hiking trail, named for the viewpoint on top of the Sandberg from which the Atlantic Ocean and Indian Ocean can be seen
  • The Rasperpunt Hiking Trail, which starts and ends at the Meisho Maru shipwreck
  • The southernmost tip of Africa, which is marked by a sign
  • The second-oldest working lighthouse in South Africa, which houses the Lighthouse Museum
  • Bredasdorp Shipwreck Museum (famous shipwrecks that occurred in this region include the Arniston and the Birkenhead)
  • Bird-watching (keep an eye out for the African black oystercatcher)

Where to stay

  • Agulhas Rest Camp (not actually a camp, in fact it offers a range of accommodation options include chalets, cottages and the four-bedroom Lagoon House).
  • Bergplaas Guest House, situated in the countryside about 36km from the Cape Agulhas Lighthouse. It has five bedrooms (four with en-suite bathrooms), and one of the bathrooms includes disabled-friendly facilities.

Cost Daily Conservation Fee for 1 April 2018 – 31 October 2018:
R41 (SA citizens and residents with ID)
R21 (SA children)
R81 (SADC nationals with valid passport)
R41 (SADC children with valid passport)
R162 (international visitors; standard conservation fee)
R81 (international children; standard conservation fee)
Contact 028 435 6078, agulhasinfo@sanparks.org

A River Runs Through It: Bontebok National Park

Bontebok National Park Sanparks

Distance from CT 2.5 – 3 hours
Named after the endangered species of antelope it was established to protect, this national park is relatively small compared to some of the others featured, but is perfectly situated between the Breede River, Swellendam, and the famous Route 62. The Langeberg Mountains make for a majestic backdrop to peaceful riverside relaxation, and there’s a wealth of wildlife to be seen on game drives.
Distinctive feature The Breede River flowing through it can be easily accessed from the Bontebok campsite. It’s popular for river-rafting, fishing and even swimming, thanks to its calm waters and absence of crocodiles (although Bull Sharks have been spotted as far as 5km from where the river flows out into the sea, which is thankfully far away from Bontebok National Park).
Things to do

  • Picnic or braai at Die Stroom, a function centre on the banks of the Breede River
  • Bird-watching (the park is home to around 200 species, and the Breede River in particular hosts a diverse range of bird life)
  • Game includes the rare bontebok, red hartebees and Cape zebra

Where to stay

  • Lang Elsie’s Kraal Rest Camp, which includes camping and caravan sites, and chalets (three of which are disabled-friendly).

Cost Daily Conservation Fee for 1 April 2018 – 31 October 2018:
R41 (SA citizens and residents with ID)
R21 (SA children)
R57 (SADC nationals with valid passport)
R29 (SADC children with valid passport)
R113 (international visitors; standard conservation fee)
R57 (international children; standard conservation fee)
Contact 028 514 2735, BonteBok.NationalPark@sanparks.org

Land of Abundance: Garden Route National Park

Garden Route National Park Sanparks

Distance from CT 5.5 hours
The beauty of the Garden Route is something to behold. Stretching for about 300 kilometres along the southwestern coast of South Africa, it is a mix of forests, coastal regions, lakes and mountains, dotted with small towns along the way, making it ideal for road trips.
The park is divided into three sections: The Wilderness, Knysna Lakes and Tsitsikamma. The latter is the Khoi word for “place of abundant water”, and the Garden Route must certainly have seemed a land of abundance to our hunter-gatherer ancestors.
Distinctive feature The lush green forests and rolling hills, pressing up against a coastline of turquoise ocean and white-sand beaches. Like the shores of an unexplored continent, it beckons adventurers to land their ships on the beaches and venture deeper into the forests, searching for the ruins of ancient civilisations.
Things to do

  • Hiking trails, including overnight hikes, such as the Harkerville Coastal Hiking Trail, and the five-day Otter Trail
  • Robberg Nature Reserve; a CapeNature reserve, national monument and World Heritage Site near Plettenberg Bay. It can be easily accessed from the Garden Route National Park, but as it is a private nature reserve, it does require its own tariffs
  • Boating and other water-based activities in the Knysna Lagoon
  • Kayaking, snorkelling and scuba-diving at Storms River Mouth
  • Birds of Eden, the world’s first free-flight bird sanctuary, home to around 220 different bird species
  • Monkeyland, the world’s first free-roaming primate sanctuary
  • Knysna Elephant Park
  • Charming towns and villages such as Knysna and Nature’s Valley

Where to stay

  • Camping and caravan accommodation at Storms River Mouth, Wilderness and Nature’s Valley rest camps.
  • Log Cottages and Forest Cabins at Wilderness and Storms River rest camps.
  • Moontide Guest Lodge, which offers treetop accommodation and cottages on the banks of the Wilderness Lagoon.
  • Luxury treetop accommodation at Tsala Treetop Lodge.
  • Cliffhanger Cottages, an elevated log cabin overlooking Knysna Forest.
  • Treehouse accommodation at Teniqua Treetops.

Cost
Daily Conservation Fee for 1 April 2018 – 31 October 2018:
Tsitsikamma Section: R55 (SA citizens); R28 (SA children); R109 (SADC nationals); R55 (SADC children); R218 (international visitors); R109 (international children)
Nature’s Valley Section: R49 (SA citizens & SADC nationals); R25 (SA & SADC children); R97 (international visitors); R49 (international children)
Wilderness Section: R41 (SA citizens); R21 (SA children); R81 (SADC nationals); R41 (SADC children); R132 (international visitors); R66 (international children)
Knysna Section: R33 (SA citizens); R17 (SA children); R65 (SADC nationals); R33 (SADC children); R130 (international visitors); R65 (international children)
Contact grace.valela@sanparks.org
Wilderness Section: 044 877 0046 / 044 356 9021
Knysna Lakes Section: 044 302 5600 / 044 382 2095 / 044 532 7770 / 044 382 9762/3
Tsitsikamma Section: 042 281 1607 / 042 281 1557
Nature’s Valley Section: 044 531 6700

Land of the Ancients: Karoo National Park

Karoo National Park Sanparks
Wild Card

Distance from CT 5 hours
Old-world explorers travelling inland from the Cape faced this barrier; a semi-desert landscape in sharp contrast to the flourishing ecosystems of the coastal regions. But the Great Karoo’s rugged landscape grants it a sacred majesty all of its own, and it’s all on display in this park, where you’ll encounter wide-open spaces and glittering night skies.
Distinctive feature The haunting silence and solitude of the Karoo makes for a spiritual experience, especially when confronted with fossilized remains that date back around 250 million years. It is an ancient landscape with many stories to tell.
Things to do

  • Self-drive 4×4 trails, self-drive game viewing and guided game drives, with the opportunity to see a variety of game including lion, Cape mountain zebra and buffalo
  • The Fossil Trail, a paved walkway that takes you past an array of fossilized remains. It is wheelchair-friendly
  • Bird-watching
  • Bulkraal picnic site, which has a swimming pool, ablution and braai facilities
  • Guided walks
  • Mountain-biking trail in the rest camp

Where to stay

  • SANParks Karoo National Park rest camp offers Dutch-style chalets, family cottages, and camping and caravan sites.
  • Afsaal Cottage, an old shepherd’s hut that sleeps two adults and two children, is equipped with a solar-powered fridge and freezer, a shower with a gas geyser, and two outdoor braai areas.
  • Embezweni Cottage; a self-catering, solar-and-gas-powered cottage situated on the Nuweveld 4×4 trail, about 45 kilometres from the main rest camp. It can sleep up to 7 people, and is equipped with a refrigerator, gas stove, heated water, braai facilities, and an outdoor verandah overlooking a waterhole.

Cost Daily Conservation Fee for 1 April 2018 – 31 October 2018:
R49 (SA citizens and residents with ID)
R25 (SA children)
R97 (SADC nationals with valid passport)
R49 (SADC children with valid passport)
R194 (international visitors; standard conservation fee)
R97 (international children; standard conservation fee)
Contact 023 415 2828/9 / 023 414 7080, karooreservations@sanparks.org

Land of White Sand Beaches: West Coast National Park

West Coast National Park Sanparks

Distance from CT 1 hour
The West Coast National Park, established in 1985, is famed for its 32 000 hectares of raw and wild beauty. Home to over 250 species of birds, a host of wildlife (including whales from August to October), internationally acclaimed wetlands and breathtaking floral landscapes, the park offers loads for outdoor enthusiasts to do, such as hiking, cycling, swimming and game-spotting.
Distinctive feature The spring flowers blossom from August to September each year, swathing Postberg in a technicoloured tapestry in (this particular section of the park is closed off to the public most of the year). Keep a keen eye on the ocean as orcas have been spotted (albeit rarely) splashing about in the Langebaan Lagoon.
Eve’s Trail is another highlight, as walkers follow the same path that a young woman, Eve, took alongside the lagoon some 117 000 years ago.
Things to do

  • The unblemished beaches of Preekstoel and Kraalbaai
  • The flowers in Postberg in August and September
  • Whale-watching from August to October
  • Seaside braais at Tsaarsbank and Langebaan Lagoon
  • Hiking trails, including the historic Eve’s trail
  • Cycling routes
  • Bird- and wildlife-watching

Where to stay

  • The park has a number of charming cottages ranging in size and location including Abrahamskraal Cottage, Van Breda Cottage, Steytler Cottage, Jo Anne’s Beach Cottage, and Jo Anne’s B Cottage.
  • There are 11 self-catering Duinepos Chalets.
  • Geelbek Stables is dormitory-style accommodation (ideal for school and community groups) and sleeps up 62 people.
  • Two houseboats are available for hire on the Langebaan Lagoon

Cost Free to valid Wild Card holders (1 November 2017 – 31 October 2018)
R54 (SA citizens and residents with ID)
R27 (SA children)
R80 (SADC nationals with valid passport)
R40 (SADC children with valid passport)
R80 (international visitors; standard conservation fee)
R40 (international children; standard conservation fee)
(During flower season, August – September 2018)
R76 (SA citizens and residents with ID)
R38 (children)
R110 (SADC nationals with valid passport)
R55 (SADC children with valid passport)
R170 (international visitors; standard conservation fee)
R85 (international children; standard conservation fee)
Contact 022 772 2144, 022 772 2145, moipone.thathane@sanparks.org

Land of Wide-Open Spaces: Tankwa Karoo National Park

Tankwa Karoo National Park Sanparks

Distance from CT 4.5 hours
Nothing but dirt roads, sheer cliffs, and the odd animal for as far as the eye can see: this is Tankwa Karoo National Park. This massive 143 600-hectare land lies about 70km west of Sutherland, between the Northern and Western Cape borders, and is famed for its striking rugged landscape, attracting travellers from near and far to experience its natural beauty.
Distinctive feature Its breathtaking beauty, which combines sheer cliffs and wide-open plains, with the succulent Karoo flora and magnificent nightscapes delivering a wild and rugged outdoor experience.
Things to do

  • Self-drive game-viewing routes
  • Two 4×4 routes: Leeuberg 4×4 Eco-trail and the Watervlei 4×4 route
  • Star-gazing
  • Hiking and cycling routes from which spot game and birds

Where to stay

  • There are a number of cottages including the Elandsberg Wilderness Camp, Varschfontein cottage, and Paulshoek farmstead cottage.
  • The Tanqua Guesthouse Complex offers a range of accommodation
  • Gannaga Lodge is a privately owned guesthouse, conference facility, restaurant and bar within the park.
  • Camping facilities include Langkloof and Perdekloof; informal campsites include 2×4 Pyper se Boom, Steenkampshoek, Skaapwagterspos, Oom Rickert se Huis, Volmoesfontein and Biesjiesfontein.

Cost Daily Conservation Fee for 1 April 2018 – 31 October 2018:
R41 (SA citizens and residents with ID)
R21 (SA children)
R81 (SADC nationals with valid passport)
R41 (SADC children with valid passport)
R162 (international visitors; standard conservation fee)
R81 (international children; standard conservation fee)
Contact 027 341 1927, tankwa@sanparks.org

Land of the Giants: Addo Elephant National Park

Addo Elephant National Park Sanparks

Distance from CT 9 hours
This is the third largest national park in South Africa, and one where all of the Big 5 can potentially be spotted. Since it has expanded to include an offshore marine park, southern right whales and great white sharks can be seen as well, making it the only park in the world to be inhabited by all of the world’s Big 7. In fact, since the park stretches from the Karoo to the ocean, it offers a diverse range of terrain, from marine biosphere to dense bushveld. One of the best places to see wildlife outside of the Kruger.
Distinctive feature It’s in the name: elephants. The park is home to more than 600 of them, though there were only 11 when it was founded in 1931. You won’t find many other places with such a high concentration of African elephants, considering they are an endangered species.
Things to do

  • Guided and self-drive game drives
  • Hiking trails in the Zuurberg Mountains
  • Bird-watching at SASOL Red Bishop Bird Hide
  • Horse trails in the Zuurberg Mountains and at Addo main camp (so as to avoid encounters with large game)
  • A self-drive 4×4 trail

Where to stay

  • The Addo rest camp has a variety of accommodation options, including caravan and tent sites, forest cabins, rondawels, chalets, cottages and guest houses. It also has a swimming pool, braai and picnic site, a floodlit waterhole and underground viewing hide (the waterhole and viewing hide are wheelchair-accessible), shop, restaurant and informative Interpretive Centre.

Cost Daily Conservation Fee for 1 April 2018 – 31 October 2018:
R69 (SA citizens and residents with ID)
R35 (SA children)
R138 (SADC nationals with valid passport)
R69 (SADC children with valid passport)
R275 (international visitors; standard conservation fee)
R138 (international children; standard conservation fee)
Contact 042 233 8600, addoenquiries@sanparks.org

Where the Wildflowers Bloom: Namaqua National Park

Namaqua National Park Sanparks

Distance from CT 6 hours
This semi-desert landscape undergoes an amazing transformation during springtime, when its rolling hills are covered in a carpet of colourful wildflowers. Though its flourishing flower fields are the main attraction, there’s reason to visit outside of flower season, as the park includes coastal and inland regions, and is home to a variety of wildlife including baboons, duikers, aardvarks, porcupines, springbok, red hartebeest, leopards and the world’s smallest species of tortoise – the Namaqualand speckled padloper.
Distinctive feature Namaqualand’s vibrant flower fields comprise an estimated 3 500 species of plant, 1 000 of which are found nowhere else in the world.
Things to do

  • Driving through the flower fields during wildflower season
  • Walking and hiking trails in the flower fields and along the coast
  • Caracal 4×4 Eco Route
  • Mountain-bikers are free to cycle on any road or track open to the public
  • Bird-watching
  • Spoegriver caves
  • Namaqua Beach Camps are open from 23 August to 23 September

Where to stay

  • Skilpad Rest Camp offers accommodation in four chalets, each with two single beds and a sleeper couch. Each has a fireplace, fully equipped kitchen and outdoor braai area.
  • Luiperdskloof Guest Cottage has three bedrooms and a bathroom with a shower. There is no electricity, and the cottage is only accessible by 4×4.
  • Namaqua Flower Camps are open from 23 August to 23 September, offering luxury tents where you can enjoy wildflowers by day and stargazing by night.
  • Camping facilities at Groenrivier coastal resort. All campsites are within walking distance from the beach.

Cost Daily Conservation Fee for 1 April 2018 – 31 October 2018:
R41 (SA citizens and residents with ID)
R21 (SA children)
R81 (SADC nationals with valid passport)
R41 (SADC children with valid passport)
R81 (international visitors; standard conservation fee)
R41 (international children; standard conservation fee)
Contact 027 672 1948, elanza.vanlente@sanparks.org

Additional research Alicia Chamaille

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Disclaimer:

The Inside Guide has made every effort to ensure that the information in this post was correct at the time of publication. However, we do not assume any liability caused by errors, such as price, cost, time, and location.

Time of publication: 25 July 2018

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3 Responses to “SANParks of the Western Cape: Things To Do + Where To Stay”

  1. Roger W

    Brilliantly written, thank you – got us excited about our trip to this unique place in the world.

    Reply
  2. Barbara

    A superbly written presentation on our unique province and its treasure trove of national parks – reads like an adventure tale for potential visitors.

    Reply
  3. Jenni Hodgson

    The most innovative and up to date guide on Cape Town. So well researched that the the most seasoned locals will learn a thing or two.

    Reply