Mountain Zebra National Park really surprised me! This is one of the most beautiful parks I’ve been to so far. Even though it is only 100 kilometres east of Camdeboo National Park, it has a very different feel. (Check out where it is in South Africa by clicking here on Google Maps).
I can definitely sense a change in landscape…instead of the dry Karoo veld, with all those spekboom trees, Mountain Zebra National Park seems more like the foothills of the Drakensberg. It’s almost as if I’ve entered the east of the country…there are never-ending grasslands here on top of beautiful plateaus. Basalt cliffs remind me of the Berg. Once again, I’m reminded how quickly our country’s landscapes can change, often within a matter of kilometres.
Over the past few days, I’ve explored this smallish park, which at 21 300 hectares is not huge. But it feels big, because of the landscape which seems to roll down from the sky, onto the koppies and hills, and down into the valleys.
It is also a wonderful place to watch wildlife. Because of the unimpeded views that the grasslands provide, you’re pretty much guaranteed to see large herds of blesbok, Cape mountain zebra, springbok, kudu, eland and black wildebeest and even gemsbok. The park was proclaimed in 1937 to formally protect the Cape mountain zebra, which was on the brink of extinction, as a result of hunting. Today, the park hosts the largest single population of these beautiful animals in the world – about 650 of them.
Furthermore, the wildlife is habituated to cars and people, so there are great photographic opportunities. It makes for a nice change from some of the parks I’ve been to, where the wildlife is very skittish, mostly because the wildlife has been recently translocated, and they’re still getting used to people. But here, the animals have had since 1937 to get used to us! The park is one of the favourites in the whole country…it was voted as Park of the Year for three years in a row, from 2009 to 2011! Clearly, I’m not the only one who likes it here!
There are also about 150 buffalo, which tend to hang out in the drainage lines of the Wilgerboom River which flows past the campsite. Unfortunately, in the past few years, some tourists have been killed by the buffalo, so now the campsite is fenced off, and all hiking trails are now guided by an armed ranger. It is somewhat of a pity that you can’t wander off by yourself across this majestic landscape, but hey, I wouldn’t want a buffalo coming at me from close range.
Park manager Lesley-Ann Meyer and senior section ranger Craig Williams tell me that there is a long term plan to link Camdeboo and Mountain Zebra…a distance of about 100 kilometres, which would make the conservation area one of the biggest in South Africa. Already, there are several private wildlife reserves between the two national parks, and perhaps one day, the fences will be dropped.
Tomorrow I’m going with a ranger to try find one of the nine cheetah which are resident in the park. In 2007, just four were introduced, but they thrived, and their population rocketed to 31 in just a few years. Some of them have now been translocated to other parks, so that there are just nine today…which is about as many as is reasonable in a park of this size. There are also plenty of black-backed jackal, bat-eared foxes and caracal.
There is only rest camp at Mountain Zebra, but it’s very pretty. Settled in a knoll at the base of the basalt cliffs, there are just 20 chalets, and they all have great views. I’ve just had my dinner listening to a huge thunderstorm, and smelling the rain on the dry earth. Do you know there’s a word for that smell? “Petrichor”… The word is constructed from Greek, petra, meaning stone, and ichor, the fluid that flows in the veins of the gods in Greek mythology. Random bit of information for the day…
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