We visited Mountain Zebra NP this past long weekend, we decided to give the camping thing a try again and here are a few notes on the visit. I did not include any photos in the post to make life easy for those with slow connections but you can visit this gallery
and follow the link to Mountain Zebra National Park. This is a long post so I hope it does not bore you to much
After 810km and 9 hours of traveling we arrived at the entrance to Mountain Zebra where we were greeted by a very friendly man at the gate. He completed a form I had to sign and hand in at reception, swiped our WILD card (without asking for any identification). After getting the binoculars, camera and bird guides into easy reach we were on our way.
From the entrance gate to the camp is a 12km drive of which the first 2/3 are good quality gravel road and the last 1/3 tarred surface. We did see some Springbok on this stretch and also started our bird list adding a new tick as well.
After the check-in formalities at reception (once again with friendly service) and picking up copies of the Park bird-, mammal and reptile lists we made our way to the camping area to try and acquire a good spot (by now it was 11:30). The camping area is quite small and being Easter weekend it was already full with all the best spots already taken. We eventually settled for a spot close to the ablution / kitchen block as it had some shade.
Not having camped in over 4 years we forgot how much work it is to pack everything needed and our Tazz was loaded to the brim. Out comes the tent, which we have not pitched for 4 years (although friends have used it in this time) and surprisingly our camp site was up and ready with-in 30 minutes. With the camp being busy our front view was of a group of four families camping for the weekend, to the left and the back more people and to the right the ablution /kitchen block.
We took an hour just to relax after the long drive before we ventured out in to the Park. Accept for the road from the entrance gate to the camp, Mountain Zebra NP also has two loops one of 12km (Rooiplaat) and the other 28km (Kranskop), we decided to do the former one. The Rooiplaat loop takes one onto a "mountain" and runs on top of the escarpment. On this loop we saw Vervet Monkeys, Rock dassie, Black wildebeest, Blesbuck, Springbuck, Red hartebeest, Ostrich and Cape Mountain Zebra. Being high up it is quite chilly. There are very few trees and open grass land predominates. As DinkyBird mentioned the animals in this Park is quite skittish so good photo opportunities was very few.
After our drive we stopped at the little shop at reception to buy wood for the braai. The shop keep cool drinks, some beer and coolers, sweets, ice cream, ice (when in supply), wood (ask at the pay point as it is kept in the back), some T-shirts, hats, stuffed animals, postcards, field guides and a couple of books on Kruger. The town of Cradock is only 22km from camp so if need be you can drive there for provisions. We enjoyed a nice braai, well as much as one can enjoy a braai with children screaming and running around and even noisier parents drinking to much alcohol and telling stupid jokes. After our long day which started at 1am we turned in early and not even the noise outside could keep us awake. After a couple of hours it became apparent why we enjoy bungalows more than camping. Suddenly every inch of our bodies became aware of the extreme cold!! WARNING, if you visit MZNP take along plenty of warms clothes, warm water bottle and lots of newspaper to put under the mattress for isolation, this place get cold at night!
Saturday arrived with White-browed Sparrow-weavers singing a "Good day" to the morning. After a hot shower (also the last for the weekend), my body started to recover from the icy night. A quick cup of coffee and a couple of Ouma rusk and off we went to drive the longer Kranskop loop. Reaching the plateau we added another new tick to our bird list, a beautiful Rufous-chested (Redbreasted) Sparrowhawk. The Kranskop loop runs on top of the same "mountain" as Rooiplaat but later on makes it way down to the bottom into more thorn tree veld. We saw the same animals as on the Rooiplaat loop but also adding Mountain reedbuck, Grey rhebuck, Buffalo, one Blackbacked jackal, Steenbok, Ground squirrels and Yellow mongoose (at least that’s what we think they were).
We returned to camp at 11:30 for a late brunch / early lunch. After lazing around camp we decided to do the short walking trail which start at camp. There are actually two trails, Imbali and Black Eagle. At the point where the Black Eagle and Imbali trails split my SO decided to return to camp while I said I’ll quickly do the Black Eagle route. That "quickly"
took me 2.5 hours!!! Sections of the trail are tiring as you climb steeply up the surrounding mountains but the views make up for it. I did get to see a Verreaux’s (Black) Eagle clasping a small dassie flying over head and also found the dark form of the Mountain Wheatear (Chat). This route gives excellent views of the Park and the whole camp so put on your hiking shoes and start walking. Back at camp it was time to light the fire and just enjoy the mood. Bedtime was quite an operation as this time we dressed for the occasion, myself wearing 2 T-shirts, a long sleeve top, track suit top and pants, wool socks and donning my SO’s polar fleece cap (beanie)!! This time round the only part that froze was the areas of my face that was not covered!
On Sunday we drove the bottom part of the Kranskop loop visiting the picnic areas and trying to add more birds to or list. We returned to camp at 10:00 having breakfast, resting a while before doing the first part of the Black Eagle trail again so that I can take photos of the Dark form of the Mountain Wheatear (Chat). SO stretched herself out on a rock while I ran about, crawl about and pleaded for an hour with Mr Bird to stand still to enable me to take a photo. It seems that the birds in that area does not understand Afrikaans or English because he did not oblige. On the way back I took photos of the pool area but the pool’s water is even colder than the water in the sea down here in Cape Town! The afternoon was spent reading and Sunday evening we had supper at the restaurant. I ordered the Lamb Shank on a bed of samp and beans and it was really good. At 7pm the rain came and it rained the whole night. One positive of the rain and accompanying clouds was that the night was much warmer than the previous two.
Monday morning 6am and it was still raining. As we had a ±800km journey home we had no choice but to break camp in the rain and by 7am we were on our way. We enjoyed our time at MZNP but a few things did bother us a bit. Will I drive 800km again to just visit this Park? No. Will I include the Park in my itinerary when in the area again? Definitely!
As to birding we only managed 51 bird species which included 9 new ones for me and 10 new one for Magdeline
This bothered us a bit:
1. Being Easter weekend the camp was very full and noise levels very high. There were groups of people from Cradock that stayed in camp the whole weekend just drinking and making noise and also the 4 families from PE that camp close to us.
2. As is normal with ablution facilities when a lot of people are around the warm water runs out. The gripe we have with the ablutions is that the lights seems to be connected to a light sensor. This means that while it is still reasonable light outside when the lights come on or goes off, it is still very dark inside the ablution facility itself.
3. There are no signs telling people not to feed the animals and monkey feeding was at the order of the day, resulting in monkeys raiding tents that is not closed properly even taking stuff from inside caravans.
Things to note:
1. This place get very cold at night, plan accordingly if you are going to camp. Take some newspaper with to line the tent floor where your mattress is going to be as this helps a lot.
2. We were lucky to be close to a power box so our 2 x 5m lead could reach the tent but rather invest in a 20m lead or maybe longer. You do not need the "blue plug" at MZP.
3. Make sure your tent is locked and foodstuffs packed away because the monkeys will take anything they can get their hands on.
4. The kitchen has 2 double basins for doing dishes, a microwave and a hot water urn
5. The shop is very basic so rather bring everything you need.
6. This is a small camp so try and plan your visit outside of school holidays or long weekends
7. I personally think that certain sections of the Kranskop loop will not be drivable by normal sedan when the area receives lots of rain, especially the middle section where the road turns back towards camp.
8. If you have not yet visited this Park what is your problem?