Bewitched by the magic of France, Melissa Jane Cook is an intrepid explorer. A lover of traversing the globe, she eagerly absorbs different cultures and laps up the magnificent oceanic experiences. Wooed by words and writers alike, her penchant for facials, chocolate, owls and bugs, is surpassed only by her fascination with the stage aglow in lights or bookshelves that heave with stories, where characters invite her along on their marvellous journeys.
The Best Bush Breaks In South Africa
There are few things more captivating than being in the heart of the bush. Surrounded by wilderness teeming with animals, this sacred space allows you to be still, find your inner quiet and open yourself up to the perfection of nature.
In South Africa, we are spoilt for choice when it comes to game parks and reserves that encompass every possible landscape and terrain: vast open plains with rhinos, impalas and wildebeest happily having tea parties, to jagged cliff tops where mountain goat and leopard alike survey the gorges beneath them; lions sun themselves in lazy slumber amidst the tall shafts of golden grass, while baby elephants desperately try to assert their dominance with their tiny trunks. To the romantic at heart it is The Lion King in living colour.
For those of you who turn to the bush for respite, we take a look at some of best public game reserves in South Africa that are definitely well worth a visit. Get ready for that 5am wake-up call as you head out for your morning game drive!
- Kruger National Park (Mpumalanga and Limpopo Provinces)
By far the most popular park for both locals and international tourists alike, the Kruger National Park is a huge tourism drawcard for southern Africa. This spectacular reserve offers some of the best wildlife experiences in Africa. Established in 1898 to protect the wildlife of the South African Lowveld, this national park of nearly two million hectares is unrivalled in the diversity of its life forms and is a world leader in advanced environmental management techniques.
Most of the camps are situated in the southern portion of the park in Mpumalanga and are accessed by the Malelane, Crocodile Bridge, Numbi, Pabeni and Paul Kruger gates. This area is more lush and wooded than the drier central and northern regions, and the largest concentrations of game can be found here. Be sure to take a pair of binoculars for your sightings of the Big Five, and share your stories around the campfire as you enjoy a delicious South African braai and a cold beer.
- Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (Northern Cape)
The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is a large sand-filled basin in the west of the African subcontinent, known as the Kalahari Desert. Situated approximately 250km from Upington in the far northern Cape and 904km from Johannesburg, it is a special place that absorbs the heat and the animal sightings while travelling along the sand roads and through the dusty dunes are unique. Straddling both South Africa and Botswana, the absence of man-made barriers (except to the west and south of the Park) has resulted in a rare conservation area of 3.6 million acres that is relatively free from human interference, and large enough to maintain examples of two ecological processes that were once widespread in the savannahs and grasslands of Africa.
Characterised by vast arid landscapes with red dunes, sparse vegetation and camel thorn trees, the park is home to animals that tend to gather in the dry river beds and waterholes. Herds of gemsbok, springbok, eland and blue wildebeest follow the seasons, closely watched by prides of black-mane lion. Other predators include leopard, cheetah, brown and spotted hyena and birds of prey. Sip on your G&T in the evening as you stargaze to the sounds of nature in the distance and scuttling in the undergrowth. It’s simply magical.
- Pilanesberg Game Reserve (North West Province)
Among southern Africa’s most fascinating game reserves, it is possibly the most accessible. Situated in the ecologically rich transition zone between the Kalahari and the Lowveld, the vast area is located in a malaria-free area and thrills with its diverse terrain and incredible big-game viewing. Covering some 55 000 hectares, it is the fourth largest game reserve in southern Africa and is perched on the eroded vestiges of an alkaline volcanic crater – one of only three such craters in the world. The terrain turns from a blanket of grass and leafy trees to craggy mountains in the blink of an eye. There are unique fauna and flora on display and visitors are not likely to leave the reserve without having seen the Big Five (lion, elephant, leopard, buffalo and rhinoceros) with the exception perhaps of the ever-elusive leopard, and while small, it offers you a peaceful visit into the heart of nature.
- Hluhluwe Umfolozi Game Park (KwaZulu-Natal)
Set in the heart of Zululand, this is the oldest game reserve in Africa where Zulu kings such as Dingiswayo and Shaka hunted and put in place the first conservation laws. Today, the Big Five roam across the flourishing savannah. Hluhluwe Umfolozi Reserve is characterised by hilly topography and the northern section of the game reserve is noted for its wide variety of both birdlife and wildlife. Viewing hides overlook pans and waterholes for close-up opportunities with the wildlife. A 40-seater boat takes visitors on trips along the on Hluhluwe Dam twice a day, conducted by an experienced community guide, where the vast amount of birds and animals can be appreciated, as well as the Zulu culture in the community areas of the park. Once you are settled on the boat, enjoy a glass of chilled wine in hand, and observe the intriguing but dangerous hippos from a distance as they wallow and yawn in their tightly wedged pods, or look up for magnificent views of fish eagles swooping in for the kill.
- Greater St. Lucia Wetlands Park (KwaZulu-Natal)
This beautifu lush space is thriving with sea creatures, great and small. The Greater St. Lucia Wetlands Park was declared South Africa’s first Natural World Heritage Site on 1 December 1999. South Africa’s third largest park, it comprises 280km of near pristine coastline and 328 000 hectares of breathtaking scenery, from Mapelane (Cape St. Lucia) in the south, to Kozi Bay in the north. The Greater St. Lucia Wetlands Park incorporates Lake St. Lucia, the St. Lucia and Maputaland Marine Reserves, the Coastal Forest Reserve, and Kosi Bay Nature Reserve. Greater St Lucia Wetlands Park encompasses an immense mosaic of habitats, ranging from marine systems (coral reefs and beaches) and coastal forests (salt and fresh water marshes, as well as the open estuarine waters of Lake St Lucia) to lush coastal plains to the drier woodland areas. Enjoy a lazy afternoon aboard a boat taking snaps of crocs and hippos from a safe distance.
- Addo Elephant Park (Eastern Cape)
If you love elephants of all shapes and sizes, then add this park to your bucket list! Situated in a malaria-free area just one hour’s drive from the South African coastal city of Port Elizabeth, this easily accessible and diverse national park offers phenomenal game viewing, with splendid opportunities to view the gentle grey giants. As the name of the park suggests, the main attraction are the 350 or so African elephants, but this doesn’t minimise the presence of the black rhino and Cape buffalo, which are more easily visible in the park at night. For a truly unique sighting, visitors should take care to look out for the flightless dung beetle, indigenous to the Addo region, which feeds on the faeces of the large ungulates. Amongst other large herbivores to be found at the park, you are sure to see antelope species such as kudu, eland, red hartebeest and springbok. Take a moment to lose yourself in time on the open planes and embrace the beauty of Africa.
By Melissa Jane Cook