If you drive from Gqeberha (previously Port Elizabeth) to Bloemfontein, your route will take you past Cradock. Just a few kilometers west of this historic little Eastern Cape town, you will come across the Mountain Zebra National Park. This haven of wilderness in the Great Karoo is well worth a visit, especially if you want to spend time in an untamed area that is not overrun with tourists, as you might find in the larger South African national parks. This arid gem was established in 1937 to provide a protected area for the once endangered Cape mountain zebras, from which the park derives its name.
We recently spent two nights in the park en route to Bloemfontein and were delighted to see the abundance and wide variety of birds, especially grassland species like larks and pipits that we don’t often come across at home. Encompassing elements of three distinct biomes—grassland, thicket, and arid Karoo—the park is home to a wide array of wildlife, from formidable buffaloes to nimble black wildebeest with their white swishing tails. Many other antelope species like red hartebeest, blesbok, gemsbok are found on the plains and if you’re lucky you might come across an aardwolf or an aardvark.
Knowing that the Cape mountain zebras were once on the brink of extinction, it’s great to see plenty of these animals in healthy-looking herds. These stocky little zebras, with their distinct stripes, look quite different from the common Burchell’s zebras found elsewhere in South Africa. They love taking sand baths and are a delight to watch as they roll around on the ground.
The park has well-appointed chalets, a restaurant, and numerous campsites serviced by updated ablution facilities, which are always appreciated by campers who typically have to put up with run-down bathrooms. There is a shop with limited supplies and a fuel station in case of need. Cottages are also available in isolated areas enabling one to get away from the other visitors to the park. We stayed in one of these remote cottages in the mountains on a previous visit and had lovely vistas of klipspringers standing on vast rocky areas.
We were caught off-guard by the weather, however, as we thought that spring had arrived with its customary warmer temperatures. After a pleasant day, we were rudely awakened the next morning to find frost and frozen water, as the temperature had plummeted to -4°C. That is a tad chilly for a camper and not something that went without lots of grumbles from yours truly! So be warned, if you don’t like freezing mornings, don’t camp there in winter or early spring.