It is hard to believe that there are places of such beauty and tranquility situated so close to town. Just a stone’s throw from Cradock in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa lays the Mountain Zebra National Park, a park synonymous with crystal clear skies and breathtaking scenery. The park is located in a transition zone, so vegetation includes not only grassland and thicket, but also Nama-Karoo.
One of the reasons the park was proclaimed is for the protection of the Cape Mountain Zebra. Today you can spot them along with buffalo, eland, springbok, black wildebeest, red hartebeest and larger predators such as cheetah, lion and brown hyena.
The park’s cultural heritage should not be put aside and should be on your to-do list when visiting. Apart from rock art paintings by the San people and evidence of Late Stone Age inhabitants along the banks of the Wilger River, you can also visit other historic sites while there. A chessboard on top of the tallest koppie in the park, Salpeterkop, dates back to the Anglo Boer war in the 1800s when the British played chess with fellow soldiers in Cradock. They transmitted moves with a mirror.
The nearest airport is situated at Port Elizabeth, which is 264km away. The drive takes about 3 hours.
The park has a filling station, restaurant, small shop and conference facilities.
No, you are not allowed to get out of your vehicle due to predators such as Lions. However, there are selected viewpoints on the game drive routes where you are allowed to exit your vehicle at your own risk.
The main rest camp is fenced, so it is safe for young children. Some of the other accommodation options – like the Mountain Cottages - are not fenced.
Any drive around the park should provide plenty of sightings of these famous residents. They are easily recognisable by their thick stripes, dewlap under the neck and brownish nose.
It would be rather disappointing if you are unable to find them, so the professional guides do everything in their power to locate them. It might take longer on some days, but once they pick up a strong signal from the vehicle, the excursion will continue on foot.
The park’s most famous resident is the Cape Mountain zebra. The thickets are home to Cape Buffalo while numerous antelope species are also found in the park. Some of these include Red Hartebeest, Springbok, Blesbok, Gemsbok, and Eland. Apart from Lions, other predators in the park include Cheetah. The smallest cat in the world – the Black-footed Cat – can be spotted on evening game drives with a bit of luck.
The park’s birdlife is prolific due to the different vegetation types. Verreaux’s, Martial Eagle and Jackal Buzzard are often seen soaring the skies in the mountainous habitat. The mountainous plateaus are home to Ostrich, Secretarybird, Ludwig’s Bustard, and Blue Crane. Ground Woodpecker, Eastern Long-billed Lark, and the Orange-breasted Rockjumper also occur in the park.
There is no malaria risk in the Mountain Zebra National Park. Winter months can be extremely cold with occasional snowfall on the higher mountain peaks. Winter average maximum temperatures range between 16 and 22 degrees Celsius while the minimum average is often between zero and seven degrees. Summer temperatures vary between 23 and 28 degrees Celsius. The area gets approximately 400mm of rain for the year, with most of it in the summer (December to February)
A very popular activity is cheetah tracking where you get the opportunity to see these residents up close. The animals are collared with tracking devices, so once a signal is picked up, tracking continues on foot. Other activities include three 4x4 trails that total 32km of the 95km tourist roads in the park. Apart from guided game drives and guided walks to the cave paintings and Salpeterkop, overnight guests can hike one of two short trails within the fenced rest camp.
Mountain Zebra National Park has a wide variety of accommodation options. For the wild at heart, camping provides the opportunity to get close to nature. The park also offers cottages for couples and families of four and come with fully-equipped kitchens, braai facility, television, air conditioning, and a fireplace. Rock cottages offer an outside shower and spectacular views.
Those that prefer isolation and a rustic experience can book one of two mountain cottages, but a high clearance vehicle is needed to access the location. The kitchen comes with a gas stove, solar-powered fridge/freezer combination. Hot water is provided with a gas-powered geyser, but there is electricity. The toilet facilities are outside the units.
A historic guest house offer accommodation for up to six people in three rooms. The house is decorated with antique furniture, creating an old style feeling. The unit is unfenced and not too far from the main rest camp.