MOUNTAIN ZEBRA NATIONAL PARK
The Mountain Zebra National Park is a not too large park of approximately 6,500 ha and is located in the Eastern Cape province at 12 kilometers from the picturesque town of Cradock. It was established in 1937 to protect the Cape Mountain zebra because there were only six of these zebras left in the 1930s. Meanwhile, things are going well again, there are currently around 300 zebras in the park. The Cape Mountain Zebra is clearly recognizable by its orange blaze on the head and a narrower and clearer pattern of stripes than the regular zebra. The Cape Zebra is still rare to this day.
The park offers a lot of variety with steep heights, large plains and deep valleys. It is therefore an attractive area for the Cape Mountain Zebra. You have a magnificent view of the Karoo in various places. The climate is warm and dry with rain that falls mainly at the beginning of the summer. The winter months are generally cold with regular snow in the higher areas. In the spring and after good rain, the wild flowers start to flower spectacularly.
WHERE DOES MOUNTAIN ZEBRA NP FIT INTO YOUR SOUTH AFRICA ADVENTURE
Not only zebras live in the park but also the black rhino, Cape buffalo, African buffalo, red hartebeest, moose, kudu, gnu, springbok, hyena and cheetah. At the end of April 2013, after a period of 130 years, lions can also be found in the area again! The lions are needed in the area to maintain the natural eco-system and to prevent too many large herbivores living in the park.
The reserve has numerous and especially very beautiful birds, including different species of eagles and buzzards, the secretary bird, crane, woodpecker, lark, mountain spout, honey detective etc. Numerous birds are here because of the many trees and shrubs with fruits and berries. The wild peach and olive trees, the noble woods and the flowers blooming in every possible color are a wonderful sight in the spring.
SAFARI ACTIVITIES IN MOUNTAIN ZEBRA NATIONAL PARK
- Go on a Self-Drive Safari
Most people visit Mountain Zebra National Park to go on a self-drive safari. The main game-loop roads are all in decent condition so can be driven in a normal car, though in places there are a few corrugations.
The gate from the rest camp to the safari area is open from 6am to 7pm in Oct-Mar (summer) and 7am to 6pm in Apr-Sep (winter). This is slightly different from the main gate to the park, which always opens at 7am. This means if you stay within the park, in summer you can start your game drive an hour earlier than those staying outside.
Game Drive Loops
There are three main game drive loops within the park.
The Rooiplaat Loop is best for animals, especially antelope, and you’ll see herds of springbok, hartebeest, wildebeest and mountain zebras grazing on the plateau.
The Kranskop Loop is best for scenery and you’ll have amazing views of the surrounding arid mountains and nearby rock formations. Keep a lookout for mountain reedbuck, grey rhebok and klipspringers here.
The Umbejane Loop is a flat loop through grass and bush and is good for smaller carnivores such as caracals, foxes and aardwolf, and perhaps also the cheetahs.
There are two picnic sites within the park, Fonteinkloof and Weltevrede. Both picnic sites have picnic tables, braai stands and ablutions. Fonteinkloof is mainly designed for day visitors as it’s quite close to the park rest camp and has a swimming pool that day visitors can use (the pool at the rest camp is only for overnight guests). Weltevrede is on the Kranskop Loop and a lovely place to stop for a break and to stretch your legs.
There are several viewpoints in Mountain Zebra National Park. Officially there’s a difference between Lookout Points, where you can get out of your car, and Viewpoints where you should remain in your vehicle. Remember to check for animals if getting out of your car.
2. Take a Guided Game Drive
Guided game drives take place in the park in the morning, at sunset or evening as it’s getting dark. Drives last two hours, and the sunset drive includes a stop for a sundowner.
Morning game drives leave at 5am in summer or 6am in winter. Some of the lions wear tracking collars, and your guide may be able to find the pride based on these. Morning drives are the best time to see the lions, before they move into the bush for some shade.
Sunset game drives take place at 5pm in summer or 3:30pm in winter. As the sun sets you’ll stop and get out to have a drink and some snacks. These are included, but it’s more expensive than the other drives to compensate.
Evening game drives leave at 7:30pm in summer and 6pm in winter. On the evening drives you might be lucky and see an aardwolf or caracal, plus night birds such as owls and nightjars.
3. See the San Cave Paintings
There are also guided drives to see San Cave Paintings, which you can only visit with a guide. These rock painting sites are scattered around the park. After some driving, this trip involves a bit of walking and scrambling over rocks, so you have to be fit and slightly agile. The San Cave Painting tours leave at 9am and last about 2 hours.
4. Go Cheetah Tracking
Cheetah tracking is an unmissable experience in Mountain Zebra Rest Camp. You’ll drive out with a guide to find the cheetahs within the park. The cheetahs wear tracking collars so the guides can listen to the beeps they emit and try and locate them based on the direction and strength of the beeping signal. You’ll drive as close as possible on the road, then get out and walk.
The cheetah tracking drives leave at 8:30am and last several hours, the exact time depends on how long it takes to locate the cheetahs. On the drive you’ll also be able to spot other animals within the park. On the cheetah tracking you should wear neutral-coloured clothes i.e. not white, black or bright colours. Bring along some water and a snack, and remember it can be very cold in the mornings in the open vehicle, so bring a jacket.
5. Take a Hike
Black Eagle Trail
The Black Eagle Trail is a gorgeous short hike above the rest camp in Mountain Zebra National Park. This is a self-guided hike, so you can walk whenever you want. It’s within the fenced rest camp area, so there aren’t any dangerous animals (apart from perhaps snakes). You hike up to the top of a rocky outcrop from which there are amazing views over the park. The walk takes about 45 minutes to one hour.
Guided Morning Walk
Guided morning walks take place every day starting around sunrise. The exact hike depends on the interests of the group, and you can hike slowly or hike up to 10 km. Remember to bring water and a snack plus both warm clothes and a sunhat. Binoculars are also useful.
The Salpeperkop Trail is a moderately challenging hike up an arid mountain with amazing views at the top. This is a guided walk that starts in the early morning with a 45-minute drive through the park to the start of the hike. Book in advance at the reception. Remember to bring water and a snack plus both warm clothes and a sunhat.
6. Drive the 4×4 Trails
You don’t need to book any of the 4×4 trails, but you do need a decent 4×4 with low range to attempt any of these drives. Although the park website describes the Juriesdam trail as easy, I would describe it as at least moderately challenging.
Sonnenrust 4×4 Trail
The Sonnenrust 4×4 Trail is a fairly easy 4×4 trail that’s 14 km long. It’s one-way in an anti-clockwise direction i.e., east to west, starting on the Ubejane Loop. It starts flat before heading upwards to the plateau where you get some great views.
Juriesdam 4×4 Trail
The Juriesdam 4×4 Trail is a moderately challenging 4×4 trail 9.5 km long, up onto a plateau and back down again. It’s one-way in an anti-clockwise direction i.e. starting closer to the rest camp. The routes up and down are steep, rocky and narrow so require some driving skills and low range. I found it slightly scary on the ascent as there are some uneven rock steps on the track and it’s on the side of a steep hill so sometimes you feel like you might topple over. Up on the plateau, it’s very remote and beautiful.
Umngeni 4×4 Trail
This is a moderately challenging 7.6km trail up a rocky ridge onto a plateau. Like the Jureisdam Trial, there are some steep sections, but you never feel like you’ll topple over. It’s one-way in an anti-clockwise direction i.e., starting closer to the rest camp and heading east to west.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
Understanding the best time to visit South Africa is important as this will impact accommodation, flight prices, availability and the weather that visitors can expect on their safari vacation. A South Africa visa for entry may also be required.
The park is primarily focused on mountain zebra and is not mainly about seeing the Big 5 animals. Since mountain zebras can be spotted throughout the year, the warmer summer months from October to March are more comfortable.
Due to the high altitude, the winter months are very cold. The park is very scenic, and the landscape is more beautiful during the summer months.
WHERE TO STAY IN THE PARK
Tourists at Mountain Zebra National Park can choose from a number of different options when deciding where to sleep with accommodation ranging from luxury safari lodges to lower budget camping.
Mountain Zebra National Park’s Rest Camp is located about 12 kilometres from the entrance gate and offers comfortable family cottages, a campsite with communal facilities, a restaurant and a shop. There are two mountain cottages and a guesthouse outside the rest camp but within the park boundaries. The guesthouse is just a few kilometres from the rest camp, while the mountain cottages are both roughly 7 km away and you need a high-clearance vehicle to reach them since the last kilometre is along a rough track.
There are two mountain cottages in the park and you have to have a high-clearance vehicle to reach them. Umthombo Cottage is near the Weltevrede picnic site while Bakana Cottage is in Berghofkloof. Both huts have two bedrooms – one with a double bed and the other with two single beds. Additionally, each hut has a third bedroom with six bunk beds which require you to bring your own bedding.
There’s no electricity in these huts, but there is an equipped kitchen with a stove and fridge powered by gas and solar, and a fireplace. The bathroom is outside and has a toilet and hot shower. There’s also an outdoor braai.
There’s one lovely old restored guesthouse for up to six people overlooking Doornhoek Dam. It contains three bedrooms, two with double beds and one with two single beds. Each bedroom has its own bathroom. There’s also a nice equipped kitchen and lounge, space to sit outside and a braai.
Accommodation in nearby Cradock
It’s only 15 minutes drive from Cradock to the gate of Mountain Zebra National Park, making it a good place to stay outside of the park. A particularly popular place is Die Tuishuise & Victoria Manor, beautifully renovated historic buildings in the centre of town.
HOW TO ACCESS THE PARK
To get to South Africa and indeed to the park, visitors can fly to one of two airports: Cape Town International (CPT) or O.R. Tambo International Airport (JNB) in Johannesburg.
An organized safari could be started here, or you may elect to drive yourself. Some people will drive from Cape Town via the Winelands and Garden Route and take a relaxing week or two before arriving at the park.
A South Africa visa will likely also be required per the latest entry requirements.
From Cape Town, the drive will take at least 8 hours over a 800km route to arrive at Mountain Zebra National Park whilst from Johannesburg, the drive time south and distance are approximately the same.
Carrying a small amount of South Africa currency, the rand (ZAR) is advised for smaller purchases.