Updated: Aug 28, 2018
This is the third year in a row that we have visited Mountain Zebra National Park, and it remains one of our favourites! One on the advantages of having this as our annual getaway is being able to finally cross off all the things to do there and all the animals to see.
The bat-eared fox and Aardwolf are still on the list of animals that have eluded us for the past three years... maybe next time! Buffalo were scarce this year, and so were the Cheetah, but doing the Cheetah walk, as we did last year, will almost guarantee a viewing, and is something that we highly recommend. Got the T-Shirt.
It is quite a drive from Cape Town, especially for a long weekend! About 816km to the gate, and we were a bit concerned that this is just too far for the amount of time spent there. Fuel cost way more than the accommodation! We managed to get some good rest while we were there as somehow the visitors of Parks like this are always considerate, and we have never experienced unnecessary noise at any of these Reserves. Ultimately, 3 nights was fine, and we managed to do quite a bit!
Travel along the N1 from Cape Town to Beaufort West, and from there 140km of nothing to Aberdeen. When I say nothing, it is still beautiful Karoo countryside, where you are able to spot a few animals here and there, besides the many sheep! Many travellers overnight or spend a few nights at Karoo National Park, which we have also visited in the past. This is an ideal halfway stop, where the Campsite and facilities are of the best we have experienced. From Aberdeen you go to Graaff Reinet and from there the last stretch to about 10km before Cradock, where you turn right and travel the last 11km on very decent gravel.
Cradock is the closest town to Mountain Zebra Park, where one can stock up on Karoo Lamb and other essentials.
The Campsite is surrounded by nature, and at night one hears the animals and nothing else! An electric fence provides protection against the Lions and other wild animals, but does not keep out the Monkeys. Keep your food hidden, as I had an argument with a Vervet over a packet of chips, in the tent!
Its is winter and the ground is almost grass-free and rather dusty. Take along your ground sheets (those grass-like ones) and you will be fine. Tent pegs go in firmly, and a little tough to take out, which is good in that you spend very little time fixing pegs and poles.
The sites are not allocated, so first come first serve. A few of the sites have cement slabs, which is ideal for caravans. All have water and electricity.
There are some really nice shady spots, and we always select a site on the outer perimeter to be closer to nature.
Ablution and Other Facilities
The campsite was reasonably full, and yet we always had hot water and never stood in a queue for anything. Mind you, it was freezing cold, and we may have been the only people that showered!! It is a good idea to take along a Porta Loo, even though the ablution facilities are not far and nice and central, getting out of that tent when it is -5 degrees outside is not fun.
The ablution is very clean, but I believe a few touch-ups here and there are needed. The Portable Loo cleaning area needs to be changed altogether, as it is simply not user-friendly.
There is a lovely communal Kitchen area, with a kettle, fridge and microwave for everyone's use. One can clean your dishes there as well.
There is a laundry too, where tokens purchased from the Curio shop will gets the washer and dryer working.
Curio Shop and Restaurant
There is a wonderful little Curio Shop, where one can purchase the basic essentials as well as other unnecessary's. We purchased a book about Nature Reserves and resisted the temptation to buy yet another fridge magnet. Our fridge is starting to look like a magnet!
The Restaurant is great, and the food is excellent. The service may be a little slow at times, but we were in no rush at all. We celebrate Sonja's birthday there every year, and the Lamb Shank is our favourite . The prices are reasonable, and this is just a nice place to sit and relax, with nature on your doorstep.
One of the main attractions for us, especially this time of year, is that the park is never excessively busy. One can drive through the reserve and hardly see another vehicle, especially on the 4x4 routes.
4x4 routes: There are three 4x4 routes one can take. I am no expert, but I would rate them at no higher than a level 2, with one or two sections bordering a level 3. Gorgeous scenic routes, where we only used low range once or twice for the fun of it. It is on these routes where we felt we were the only people in the reserve, but still had cell phone comms should we have needed it. Gate times are very strict, and close at 18:00 in winter, so plan accordingly. I would suggest leaving before 15:00 on any of these routes.
Cheetah Walk: You HAVE to do the Cheetah Walk, and get the T-Shirt. This was an amazing experience, with armed guides (there are Lion an Buffalo in the reserve) tracking the cheetahs and getting as close as possible before you walk through the bush and approach these beautiful animals. These Cheetah have adapted this the Karoo environment and apparently behave more like leopards than cheetahs. One gets really close, with very strict rules! Not everyone is permitted on these walks; age, height, health and some other factors, so please check beforehand. You don't have to be able to run faster than a cheetah though.
Hikes: There are a few walks one can do within the fenced-off area. We did one of them last year, and the views of the Camp and the surrounding reserve are stunning.
There are guided hikes into the reserve, and a guided walk to rock paintings.
Guided Game Drives: A must if you want to see some of the nocturnal animals! Just take along gloves and warn clothing, as the cold may have you longing to return to your tent rather than to see another animal. In summer is gets extremely hot, so that will not be a problem.
Picnic Sites: This is also another great attraction, and I am sure that in summer these picnic sites, nestled in the reserve with their own electric fencing, are inundated with day visitors. Another reason we prefer winter. The picnic sites are access controlled, have very decent ablution facilities, swimming pools, and picnic tables and benches. Really nice.
Self Drive Game Viewing: One of the main attractions in my opinion! Being able to go out on your own and view game at your own pace. The roads are good, and mostly gravel, except for the odd steep inclines which are either tarred or have cement strips. There are plenty of routes to take, or one can find a watering hole and sit and wait (especially in summer). There are one or two areas where one is able to get out of your vehicle at your own risk, but mostly not.
There is a whole lot to see, with the main attractions being the Lion, Cheetah, Brown Hyena, Various Antelope, and of course the Zebra. The Mountain Zebra is a unique species, with personalities of their own. One of our favourites! There are Buffalo and the all-elusive Bat-Eared Foxes and Aardwolf. The latter two we have not been able to spot as yet! Next year!
Conference Facilities: There are conference rooms, and facilities for small events or weddings.
Photography: Of course, the photography. Birding too. Gorgeous landscapes, not to mention the animals.
There is a lot more to tell about this magnificent Nature Reserve, but you need to see for yourself and experience this wonderful place first hand. There is so much to do an see, and we cannot wait to go there again!