South Africans are supremely lucky to have so many game reserves, national parks and nature reserves across the country. As regular readers will know, these are my preferred places to get away from the city, recharge my batteries and get my fill of nature and wildlife. Here are my 5 favourite campsites in South African parks for atmosphere, setting and rustic simplicity.
1. Bontle, Marakele National Park
The camp is unfenced, which makes it feel like part of the surrounding bush. It’s impossible to resist its wilderness charm. Kick back and the animals will come to you; the campsite overlooks a waterhole where kudu, wildebeest, jackals, zebra, warthog, giraffe and other creatures come to drink. Pearl-spotted owlets and African scops-owls are regulars in the trees.
Good game drives in the area are to the Bollonoto hide (excellent for birds) or through the subway under the road that joins the two sections of the park. In the more mountainous eastern section, you might spot lone elephant bulls or breeding herds of 20 or more.
Read more about Bontle
Marakele National Park
2. Motswedi, Mokala National Park
Six sites are set in a semi-circle around a waterhole, with private ablutions and kitchen under gas/solar power, but no power points at the sites. A low solar-powered fence around the perimeter provides safety from animals like buffalo and rhino. Laze in your camp chair and wait for warthog, buffalo, kudu and other buck to come to drink.
Good game drives from Motswedi include the Tsessebe, Doornlaagte and Kameeldoring loops where you might spot meerkat, giraffe, eland, hartebeest, gemsbok, and the rare but beautiful tsessebe and roan antelope. Sign up for a guided night drive for a chance to see aardvark and aardwolf.
Read more about Motswedi
Mokala National Park
3. Polentswa, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
Drink in the 360-degree view of nothing but Kalahari duneveld. Sit around the fire with the Kalahari virtually to yourselves; there are only three campsites and they’re spaced quite far away from each other. Bring all your own supplies, including firewood and water, and take out any rubbish you accumulate.
Game drives in the area can produce anything from tiny meerkats to cheetah, leopard, lion, hyena, raptors like martial and tawny eagles and reptiles like barking gecko, cobra and puff adder. The Polentswa waterhole not far away is an excellent spot for late-afternoon lingering before hustling back to your campsite at sundown.
Note that although Polentswa can be accessed from the South African side of the park, it’s actually in Botswana so you need to book with Botswana’s Department of Wildlife and National Parks, tel +267 3180774, fax +267 3180775, email DWNP@gov.bw. You need patience and staying power to make a booking.
Read more about Polentswa
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
4. Potjiespram, Richtersveld Transfrontier Park
This is rustic camping so there are only toilets and cold-water showers. Spot some of the 200 species of birds in the park, such as Verreaux’s and fish eagle, swallow-tailed bee-eater and tractrac chat. Mammals like Hartmann’s mountain zebra, leopard, brown hyena and klipspringer are also around but you might spot only their tracks in the sand. Rather enjoy the mountain desert scenery, unusual plants, 2000 million year-old rocks, and magnificent starry skies.
Read more about Potjiespram
Ai-Ais Richtersveld Transfrontier Park
5. Tsendze, Kruger National Park
There are 34 sites, each carved out of the natural bush. This gives you some privacy, a sense of being ‘in the wild’ even though there’s a perimeter fence for security. Many sites are along the fence so you don’t have to miss out on passing hyenas or elephants. But unlike many other campsites in Kruger, here you don’t have sacrifice your personal space just so you can enjoy front-row seats.
The campsites are generously sized and come with braai (I promise you won’t find a cleaner one anywhere in Kruger), a great view of the veld, and shade from mopane and appleleaf trees for at least part of the day. There are no power points at the sites, but you have solar/gas power in the ablutions and kitchen. There are communal gas freezers.
Tsendze is a low noise impact camp, so no generators are allowed. Listen to the call of African fish eagle, crested barbet and arrow-marked babbler during the day and eavesdrop on African scops, pearlspotted and barred owls in the evening. A bonus is the absence of thieving vervet monkeys or baboons.
Great game viewing points in the area include the Nshawu waterholes and Tihongonyeni waterhole on the Capricorn Loop, as well the Shipandani hide near Mopani.
More about Tsendze
Kruger National Park
Do you agree with my picks? If not, which is your favourite away-from-it-all wilderness campsite in a South African game reserve or park? Let me know in the comments below.