The National Parks in South Africa: A Complete Guide

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One of the primary reasons people visit South Africa is for doing a safari as one of their bucket list items. One of the best places to see the Big 5 or South Africa’s endangered animals is one of the many national parks in South Africa where there are game reserves focusing on the conservation of animals and rare plans. This article provides you with all the information you need if you want to learn about the national parks in South Africa.

National Parks in South Africa Pin 2

Map of The National Parks in South Africa

This map shows the location of the national parks in South Africa.

What Can You Do at The National Parks in South Africa?

Most of the national parks in South Africa (15 of the 21 parks) offer a range of accommodations, making these parks easy to visit for a weekend to enjoy all they offer. South Africa’s national parks offer more than just game viewing. You can take part in adventurous activities, such as bush walks, mountain biking and canoeing. Some parks even have historical or cultural experiences for visitors. Read more about the best time to visit South Africa here!

South Africa’s National Parks by Size

South Africa has many national parks. There are 19 national parks spread across the different provinces in South Africa. The government established the South African National Parks in 1926 to manage the national parks and become a leading conservation and research body. The following list shows the national parks in South Africa by size:

ParkArea
(Square miles)
Area
(square kilometre)
Kruger National Park7,52319,485
Kalahari Gemsbok National Park3,7509,712
Richtersveld National Park2,3346,045
Addo Elephant National Park6301,632
Tankwa Karoo National Park5541,435
Garden Route National Park4701,217
Augrabies Falls National Park320829
Karoo National Park297769
Namaqua National Park270699
Marakele National Park260673
Golden Gate Highlands National Park130337
Mapungubwe National Park110285
Mountain Zebra National Park110285
West Coast National Park106275
Table Mountain National Park85220
Agulhas National Park81210
Mokala National Park76197
Camdeboo National Park75194
Bontebok National Park1128
The national parks of South Africa by size

The List of The National Parks in South Africa

Let’s explore the South African national parks.

To visit some of the more isolated of South Africa’s national parks, you need a car. I recommend renting from Rental Cars, it is the only car rental service I use!

The Best National Park in South Africa: Kruger National Park

Many people consider the Kruger National Park in South Africa the best place for game viewing in Africa. It is one of the largest national parks in the world! The Kruger National Park is the oldest and largest national park in South Africa, covering 19,485 square kilometres or 7,500 square miles. The South African Government established the park in 1898 (officially in 1926) when they became concerned with the declining animal population in the Lowveld area.

You can find the Kruger Park on the North-eastern side of South Africa. It borders both the Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces. The nearest town is Phalaborwa in the Limpopo province.

National Parks in South Africa
Viewing lions in the Kruger National Park for an unforgettable experience

The park features the Lebombo Mountains on its eastern side. A few rivers flow through the park, including the Crocodile River in the south and the Limpopo river in the north. The headquarters of the Kruger National Park is at Skukuza.

The park has a subtropical climate, and during the summer months, the temperature often exceeds 38 °C. You can find more than 336 types of trees in Kruger National Park, including the Marula Tree, Mopane Tree, Acacia trees and leadwood trees.

A visit to Kruger Park is an unforgettable experience. The Kruger National Park has over 500 species of birds, ranging from the saddle-billed stork, ground hornbill and Pel’s fishing owl. If you are visiting South Africa to see the big 5, the Kruger National park is the place to go. Other types of animals in the park include reptiles (114 species), fish (49 species) and amphibians (34 species).

Other features of the Kruger National Park are the bushman rock paints and archaeological sites, such as Masorini and Thulamela.

The Table Mountain National Park

You can find the Table Mountain National Park in Cape Town in South Africa’s Western Cape Province. The park is relatively new as it was established in 1998. The park is small at only 85 square miles or 243 square kilometres.

Table Mountain National Park – one of the national parks in South Africa

The best-known features of the Table Mountain National Park are Table Mountain and the Cape of Good Hope. The park is one of South Africa’s natural UNESCO world heritage sites.

You can find rare and endemic plants in the park, such as the Acacia Cyclops, Silver trees and invasive pine trees. Animals here include the Cape lion, mountain zebra, kudu and spotted hyena. An animal you can only find in the Table Mountain National Park is the Table Mountain ghost frog.

The Golden Gate Highlands National Park

Another one of South Africa’s famous national parks is the Golden Gate National Park, near Clarens. You can find this Park in the Free State province of South Africa. The park is located at the foot of the Maluti mountain range.

Golden Gate National Park
Golden Gate National Park

The park has scenic landscapes with golden orange sandstone cliffs and extensive grasslands, which inspired its name. You can also find a variety of animals in the park, such as zebras, black wildebeest, mountain reedbuck and springbok.

The Garden Route National Park

You can find the Garden Route National Park along the south-eastern coast of South Africa in the Garden Route. It is relatively new and was only established in 2009. The park covers an area of 470 square miles (1,217 square kilometres). The nearest town to this park is Plettenberg Bay.

The Garden Route National Park is worth visiting for its rocky beaches, beautiful lagoons, lush evergreen forests and large rivers. The park’s vegetation is varied and includes lichens, ferns and mosses. Some of the animals you can find in the Garden Route National Park are the Cape clawless otters, vervet monkeys, leopards and blue duiker.

While visiting the Garden Route National Park, you can do a bungee jump at the Bloukrans bridge or visit the Birds of Eden Sanctuary.

The Addo Elephant National Park

You can find the Addo Elephant National Park in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa, near Port Elizabeth or Gqeberha. The park had existed since 1931, when it had 11 elephants. The Addo Elephant National Park covers 1 642 square kilometres ( square miles).

Although the name may imply that the Addo Elephant National Park features elephants, it offers much more! What makes the Addo Elephant National Park unique is its marine and bushveld park. The park offers visitors a unique opportunity – it is the perfect place to see the Big Seven animals. If you don’t have time to spend a night here, you can do a day trip and see many of the animals at the park.

Addo Elephant National Park
Addo Elephant National Park

Although many people visit South Africa to see the Big 5 animals (including African mammals, such as lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants and buffaloes), seeing the Big 7 animals is an even bigger treat. The Big 7 consists of buffaloes, elephants, leopards, lions, rhinos, southern right whale and great white shark.

There are over 450 elephants in Addo Elephant Park, making it the densest African elephant population in the world. Other animals in the park include black rhinos, Cape buffalo, different antelope species and the flightless dung beetle. You can also explore various archaeological and historical sites in the park. In addition, the park also features five of the seven major vegetation zones in South Africa.

Agulhas National Park

You can find the Agulhas National Park at the southern tip of Africa in the Western Cape Province of South Africa. The government established the Agulhas National Park in 1999. The park is near Struisbaai.

The Cape Agulhas National Park contains uniquely South African vegetation samples, including the limestone fynbos. This is a great place to visit if you’re interested in shipwrecks as there are many shipwrecks in the area. In the past, many ships suffered in the Cape of Storms and were wrecked en route to the east. Some of the shipwrecks include the Birkenhead, Arniston and Zoetendal. You can also visit the Bredasdorp Shipwreck Museum for artefacts from these vessels.

Agulhas National Park
Agulhas National Park

You can find archaeological middens from the Khoi-Khoi people in the area. You can also see the remaining ancient stone fish traps east of the Cape Agulhas lighthouse, where you can visit a lighthouse museum.

The Cape Agulhas Lighthouse was South Africa’s third lighthouse and it is the second-oldest one still operating. The Green point lighthouse is the oldest operational lighthouse in South Africa.

Augrabies Falls National Park

You can find the Augrabies Falls National park in the Northern Cape Province of South Africa. The Government established the park in 1966. The nearest large town to this park is Upington.

The Khoi called the Augrabies waterfall the place of Great Noise (Aukoerebis), and this is a perfect description for the thundering water falling down the 56-metre height of the waterfall. The falls are particularly spectacular in the rainy season when the Orange River is in full flood.

Augrabies Falls in the Augrabies National Park in South Africa
Augrabies Falls in the Augrabies National Park in South Africa

The park has a rocky landscape, and you can see places such as Moon Rock, Ararat and Echo Corner. You can also see Kokerboom (quiver trees) and Klipspringer in the park.

Other attractions in the park include its flora and fauna. You can find many succulents, reptiles and birds here. Unique birds you can see in the park are the black stork and pygmy falcon. There is a variety of animals, including gemsbok, giraffe and springbok.

Bontebok National Park

The Bontebok National Park is one of the national parks in South Africa’s Western Cape province. The government established the park in 1931. The nearest town is Swellendam.

One of the most beautiful features of the Bontebok National Park is the Langeberg Mountains. Since this park is part of the Cape Floral Region World Heritage Site, you can always find some blooming flowers.

This park has excelled in biodiversity conservation, including coastal renosterveld, endangered fynbos and bontebok. The bontebok population increased from 17 to 3000 over the past few years. Birdwatchers will enjoy the 200 bird species in the park.

Camdeboo National Park

You can find the Camdeboo National Park in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa. The government established the park in 2005. At 194 square kilometres (square miles), it is one of the smaller national parks in South Africa.

The nearest town to the park is Graaff-Reinet, one of the historic towns of South Africa. The park is set against the foot of the Sneeuberg (snow mountain) range. The Nqweba dam is located in the park.

Valley of desolation in the Camdeboo National Park
Valley of desolation in the Camdeboo National Park

The Camdeboo National Park offers a unique landscape and ecosystem with beautiful scenery. The unique scenery features dolerites forming jointed pillars of between 90 to 120 metres. Here, you can see the impact of erosion on the softer sedimentary beds of the dolerite pillars. You can find examples of this in the Valley of Desolation.

Karoo National Park

You can find the Karoo National Park in the Great Karoo region of South Africa in the western cape province of South Africa. The government established the park in 1979. The Karoo National Park is near Beaufort West.

One of the key features of the Karoo National Park is the majestic Nuweveld Mountains and vast plains with their diverse wildlife. You can see many succulents and small reptile species in the park. There are five tortoise species in the park, which is the highest density of tortoise species per equivalent area globally. You can also find Cape mountain zebras and springbok in the park. Driving the Klipspringer Mountain Pass offers visitors beautiful views of the area.

Kalahari Gemsbok National Park

The Kalahari Gemsbok National Park is located in the Northern Cape Province of South Africa. The government established the park in 1931 to protect the migrating game, specifically the gemsbok. The nearest large town to this park is Upington.

Some of the wildlife visitors can see in the park includes gemsbok, birds of prey and black-maned Kalahari lions.

Gemsbok in the Gemsbok National Park in South Africa
Gemsbok in the Gemsbok National Park in South Africa

The Kalahari Gemsbok National Park and the Gemsbok National Park in Botswana form the Kgalagadi Transfrontier. This park features red sand dunes, impressive camel thorn trees, dry riverbeds and sparse vegetation. The Kgalagadi Transfrontier is double the size of Kruger National Park and is the first transfrontier park in Africa.

Knysna National Lake Area

You can find the Knysna National Lake Area on the banks of the Knysna Lagoon in Knysna, located in the Garden Route of South Africa’s Western Cape province. The government established the lake area in 1985. It covers an area of 150 square kilometres (square miles).

Around the lake area, there are dense indigenous forests, peaceful lakes and golden-sand beaches. If you want to see the endangered Knysna seahorse, this is the place to visit. You can also view an extensive range of marine life here.

The area specialises in oysters, cultivated in the Knysna Lagoon and served in the local restaurants.

Mapungubwe National Park

You can find the Mapungubwe National Park in South Africa’s Limpopo province. The government established the park in 1989. The nearest large town is Musina.

The Mapungubwe National Park features rich biodiversity, beautiful scenery and archaeological treasures. Visitors can view the confluence of the Shashe and Limpopo rivers from a hilltop. They can also see the two of South Africa’s neighbouring countries, namely, Zimbabwe and Botswana.

A developed African civilisation flourished on the site between 1000 and 1290 AD. The area was rich and traded with Egypt, China and India. This is also where archaeologists excavated the famous golden rhino and other artefacts of a prosperous African kingdom.

Leopards in the Mapungubwe National Park
Leopards in the Mapungubwe National Park – one of the national parks in South Africa

The park also features sandstone formations, riverine forests, baobab trees and mopane woodlands. You can also visit Khoi/San rock art shelters while exploring the park.

Some of the animals you can view in this park are elephants, white rhino, giraffe, gemsbok, eland and many other antelope species. Some of the predators here are leopards, hyenas and lions. There are also many birds species for bird lovers, including the tropical boubou, Pel’s fishing owl and kori bustard.

Marakele National Park

You can find the Marakele National Park in the Waterberg Mountains in South Africa’s Limpopo province. The name is from the Tswana language, one of South Africa’s official languages, and means a place of sanctuary. The government established the park in 1993, and it covers 507.3 square kilometres (square miles).

The Marakele National Park offers a fantastic range of wildlife since it is located in a transitional area between South Africa’s wet eastern regions and dry western regions. There are lofty mountains, deep valleys and grass fields in the park.

You can find rare trees in the park, including yellowwood trees, cedar trees, cycads and tree ferns. In terms of game viewing, you can see elephants, rhinos, lions, leopards and a large variety of birds here. The park has the largest colony of endangered Cape Vultures, with over 800 breeding pairs. Antelopes in the park range from mountain reedbuck, eland and tsessebe.

Mokala National Park

You can find the Mokala National Park in the eastern corner of the Northern Cape province of South Africa. The government established this park in 2007, making it one of the newer national parks in South Africa. The park features Kalahari thornveld, Nama Karoo terrain and savannahs with rocky outcrops and a wetland. The nearest town to this park is Kimberley.

The name is from the Setswana language, one of South Africa’s official languages, and means Camel Thorn. Some animals living here include black and white rhino, roan antelope, tsessebe, gemsbok, black wildebeest, red hartebeest and buffalo.

Mountain Zebra National Park

You can find the Mountain Zebra National Park in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa. The government established this park in 1937. The nearest town is Cradock.

Zebras in the Mountain Zebra National Park
Zebras in the Mountain Zebra National Park

This national park successfully saved the Mountain Zebra species from extinction. When the park opened, it had only six zebras. Today there are over 370 zebras in the park. The park also includes eland, black rhino, black wildebeest, Cape buffalo and red hartebeest. Other animals you can view here are grey rhebok, cheetah and caracal. Birds at the park include the blue crane and Stanley’s bustard.

Namaqua National Park

You can find the Namaqua National Park in the Northern Cape province of South Africa. The government established the park in 1999. The nearest towns are Hondeklip Bay, Springbok and Kamieskroon.

The Namaqua National Park is a unique place to visit. You will see a tapestry of blooming flowers along the roads during August and September. During this time, many butterflies, long-tongued flies, and birds fly among the flowers. The park is the home of the smallest tortoise globally, the Namaqua speckled padloper.

The Namaqualand area has the richest bulb flora of any dry region globally. Over 1 000 of its approximate 3 500 plant species cannot be found anywhere else. Other things to experience are the fields of flowers, quiver trees, star-studded nights, large granite outcrops and the cold Atlantic ocean.

Tankwa Karoo National Park

You can find the Tankwa Karoo National Park in South Africa’s Northern Cape province. The government established the park in 1986. The nearest town to the park is Sutherland.

The park protects a starkly beautiful tract of the Tankwa Karoo. When you visit, you can explore a moon-like landscape, diverse succulents, and many Karoo birds, especially Burchell’s courser. You may also find a dense population of black eagle breeding pairs. After the rain, the park has beautiful succulent flowers.

Entrance to the park is at the management’s discretion. Of the national parks in South Africa, this is the least suited to visitors as there is no infrastructure for visitors in the park.

Tsitsikamma National Park

You can find the Tsitsikamma National Park in the Western Cape Province in the Garden Route of South Africa. The name means “the place of much water”. The towns nearest to this park are Storms River Village, Joubertina and Twee Riviere.

Dassie or Hyrax at the TsiTsikamma National Park
Dassie or Hyrax at the TsiTsikamma National Park

In this park, you can see lush forests, fynbos and rivers. The park protects marine animal life, such as porpoises, African black oystercatchers and dolphins. You may spot the Cape clawless otter in the park’s rivers. Here, other animals you can find include the Knysna Loerie and the miniature blue duiker.

West Coast National Park

You can find the West Coast National Park in South Africa’s Western Cape province. The government established the park in 1985. The nearest towns to this park are Langebaan, Yzerfontein, Hopefield and Darling.

There are thousands of seabirds on the islands in the park. You can find beautiful golden beaches and salt marshes, which house birds, such as the cape gannet, flamingos, the jackass (African) penguin, and the black harrier. Springtime is beautiful in the park with a tapestry of coloured flowers. There are also antelope in some regions of the park.

Wilderness National Park

You can find the Wilderness National Park in the Western Cape Province of South Africa in the Garden Route. The government established the park in 1985. The nearest towns are Wilderness and George.

The park features multiple rivers, estuaries, lakes and beaches against dense forests and majestic mountains. There are many trails for hiking through the forests and along the rivers. During spring, beautiful flowers decorate this park. You may spot a Knysna Loerie or kingfisher.

Spotting dolphins from the Wilderness National Park
Spotting dolphins from the Wilderness National Park, one of the national parks in South Africa

From Dolphin Point, you can spot dolphins and whales. You can also find pansy shells, the grey heron, the little egret and the pied kingfisher. Some of the other highlights of the Wilderness National park are the Storms River suspension bridge, Natures Valley Beach and the Otter Trail.

The Smallest National Park in South Africa: Richtersveld National Park

You can find the Richtersveld Transfrontier National Park in South Africa’s Northern Cape province. The nearest small town is Eksteenfontein.

National Parks in South Africa Pin 1

In 2003, the Namibian ǀAi-ǀAis Hot Springs Game Park and the South African Richtersveld National Park were combined to form the ǀAi-ǀAis/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park.

Despite being a desolate landscape, the park has a rich desert flora. You can find miniature rock gardens designed by nature on many cliff faces. Tiny succulents thrive in the moisture from the early morning fog rolling in from the icy Atlantic Ocean. The park has gnarled quiver trees, giant aloes and animals, such as the jackal buzzard, rock hyrax and Hartmann’s Mountain Zebra. To visit this park, you need a 4×4 vehicle.

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By Sabs

Editor of the South Africa Travel Blog that focuses on travel to South Africa, including destinations, attractions, accommodation, food & drink.