For me, Mountain Zebra National Park in the Eastern Cape province is a very special place. Heck, the entire of the Eastern Cape province is a special place for me, but that can be the subject of a different article!
Mountain Zebra NP is situated on high ground close to Cradock. The entire park has very mountainous terrain and reminded me of Ithala Game Reserve in the interior of KwaZulu-Natal for that reason.
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A great conservation story
The history of Mountain Zebra NP is a really great story. Today the park is home to a large breeding herd of the Cape mountain zebra. Not long ago though this species was endangered. Local farmers in the area donated mature individuals from their land to form the first population in the national park, which numbered only six individuals. Today, the park has over 700 animals and is able to restock other areas from their large population.
Exploring Mountain Zebra National Park
Although we had quite a brief visit to Mountain Zebra NP, it was an action-packed time out in the park. The terrain really is spectacular. The road networks cover low-lying areas in valley Acacia thicket where rhino and buffalo sightings abound. It also appears to be a popular hangout for the park’s predators that include cheetah and recently-introduced lion, as we saw carcasses and old dried bones everywhere!
The rest of the park is up on top of the plateau. The grassy plains support a huge variety of grazers that include the famous Cape mountain zebra, as well as gemsbok, eland, black wildebeest and springbok among others.
The park lends itself to incredible landscape photography opportunities. I would highly recommend making the most of the sunrise and sunset hours of you visit to be out in the park. We found the plateau roads to be perfect for this because of the impactful landscape and sweeping vistas the elevation afforded. We were also treated to an afternoon storm followed by a rainbow and an incredible sunset on our first afternoon in the park – what a treat.
One of our highlights were the family groups of ground squirrels that we found foraging and playing between tufts of grass. Ground squirrels must be the epitome of that saying about dynamite coming in small packages. These tiny animals seemed to have the biggest attitudes around and were absolutely fearless, approaching the car with such an inquisitive air.
Unique park activities
Before the introduction of lion into the park, Mountain Zebra NP was crisscrossed by hiking trails that visitors could enjoy. The presence of this top predator obviously means hiking in the park is no longer possible. One unique activity that is offered in Mountain Zebra NP and nowhere else that we’ve come across though is the opportunity to track cheetah on foot, escorted by a game guide. The cheetah in the park have radio collars on as part of a conservation and monitoring project. The park staff therefore have a good idea as to the whereabouts of each individual. Guests to the park can accompany game guides on a trip to view these animals in the wild on foot. What an incredible experience!
The park also has a number of 4x4 trails that we took to with glee! There is always the feeling that these 4x4 trails give you access to secret areas of the park not available to the majority of other visitors, and the expectation that this is obviously where all the animals will be hiding out... Needless to say we didn't see anything particularly spectacular on the drives, but 4x4ing out in the bush adds a whole new dimension of fun to the game reserve experience.
Visiting Mountain Zebra National Park
Mountain Zebra NP is a really great destination if you are looking to explore the inland of the Eastern Cape province. It is very close to both Hogsback and the Karoo around Graaf-Reinet, or coastal towns like Port Alfred or Port Elizabeth and would make an excellent holiday stop in combination with destinations like these. It is also only a short detour off the N1 between Johannesburg and Cape Town and could be a welcomed break to a cross-country excursion.
We would like to thank the SAN Parks' Mountain Zebra National Park staff for welcoming us to the park and hosting us during our stay.