This week it is South African National Parks’ Open Week; a week (10-14 September) offering all South African citizens FREE ENTRY to most of our National Parks and some of the parks will be extending the week to include the weekend, click here to find out more.
South African National Parks – You’re My Special One
If you ask me where to visit and what to do while in Port Elizabeth I will most likely tell you to go to Addo Elephant National Park. I talk about this park often. My fingers have typed A-D-D-O over and over again. And the more I talk about it, the more I visit the park, because if one is lucky enough to live a mere 30-minute drive from a National Park with free roaming wildlife, there is nothing else to do but, GO!
Besides Addo National Park I’ll also throw a few of the other parks towards your itinerary if you give me a chance.
If you ask me where to stop in the Garden Route I’ll probably say, “but if you are going to be in Storms River Village you have to go down to the mouth to Tsitsikamma National Park”.
And then after a few seconds I’ll gently force you into spending more time in the Garden Route by telling you all about Nature’s Valley National Park and Ebb & Flow National Park. Because of course you need to stay over at three different places in a space of 150 km. It is of utmost importance.
Camdeboo National Park and Mountain Zebra National Park are two of the highlights in the Karoo for me; and no, there are no big predators in Camdeboo, but it doesn’t matter – there is a bird hide with a godly view, the Karoo nights with its millions of glittered speckles and the sound of nothing. Nature on steroids. Golden Gate Highlands National Park is one of those, ‘where have you been all my life’ type of National Parks, Kruger National Park makes me want to say, ‘take me, take all of me’. And then there is of course Karoo National Park, West Coast National Park, Tankwa National Park, oh and this one north and that one a bit more to the east all while Richtersveld is still waiting on my wish list, tapping its foot impatiently (but patiently).
I’m sort of a SANParks fanatic; slightly obsessed and 100% devoted.
For my 30th birthday I spent the day in Addo National Park. Alone. And whenever a birthday call came through to my phone and the person on the other end realised that I was spending the majority of the day by myself, I could hear the pity in their voice. But to me, it was the perfect way to celebrate 30 years on earth, because I grew up in these parks. Occasionally we went away for weekends, December holidays we headed for the coast and every now and then we went inland during the June/July holidays; me, my family, a VW Kombi, a caravan, a tent and always a National Park.
It is in these South African National Parks – through my parents’ loving gesture of showing me my country – where my love for nature got real; where I’ve learnt how to be responsible, how to pitch a tent, make a fire, keep things clean, appreciate the animal kingdom, be satisfied with less, accept the dirt and connect with mother nature. It is in these South African National Parks where I’ve spent my days canoeing, hiking, swimming, hugging trees and going on self-guided game drives with my family, guidebooks, padkos, cameras and binoculars and to this day I’ll still choose basically any nature-based activity over shopping, dining or even socialising.
The childhood memories I made in some of our South African National Parks, are vividly etched into my heart.
I remember the time I first saw wild dogs; I sat on my mother’s lap and I cried because I’ve never seen such scary-looking dogs. I remember the best Christmas ever; it was 1998 and I was hiking my very first hiking trail (Otter Trail) and carried my own backpack. I remember how a monkey once grabbed my leg at a rest camp in Kruger and I jumped sky-high (they have tiny cold fingers). I remember how I transitioned from a caravan bunk bed to too-cool-for-school-sleeping-in-my-own-tent. I remember waiting for the Outeniqua Choo-Choo in Wilderness and waving to the passengers while my eyes searched for my coin flattened by the train.
And of course, I remember that one day in Kruger National Park when we drove – with a VW Kombi – between/under/through a giraffe’s legs. True story. We came in from the front and ended at his tail. Now, please understand that a VW Kombi is big, but for a 6-year-old with a very active imagination, a giraffe was much bigger than any vehicle and when my parents made a joke about going between/under/through the giraffe’s legs it stuck and the 6-year-old Anje believed it, went back to school and told everyone the giraffe tale. That story continued to live on in my essays until the age of 9.
I can only describe my childhood and exposure to nature as fortunate and I am forever thankful that my parents gave me experiences instead of things (even though I probably nagged them occasionally for plastic toys and fancy gadgets, but thank heavens they never listened to me and knew better).
Money and materialistic things don’t last forever, experiences do.
If you can’t make it to a National Park during Open Week, why don’t you get yourself a Wild Card? When you buy a Wild Card you get free entry to South African National Parks EVERY DAY (it eliminates your conservation fee which is a great financial helper if you plan to stay over in these parks). But wait, there is more; it is not only for SANParks, you will also get a discount if you want to go up to Table Mountain, you can enter Cape Nature Reserves, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, Msinsi Resorts and Game Reserves and the Big Game Parks of Swaziland for FREE.
If nature is where you want to be for a vacation or a short getaway, do yourself a favour and get a Wild Card. You can enter these parks just to enjoy the view, even if it is just for an hour, because your Wild Card got you covered. If I have to drive from Port Elizabeth to Knysna or Cape Town I often stop at Tsitsikamma National Park for a quick coffee or a breakfast.