The Bontebok National Park near Swellendam in the Western Cape is the smallest national park in the country – just 3495 hectares – but has been so important for the survival of South Africa’s rarest antelope.
The park was originally established in 1931, taking over from a group of farmers who had, in 1864, realised the importance of protecting the last remaining bontebok from extinction. Colonial hunters had reduced their numbers from probably several hundred thousand to just a handful. Land was first found near Bredasdorp, but this area was not well suited to the animals and in 1960 the park was moved to where it is now. It plays an important role in both preserving and breeding bontebok for other parks as well as conserving the precious coastal renosterveld, much of which has been mostly ploughed out by surrounding farmers.
Yesterday morning we woke up in our quaint wooden chalet with the sun streaming through the windows and the birds calling us to get up. We walked down to the Breede River which was 100 metres away and were greeted by four adult Bontebok and three babies grazing peacefully on the banks of the river. We felt so privileged that they allowed us into their space so comfortably … (later realising that they allow most people into their company – the absence of predators makes them quite bold) With the sun streaming down on a beautiful spring day and the two of us revelling in one of our first windless days, we took to the river and had a fantastic refreshing swim while the bontebok, swallows, kingfishers, wagtails, Egyptian geese and weavers went about their business.
Bontebok National Park is a birdwatchers paradise and a sunset gazer’s dream. It is such a peaceful place and, as we have experienced everywhere so far, all the staff are very friendly and helpful. It is very close to Swellendam and just off the N2, which makes it a perfect place to get away for the weekend, or to stop overnight. The chalets are all next to the Breede River, and were the first SanParks chalets to be built under the ‘Touch the Earth Lightly’ design principles, from conception to completion. They are very cozy wooden chalets with lovely balconies (a must!) and space for two people, with a sleeper couch if necessary. Each one has a lovely little braai place, and we had a beautiful braai one evening watching the stars come out against the silhouette of the giant aloes that grow all around the camp. There are also a number of campsites, and more are being established along the river with perfect views!
Thanks again to my sponsors for making it all possible. CapeNature, South African National Parks, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, Eastern Cape Parks, iSimangaliso Wetland Park, Ford, Total, Evosat, Conqueror Trailers, Vodacom, Digicape, Lacie, Frontrunner, Safari Centre Cape Town, K-Way, EeziAwn, National Luna, Nokia , Goodyear, Global Fleet Sales, Hetzner, Clearstream Consulting and Escape Gear.
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