Activities at Mountain Zebra National Park October 6th, 2017
Things to do and see at Mountain Zebra National Park
An early morning game drive is an ideal way to start the day. The drive starts at 05:00 in summer and 06:30 in winter and is roughly two hours in duration. Only children 6 years of age or older are permitted to go on the guided drives. There is no predetermined route taken for the drives. Each drive depends on where animal sightings might be found and by any special interest requests by the group.
Early morning drives in winter can be cold and game viewing can be difficult thus drives usually go to areas of higher ground. Most animals move up the slopes to take advantage of the pockets of warmer air and early morning sun. Early morning summer drives usually present more opportunities for sightings since animals prefer the cool of the morning before temperatures begin to rise. The cooler morning temperatures, particularly in summer, provide opportunities to see predators like lions and cheetahs before they stop moving for the day.
Early morning drives often allow glimpses of nocturnal animals before they settle down for the day. Species such as aardwolf, porcupine, springhare and even owls can be seen.
Sunset drives are recommended for those who want to stop and enjoy the spectacular Karoo sunset with some light snacks and a drink (provided). Autumn and winter drives provide good opportunities for aardwolf sightings and you may spot a few nocturnal species on the way back to camp. Sunset drives start at 15:30 in winter and 17:00 in summer.
Night drives start at 19:00 in summer and 18:00 in winter. They follow the same procedure as the early morning drives except that routes are generally driven at lower altitudes (main road and Ubejane Loop) to avoid the winds as nights can be cold even in summer. Night drives, provided the temperature is not too extreme, can reveal a number of interesting animals and birds. Species such as bat-eared fox, aardwolf, black-backed jackal, porcupine, Spotted Eagle-Owl, and Fiery-necked Nightjar are regularly seen. On exceptional nights, species such as aardvark, Cape fox, bushpig, black footed cats and brown hyena may be seen going about their nightly foraging activities.
The most exhilarating of all the Park’s activities is the opportunity to see a wild cheetah on foot – an up close experience not to be missed. Cheetah can move anywhere in the Park and finding an individual can take time. Some of the Park’s cheetahs are fitted with GPS/satellite collars that have a VHF component and are tracked using VHF telemetry.
Tracking starts by pinpointing the cheetah’s signal, the guide then drives visitors to this location by vehicle. Once close enough, the group approaches the animal on foot. The privilege of seeing a cheetah go about its daily activities, completely at ease to humans, can be a life-changing experience.
Cheetahs are wild animals and sightings are not guaranteed. Experienced guides have an 80 – 90% chance of locating a cheetah. Care is taken to ensure that no interference is made by the group in any way and if cheetahs are actively hunting, guides will stay well back in order to minimize interference with any natural behaviour or circumstances.
This activity starts at 07:00 in summer and 08:30 in winter and can last anywhere between 2 to 5 hours. Note that the cheetah tracking activity has an age restriction. Only persons between the ages of 12 to 65 years may participate. Any person older than 65 should present a medical certificate stating that they are fit to undertake a walk in rugged terrain.
San Cave Paintings
This activity offers a glimpse into the world of the people who lived in this area hundreds of years ago. The site dates back some 300 years with paintings of antelope and a predator which is thought to be a cheetah. Visitors are required to walk down a short drainage line in order to reach the main site located in Boesmanskloof (this might be challenging for elderly or frail people). The full activity is about 2 hours long.
There are a number of additional sites that can be visited if time allows. These include paintings of hunters, cows and rock etchings which can be found in the northern reaches of the Park. The drive to and from the paintings offer an opportunity for game viewing. The route to the main site at Boesmanskloof passes through a dolerite boulder field, where species such as Smith’s red rock rabbit, Mountain Wheatear and Pale-winged Starling might be seen amongst the rocks. Cape mountain zebra, kudu and even buffalo may also be spotted.
The morning walks follow the same times as the early morning drives in both summer and winter. Walks can be done in any part of the Park and special requests may determine the routes chosen. Guides generally lead the walk from the camp but sometimes drive to more remote starting points. The main objective of morning walks is to see what one usually misses when driving. Any big game sightings are a bonus but good views of a number of various species are often enjoyed. Apart from the animal sightings, the solitude and serenity provided by being out in nature is often the real highlight of the activity.
Walks are generally conducted at an easy to medium pace and level of fitness, but terrain is often rocky. You will need good walking shoes, a hat, sunscreen and water. Only persons between the ages of 12 to 65 years may participate. Any person older than 65 should present a medical certificate stating that they are fit to undertake a walk in rugged terrain.
Guided Salpeterkop Hike
The guided hike up Salpeterkop can be quite strenuous but the 360 degree view of the surrounding landscapes from the top and the chance to see a bit of history is well worth the effort.
The famous chessboard is a unique piece of history and affords an opportunity to stand where British soldiers once stood and see what they would have seen during the Anglo-Boer War. Salpeterkop is a relatively far drive which provides for an opportunity for game sightings en route, especially in the mornings where a number of nocturnal species can be seen.
This is a difficult hike ascending a steep mountain slope with rocky terrain. Good walking shoes (preferably boots), a walking stick, hat, sunscreen, water and snacks are needed. Age restrictions of 12 to 65 years apply. Individuals over 65 with a medical certificate are welcome to partake in the activity. The hike leaves at 05:00 in summer and 06:30 in winter and is about five hours in duration.
Two walking trails provide a quiet opportunity to enjoy the Park at your own leisure. The Black Eagle Trail, which is the longer of the two at about 2.5km, takes you right up to the rest camp fence and to the summit of the hill above the rest camp.
•Please note that Black Eagle had its name changed to Verreaux’s Eagle several years ago to avoid confusion with another species of Black Eagle in Asia, but the Park has chosen to retain the old name for the trail.
This trail provides an opportunity to enjoy amazing sunsets from the top, as the setting sun highlights the Bankberg Mountains. The views down the valley are incredible! Many lizard species frequent the rocky areas and dassies can be seen sunning themselves or foraging on shrubs. Look out for a troop of baboons that sleep amongst the rocks and which are usually heard throughout the night with their barks and general chattering. There has even been evidence of a caracal lair in this area. The descent of the trail is fairly steep and may not be suitable for very small children or frail people.
The shorter Imbila trail is just 1km in length and provides a good opportunity to stretch your legs on fairly flat terrain. Watch out for the low hanging tree branches in the cool dip through the thicket. Some of the grass and tree species are marked for your identification.
Three 4x4 trails provide views of the Park that would otherwise be inaccessible to visitors. They are available free of charge but can only be driven with 4x4 vehicles in order to prevent vehicles getting stuck, and damage to the tracks. Trails have not been formally graded but most, with the exception of the Umgeni trail, are fairly easy (level 2). All three are one-way direction trails and may be closed temporarily after rain.
This trail is located in the northern section of the Park and is the longest of the three. The start of the trail meanders through a Lycium woodland, this species of tree has a relatively soft wood and is very popular with hole nesting birds. Antelope species of kudu, eland, red hartebeest and gemsbok either browse or graze amongst the trees. Take note of how the vegetation changes into a more scrubby heath once clear of the Lycium woodland area. Here large herds of springbok and black wildebeest can be found grazing. Keep a look out for cheetah, bat-eared fox and aardwolf particularly in the late afternoon in winter. In summer or after good rains the Karoo Iris comes into bloom which covers the plains in a haze of purple and blue.
The view point provides a good opportunity to stretch your legs and survey the landscape and dams below. Have a look and see whether the brown hyena latrine site is active - this can be seen under the large acacia tree near the no entry sign.
This trail is a very good early morning or late afternoon drive. A steep incline up onto a vast plateau makes for some very good sightings of black wildebeest, mountain zebra, springbok, red hartebeest, eland and the odd ostrich. Pink-billed Lark and Ludwig’s Bustard can be seen after the rains. The onset of spring triggers breeding season for birds - look out for the entertaining movement display of the Eastern Clapper Lark as it flutters up and whistles before crashing back down to earth.
Buffalo like to sleep on the ridge before the road begins to descend, but only in winter. Keep an eye out for the flowering Aloe ferox and take note of their growing locations. These aloes tend to grow in areas not easily accessible to herbivores. A steep descent runs along a large dam where animals might be seen drinking. Listen out for the African Rock Pipit with its distinct call on the way out.
The most challenging of the 4x4 trails, Umgeni can either provide a lot of excitement or induce premature aging! This trail takes you along various ridges in the central part of the Park and provides for some amazing views, particularly of the scar left by the big rock which famously rolled down the big hill in 1974. The start of the trail runs parallel to the Wilgerboom River. A number of aardwolf can be seen along this section of the road in the late afternoon. There is also a rocky ridge towards the top end of the road where male lions can sometimes be spotted surveying their territory or just enjoying the cool winds from their lookout point.