The mystical paintings of the San call to us down the centuries, offering tantalising glimpses of who these hunter-gatherers were. Head to these five Wild parks and reserves to fall under the spell of ancient rock art.
In Southern Africa, the San people created thousands of rock art paintings, leaving us intrigued to this day. How did they survive in this wild land? What did their daily lives entail? What do the mysterious animal-headed figures in the paintings represent?
Good news is that many of the Wild Card national parks and reserves have exceptionally preserved sites on offer. A road trip is definitely in order to see these ancient works of art. We bring you top five rock art sites: from the scenic Drakensberg and Cederberg to ever-popular Kruger and a gem in the Eastern Cape.
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#1: Cederberg Wilderness Area
The Cederberg is home to more than 2,500 rock art sites painted by San and Khoi people. Between 300 and 6,000 years old, these gripping paintings give us a glimpse into the lives of South Africa’s ancient hunter-gatherer people. For scientists, figures of animals and hunting rituals shed light on their culture and how they survived. Many of the sites are easily accessible making the Cederberg and its precious rock art an ideal destination for the whole family. Remember to pack your camera – the area’s many rock formations are truly spectacular. Truitjieskraal Interpretive Trail at Matjiesrivier Nature Reserve features information boards that shed light on the rock art and the area.
#2: Giant’s Castle Nature Reserve
As a World Heritage Site, Giant’s Castle Nature Reserve is undoubtedly one of the best rock art spots in the country. At the reserve’s Main Cave Museum, a quick half hour’s stroll from the resort, visitors have the opportunity to briefly step into the lost world of the San. For a moment, imagine life in the unforgiving wilderness some 5,000 years ago. Daily tours start on the hour from 09:00 to 15:00 and a knowledgeable guide is available for excursions around the museum. Entry to the museum costs R45 per adult and R20 for children (3-12 years). Take note that only 20 visitors at a time will be allowed.
#3: Mountain Zebra National Park
Only two hours’ drive from Port Elizabeth (and 12km outside the town of Cradock) lies Mountain Zebra National Park. Not only is the park a sanctuary for Cape mountain zebras, it also safeguards several San cave paintings. Here at least three rock shelters can be visited for paintings of antelope, baboons and human figures. To view these early treasures, request the assistance of one of the park’s guides. Standing next to art that was created hundreds of years ago is something you will not soon forget.
#4: Golden Gate Highlands National Park
The rocky overhangs of Golden Gate’s picturesque mountains provided ideal shelter for the Khoi and San people. Aside from several rock paintings, primitive stone tools are also scattered throughout the park. To see rock art up close and personal, book your spot for the two-hour guided Herbal Trail at the park’s reception area. The trail is only offered on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, and costs R40 per person.
#5: Kruger National Park
Did you know that nearly 130 rock art sites have been recorded in the Kruger National Park? And with a surface area of 19,633 km², it might well be that many other San paintings are waiting to be discovered. A lot of paintings found in the park depict eland, kudu, giraffe, elephant and rhino – according to the San, these animals had incredible spiritual powers. An unbeatable way to experience some paintings is the guided three-night Bushmans Wilderness Trail near Berg-en-Dal Rest Camp – the nearest entrance is the Malelane Gate.
Rock art etiquette
- Never touch or lean against paintings.
- Never remove or tamper with archaeological artefacts from rock art sites.
- Immediately report vandalism to the appropriate authorities.
- Don’t litter and leave only your footprints behind