Pack your bags and take a road trip – three parks on a budget! Photo by Mark Dumbleton.

Three parks on just two tanks of fuel? Take a road trip on a student budget. Story and pictures by Mark & Christal Dumbleton

From Johannesburg, it’s a hop to Chelmsford Dam Nature Reserve, a skip to Wagendrift Nature Reserve, and a jump to end the trip at Golden Gate Highlands National Park. Required: two tanks of fuel, one tent, two sleeping bags, the cooler box and your Wild Card.

Chelmsford Dam Nature Reserve, 335km from Johannesburg in a protected corner of KwaZulu-Natal, is home to a wide variety of wildlife, including the rare oribi. Because there are no dangerous large animals, Chelmsford can be explored along serene hiking trails. Active sorts can fish and participate in water sports. Sandford campsite, situated deep in the reserve, overlooks the dam.

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It is just 167km to your next destination, Wagendrift Nature Reserve, with its undulating grassland, wooded kloofs and the imposing ramparts of the Drakensberg to the west. Each campsite right on the edge of the dam seems to be the perfect one.

For the keen birder, Wagendrift is home to over 200 bird species, and for the adventurous, there are trails along the Bushman’s River, boating and fishing.

Golden Gate Highlands National Park in the Maluti Mountains is a 201km drive from Wagendrift. If you pitch your tent in the corner of the campsite, you’ll have a great view of the magnificent sandstone mountain.

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We could have hiked, played tennis, saddled up a horse, rowed a canoe, instead we opted for game viewing and saw black wildebeest, eland, blesbok, springbok, Burchell’s zebra and black-backed jackal, but missed out on oribi and silver fox. It’s particularly good for raptor sightings, with the vulture restaurant offering close-up views of bearded and Cape vultures.

Next morning, we began the 318km journey home, taking away precious memories and hundreds of photographs of three beautiful parts of South Africa.

Bookings: www.sanparks.org or +27 (0)12 428 9111 for Golden Gate Highlands National Park; www.kznwildlife.com or +27 (0)33 845 1000 for Chelmsford and Wagendrift Nature Reserves

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