The Overberg with its vast landscapes, rich birdlife and rugged coastlines must be one of South Africa’s most exquisite areas. Wild traveller Alan Lee and his family set up camp at Bontebok National Park just outside Swellendam for a mid-winter break exploring the surrounding natural treasures. By Alan Lee
The Overberg is an enchanting corner of South Africa, with several diverse national parks and nature reserves. Using Bontebok National Park as our base, we set out to explore the region’s natural riches, from the cairn at the tip of the continent to a tranquil waterfall.
Day 1: Bontebok National Park – Agulhas National Park – De Mond Nature Reserve
Heaven for twitchers
After a long drive from Uniondale, we arrived at Bontebok National Park and pitched our tent at Lang Elsie’s Kraal campsite. Winter here is beautiful, with aloes of various species in flower all over. The nearby Breede River was flowing strongly and the canola and wheat fields surrounding this last remaining patch of renosterveld were lurid green and brilliant yellow. Despite a few passing showers, the weather was sunny and pleasant. In this park winter camping is nothing to fear: you’ll get a quiet campsite with almost no mosquitoes around.
With over 200 bird species, I was quite enamoured of the variety of bird sightings in the park. A pair of Cape robin chats were frequently under foot and the European starlings did a great job of imitating barn owls. We even saw flocks of weavers gathering in the acacias around the camp in the morning and spotted a Klaas’s cuckoo – a sighting I did not expect in the middle of winter.
Our day started with a walk along the Aloe Trail, an easy 3.3km route for the entire family to enjoy. My children loved this trail, especially the small wooden bridge over the first gulley and the many flowering oxalis. Lang Elsie’s story on the board near the historic kraal site was fascinating. Another highlight was the walk along the riverside forest trail through the tunnel of trees – one of which had a patch of army worms resting on the trunk.
A scenic drive
The mission of the day was to set off to Agulhas National Park to visit the southern-most tip of Africa, about 1.5 hours’ drive from Bontebok. We didn’t stay long, but the map of Africa left quite an impression on me.
On our way back to Swellendam, we stopped at De Mond Nature Reserve, about 40km from Cape Agulhas, to see the legendary flocks of terns. Although I didn’t log any terns, a sighting of kelp gulls harassing a fish eagle was a memorable event. The interaction caused quite a stir and some greater flamingos erupted in panic due to the combat in the sky.
The drive through the agricultural lands at this time of year are an ornithological feast. You can easily spot large birds like the sacred ibis, spur-winged goose, helmeted guineafowl and blue crane.
After a full day out, we arrived back at camp before 17:00, with just enough daylight left to prepare dinner and have a warm shower. Under the watchful eye of the camp’s resident genet, we turned in early.
Day 2: Marloth Nature Reserve – Bontebok National Park
Buck and blooms
Our second day at camp kicked off with a relaxing drive along the park’s main loop, where the low renosterveld and fynbos allow for easy wildlife spotting. We’d already ticked off a bontebok sighting at camp, but red hartebeest, mountain zebra, reedbuck and grey rhebok quickly followed. A real bonus was a pair of secretary birds, South Africa’s current Bird of the Year.
Beautiful fields of ericas formed an amazing foreground against the dark slopes of the Langeberg Mountains and Marloth Nature Reserve. We decided to spend our afternoon doing the relatively short but steep hike up to the Duiwelsbos waterfall.
The picnic spot at the base of the trail was an ideal lunch stop, nestled among tall Protea aurea where some hyperactive Cape sugarbirds provided entertainment.
That evening, after early braai boerewors rolls at camp, we explored sections of the nearby trails by torchlight. We came across a fiery-necked nightjar and countless spiders but, sadly, no caracal.
A third full day could easily have been filled with a trip to De Hoop Nature Reserve, but alas, the school bell was warming up in Uniondale, getting ready to summon all for the next school term. The lack of dangerous animals and easy-to-access walking trails make Bontebok National Park a fantastic child-friendly park. Our time here was overall an easy, affordable and pleasant experience.
Also read: Bontebok weekend birding checklist