Looking for a stopover on a long road trip? These national parks and nature reserves are ideal if you want to break your journey. What’s more, there’s ample reason to dwell longer.

Travelling North/South on the N1: Karoo National Park

The Karoo, an endless landscape of koppies and scrub which has to be driven through? Not so. Take the time to get to know it and you’ll be amazed at the variety, colour and originality that lie beneath the surface. The Karoo National Park, situated outside Beaufort West, is by far the best place to stay between Laingsburg and Bloemfontein.

The main rest camp is only 12km from the N1, but you may as well be on another planet. The park boasts unparalleled sunsets and incredible stars, as well as fascinating fossils and an ecosystem which is quite unlike anything else in the country. – Nick Dall

Accommodation

There are three styles of Cape Dutch accommodation, all of which include breakfast in the restaurant. The 18 family cottages have two bedrooms and sleep a maximum of six people, while the other 29 units sleep between two and four people.

The campsite is a verdant contrast to the greys and browns of the Karoo. Its 24 stands, each with power, are secluded from one another. There’s a communal kitchen and laundromat.

The rest camp at Karoo National Park is a convenient stopover on the N1. During the golden hour, the park is particularly scenic. Photo by Kate De Pinna.

If you have one hour before sunset

The Karoo is at its most beautiful in the interstices of the day, when the sun is low on the horizon. At these times colours which seemed drab in the heat of the day come alive in a symphony of ochre, rose and gold. Take a drive into the game area, find yourself some animals, gemsbok, black rhino, or even lions if you’re lucky. Or simply stop the car and, with the engine off and the windows rolled down, take in the scenery: the colours, the sounds, the smells and the solitude. This is the Karoo.

Kick start your day

The area in and around the rest camp warrants exploration on foot. Being so lush and forested, it is home to some of the best birding in the park. Keep an eye out for barbets, bulbuls, robins and larks. If you’re into water-birds, there’s an understated hide next to a small vlei, a lovely place to greet the day. The Fossil Trail is a 400#m self-guided history lesson which allows you to better understand the palaeontology and geology of this fascinating region.

Book it

SANParks central reservations +27 (0)12 428 9111

Travelling to the Eastern Cape: Goukamma Nature Reserve

A mere 15km west of Knysna you’re in for a multi-faceted surprise. You will love the dense milkwoods, yellowwoods and candlewoods in the coastal forest of Goukamma Nature Reserve, with some of the highest vegetated dunes in South Africa. The coastal fynbos and extensive dunefields stretch along a gorgeous beach and coastline of 14km. The adjacent Marine Protected Area extends seawards for 1,8km, protecting numerous marine species. Then there’s the Goukamma River and estuary, and the unique Groenvlei Lake which has no in-flowing river and no link to the sea. – Romi Boom

Spend the night

Mvubu Bushcamp cottage in the milkwood forest on the shores of Groenvlei lake has spectacular views, two en-suite bedrooms and an open-plan lounge/kitchen/dining-room area. There are also charming cottages with river and sea views. On the Buffalo Bay side of Goukamma, thatched cottages sleeping four, with modern decor and facilities, overlook the river and estuary. You will have a private lapa with your own braai facilities and, for chilly nights, there’s an indoor fireplace.

Special sightings

There’s a cormorant roost at the point at Buffalo Bay. Swift and sandwich terns abound and, if you look carefully, you will sometimes spot Arctic and roseate terns. Two nights before our stay, at about 21h00, a honeybadger was seen crossing the N2. Travellers are cautioned to drive carefully, since the animals follow a corridor into the pine forests.

If you have one hour before sunset

The far side of the river has been zoned as a wilderness or no development zone. Take the pontoon across the river and hike the 6.5km Bush Pig Trail through the coastal milkwood forest and along the jeep track. If you have about three hours, a circular route will link you up with the coast and you can climb up one of the dunes, perhaps getting lucky with a humpbacked dolphin sighting. You return to your chalet along the beach, wading hip-high through the river mouth. If time is of the essence, and provided the tide is out, consider stretching those legs with some rock-pooling.

Kick start your day

Early mornings are usually windstill on the river, which is part of the Marine Protected Area. With whisps of steam rising from the water, this is the perfect time to go rowing in one of the sit-in canoes and paddle alongside spur-winged and Egyptian geese. Engage in a spot of birding and look out for the three kinds of kingfishers that occur here, malachite, giant and brown-hooded.

If you’re making your way to the Eastern Cape along the N2, stay over at Goukamma and start your day with an early morning paddle. Photo courtesy CapeNature

Book it

CapeNature Central Reservations +27 (0)87 087 8250

Take a breather between Gauteng and Durban: Wagendrift Nature Reserve

With big skies, undulating hills and a picturesque dam, Wagendrift Nature Reserve is an ideal spot to break a journey. A stone’s throw from the N3 near Estcourt, the attractive reserve takes you quite by surprise. The landscape is rolling grassveld backed by the muscular ramparts of the Drakensberg. It gets its name from a ford in the Bushman’s River used by the transport wagons of old on their journey from Port Natal to the goldfields of the Witwatersrand. Wagendrift comprises a rustic resort, large dam and 980-hectare park, which incorporates the wild Moor Park Reserve. – Justin Fox

Special sightings

The Wagendrift area is the world’s only habitat for a yellow-flowered shrub, Calpurnia woodii. Look out for raptors such as martial, Verreaux’s and African fish eagle. Makhabeni Hill, overlooking Moor Park, is one of the oldest iron-age sites in KwaZulu-Natal and dates back almost a millennium. The southern side of the dam boasts fossilised trees lying exposed above ground.

Spend the night

There are two spacious caravan/camping grounds with power points and good ablution facilities. The smaller of the two is open only during high season. The sites are well maintained and set on lawns stretching down to the water’s edge.

If you have one hour before sunset

If you arrive late and only have an hour or so before sunset, take a stroll through the campsites and along the banks of the dam. Be sure to carry binoculars as the birdlife is prolific, more than 215 species have been recorded. Take along a camera, too, as the sunset reflections fill the dam with colour. Boating is the main activity and the Bushman’s Boating Club has its club house in the reserve. Fishing is popular with scaly, bluegill, bass, carp and eel constituting the main catches.

Kick start your day

In the morning, before setting off on the next leg of your journey, how about tackling the 3,5km, self-guided Furrow Trail in Moor Park. It follows the gnashing Bushman’s River through a picturesque kloof and beside an irrigation furrow built in 1903. There’s plenty of game in this section of the reserve, so keep your eyes peeled for the likes of black wildebeest, zebra, blesbuck, mountain reedbuck and bushbuck.

Book it

Reserve campsites directly with Wagendrift on +27 (0)72 800 3893

What could be more refreshing than a stopover at the water’s edge? Wagendrift Dam is situated just off the N3. Photo by Justin Fox.