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The Western Cape is probably most well known for being home to Cape Town and to world class vinyards and winelands. However, that’s not all there is to this area, whilst it is not possible to see the big 5 in the Western Cape, there are a number of nature reserves and wilderness areas that offer great opportunities to view mammals and birdlife. Whale watching in Hermanus is definitely an activity not to be missed if your visit coincides with theirs.
Cape Town is a multicultural city with something to appeal to all tastes. Whilst most visitors spend only a couple of days in the city, there is much to keep you busy if you want to plan a longer stay.
As well as some of the well known attractions such as a visit to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned and the V&A Waterfront with it’s shops, restaurants, museums and other attractions, Cape Town also offers some less visited spots.
Cape Town is home to the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden, a World Heritage site, which is home to over 22,000 indigenous plants. The Table Mountain National Park, home to Table Mountain itself also contains around 2000 plant species and is recognised as one of the worlds six floral kingdoms. At the most southerly point of the park lies Cape Point, an area that is covered in endemic plants and surrounded by scenic bays and beaches.
For those that enjoy the finer things in life, then a visit to this area is a must. The area is very picturesque and in addition to the vineyards offering wine tastings along the route, the area is also characterized by some amazing mountains and beautiful scenery that is home to a number of bird species.
The Jonkersburg Nature Reserve can be found along the route and offers some great hiking and cycling routes.
The Lynedoch EcoVillage, the first ecologically designed socially mixed community in South Africa is located just outside Stellenbosch. It was created as a place where South Africans can all live in peace together and in harmony with nature. Learning is a crucial element of the strategy for the village and can be seen in practice at the site.
Paarl Mountain Nature Reserve is a beautiful picnic spot and also boasts some fantastic walking trails amongst some beautiful scenery.
Between June and November each year, the Overburg town of Hermanus is home to calving whales. These wonderful creatures can be easily viewed from the town itself, although it can get very busy.
The Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve is reputed to have the most complex biodiversity on the planet, including nearly 2000 plant species, birdlife, wild horses and whales. There are day hikes and overnight trails for the more adventurous. It is also possible to hire mountain bikes within the reserve.
Grootbos Private Nature Reserve offers a wealth of activities for the visitor. Of particular interest is the fynbos garden that has been created on the site. The owners of the reserve work very closely with the local community and to that end created the Green Futures College. This education facility seeks to train unskilled and unemployed people from the communities surrounding the reserve in fynbos landscaping, horticulture and ecotourism.
The De Hoop Nature Reserve is part of the worlds smallest and most threatened plant kingdoms, the Cape Floral Kingdom. It is an area of particular conservation interest, especially for the lowland fynbos. It has an estimated 1500 plant species, 108 of which are threatened and 34 species which are endemic to De Hoop. In addition the reserve boasts a number of mammal & bird species. The southern white whales can also be seen from De Hoop, as well as dolphins and seals.
The Bontebok National Park was created in 1931 to protect the bontebok when it’s numbers were estimated as being as low as 30. Thankfully the creation of the park was a success and the bontebok along with a number of other antelope and zebra can be found within the parks boundaries.
The Cheetah Preservation Foundation runs the Cango wildlife ranch, a breeding and education facility where it is possible to view cheetahs, crocodiles and Bengal tigers at close range.
For visitors to the Western Cape the Garden Route is a must, the breathtaking scenery and diversity of wildlife offers an amazing journey. From beaches to inland lagoons and waterfalls, from mountains to valleys, the Garden Route offers it all. There are also activities galore, from mountain biking and hiking to canoeing and birding. The Garden Route has something to appeal to all it’s visitors. The route continues up the coast along the edge of Eastern Cape.
This private nature reserve offers visitors the opportunity to see a variety of species. Since 1996 the reserve owners have been replacing the farmland that had previously characterized the area with wildlife. In 2000 it opened it’s doors to the public and since then has been home to a number of species including elephants, rhino, bontebuck, giraffe, buffalo and eland and also incorporates a lion sanctuary and has some fascinating soil and rock art. The reserve also runs a ‘wild’ experience which is an opportunity for local communities surrounding the reserve to find out more about their natural surroundings.
Wilderness National Park offers visitors the opportunity to get out amongst nature and to hike or enjoy watersports in the lakes, rivers or beaches that characterize the park. There are a number of walking and hiking trails to suit all levels of fitness with a number of overnight trails to challenge the more experienced hiker.
The Goukamma Nature Reserve and Marine Protected Area comprises of a long beach and a dune field with some of the highest vegetated dunes in the country. The Goukamma river and estuary and the Groenvlei lake are also all found within the nature reserve. Within the marine protected area it is often possible to see dolphins and whales. There are also a number of hiking trails appropriate for all levels.
As well as offering visitors a great location from which to enjoy the sights and sounds of the Krysna Lagoon, Featherbed Nature Reserve is home to the blue duiker breeding programme, one of the smallest antelope species in the world, the endangered Krysna Seahorse and the Krysna Loerie. The reserve is only accessible by boat and the number of visitors are strictly controlled to ensure that the area is well protected.
The Swartberg Nature Reserve is only accessible with a raised or 4WD vehicle. The reserve has been created to conserve the mountain catchments and the water yields in the region. The reserves vegetation and scenery are spectacular within the reserve and it’s a great destination from which to explore the Karoo. With over 100km of trails, it’s a hikers paradise.
The Karoo National Park covering an area of around 33,000 hectares is an area of unforgiving landscape. Species have had to adapt to live in these harsh conditions and today it boasts a wide variety of wildlife, including bat-eared foxes, hyrax, caracal, black rhino, cape mountain zebra, burchells zebra and a large number of antelope species. The area also has a large number of endemic species. As the vegetation within the park is sparse, it’s often much easier to spot wildlife than in some of the more densely vegetated parks and reserves.
At the heart of this park which covers an area of over 30,000 hectares is the Langebaan Lagoon. The park protects wetlands and is also a very important site in the breeding of seabirds. This park is truly a ornithologists dream! During the springtime the flowering plants create a rich carpet of colour which is stunning.
The Cederberg Wilderness Area is a fabulous place for hikers and climbers. As well as the dazzling vegetation to be found here, within the area there are some excellent examples of San rock art. Cedar tree replanting is carried out within the park in a bid to try and halt the decline of the species. A leopard management initiative is also run here, with the aim of promoting the species by minimizing conflict between stock farming and nature conservation.
© ecoTravel Africa 2011