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Nature reserves near Swellendam

Top 5 Nature and Game Reserves near Swellendam

With a backdrop of magnificent mountains, the picturesque Western Cape town of Swellendam offers a serene escape for any traveler seeking natural beauty and historical charm.  Established in the 1700s, it is recognized as one of the oldest urban settlements in South Africa; and you’ll see many lovingly maintained Cape Dutch buildings along the streets. A handsome, pure white Neo-Gothic church sits at its center.

Yet, it’s beyond the town where true splendor unfolds. From August to September, fields of canola flowers paint the countryside yellow, while in winter, the highest peaks don a cloak of frost and snow. Make Swellendam your sanctuary for a week, and you’ll be just a stones-throw away from numerous scenic nature reserves, both large and small. Read on for our top five picks.

  1. Bontebok Nature Reserve

Just 5kms from town, the Bontebok Nature Reserve is a must-see, primarily for its pretty fields of fynbos (A heather-like habitat that bursts forth in flower during the months of September to December)

This tiny 30km2 reserve is well known for its small population of mountain zebras and the once critically endangered Bontebok (a handsome mid-sized antelope with a striking brown and white coat). If not for the conservation efforts of this park, there is little doubt the Bontebok would now be extinct.  Keep an eye open and you might also see blue cranes, red hartebeest bushbuck, secretary birds, and mongooses.

You can drive around the reserve in no time at all, but to get the most from it, you should stroll along the 4 designated, and easy-to-do, hiking trails.

Bring a mountain bike if you have one. Bring a canoe too. The beautiful Breede river forms the southern boundary to the reserve, and is a great place for a swim, a paddle, or a picnic.

  1. Marloth Nature Reserve

Marloth Nature Reserve backs onto Swellendam’s suburbs and is a wonderful place to ramble and experience the forests and mountains of the Southern Cape. A strong pair of calf muscles is a must if you want to reach any of peaks atop the imposing Langeberg Mountains. But fear not if you have skinny legs. There are shorter and far less strenuous paths available.

Expect to see gorgeous stands of Afromontain forests and seasonally flowery fynbos, and if you visit in summer, you’ll love cooling down in the numerous natural plunge pools and waterfalls found throughout the park.

Observant, and lucky visitors might see mountain zebras, Baboons, and bushbucks, whilst birders have some 200 or more species to keep an eye out for.

  1. De Hoop

Less than an hour’s drive south from Swellendam is the beautiful De Hoop coastal Nature Reserve; a place of picturesque dune fields, beautiful beaches, lovely landscapes, and more whales (June to November with a peak in August and September) than you could possibly hope to count. Don’t go there thinking it’s a big game park though. Yes, you’ll likely see Mountain Zebras, ostriches, and herds of giant eland, but there’ll be no bumping into any lions, giraffe, or elephants.

Instead, there are numerous mountain-bike and hiking trails to keep you occupied; some short and easy; others long and hard. The best of the hikes is the 5-day, 4-night ,55 km aptly named Whale Trail. Book well ahead of your planned adventure, as it can be very popular in whale season.

Because De Hoop also includes one of the largest Marine protected areas in all of Africa, snorkeling in tidal pools and sheltered bays can be a real treat in summer.

  1. Grootvadersbosch

Just 45 minutes east from Swellendam is the pretty little Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve; a place of towering mountains and old-growth evergreen forests.

The Afromontain forests of the Southern Cape are lush and atmospheric, reminiscent of the rainforests found in the tropics, but in winter they can be cold enough to chill the bones.  Mosses cling to the trunks of lofty trees, whilst giant tree ferns cast further shade over the numerous available hiking trails.

You can amble through these woodlands or choose to take a path beyond the treeline and out onto the open Langeberg Mountains, where, in spring, flowery fynbos covers the landscape in a fragrant coat of heather-like plants.

Other than birdwatching, you won’t see a great deal of wildlife, but those with a keen eye might spot bushpigs, bushbucks, and baboons.

  1. De mond

It’ll take you just over an hour to drive from Swellendam to the coastal nature reserve of De Mond. A drive well worth doing.

Once there, you can explore this small (less than 1000 hectare) reserve on foot.

A 7km circular route guides you across the Heuningnes River, through landscapes of dune forest, fynbos, and saltmarshes, where waders and waterfowl can be seen in abundance.

De Mond’s beaches and estuary mouth are particularly beautiful, and if you find yourself there in whale season (June to November), sightings of these giant marine mammals from the shoreline are almost guaranteed.

 

This article was written by Dale R Morris from the SafariBookings Expert Panel.

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