Yesterday, on a summery, blue-skied Sunday, I was lounging in the Brede River, dodging dragonflies and imagining all the different kinds of fish circling my feet.
Today, I’m back in the office, writing this for you in the hopes that you’ll begin to appreciate the beauty on your doorstep!
Forget ten days in Thailand or Mauritus-by-ship – there’s a catalogue of fantastic, budget-conscious holiday opportunities all over South Africa.
Believe it or not, SANParks is a government entity that actually works – and particularly well, at that.
I’ve been taking advantage of our immense national parks for a while now, and I have yet to come across a single example of neglect or decay – the facilities are all immaculate.
Hier kom die bokke
Bontebok National Park lies just off the N2 outside of Swellendam, SA’s third-oldest town (after Cape Town and Stellenbosch).
The park is inconspicuous, it’s renosterveld vegetation blending in with the surrounding hills. It’s eerily still, belying the noisy grain mills grinding away on the opposite side of the national highway.
It’s misleadingly vast, spanning a range large enough to house its namesake, the timid and once-endangered bontebok.
A few bokkies graze around the campsite. Credit: Mikail Baker
SANParks claims that when the park was founded, only 20 wild individuals remained. Today, it boasts a healthy population of 160, many of which enjoy grazing in the campsites.
Accommodation is offered in four varieties: regular campsites, riverside campsites, small chalets and family-sized cabins.
A view of the swimming area alongside the campsite. Credit: Rizqah Baker
The campsite is named after Lang Elsie, a famed female Khoe-Khoe chief, said to have lived on the spot a few hundred years ago.
Being a lover of all things green and living, my site of choice rested on the banks of the murky Brede River, complete with a moveable braai and panoramic views of the Langberg mountains.
The park offers spectacular self-drive game drives, easy for an offroad vehicle and traversable even for my trusty little Opel.
Aside from the bontebokkies, you’re also likely to see red hartebeest and grey rhebuck.If you’re lucky – or patient – you might even catch a brief glimpse of one of eight Cape mountain zebra. It’s also a birder’s paradise, with over 200 species calling the Overberg gem home.
A pair of tortoises at the campsite. Credit: Rizqah Baker
The river is prime for angling, and avid canoers are welcome to take their equipment along. Alternatively, if it’s relaxation you’re desperate for, the only noises you’ll hear under the stars are the chuckles of toddlers around the fire, the whistles of frogs and the occasional rustle of a mouse through the bush.
The park offers three walking trails through the veld, as well as a couple of cycling routes. The two shorter walks, the Acacia and Aloe trails, are quick and easy, with the latter offering surreal views of the landscape. Conveniently, it ends back at the river campsite.
It's not hard to tell why it's called the Aloe Trail. Credit: Rizqah Baker
The main campsite features an ablution block complete with hot showers and rudimentary laundry facilities. I can’t guarantee that you’ll shower alone, though, as I did speed-shower my way through an encounter with a baboon spider.
If you’re looking to go a more natural way, however, the fresh, crisp waters of the Brede make for an unorthodox bathtub!
Artisan bread and archaic architecture
The town itself is a typical dorpie, with all the shops lining the main road. Anyone who knows this town knows that it’s best-hid secrets are out of sight, but some are in plain view.
In recent years, an Italian joint called Tredici has become one of the town’s culinary hotspots, offering fine dining and novelty shopping at reasonable prices.
The building is impossible to miss from the N2, and is worth a visit for lunch before the drive home. Their breads are so good that you might be tempted to make the trip every weekend just for another bite!
If it’s history you’re in to, the Drostdy Museum offers a window into the history of the grand old town. The entire town is a window into the past, with classic Dutch-inspired architecture being the defining theme.
This is the best part
No, really, this is the best part: Bontebok national Park is only a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Cape Town, along either the N1 or N2.
In just a few hours, you can go from an office chair behind a screen to a camping chair under the stars.
The N1 is by far the more scenic route, taking you through the Du Toitskloof Pass, Worcestor, Robertson and Ashton, providing ample opportunity for padstal stops and wine tastings along the way. Take full advantage of the farm stalls – you really never know what you might find.
Watch out for hidden traffic cameras, often painted green to blend in with the surrounding trees! Nobody likes coming home to a fat fine.
Most of all, enjoy the journey. It may be brief, but it is beautiful, and will remind you that you don’t have to go far to find something amazing. If you’re from Cape Town, though, you probably know that already!
WATCH: A timelapse of the Acacia Trail at the park: