It got very cold the last night in Drakenberg. So when we drove to our next destination we were looking for two things: a warm B&B with WiFi. We found a wonderful place in Bloemfontein, The Acacia Lodge, where we slept for two nights. Bloemfontein is a nice stop, it still feels like a village while it’s definitely a city.
Since we shouldn’t get to used to all that luxury we drove to Mountain Zebra National Park. This park is located in the beautiful Karoo just outside of Cradock. With a name like this you can guess what kind of animals you’ll find here; a lot of Mountains Zebras. The park was founded to save these animals from extinction. They started with only three remaining animals and now there are plenty of them. In other parks you mainly find the plain zebra (also called the Burchell’s zebra). The Mountain zebra looks pretty different. Because of their large ears and round head they look a bit like a donkey. Furthermore, the stripes on their legs run all the way through and they haven’t got stripes on their belly.
We arrived in the park in the afternoon and picked a spot on the campsite. The campsites are all on this little square and means you’re standing right next to your neighbours. This is how we met a lovely couple from Port Elizabeth. After a chat we decided to do an evening drive. The park itself is not that big but the views on the Karoo, the huge mountains and the diversity of the animals make it feel like a proper game park.
That evening we went to the north, where most of the animals live. You first drive up a steep mountain after which you’re rewarded by a drive through green plains full of blesbok, black wildebeest (first time ever we saw them), mountain zebra, springbok, and red hartebeest. We even saw a caracal just outside of the camp. At the end of the drive it started to rain a bit. To prevent our Cape Vidal adventure, we drove to the campsite because we just washed our clothes that afternoon and they were still hanging outside. When we arrived at the campsite our clothes were gone. The neighbours which we didn’t met before had been so kind to take our clothes inside. How kind is that!
Mountain Zebra Park not only has antelope but also five cheetahs, seven lions and a number of black rhinos. What is unique about this park is that you can even go on a cheetah tracking adventure with a ranger. That is what we did the next morning.
At 7.30AM we all gathered at the reception. Two of the five cheetahs in the park have got a collar. Today we went looking for the female. We drove to the mountains and the ranger stepped out of the car multiple times to listen to the beeps that his antenna made. If you hear any beeps you know that she was within a range of two kilometer. The mountains and the rocks made it hard because they reflect the signal. We drove into the mountain and heard a beep. But after that the signal became weak again. We drove back and forth a few times and then we decided to walk up the mountain. To lower our expectations the ranger said that it was going to be a long and hard walk and that there was a chance that we wouldn’t find her at all. But everyone agreed to try it anyway. We got out of the car and walked up the steep mountain slope.
Finally: the cheetah
When we got up the signal became better. At one point the ranger said that she was nearby and that we had to look for a head sticking out the bushes. Suddenly the ranger found her. She was hidden away in the bush. We stopped at a five meter distance and could admire her. She was a bit nervous at first but after a while she calmed down and layed down on the ground. We’ve sat with her for a while and we could ask a lot of questions to the ranger. What an experience! The cheetahs in this park behave like leopards. They live in the mountains and not on the plains like you see in the documentaries. This is due to the presence of the lions in the park which prefer hunting on the plains. They adapt very well to this environment and often have cubs. Since most of these cubs survive here they are relocated to other parks.
Spot the black rhino
In the afternoon we relaxed a bit near the pool at a picnic spot. We then went on a game drive hoping to spot the black rhino. There are three 4×4 loops that you can take in the park. We took the Juriesdam Trail which has got a steep and narrow road in the beginning of the trail. After engaging in low gear 4×4 we managed to get up this almost vertical track. Once on the mountain everything is completely flat and green. Since only a few people take the 4×4 trails you are often the only one on the road. Suddenly we saw a large greyish animal in the distance. We grabbed the binoculars and saw that is was indeed a black rhino! We drove a little bit closer. He was on his guard but didn’t walk away so we could see him amazingly well. What a privilege to spend more than an hour with a black rhino!
A hidden gem in the Karoo
The next morning we did a morning drive through the mountains (where we saw another black rhino). Mountain Zebra National Park is really beautiful. They have so many special animals that you don’t see anywhere else. Furthermore you have different landscapes and views of empty plains and mountains. This park is a hidden gem in the Karoo. After all of this we drove on to the Valley of Desolation.