In celebration of 2009’s National Park Week (I had no idea there was such a thing), SANParks has announced that all South Africans will have free access to national parks for one week running from 14-20 September.

According to SANParks, the objective of SANParks Week is to:

…cultivate a culture of pride in all South Africans in their relationship with the country’s natural, cultural and historical heritage, under the established theme “Know Your National Parks” and the feature element of the project is free access to all South African day visitors (especially people from communities around the parks) carrying an official Identity Document, while scholars and young persons under 16 years of age, will be allowed entry, without the requirement for proof of identity.

Now, down in the Cape we may not have easy access to parks like the famous Kruger National Park, but we certainly do have a few of our own very spectacular variety.  I wondered how many Capetonians have been to all of them… so I’ve put together a list, in order of proximity (within a limit of 400km from Cape Town).

Here’s to visiting them all (though not necessarily in the space of one week!)

TMNP (Table Mountain National Park).

A unique feature of the TMNP is that it is primarily an open access Park with only three points where conservation fees are payable, Cape of Good Hope, Boulders and Silvermine, the rest of the Park is open access and free for all to enjoy.

Situated at the south-western tip of Africa, the Table Mountain National Park (TMNP) encompasses the incredibly scenic Table Mountain Chain stretching from Signal Hill in the north to Cape Point in the south and the seas and coastline of the peninsula.

The narrow finger of land with its beautiful valleys, bays and beaches is surrounded by the waters of the Atlantic Ocean in the west and the warmer waters of False Bay and has within its boundaries two world-renowned landmarks – majestic Table Mountain and the legendary Cape of Good Hope.

Normal rates for SA citizens: R70 per adult, per day or R10 per child, per day.

West Coast National Park

Location: about 100km from Cape Town, along the West Coast road (R27).

Just inland from the secluded harbour of Saldanha Bay one finds the azure waters of the Langebaan Lagoon, focal point of the West Coast National Park. Thousands of seabirds roost on sheltered islands, pristine golden beaches stretch endlessly into the early morning mist and brooding salt marshes are home to vast concentrations of migrant waders from the northern hemisphere.

During the spring the strandveld is embroidered with a tapestry of multi-hued flowers, while in the Postberg section many antelope are to be seen in a setting that is as unique as it is idyllic.

Being flower season, the tariffs are higher than the rest of the year, and you’d be saving yourself R38 per person, per day or R26 per child, per day.

Agulhas National Park

Slightly further afield, approximately 230 km from Cape Town, on the East Coast, you can also stand at the southern-most tip of Africa, located in the Agulhas National Park.

Geographical extremes capture the imagination. From ancient mariners to contemporary mankind, the quest has always been to reach the poles, sail around the tips of continents, conquer the highest peaks and dive to the ultimate depths. This is the same spirit that captivated the explorers of yesteryear who braved one of the most challenging sea crossings of their time: the Atlantic-Indian Ocean crossing via Cape Agulhas.

As the southern-most tip of Africa, it has always had its mysteries and adventure, and still captures the imagination of contemporary explorers.

There is no conservation fee for the park, but you’ll pay R15 per adult, per day (half that for kids) to enter the Lighthouse Museum.

Bontebok National Park

Location:  about 6km from the picturesque and historic town of Swellendam, 240 km from Cape Town (along the N2).

Bontebok National Park is a place of simplistic beauty and peaceful charm. The majestic Langeberg Mountains provide a picturesque backdrop for this Park of colorful riches. A part of the Cape Floral Kingdom, now heralded as a world heritage site, Bontebok National Park always offers something in bloom.

The Park is proud to promote its achievements in biodiversity conservation, from the endangered fynbos veld type, coastal Renosterveld to the namesake bontebok!

Normal entry fee: R18 per person, per day.

Tankwa Karoo National Park

Location: inland, about 180km from Ceres and approximately 330km from Cape Town.

Tankwa Karoo National Park is situated on the southern boundary of the Northern Cape with the Roggeveld Escarpment in the East, Cederberg in the West, and Klein Roggeveld Mountains in the South.

Just a four hour drive from Cape Town brings you to this unique national park situated within the Succulent Karoo Biome where you’ll find rare and endangered plant species, rich endemic birdlife, and landscapes that will take your breath away – from the sheer cliffs of the Roggeveld Escarpment to the moonscapes of the Tankwa Desert.

Not a huge saving here – the usual tariff for entry is R18 per person, per day.

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