Mountain Zebra National Park
Traveling to Mountain Zebra National Park
Mountain Zebra National Park is 3 hours driving north of Port Elizabeth with most of the driving on the N10. The closest city is Craddock, which there is great signage for. Once you get to Cradock, there is signage for Mountain Zebra National Park. You will take the R61 to the entrance of the park, but note this is just the gate and not reception. The main gate is open 7:00am-6:00pm (April 1 – September 30) and 6:00am-7:00pm (October 1-March 31). Reception is in the middle of the park, about a 20 minute game drive from the main gate. Be sure to download offline Google Maps or have a map as there is little service between Port Elizabeth and Craddock!
Mountain Zebra National Park Camping & Accommodation
The park is relatively small in comparison to most main South Africa National Parks as there is only one main rest camp. This is where reception and a small camp store is located. At this rest camp, there are chalets and a camp site. The game viewing and rest camp gate is open 7:00am-6:00pm (April 1st – September 30) and 6:00am-7:00pm (October 1 – March 31). The intimate feel of the small amount of accommodations makes it feel more rural/bush-like. This means not a lot of people can be driving around which is a change from other parks. The lack of cars made the game drives relaxing and the animal encounters all the more special.
There is a beautiful pool area that feels like it is integrated into the surrounding giant rock faces. While we were swimming, we saw troops of baboons climbing all over! Our game ranger also mentioned that in the winter, cheetahs often come near the pool on the rock faces to absorb the sunshine!
Mountain Zebra National Park Cheetah Tracking
Because the park is relatively small, there are a limited amount of roads that people can drive on. That being said, I can’t recommend the game drives enough to access more of the park. There are several options for game drives which include a cheetah tracking specific one- all are about 3 hours long. Booking ahead of time is essential for all game drives because it depends on the reservations whether they have a game ranger available for drives. Cheetah tracking and night game drives are the most popular so sign up for them early!
Our experience with the cheetah tracking was phenomenal. It was a game drive (in the classic 4×4) and it gave our friends the typical African safari feel. We drove on roads completely inaccessible to all other cars, including climbing a high plateau. Along the way we found a huge herd of African Buffalo which was exciting solely because in our regular car, we were afraid to get too close as they are known for being temperamental. But seeing the herd in this large 4×4 with a game ranger that knows their behaviour, we got closer than I would ever dare to.
At various points along the drive, our game ranger Charle got out of the vehicle and used the radio to find the collared cheetahs in the park. Most are collared and this is for conservation tracking purposes. He mentioned there was a mother with three 10-month old cubs that he had hoped to see. Our group agreed that they would be the highlight.
Finding the Cheetah cubs
About an hour into the drive, our first cheetah sighting happened to be the mother and cubs! Max was the first to spot the cheetahs lying down underneath a tree. Because this is a walking safari, we abandoned the car and approached them on foot. As we got closer, the cubs became more playful than any of us could have hoped.
We were with this family for about an hour. The mother was calm with our presence which allowed us to get quite close. The cubs played the entire hour as we must have come at the perfect time in the morning where they were budding with energy. Cheetahs are Max’s favourite animal and we had not seen them during any of our other times in parks, including Kgalagadi! This was an awesome experience that we wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else. If we hadn’t stumbled upon this family, we would have just seen a singular cheetah- but seeing the cubs was beyond sweet.
Overall thoughts on Mountain Zebra National Park
Being somewhat well versed in South Africa National Parks, we have high expectations for a park and Mountain Zebra exceeded expectations. For as many elephants as we saw in Addo Elephant National Park, we saw an equal number of tourists. In contrast, the size of this park did not allow for an overflow of people, which was great. And for the lack of other animal species/quantity of animals in Mountain Zebra National Park, our intimate and close experience with the animals made up for it.
Max and I want to go back to Mountain Zebra National Park, just the two of us, for a long weekend because we loved it so much. It had the perfect ambiance of a great park with great animal sightings. The scenery is breathtaking at every point in the day. There are mountains, valleys, high plateaus, and rivers everywhere. Though we looked and looked for lions, we never saw them (they like to spend time on the Kranskop Loop). But our cheetah experience is the salient memory that we take away. I hope you take the time to visit this beautiful park!
*Please enjoy some of our pictures!
Thanks to The Married Wanderers for the suggestion!