Get some colour in Bon­te­bok

There is only one thing bet­ter than spend­ing a day in na­ture with fresh air and peace and quiet... an­other day like that. In the Bon­te­bok Na­tional Park, days like th­ese are plenty.

Go! Camp & Drive - - Weekend Break - Text and photos Leon Botha

You don’t re­ally think of Swellen­dam as the cen­tre of the camp­ing world – and that’s un­der­stand­able. Be­cause this town lies halfway be­tween Cape Town and Ge­orge – on the N2 it’s a two-hour drive from both sides – peo­ple from the Mother City shoot through to places like Mos­sel Bay or the Garden Route. The high­way also doesn’t run through the town, but to the right of it. It’s on this stretch of road where you should ease your foot off the ac­cel­er­a­tor be­cause you of­ten see speed cops at the side of the road – some­times with a cam­era and other times to send trucks to the nearby weigh­bridge. Close to this weigh­bridge you drive over the Breede River, and as soon as you’ve crossed it you see the sign for the Bon­te­bok Na­tional Park to the right on a hill. The park runs south of the N2. Bon­te­bok has an ex­cel­lent overnight camp­site. But why just stay the night if you can ex­change the ev­ery­day hus­tle and bus­tle for a week­end in na­ture with the fam­ily? Next to a roar­ing camp­fire...

Lit­tle guy with big shoes

Bon­te­bok is just about 10 km long – the small­est of all the SANParks – but is

unique in more ways than one. As the park’s name sug­gests, the bon­te­bok is the hon­ourary cit­i­zen. Thanks to con­ser­va­tion­ists in the early 20th cen­tury, this an­i­mal has been saved from ex­tinc­tion. There were only 17 of them left be­cause hunters shot them with­out bat­ting an eye, but even more fright­en­ing is that those were the only 17 left in the en­tire world! A con­ser­va­tion area was ini­tially es­tab­lished near Bredas­dorp, but the an­i­mals were later moved to an area next to Swellen­dam, and that’s how the park as we know it came about. To­day there are more than 3 000 bon­te­bokke in the world, about 200 of which live here (the max­i­mum that the re­serve can sus­tain).

Park in the park

The hills around Swellen­dam are cov­ered in wheat and canola, but as you drive through the park’s gate, the landscape changes rad­i­cally: Now you’re sur­rounded by fyn­bos that grows to hip height, but rather keep your eyes on the road be­cause a sign warns to look out for tor­toises. You just get used to all the fyn­bos when you stop at the of­fice about half a kilo­me­tre af­ter the gate. It’s hardly a di­lap­i­dated struc­ture, but thank­fully also not an ex­trav­a­gant, shiny build­ing. It’s partly plas­tered and fin­ished off with stone, and you can see the en­vi­ron­ment was taken into con­sid­er­a­tion with the de­sign and fin­ishes. In­side, two groups are stand­ing in front of the long counter: one of the re­cep­tion­ists is ex­plain­ing to the peo­ple in front of her how to get to the camp­site; the other lady is ask­ing her group to go fetch their pass­ports. They sound Ger­man, and they’re bick­er­ing about whether or not to buy a Wild Card so they can save on the day tar­iff. One of the first things you no­tice is the stuffed bon­te­bok to the left of the counter. It stands on three legs – with one hind leg in the air it looks like it’s try­ing to scratch an itch be­hind its ear.

Vis­it­ing Elsie

Bon­te­bok has only one camp­site, Lang Elsie’s Kraal, and it’s 4,3 km from the >

of­fice, right next to the Breede River. The camp is named af­ter Captain Lang Elsie, a fe­male Hesse­qua chief who ruled in th­ese partsin the 18th cen­tury. In front of the camp­site the veld changes again: Now you start to see trees. A sign at the camp­site’s en­trance in­di­cates the chalets are to the right and the camp­site to the left. The sign is be­tween lush tilt-headed aloes, some of which tower into the sky. The bath­rooms are in the mid­dle of the camp­site, with the stands run­ning next to and op­po­site each other in a half­moon to the left of the build­ing. To the back of the stands in the out­side cir­cle there are trees against a hedge, mak­ing it feel al­most like a kraal. The stands are num­bered, and like with the other SANParks camps, you can choose where you want to stand. Even though there are thick shrubs and trees be­hind the out­side stands, there aren’t ex­actly any shade trees to speak of. Each of the stands have short, wild grass, and it’s nice and even. You can eas­ily push your car­a­van or trailer

(with­out the tow­ing ve­hi­cle) to where you want it. Some of the stands are more pri­vate than oth­ers, but in gen­eral you can’t com­plain about the space. Be­tween the stands are yel­low-painted con­crete blocks a few feet apart, and this al­most dot­ted line in­di­cates the bor­der be­tween you and your neigh­bour. There is enough space to park the long­est car­a­van and tow­ing ve­hi­cle on your stand. There is even enough space to open up all the flaps and there’s enough open space where you can hang out if you don’t want to sit un­der­neath the awning. Be­tween every sec­ond and third stand is a slate slab on a U-shaped stone wall. The stone work is neatly done and sim­i­lar to that of the re­cep­tion of­fice – nicely var­nished and all. There’s a light in the mid­dle of the slab which switches on au­to­mat­i­cally in the evenings be­fore dark. It’s a good thing be­cause you don’t want to stum­ble to the bath­room late at night and an aloe jumps in front of you. Your tap is to the left of the slab with a neat drainage area be­neath with rocks >

stacked on top. The elec­tri­cal socket is be­neath the slab and can be reached from the open U-side. There are stan­dard do­mes­tic sock­ets, and blue car­a­van sock­ets have also been in­stalled but the power ca­bles haven’t been con­nected. It’s great that campers get a choice of sock­ets, be­cause as a rule SANParks stick to car­a­van sock­ets. There are also a few loose-stand­ing braais (with­out grids) if you didn’t pack yours, and your garbage bin is also here, firmly an­chored be­tween two planted wooden poles.

Maybe a lit­tle bit too close for com­fort

The bath­room build­ing is built in the same style as the re­cep­tion of­fice. To the right of the build­ing there are three re­cy­cling bins – one each for plas­tic, glass, and card­board. There are tiles around the sunken basins in the bath­room and a mir­ror above each. There is also a bath­room specif­i­cally for dis­abled peo­ple. The shower cu­bi­cles could be a bit big­ger though. At the door is the seat of a chair that folds flat when you close the door – it re­minds you of a plas­tic garden chair. At the shower side there are hooks against the wall, mak­ing it easy to reach your towel from the shower. The shower cur­tain is also dis­ap­point­ing. The shower side is small, and as you turn on the taps, the shower cur­tain takes on a life of its own. Even­tu­ally the cold cur­tain sticks to you like a wet wash­cloth – then it’s pulling off with the one hand while soap­ing up with the other. Be­tween the male and fe­male sides there’s an area where you can send your teen to do the dishes.

Birds of a feather

It’s not just the re­cep­tion staff who make you feel at home; the birds in the camp­site also do their bit. As you un­pack your braai, hordes of th­ese lit­tle guys in­vite them­selves over and feast on the left­overs on the grid. The one bird is more for­ward than the other. A wag­tail takes a short­cut over your feet, while robins, boubous and fis­cal fly­catch­ers also come to ea­gerly in­tro­duce them­selves. Be­hind the bath­rooms is the river­bank. But on the way there, in the road, is a boom in­di­cat­ing “no. 31-41”. It also shows no car­a­vans are al­lowed on th­ese stands. The bank is sprawl­ing lawn, and to the left, away from the water, there are short, planted stumps in­di­cat­ing th­ese few stands. You’re only al­lowed to camp here in sum­mer. Be­hind the lawn is a small hill that’s worth­while to climb. From the top you see how the river kinks against the grass, with the camp­site be­hind it. Re­mem­ber your cam­era. You can also fish in Bon­te­bok. On the way to the camp­site you drive past a sec­tion of the river­bank that’s in­tended for an­glers. Ac­cord­ing to the Bon­te­bok species list there are seven en­demic fish species and six in­va­sive ones. The former in­cludes fresh­wa­ter mul­let and full moony, while black bass and cat­fish are amongst the un­in­vited guests. Be­sides the bon­te­bokke, there are also red har­te­beest and Cape moun­tain ze­bras, as well as big­ger birds like the sec­re­tary bird. From the camp­site, away from the re­cep­tion of­fice side, there’s a cir­cu­lar route if you want to go in search of game. But it doesn’t re­quire much search­ing, be­cause the low fyn­bos makes it dif­fi­cult for any an­i­mal to hide. The dirt road is nar­row and in­tended for one-way traf­fic, but you can drive it with your Yaris. One late af­ter­noon we saw a buck or three but the next morn­ing the an­i­mals were lit­tered to the right and left of the same road. There are no an­i­mals that pose a threat to you, so you can ex­plore the area on your bike with peace of mind. There are no real hills and cy­cling here is pure plea­sure.

HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS. Be­sides the masses of res­i­dent bon­te­bok, other species also call the park home, such as the red har­te­bees (left).

A FEATHER FOR ALL WEATHER. Bon­te­bok Na­tional Park prob­a­bly feels like a sum­mer get­away dur­ing the winter for the birds. They are abun­dant, de­spite the chilly tem­per­a­tures, and bird­watch­ers are in for a treat. Ex­pect to tick wag­tails, boubous, robins, fis­cal fly­catch­ers and sec­re­tary birds off your list.

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