May 29th: Mountain Zebra National Park, South Africa
I slept in, getting up at half past six. I had a short couple hour drive about 200km(125 miles) north to Cradock, and just beyond that Mountain Zebra National Park. The drive was one of the more fun roads I had driven with bending turns and rolling hills that seemed to last forever. During my drive I worked my way from the lush coastal forests to the arid Karoo. I made a short stop in Cradock to re-fuel, buy more food, and use the Internet, which unlike most of South Africa was surprisingly quick. This dusty computer in the corner of a small electronic shop finally gave me the opportunity to get the plane tickets for Sarah and I to fly from Cape Town to Durban after we met up. I was then off to Mountain Zebra National Park. I set up my dust-covered tent and went for a short hike to get my legs moving again. In the vast majority of national parks and reserves in South Africa you have to remain in your vehicle when you are in the park, with a few designated areas where you can get out. It is understandable from a liability perspective for the parks because there are a number of dangerous animals most people wouldn’t want to run into on foot. It was hard for me to get used to at first since I am used to the freedom to explore in the parks and forests of the USA. Mountain Zebra National Park was a good mix of the two. It had cordoned off hiking areas that contained no large predators, and the largest area of the park containing roads for viewing from your car.
After dinner I took a short drive on a couple small loops to watch the sunset, but I found much more to keep me occupied. Lo and behold about 15 minutes into the drive I found a pair of the elusive Cape Mountain Zebra grazing on the edge of the mountainside. The Mountain Zebra were hunted into near extinction in the early 20th century with as few as 100 remaining but through conservation efforts after the 1930s the population is now just over 2,000. The mountain zebra are generally shorter and stockier then Burchell’s Zebra and are built for climbing steep terrain. They also have a reddish nose and a dewlap, which is a loose fold of skin on their neck, which aren’t found on Burchell’s Zebra. The rest of the drive the sightings were sparse with a few Kudu and Eland. The mountains are different then any I have seen before with grassy slopes interspersed with giant rolling bald sections of smooth barren rock. The sweet thorn that grows everywhere makes the environment seem all that more harsh.
May 30th: Mountain Zebra National Park
One of the most spectacular sunrises yet, I was up at six and was able to get to the top of the plateau that overlooks the park just as the sun poked its head out from behind the mountains. From the plateau I was able to head out on some short drives to spot animals in the morning light. I was not disappointed and saw herds of black wildebeest and springbok. The highlight of the day came around 10 a.m. when I came across a group of about 10-15 buffalo. The huge, but often shy creatures were packed into a dense thicket and it was hard to get a clear view, but I did spot a few little ones who would occasionally get away from their parents and poke their head out to see what hubbub was all about. During the heat of the day I relaxed in the shade of my tent to enjoy the mountain views and the smaller creatures of the Karoo. My favorite being the small mice that would constantly be popping up on rocks checking if the coast was clear. They also had the amazing ability to navigate up and into sweet thorn trees to munch on the seedpods. With unbelievable speed they would weave their way through the tangle of massive thorns on the branches. The tree also provided them cover from hungry birds with the large thorns preventing a safe landing spot. To cap off the remaining hours of daylight I took a short hike to watch the baboons from afar chase each other around on the giant rocks. I returned to my campsite for another redundant meal, one which I had the last four meals, of bread, cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, sun-dried fruit and buttermilk rusks.