South African wildlife experiences
There is nothing quite like the African bush, and no better place in the world for big game. Besides its renowned national parks, South Africa boasts a range of private reserves, all offering excellent wildlife and bird watching.
Or join an overland excursion or guided safari, where you can sit back and concentrate on spotting the game while someone else does the driving.
For an absolutely typical game experience, you'll need to visit the lowveld of the Limpopo, Mpumalanga, North West or KwaZulu-Natal provinces, where elephants lumber gracefully through the bush, and lions rest in the heat of the day after a long night's hunting.
In Gauteng province, little more than an hour's drive from the urban jungles of Johannesburg and Pretoria, you can see lion, elephant, buffalo and hundreds more species in their natural environments.
In the Western Cape, with its different climate and vegetation, you won't find elephant or lion, but you will see springbok, Cape mountain zebra, bontebok, black wildebeest and many others.
The Eastern Cape is transitional between the Western Cape and the lowveld game areas. The province is fast becoming a favourite safari destination, not least because of its malaria-free status. The Addo Elephant National Park is constantly being enlarged and will extend over a huge range of biomes, from marine to mountain. There are also some fantastic private reserves in this province, most notably Shamwari.
Golden Gate National Park in Free State province is well known for high altitude game such as eland and black wildebeest.
The Northern Cape is very arid and definitely an acquired taste, but there are some wonderful game destinations. Augrabies Falls National Park is mostly scenic, but does have some excellent animal and bird life. The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, Africa's first cross-border park, is famed for its huge, black-maned Kalahari lions and for the elegant gemsbok, or oryx, which is found there in abundance.
South Africa has the third-highest level of biodiversity in the world, boasting seven major terrestrial habitat types, or ecological life zones, with distinct environmental conditions and related sets of plant and animal life.
Some 10% of the world's flowering species are found in South Africa, and it's the only country in the world that has an entire plant kingdom within its borders.
The Cape Floral Region, one of South Africa's eight World Heritage sites, comprises eight protected areas stretching from the Cape Peninsula to the Eastern Cape, cutting across spectacular mountain and ocean scenery and containing some of the richest plant biodiversity in the world.
The iSimangaliso Wetland Park, the first site in South Africa to be inscribed on the World Heritage List, is one of the jewels of SA's coastline, with a unique mosaic of ecosystems - swamps, lake systems, beaches, coral reefs, wetlands, woodlands, coastal forests and grasslands - supporting an astounding diversity of animal, bird and marine species.
SAinfo reporter and South African Tourism