Camping is a pretty safe getaway during the pandemic. Here are some of SA's best campsites
- Camping offers low concentrations of people, fresh air, and no worries about whether your room has been properly disinfected.
- Here are some spots around South Africa you may want to check out.
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Camping, is likely to be one of the safer local breaks you can take as the coronavirus pandemic rages on. Time in nature can help reduce all that pent-up lockdown stress and anxiety, and it may also be the safest way to vacation - provided you do it right.
One of the key factors that makes a camping holiday safer than a city break when in the midst of a pandemic is the fresh air and lower concentration of people - provided you keep the ablution block smalltalk to a minimum, and wash your hands diligently after handling the communal braai grid.
“The appeal of it is that you’re outdoors and you’re not congregating with too many people in one location,” Dr. Sandra Kesh, an infectious disease specialist and Deputy Medical Director at WestMed, told Business Insider. “The problem is that because it’s outdoors – and I’ve started to see this happen – people let their guard down.”
Kesh also recommends only holidaying with a “safety group” of trusted social distancers, or, ideally, people from your own household who you’ve been isolating with.
She also says travellers must continue to implement safety measures, such as wearing masks, washing hands, being cautious of common surfaces, and keeping at least two metres from other holidaying families, for example.
Although camping may force the ill-prepared to share some common facilities like kitchens and ablutions, seasoned campers can keep this to a minimum by bringing gas stoves and other personal equipment. And unlike a hotel room, with your own tent you won’t have to worry about who occupied your room before you arrived.
With this in mind, camping may well be a safer and more relaxing holiday alternative than staying in a busy hotel, or boarding a cruise ship - and South Africa is full of beautiful, and some reassuringly isolated, sites to explore in a post-lockdown escape.
These are some of the country’s best:
In the heart of the Diepwalle area of the Knysna forest are several camping decks perched beneath the towering canopy of trees. There’s a mixture of fixed tents and open sites ready for you to make your own. It’s owned and managed by South African National Parks, which means that in spite of its spectacular location, it’s still surprisingly affordable. Each site has electricity, a kitchen area, and outdoor braai, with communal ablutions.
The Cederberg has some of the best camping in South Africa, and Beaverlac consistently rates as one of the most popular in the area. There’s a river and rock pools to swim in, remote hikes, and easy access to the region’s famed rock art. They also allow dogs, and with no cellphone reception or Wi-Fi, it’s the perfect place for a post-isolation reset.
Sanddrif, a private holiday resort on the banks of the Dwarsrivier, is another popular Cederberg campsite. Its two sites are located in the heart of the Cederberg Wilderness Area, with some of the region’s most famous walks and rock art within easy reach. There’s also no cellphone reception at Sanddrif, but limited WiFi is available for urgent updates.
The Gamkaberg Nature Reserve, managed by CapeNature, is a perfectly peaceful stretch of land in the Little Karoo. It’s a World Heritage Site, and home to a healthy population of endangered Cape mountain zebra.
There are several formal accommodation options in the reserve, but the camping in the remote Ou Kraal site, on top of the Gamkaberg Plateau, is sublimely serene and isolated. It’s accessible only by 4x4 or on foot, has no electricity, and only basic ablution facilities. There are also camping facilities at the foot of the Gamkaberg with views of the Klein Karoo and Swartberg Mountains.
If it’s total camping isolation with your own “safety group” that you’re looking for, then Houdenbek's private campsite, 60 km from Ceres, is the ideal option. Houdenbek is nestled in the Skurweberg mountains, and although there’s formal accommodation on the property, there’s also a large private campsite that can sleep up to 15 people.
The campsite overlooks a dam, and has a swimming pool and a large fire pit for the evenings. It must be booked out by one party, which means no unwanted interruptions from inquisitive neighbours.
Bontebok National Park is a South African National Parks’ run reserve set against the Langeberg Mountains, just outside Swellendam. The reserve is home to several antelope, including red Hartebeest, Grey Rhebuck, and Bontebok, as well as small mammals.
The campsite is large, at 41 stands, and is located alongside the Breede River, with amazing views. Some of the individual stands have electricity, and no generators are allowed, which makes for a peaceful escape within easy reach from Cape Town.
The SANParks Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park has several accommodation options, but the camp sites at Twee Rivieren, the park’s largest rest camp, are some of the most popular. Twee Rivieren is situated on the banks of the dry riverbed of the Nossob, and has facilities like a shop, restaurant, and petrol station.
For a more tranquil option in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, try Nossob Rest Camp - it has no cellphone signal and runs off a generator, which means nights are particularly peaceful.
The Augrabies Falls are an impressive attraction, and the national park in which they’re located offers some fairly desolate - and in the summer months scorching hot - camping options.
The sites are spacious, and there is shade for those warmer months, as well as a basic restaurant if the self-catering gets tiresome. Most travel here simply to take in a view of the falls, but there are options to do nature walks, mountain biking excursions, and game drives as well.
Few parks in the country can boast as much desolate tranquility as the Ai-Ais / Richtersveld Transfrontier Park, inland from Alexander Bay on the Namibian border. The climate there is harsh and dry, with summertime temperatures soaring to above 50 degrees Celsius, and as a result not much gets done during the middle of the day for those brave enough to venture there in the summer.
There are several campsites in the park, but the most popular is De Hoop, which has an ablution block with cold showers, just 12 sites, and incredible views, to ensure the ultimate dose of post-isolation isolation.
Namaqua National Park is famous for its spring flowers, which might just coincide with some of the first post-lockdown travels allowed. But even outside of flower season, the park is well worth visiting.
Self-sufficient campers would be remiss to overlook the famous rustic coastal campsites dotted throughout the park. The various sites have no electricity, water, or ablutions, nor is there any cell phone signal, so it’s the perfect place in which to live out any post-apocalypse survivalist fantasies.
This rustic camp site is situated in Addo Elephant National Park, and has won favour with travellers for its serenity and underrated rustic charm.
Mvubu has just six stands with minimal infrastructure and facilities, so is better suited to the more hardened campers. It’s situated on the banks of the Sundays River, though, which means swimming, fishing, and canoeing are an option - if you’re willing to brave the possibilities of encountering the hippos that occur there.
The Tsitsikamma Section of the Garden Route National Park is famous for its vast indigenous forests on one side, and thundering Atlantic Ocean waves on the other. It’s a serene place to visit outside of peak tourist season, and long walks in the forest, and the possibility of Cape Clawless Otter and dolphin sightings, are sure to eradicate any post-lockdown blues. Many of the campsites there have no power, and offer views.
Nature’s Valley Rest Camp, not far away, also offers peaceful, unpowered camp sites.
Up near the Baviaanskloof is Kudu Kaya, a small resort that has 16 camping sites. They’re located in the valley of the Ysrivier and set amongst the yellow wood trees. It’s a shaded campsite with four ablution facilities, so it’s unlikely you’ll run into too many neighbours while there.
Hikes are the main activity here - and they’ll get you to some natural rock pools popular for their swimming.
Mac Nicol’s is just over an hour’s drive from Durban, and it has established itself as a family camping holiday destination over the years. It’s hardly the remote camping holiday of your isolationist dreams, and more a resort-type escape complete with pools and other facilities, but it’s close enough to the beach to escape any crowds that might have had the same South Coast camping holiday ideas as you.
Hlalanathi Berg Resort is situated on the foothills of the Northern Drakensberg, and comes with all the vast expanses, stunning views, and mountain-side tranquility you’d expect from a Drakensberg campsite. The camp sites are spaced out and scenic, but it’s still a resort that comes with inevitable pools and waterslides.
Cape Vidal Campsite, in iSimangaliso Wetland Park, is slightly further away from Durban, but the four-hour drive is well worth the extra effort. Cape Vidal is an unspoiled part of the country tucked between endless beaches and forested dunes. It’s a popular destination for fishers and water sport enthusiasts, but outside of peak months it’s a tranquil haven perfect for a camping getaway that includes long walks on the beach.
Bush Camps is located in Botsalano Game Reserve, which gives visitors a taste of the iconic open Kalahari thornveld landscape. The 5,800 hectare reserve is located on South Africa’s border with Botswana, and it has a decent array of wildlife, including giraffe, buffalo, springbok and gemsbok.
There are four rustic, unfenced bush camps in the park that offer little in the way of facilities and infrastructure, which is one of the reasons they’re particularly popular among the more hardened camping fraternity.
With self-drive likely to be the go-to mode for holiday makers for some time to come, it’s likely that stopovers between Johannesburg and Cape Town, like those at Gariep Dam, will become increasingly popular.
Gariep Dam is located on the N1, and the campsite there is clean with ample grass and great views. It’s also earned a reputation as an ideal family stop-over, with activities like tennis, Putt-Putt, and trampolines on site.
Johannesburg residents looking to escape the city often turn to Clarens, and its nearby Golden Gate Highlands National Park. There are several camping opportunities in the vicinity, but the best of these may just be inside the park, at Glen Reenen Rest Camp. There are camp sites and caravan parks at Glen Reenen with communal ablution facilities that offer mountain views and ample shade.
Many use Zvakanaka Farm, close to Louis Trichardt, as a stopover en-route to Northern Kruger National Park, or Zimbabwe. It’s set atop the Soutpansberg, has nicely-spaced camp sites, clean shared ablutions, and a swimming pool. There are also several walks to take around the farm, which offer up sightings of some of the region’s diverse birdlife.
Mazhou Campsite in Mapungubwe National Park has just ten well-spaced camp sites that offer plenty of privacy. Each has a power point, and there are shared ablutions on site.
The area is scenically beautiful and rich in plant and animal life. The region is known for its baobabs and sandstone formations, as well as endemic elephant, giraffe, and white rhino populations.
Matamba Bush Campsite, set in the Waterberg, is a popular weekend camping escape, or stopover point for travellers heading to Botswana.
There are two camps to choose from on the property - one of which has space for just four sites, and the other which is entirely private. Wildlife is limited largely to antelope and other non-carnivorous creatures, which means self-guided bush walks and rides are a possibility.
The Kruger National Park, which covers Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces, offers some of the best camping options in the country. Most major rest camps have some camping grounds available, which come in cheaper than fixed accommodation and are well serviced with shared ablutions and kitchens.
Some, such as those in bigger camps like Skukuza, will come with larger crowds, more noise, and fewer opportunities for true social distancing. But the smaller and mid-size camps scattered throughout the park typically have large, well-spaced sites and adequate facilities.
For the true campers, though, Tsendze Rustic Camp is the best bet in the Kruger. There are limited stands set beneath Mopane, Apple Leaf, and Leadwood trees, and no electricity, but gas powered ablutions and freezers. Tsendze offers one of the most peaceful camping experiences you’re likely to find in Kruger Park.
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