The Karoo and Little Karoo are home to the Shy Five: aardvark, aardwolf, bat-eared fox, porcupine and suricate. Be alert if you’re driving at night – you might spot a critically endangered riverine rabbit or near threatened brown hyaena.
The Little Karoo, Gamkaberg and Kammanassie nature reserves are strongholds for the Cape mountain zebra, supporting two-thirds of the gene pool of these animals that were once nearly hunted to extinction. Along the Garden Route, the shy blue duiker and powerful crowned eagle (an important but near threatened apex predator) can be spotted in the coastal forests.
There is a huge diversity of birds in the landscape, from the majestic Verreaux’s eagle to the iconic Cape sugarbird. Raptors can benefit from fires, feeding on injured or dead animals, but too-frequent fires are bad news for sugarbirds, which are reliant on flowers produced by mature fynbos plants.
Less obvious than the mammals and birds, but no less fascinating, are the cold-blooded animals of the rivers and estuaries. The tiny critically endangered Barrydale redfin, for example, is limited to just 40km2 in the Tradouw catchment, where it is threatened by water abstraction, pollution and alien fish.
Along the coast, from Goukamma westwards, you might hear the zip-trill mating call of the endangered Knysna leaf-folding frog on spring nights. Where there are healthy ecosystems, there are healthy insect populations. For butterfly enthusiasts, the Kammanassie Nature Reserve and surrounds are a treasure trove of rare species such as the Kammanassie giant copper and the Kammanassie opal.
Outeniqua Nature Reserve
Located close to the Garden Route town of George and easily accessible from Mossel Bay, Knysna and Oudtshoorn, the Outeniqua Nature Reserve is about a five-hour drive from Cape Town.
Keurbooms River Nature Reserve
Keurbooms River Nature Reserve, a World Heritage Site, is an exquisite, small reserve of just 740 hectares located in the lush Garden Route region just outside Plettenberg Bay. The Keurbooms River passes through the reserve bringing an abundance of water from further up in the Tsitsikamma Mountains to enter the ocean through the stunning estuary.
Anysberg Nature Reserve
Anysberg Nature Reserve is located in the semi-arid Klein Karoo, between the towns of Ladismith, Laingsburg, Touwsrivier and Montagu. The reserve, officially proclaimed in 1990, encompasses 79 629 hectares of plains and the majestic Cape Fold Mountains, with deep valleys and steep gorges.
Gamkaberg Nature Reserve
We are fortunate in the Western Cape. The land forever heightens our sense of exploration with its expanses and its wilderness. And with the Gamkaberg Nature Reserve in the Little Karoo, we need not go far to find a place with such space and detachment.
Swartberg Nature Reserve (Gamkaskloof - Die Hel)
Swartberg Nature Reserve lies between the Great Karoo and Klein Karoo, forming a narrow but long stretch of 121 000ha. The reserve was declared a World Heritage Site in 2004 and is bordered by Gamkapoort Nature Reserve immediately to the north (8 000ha) and Towerkop Nature Reserve immediately to the west (51 000ha).
Robberg Nature Reserve
Robberg, situated 8km south of Plettenberg Bay on the Garden Route, is not only a nature reserve, but also a national monument and World Heritage Site. Rocks from this region date back 120 million years to the break-up of Gondwanaland.