I have quite a long relationship with the Bontebok National Park. The spark that initiated my love for this little park was discharged during my first visit to Kruger as an 11 year old boy (in 1965). No, I am wrong; it was actually my second visit to Kruger. But I cannot remember anything about the true first visit as I was only 2 years old (in 1956). But I still have a photo of a cute little toddler, standing in Skukuza with the Selati railroad bridge in the background.
But let’s come back to the 1965 Kruger visit and how that set my love for Bontebok in motion. As we entered Kruger, my father bought a book at Phalaborwa gate, “Mammals of the Kruger- and other National Parks”. Only after being back home (in Tulbagh in the Western Cape), and longing back to the fantastic holiday we had in Kruger, I really started “studying” the mentioned book. I was exited to learn that we had a National Park rather nearby, namely the Bontebok National Park, where even buffalo roamed. I remember a short news report in the local Afrikaans paper about the excitement when the first buffalo calf was born in Bontebok.
It was not too difficult to persuade my father that we should pay a day visit to Bontebok – only 179 km from our home town. I recall that first visit so well. I had such high hopes to see the buffaloes in the park. But in all our visits (until they were removed) I never had the privilege to see Bontebok’s buffalo. By the way, the buffalo were removed because of the many times they broke out and came into contact with neighbouring cattle. And moreover, the authorities decided that the park was primarily founded to protect the few bontebok left over, from extinction and that it does not really have the carrying capacity to accommodate other large herbivores. Thus being the reason for the removal of eland a few years later.
After my marriage we lived in Swellendam for one year (1976). And this was when my real relation with Bontebok started. Very few weekends passed without being in the park on a Sunday – either for an afternoon drive or a braai at Lang Elsieskraal (those days it was still very uncommon for visitors to camp as overnight visitors). Every family member or friend who visited us was introduced to this little haven of us. The then park warden (Van Zyl) was transferred to Golden Gate during 1976 and succeeded by Harold Braack. Harold and his wife were without doubt filled with a lot of enthusiasm for their new job (coming from Kruger). During their time an excellent information exhibition was set up in the rest camp/picnic area. Unfortunately this exhibition dwindled over a period of time, after Harold was transferred to Addo, that it actually was a blot on SANParks’ name during the last few years (until it was finally closed, or rather demolished, when the present new chalets were built).
But over all the years my love for Bontebok just grew fonder and fonder. For the last number of years we try to camp as regular as possible over weekends. And our last visit was during the weekend of 22 – 25 October 2010. Although the weather forecast for the weekend did not sound promising, we hooked our caravan and set off for Bontebok – a 160 km journey. Until the turn-off from the N2, it is quite a pleasant journey. But the gravel road to Reception and from there to Lang Elsieskraal (10 km in total) is always taken at a creeping speed. It takes me about 45 minutes to drive the 10 km as I am very protective of my caravan – it still has to serve many years of duty.
After the normal entrance formalities, we arrived at Lang Elsieskraal at 13:00. We were lucky to find our favourite site (No 12) unoccupied. At 15:15 we were sitting with our stretched legs, enjoying a nice cold golden frothy drink. The wind was coming from the south-west, but our caravan was standing in a way that the wind did not bother us in the least. On site No 12 you are well protected against wind from most directions.
To be continued.