Bontebok is a small park, about 28 km2, established primarily to ensure the preservation of the species. It lies about five km outside Swellendam in the Overberg, and its situation on the Breede River makes it a landscape photographer’s dream. Camping sites are spotless, as are the ablution blocks, and you might jump at a swift flying past you to the door from its nest in the rafters. We opted for a chalet, as we’re not camping equipped; they are equally clean and well kitted out
Several chalets overlook the river, but we’re pleased to have trees in front of ours, as the bird life is abundant. A source of infinite amusement is the long-tailed whydah, who bullies every bird smaller than himself and in a burst of avian anxiety chases most small birds from what he considers his territory. Like all bullies, he ignores anyone bigger than he is.
Down at the riverside we count a crimson flutter of around 13 red bishops milling around a tree as they prepare to roost. We hear the mournful cry of a fish eagle, but are unable to see the bird in the dusk.
I can’t quite bring myself to swim in the dark water of the river, possibly because there had been a mention of swimming snakes, which I’m quite sure are faster in the water than I am. But sitting on the bank peacefully watching the sun go down is a special time indeed, glass of wine in hand. The Langeberg Mountains loom over us, beguiling in their various moods, but in the evening, painted with pink against a brooding sky, they are hauntingly beautiful. After a luminous day, in the other direction sunsets are brilliant Africa orange against dark, bruised clouds, fading quickly towards the sea.
The perfume of braai smoke from the campers pervades the evening air, to the point where we’re forced to return to the chalet for a bite.
The gravel circular “game” drive is easy going, but our little tin can vehicle is not built for gravel and I particularly am worried about something falling off the bottom. On the drive we see a huge herd of bontebok, but at a great distance, which is disappointing. That feeling vanishes when two red hartebeest jump over the road right in front of us. Gorgeous beasts.
Lucky are we to come across a mom bontebok with her baby, strolling down the road. They’re not too worried about our slowly following car, but eventually meander into the bush. There’s also a teenage bokkie who thinks the camp belongs to him and spends the afternoon grazing around.
There are several well signposted walks and viewpoints, and a picnic spot overlooking the river, with insects buzzing, clicking, singing, and loudly chatting birds perching in numbers above us; but we’re the only humans around and scarcely dare to whisper.
This park is not about the Big Five, but is rather a reaching out for nature, for quiet and peaceful meditation surrounded by a colour-saturated landscape. For a relaxing, scenic weekend, not too far from Cape Town, you’d be hard put to better this one.