Article Contact details

The Swellendam area in the Overberg region of the Western Cape is highly underrated as a bird-watching destination. The town is in close proximity to the Grootvadersbosch, Marloth and De Hoop nature reserves, all managed by CapeNature, the Bontebok National Park and the Tradouw pass. These reserves host a diversity of habitats and afford the visiting birder a great variety of birds to be seen. Most of these destinations give access to the so-called Western Cape specials such as Cape Sugarbird, Orange-breasted Sunbird, Victorin's Warbler, Cape Siskin, Black Harrier and Southern Tchagra to mention a few. The flagship of birding in the area is the Bontebok National Park. Nestled at the foot of the majestic Langeberg Mountains and bordered by the winding Breede River, the Bontebok National Park is a place of simplistic beauty and peaceful charm. The Park is situated just off the N2, 210km’s from both Cape Town and George, only 8km’s from the town of Swellendam. Although the smallest of South Africa’s National Parks (only 3,475 ha in size) it is by no means less diverse. Bontebok NP is a well kept secret and will surprise many a visitor. It definitely offers some pleasant rest camp birding, with a mellow atmosphere – and all of this only a few hours drive from Cape Town – an ideal weekend breakaway!! Roads in the Park are all gravel and accessible by sedan vehicle. Visitors are allowed to exit vehicles and walk on all vehicle roads – walking into the veld is however not allowed.

Two special types of Fynbos, Suurbraak Grassy Fynbos and Overberg Coastal Renosterveld are found in the Park. The Park protects some of the largest in-tact portions of what is generally referred to as Renosterveld (a type of lowland Fynbos) – the vegetation is however very unique and formally described as Swellendam Silcrete Fynbos, of which 4% of all remaining vegetation of this kind is protected in the Park. Due to the virtual destruction and extremely fragmented nature of Renosterveld this vegetation type is regarded as critically endangered and Bontebok NP is thus of critical importance to national conservation efforts. Bontebok NP represents an important foraging and breeding site for the Vulnerable Black Harrier (Circus maurus). Surveys in 2004 recorded four breeding pairs within in the park. The last bird list for BNP was published in 1981, listing 186 bird species. Since 2009, frequent BIRP lists have been completed and sent to the ADU and new species are being observed regularly and added to the checklist – now standing at 234 species. A revised checklist is currently in production. SABAP2 atlasing cards will now also be submitted on a regular basis.

The rest camp at Lang Elsie's Kraal along the banks of the Breede river is very well appointed and the gardens are beautifully maintained. The chalets are comfortable and well equipped and the view from the patios is something to behold. From here one could explore one of the available hiking trails along the river bank and there are good numbers and diversity of species in the dense riverine thickets. Hundreds of Rock and Brown-throated Martins often skim the water and fair numbers of African Black Ducks could be encountered. Most of the ducks and kingfishers to be found in the region have been recorded here and groups of South African Shelducks fly about regularly. Most of the common raliens and warblers and several waders are also available. The thickets along the river are particularly productive and here one can find a variety of birds that one doesn't expect in the Ruens country. Think of Fairy Flycatcher, Terrestrial Brownbul, Olive Bush-shrike, Forest Canary, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher and Knysna Woodpecker to namedrop a bit.

Dawn at the Lang Elsie's Kraal rest camp is really impressive. The African Goshawk's characteristic call from above often features first, but is soon followed by Cape Robin-Chats, Southern Boubous, Bar-throated Apalis, Karoo Prinias and several woodpeckers, canaries and doves and pigeons. In winter the star attraction are the hundred of Aloes (mostly Marloth's) in full bloom. It was very interesting to see what species utilize this food source and not uncommon to see up to five different species on one plant at one time. Birds that one could have close encounters with in the rest camp include Cardinal, Olive and Knysna Woodpeckers, Acacia Pied Barbet, Southern Tchagra, Brown-hooded Kingfisher and Swee Waxbill. A winter visit to the Bontebok National Park comes highly recommended due the vast numbers of flowering aloes in the rest camp.

Birding in this reserve does not end here though. The area between the entrance gate and the rest camp consists of Overberg Coastal Renosterveld where birds that are in trouble such as the Denham's Bustard, Black Harrier, Southern Black Korhaan and Secretarybirds are all relatively easily found. This also represent LBJ heaven and all of the area's cisticolas, larks and pipits have been recorded. These include Agulhas Long-billed Lark, (Cape) Clapper Lark and Large-billed Lark, all endemics. Besides these visitors could find both the Cape Longclaw and Capped Wheatear.

A whole range of other birds and some of the “Cape specials” are to be found in the gardens in the area at the reception offices. Expect to find Orange-breasted Sunbird, Cape Sugarbird, Cape Bunting, Cape Spurfowl and Cape Weaver – this place is a hotspot for Western Cape endemics.So why speed along the N2 when traveling between Cape Town and the Garden Route, or between Hermanus, or the southern most tip at Agulhas or De Hoop and Route 62? Plan your trip to visit this reserve as birding at the Bontebok National Park is most rewarding and represents one of the quickest “summaries” of western Cape birding – way over 200 species in an area merely 3,475 ha big. To crown it all it is in very close proximity to prime birding spots such as Grootvadersbosch, Marloth, Tradouw pass, Suurbraak and Barrydale.


Bontebok National Park is situated just off the N2 road at Swellendam, 210 km east of Cape Town and 210 km from George. Look out for signboards around Swellendam, the Park is on the same road as the Swellengrebel Airfield, opposite the turnoff to Swellendam East.


Turn Off N2: 34.02396 20.4652797

Entrance gate: 34.0408445 20.4723377

Reception: 34.0550559 20.4731007

Rest camp: 34.0764208 20.4544065


Each of the 10 self-catering chalets sleeps up to four people (2 adults and 2 children). Each unit comprises one bathroom, an open plan fully equipped kitchen and private braai area. There are 29 campsites (with or without power), all of which share a communal ablution facility. The camp is well vegetated with thorn trees and Aloe dominating. Day visitors can relax at Die Stroom, also set on the banks of the river and a popular swimming and picnic spot. The newly renovated ablution block and deck at Die Stroom is available to rent as a function venue, accommodating up to 40 people. A new conference facility seating 20 to 25 persons is also available for rental. Visitors can unwind in the beauty and tranquility of the 3 short hiking trails winding through Riparian vegetation and one trail in the more open Renosterveld. There is also a 9km mountain bike trail and cyclists are allowed on all vehicle roads.

Central Reservations: Cape Town - Tel: +27 (0)21 552 0008

Pretoria - Tel: +27 (0)012 428 9111


Park contact details: Tel: +27 (0)28 514 2735

Fax: +27 (0)28 514 2646


Park/Gate Hours

01 October to 30 April - 07:00 – 19:00

01 May to 30 September - 07:00 – 18:00

Additional Information

Bontebok National Park is best known for its role in the conservation of the threatened bontebok, with only around 17 animals remaining in the 1930’s. The establishment of the Park played a pivotal role in saving the species from extinction – bontebok numbers are today at over 200 in the Park with a world population in excess of 3,000. Other threatened species, such as Cape Mountain Zebra and Cape Grysbok is also today present in the Park. More common animals such as Red Hartebeest and Grey Rhebuck are common, not to mention a vast number of smaller mammals and reptiles. Summer months are ideal to spot various snakes (Cape Cobra and Puff Adder being the most common) and tortoises. There are a number of very large Leopard Tortoises in the Park, some of them regular visitors to the rest camp which makes for close encounters and excellent photo opportunities.

Compiled by: Aldo Pekeur, Carli Venter, Bulelwa Msengi and Anton Odendal