Geography in South Africa
South Africa covers the southern headland of the African continent on an area of approx. 1,220,000 km², from Cape Aghullas at the southern tip to approx. 1800 km in a north-easterly direction to the border of the neighboring countries to the north, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Botswana and Namibia. The over 2500 km long coastline is formed by the Atlantic Ocean in the west and the Indian Ocean in the south and southeast. Both oceans with the cold Benguela current of the Atlantic and the warm Agulhas current of the Indian Ocean meet at Cape Agulhas.
Most of the central land area is occupied by the high plateau called the Highveld, which slopes down from an average of 1000 – 2000 m above sea level over the 20 – 250 km wide, large edge step to the coast.
The mountain belt of the Drakensberg runs through the country from the northeast to the enclave of Lesotho in the southeast and forms the highest peaks in southern Africa at up to 3482 meters above sea level (Thabana Ntlenyana in Lesotho). Most of South Africa’s rivers, which drain the country in a south-easterly direction towards the Indian Ocean, have their source here. Only the Orange River, South Africa’s most powerful river, flows over 1860 km in a westerly direction through all of South Africa on the border with Namibia into the Atlantic.
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Flora and fauna in South Africa
Due to the climatic and geomorphological differences in the country, South Africa is characterized by different vegetation zones, ranging from the deserts of the Kalahari in the northeast to the rainforest belts on the mountain slopes of the south coast of the country. The predominant plant type in South Africa are evergreen hard-leaved plants. Sugar bushes of the Protea genus with around 130 species are characteristic of South Africa’s flowering plants, which dominate the country’s vegetation with a large number of different plants. Contiguous forest areas, on the other hand, are rare in South Africa and limited to the humid zone of the southern and southeastern coasts.
In addition to the thorny plants, various types of water-storing succulents such as aloes and milkweed plants (Euphorbia) can be found in the desert zones. To the east, the desert areas of the Kalahari merge into grass and thorn savannahs, which, even further to the northeast, form moist savannas with denser vegetation.
In the area of the Karoo, a 500,000 km2 dry zone behind the coastal mountains, which takes up almost a third of the South African land area, semi-deserts with the shrub vegetation typical of Karoo have developed. An area with a special variety of water-storing plants, the Succulent Karoo, is one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots.
Grassland is the main vegetation of the central plateau inland with various grasses, shrubs and acacias.
The fynbos, a dense vegetation made up of a multitude of herbs, bushes, ferns and flowering plants, some of which are endemic and which give the landscape a unique eye-catcher, especially during the flowering period, is typical of the winter-damp Cape region. Among the various plant species of the fynbos is the rooibos, whose leaves, as rooibos tea, are one of the Cape’s most important agricultural exports.
The unique cape flora, also called capensis, is the smallest but most species-rich of the six flora kingdoms on earth. Over 9,000 species of flowering fynbos plants thrive on an area of just 90,000 km2, 70% of which cannot be found anywhere else in the world. The Cape region is world-famous for its fascinating diversity of flowering plants and incredible beauty and was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2004.
Just like the flora, the fauna of South Africa is incredibly diverse and fascinating. South Africa is home to over 300 different species of mammals, more than 500 species of birds, over 100 species of reptiles and, of course, numerous species of insects. The number of predators alone is exceptionally high in South Africa, with almost three dozen species of predators living in the country.
The most famous animals are probably the so-called Big Five: rhino, lion, elephant, leopard and buffalo, which we will see on our numerous safaris. A wide variety of antelope species live in the northern savannas in particular, such as impala, blue wildebeest, kudu or waterbuck. The springbok is also characteristic of South Africa.
In addition to the Big Five, other large animal species such as giraffes, warthogs, meerkats, zebras, hippos, cheetahs, hyenas and wild dogs are represented in South Africa.
The main bird species are ostriches and flamingos. Particularly noteworthy are the 170,000 African penguins that live in the coastal areas and on the islands and are under strict nature protection.
National parks and nature conservation in South Africa
With many nature reserves in South Africa attempts are being made to preserve and protect the unique flora and fauna. In South Africa there are a number of state national parks and smaller game reserves, some of which are privately owned, in which the fauna of South Africa can be easily observed.
Kruger National Park
The Kruger National Park is the largest and most famous of these nature reserves. This is located in the northeast of the country and with an area of almost 20,000 km² is one of the largest in all of Africa. It is home to 147 species of mammals including the Big Five, 507 species of birds, 114 species of reptiles, 49 species of fish and 34 species of amphibians. The largest rivers that cross the park are the Luvuvhu, Shingwedzi, Letaba and Timbavati. Today the park is one of the most famous safari destinations in the world, with all the facilities and equipment one would expect from a world-class destination. Nonetheless, the wild and untouched environment has been preserved in which one can experience Africa as one imagines it at home.
Table Mountain National Park
Table Mountain National Park is also internationally known and the symbol of the South African Cape region. The national park, which is located on the southwestern tip of Africa and was founded in 1998, includes Table Mountain and the Cape of Good Hope on an area of 221 km² and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to the unique fynbos vegetation.
Addo Elephant National Park
Another interesting national park in South Africa is the Addo Elephant National Park. This park was established in 1931 to protect the eleven last surviving elephants in the region. The remaining elephants were all victims of ivory hunters or farmers.
The Royal Natal National Park and the Rugged-Glen Nature Reserve are two very special nature reserves. Together they cover a large part of the Drakensberg and offer nature lovers very special impressions of the landscape.
Tsitsikamma National Park
The Tsitsikamma National Park stretches along the Garden Route between the sea and the Tsitsikamma Mountains and protects one of the most beautiful stretches of coast in the world. The park covers an 80km stretch of coastline between Natures Valley and Storms River Mouth and includes various jungle ecosystems, fynbos and coastal landscapes that make wonderful walks possible. The national park not only includes the land part, but is also a marine reserve. The protected coastal waters are one of the largest “no take” (including fishing) water protection areas in the world and constitute 11% of the rocky south coast of South Africa under nature protection
In addition to the more than 20 national parks in South Africa, there are other wildlife sanctuaries and nature reserves. Most of the wildlife sanctuaries are in the savannah or semi-desert. These areas are home to the heaviest land mammals in the world, such as elephants and rhinos, which are subject to special protection.