Terrain shapes and bedrock
The whole northern and central part of South Africa is a plateau region. It is highest in the east, about 2,400 meters above sea level, lowest in the west in the southern parts of Kalahari, 600–900 meters above sea level. The middle part, like the Karrooplataan in the south, lies around 1,200 m above sea level. The carro plateau is made up of lava and sedimentary rocks formed some 300–200 million years ago. The bedrock also consists of thick layers of sedimentary rocks on top of the bedrock, which is exposed to the far north.
A second landform region is the high slopes that limit the plateau area outwards and have a strongly decomposed and mountainous terrain. In Drakensberg in the east, the altitude is about 2,000 meters above sea level, and here South Africa’s highest peak is Injasuti, 3,408 meters above sea level, on the border with Lesotho. South of the Orange River are the lower Stormberg, Nuveweldberg and Roggeveld.
A third landform region is the narrow coastal plain that reaches a maximum of 170 m above sea level. and a width of 100 km along the Indian Ocean. The coastline is straight and smooth. The largest rivers are the Orange River and the Limpopo border with Zimbabwe.
The ground cover is mostly sandy, but in the east where the rainfall is plentiful there is pod sun and laterite.
According to COUNTRYAAH, South Africa is almost entirely in the warm-temperate climate zone and has summer temperatures (December – February) between 21 °C and 24 °C. However, the western parts have 24–29 °C and the valley of the Orange River 32 °C.
The winter temperature (June – August) is about 10 °C, however, much higher on the east coast, where the warm Agulhas current goes south and warms the air. Frost occurs in the highest areas.
The low rainfall gives steppe climate in the middle part and desert climate in the west. In the east, more than 1,000 mm of rain falls annually. Southwest corner of South Africa has Mediterranean climate with rain in winter.
Plant-and animal life
Flora in South Africa is one of the world’s richest, especially in the Western Cape Province. The fauna is also rich, with many savanna, semi-desert and desert species. There are large variations in the landscape and vegetation within the country and 17 ecoregions have been identified.
Along the Atlantic coast lies the Succulent Karoo eco-region with over 5,000 plant species, of which 1,700 are succulents and 40 percent endemic species. There is no other equally rainy region in the world with such a rich plant life. The region is also a center for reptiles and many insect groups. The coastal areas are regularly favored by moist cloudbeds rolling in from the Atlantic, creating favorable conditions for both plants and animals. During the winter rains in August – September, the arid areas undergo a fantastic metamorphosis from the nearest desert to huge, colorful flower meadows.
In the central parts of the eco-region lies the Namaqua National Park, famous for its floral splendor, especially with many species of onion plants. The mammalian fauna includes species such as Chacmababian (Papio ursinus), caracal, rock engraving and stone antelope.
In the Richtersveld Transfrontier Park on the grass of Namibia, mountain zebra has one of its few occurrences. The bird fauna are relatively rich but are dominated by species with widespread use in South Africa. Among the local specialties are a few bird species adapted to the dry conditions, such as caraquia (Cercomela schlegelii), funnel-splash (Cercomela tractrac), carol-bark (Certhilauda subcoronata) and caplark (Certhilauda curvirostris).
The eco-region of Nama Karoo is made up of the dry hay plateau that dominates central South Africa. During the December – March rainy season, more rain falls here than along the Atlantic coast.
At the time of the European colonization of the South African hinterland in the late 18th century, there was an extensive move of millions of ungulates between the summer rains in the Nama Karoo and southern Kalahari to the winter rains in the Succulent Karoo. The most common animals were springbuck, striped wildebeest, brockbock, common moose and common zebra. Widespread hunting combined with the encroachment of large areas for livestock management abruptly ended this natural spectacle.
Among the most renowned mammals in the region is the charismatic suricate (most famous as Timon in Disney’s movie “The Lion King”). River rabbit (Bunolagus monticularis) with less than 200 wild animals is one of the world’s most endangered mammals. Cattle and a subspecies of pointed rhizomes (Diceros bicornis bicornis) were formerly quite common in the region but were extinct in the mid-19th century.
Mokala National southwest of Kimberley is a great area to see a wide range of ungulates: white rhino, black rhino, roan antelope, springbok, giraffe, stäppsebra, brokbock, gemsbok, greater kudu, mountain reedbuck (Redunca fulvorufula), duikers, hartebeest, topi, blue wildebeest and the rare white-tailed wildebeest, which was near the extinction limit in the early 1900s. The bird fauna is dominated by species that thrive in arid open environments such as the ludwig staircase (Neotis ludwigii), the lighthouse staircase (Ardeotis kori), the blue staircase (Eupodotis caerulescens) and carotrap (Eupodotis vigorsii), sclater larch (Spizocorys sclateri) and carol larch and black hawk (Circus maurus), secretary bird and wintering red falcon from Eurasia.
The Fynbos eco-region is really two and includes both mountain areas and lowland areas. The climate is Mediterranean-like with hot, dry summers and cool, humid winters. The vegetation is adapted to regular fires and shows great diversity with about 7,000 species, of which about 80 percent are endemic, many of which have very little distribution. There are also several endemic families here. Species of protea plants and heather plants as well as various bulbs are common, but the grasses are few.
Many of the insects are also endemic and are considered to be relics of the time of Gondwana some 300 million years ago. Mammal fauna is not very rich but includes common duiker, klipspringer and brokbock.
In Table Mountain National Park southwest of Cape Town, a rare subspecies of mountain zebra has now been successfully re-implanted. There are also orange-breasted sunbirds (Anthobaphes violacea), cane bird (Promerops cafer), mowing hopper (Chaetops frenatus) and forest sable (Serinus scotops). Here, at the meeting between the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic, the cold Benguela Current reaches the African continent, which brings nutritious water from the depths of the Atlantic up to the coast. It creates good conditions for fish and other marine life, including marine mammals and birds.
Here are large colonies of South African fur seals (Arctocephalus pusillus), which in turn attracts white shark and killer whale. During August to October, southern hijackers and humpback whales feed their young along the coast and several species of dolphins are regular, including boar and dolphin.
Bird richness is evident along the coast northward to nesting species African Penguin (Spheniscus demersus), kapsula (Morus capensis), African Oystercatcher (Haematopus moquini), chronic joint (Microcarbo coronatus), kapskarv (Phalacrocorax capensis), vitgumpad cormorants (Phalacrocorax neglectus) and Hartlaub’s gull (Chroicocephalus hartlaubii). During the winter season, especially in conjunction with strong winds, black-brown albatross, gray-legged albatross (Thalassarche cauta) and smaller albatross (Thalassarche chlororhynchos) and southern giant bird (Macronectes giganteus)), white-chopped petrel (Procellaria aequinoctialis) and herbaceous parsley.
The Knysna-Amatole forests eco-region is located along the easternmost coastal stretch of the Western Cape Province and is the southernmost mountain forests of the African continent. The total area is just under 1,000 km2. Rain falls throughout the year. The trees are of tropical origin. The mammals include African elephant remains, southern tree dasses (Dendrohyrax arboreus), diadem cattle and blue diver antelope (Cephalophus monticola). Here also nest the giant crown eagle (Stephanoaetus coronatus), which feeds on, among other things, smaller antelopes and monkeys.
Albany’s bush fields
In the southern part of the Eastern Cape Province lies the Albany bushland, with dense, bushy vegetation consisting of species not exceeding 2.5 m. The Addo Elephant National Park near Port Elizabeth is famous for The Big Seven – except for The Big Five (lion (reintroduced)) elephant, African buffalo, leopard and trumpet rhino) are also white shark and southern hijacker. Many different ungulates, such as bush-goat, antelope (Pelea capreolus), mountain goat (Redunca fulvorufula), eland, larger kudu, cow antelope and gray-goat, benefits from the protective vegetation. Among the birds you can see knysnaturako (Tauraco corythaix) with very limited distribution in South Africa.
KwaZulu-Capes coastal forest mosaic
Along the entire east coast of South Africa from Cape Saint Lucia in the north to Cape Saint Francis in the south extends a narrow ecoregion consisting of forests called the KwaZulu-Cape coastal forest mosaic. The proximity to the Indian Ocean creates a favorable climate for tropical plant and animal species with many endemic species, especially plants.
The region’s most famous area is iSimangalio Wetland Park, which is on the border with Mozambique and is South Africa’s third largest nature reserve and the country’s first world heritage site. Along the coast there are rich coral reefs with sea-sledge turtle, illegitimate caretaker turtle, whale shark and the dangerous bull shark. In the rivers live the nile crocodile and hippopotamus, and among the land mammals elephant, leopard, both species of rhino, African buffalo, hyen dog, giraffe and spotted hyena. Lions and white-tailed wildebeest have been re-implanted after being eradicated. The park is South Africa’s most important wetland area for birds with species such as flamingos, minor flamingo (Phoeniconaias minor), white pelican, African spoon stork (Platalea alba), spot, scales and gray-headed gull (Chroicocephalus cirrocephalus). Among other birds are noted coastal eagles (Circaetus fasciolatus), palm oak and African fish owl (Scotopelia peli).
At the mouths of the Saint Lucia River, Mhlathuze River and Nakon River there are mangrove forests with the largest area in Mhlathuze.
Drakensbergens mountain vegetation
North of Durban, where the KwaZulu-Cape coastal forest mosaic transitions into the Drakensbergen mountain vegetation, Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve is located. The park was set aside in 1895 and is Africa’s oldest nature reserve. The area has a rich wildlife with around 400 species of birds, The Big Five, cheetah, giraffe, African wild dog. The park is one of the world’s best places to experience the new.
Hluhluwe-Imfolozi is mainly known as the place where spetsnoshörningen saved from extinction positioned operator is described in the book “The White Rhino Saga” by the promoter Ian Player (1927-2014). Today there are around 20,000 pointed rhinos in South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Kenya, but unfortunately the species is once again threatened by reckless poaching.
In the 1960s (during the current apartheid era), Player started together with Magqubu Ntombela (dead in 1993), supervisor of the iMfolizire Reserve, a unique experiment with organized walks in the park open to people of all origins. This served as the starting point for a global movement to guard wilderness areas around the world.
On the border with Lesotho, where Drakensbergen crashes into KwaZulu-Natal, lies Ukhahlamba Drakensberg Park, which has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In the dramatic landscape is one of the country’s largest colonies of lambs and the endangered caper (Gyps coprotheres). In addition, there are nesting black stork, bald ibis (Geronticus calvus) and mountain pepper (Anthus hoeschi).
On the high plateau (between 1,400 and 1,800 m) which spreads between the Drakensberg mountains in the east and the Karoo/Kalahari in the west lies the Highveld grassland. Originally there were the country’s largest grasslands, but most of them have disappeared as a result of cultivation and extensive livestock farming. Where more original nature still remains, several interesting mammals such as brown hyena (found only in southern Africa), earthworm, leopard, African sibet cat, steppe ant (Manis temmincki), impala, mountain zebra and the beautiful sable antelope live. Paradistrana – South Africa’s national bird – has one of its strongest moorings here. The strongly-threatened bothalark (Spizocorys fringillaris) is the only endemic bird species. Blue stairs, white-curved stairs and several larches and other terrestrial birds are typical. Several reptiles are endemic but none of the amphibians.
Kalahari dry water
On the border of south-eastern Namibia and southern Botswana lies the eco-region of Kalahari’s dry savannah, an area dominated by reddish sandy soil that sometimes turns into savannah with scattered bushes and trees. The climate is extreme and the temperature can vary by up to 44 degrees during one day. Although the region is poor in species and contains very few unique plants and animals, there is a rich fauna of larger mammals: lion, cheetah, leopard, spotted hyena, brown hyena, African wild dog, wilderness, black-footed cat, suricate, gemsbock, cow antelope and striped gnu. The characteristic birds include secretary birds, war eagles (Polemaetus bellicosus), dairy cattle (Bubo lacteus), ostrich, chiropractor, white-headed vulture (Trigonoceps occipitalis), fun eagle, red-headed falcon (Falco chicquera), pearl fly (Pterocles burchelli) and social weaver with their huge book chambers.
South African Bushveld
The South African Bushveld ecoregion includes a savanna that spreads at 700 to 1,100 m altitude from Johannesburg north to Botswana and Zimbabwe. Savannah is characterized by warm rainy seasons (summer) and cooler dry periods (winter). A typical example is found in the Marakele National Park in the Waterberg Mountains with lion, leopard, elephant, brown hyena, giraffe, kudu, eland, impala, saber antelope and ellipse waterbuck (Kobus ellipsiprymnus). Within the national park is also one of the largest known colonies of kapgam with 800 pairs.
At Nyl River, a tributary of the larger Limpopo, is a major wetland area with birds southern pochard (Netta erythrophthalma), African Spoonbill, pygmy Bittern (Ixobrychus sturmii), night heron, squacco heron, egret, African Snipe (Gallinago nigripennis) and Black-Winged Pratincole (Glareola nordmanni). Limpopo, which drains the entire region, has a rich fish fauna including tiger fish (Hydrocynus vittatus) – one of Africa’s largest fish – and several tilapias. In the northern part of the ecoregion, many private landowners have abandoned livestock management and invested in their own wildlife reserves where previously extinct species such as lions, elephants and rhinos have been reintroduced to serve as tourist attractions.
Zambian and mopane-dominated woodland
In northeastern South Africa on the border with Mozambique and Zimbabwe, there is part of the eco-region of Zambian forest and mopane forest – a type of savannah, spreading north to Botswana and Zambia. In the flat landscape around the numerous rivers (for example Limpopo) there are several of Africa’s wildest areas with large national parks and nature reserves.
Kruger National Park is the most famous. The park was established as early as 1898, and with its 2 million hectares today, 147 different mammals and 507 species of birds, Kruger is considered the continent’s best natural areas. Here you will find large populations of lions, elephants, African buffalo, leopards and rhinos (ie The Big Five). Unfortunately, the park is struggling with increasing poaching, especially of elephants and rhinos.
In 2001, Nelson Mandela opened the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park by opening the border fence between Kruger in South Africa and Limpopo National Park in Mozambique, while a group of Kruger elephants were released in the Limpopo Park. This serves as the start of a large-scale project to create a large, coherent wildlife and natural area between South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe – the Transfrontier Conservation Area (TFCA) – with a total area of 10 million hectares, an area equivalent to just over twice that of Sweden. Together with another similar project on the border between Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe – KAZA (Kavango – Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area) with a total area of over 44 million hectares – these two projects are among the most exciting conservation initiatives in the world.
In 2009, South Africa had 20 national parks. The two largest are Kruger National Park in the northeast, a field with rich mammal fauna with elephant, African buffalo and many antelopes, and Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (shared with Botswana), a steppe peninsula with many antelope species and a rich predator fauna. There are also a large number of nature reserves.