Whether they’re on your doorstep or half a world away, national parks, game reserves and protected marine environments are some of the planet’s most precious resources. Taking a solo trip to visit them or using the experience as a way to introduce your kids to the creatures we share our home with can be incredibly eye-opening and meaningful. Here we take a look at some of the most unique and celebrated national parks on Earth, as well as the some of the amazing plants and animals that live there.
1. Etosha National Park, Namibia
Famous for its massive salt pan so large that it can be seen from space, Etosha National Park is one of Namibia’s greatest treasures. In fact, the name Etosha means ‘Great White Place’ in the local Ovambo language and covers almost a quarter of the park. During the dry winter months, game congregates in large numbers around the waterholes, making spotting a variety of animals in a short space of time easily achievable.
Animals of Etosha
Elephant, black rhinos, lion, leopards, impala, Oryx, zebra, springbok, cheetah, giraffe, wildebeest, hyena, kudu, jackals, warthog and many more.
For bird lovers, however, the wet summer season may be the best time to visit, as about a third of the 340 avian species found here are migratory and arrive in huge numbers to take advantage of the lush vegetation and temporary lakes that form with the summer rains. If you’re a fan of the flamingo, then try to visit in January or February when these colourful creatures arrive in their thousands!
Other bird species found in the park include Bateleur, tawny and martial eagles, vultures, hornbills, parrots, babblers, and two record-breakers: the ostrich (world’s heaviest bird) and the Kori bustard (the world’s heaviest flying bird).
The park itself boasts several luxury lodges, as well as a new budget-friendly camping style lodge, so there’s something to cater for everyone. Many visitors choose to stay in Swakopmund for part of their holiday and undertake a self-drive safari adventure to reach the park!
2. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA
Where Etosha has deserts and salt pans, Yellowstone boasts hot springs and geysers, lush forests and dramatic canyons! Old Faithful remains one of the must-see attractions, as well as the otherworldly and colorful Grand Prismatic Hot Spring.
Animals of Yellowstone:
From the world’s largest wild bison herd to fantastic predators like grey wolves and grizzly bears, the ponderous moose, bison, soaring golden and bald eagles, bighorn sheep, bobcats, elk and deer – Yellowstone has an amazing variety of wildlife to enjoy. There are even herds of wild horses to the south of park.
‘Eagle Bear Buffalo’ song by Passenger sums up beautifully this amazing national park.
There are nine lodges within the park itself but booking early is essential because the park is just so popular, with some rooms booked years in advance! If you’re traveling on a budget, the park offers 12 dedicated camping grounds, as well as some off-the-beaten-track backcountry camping trails for the adventurous explorer!
3. Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, Australia
If you’d prefer to swap your car or hiking boots for some flippers and a snorkel, you really can’t do much better than the world’s most famous coral reef. Home to hundreds of islands, beautiful golden beaches, thousands of individual reefs and an almost unbelievable variety of underwater creatures, it’s not surprising that the Great Barrier Reef finds its way onto so many travellers’ bucket lists.
Animals of the Great Barrier Reef:
The variety of life on the reef is staggering, with over 1,500 different species of tropical fish alone – from groupers and cods, gobies, parrotfish, angelfish, coral trout, triggerfish, wrasse, damselfish and clownfish to butterfly fish and thousands more. Sharks, whales and dolphins are of course another big attraction. Even if you’re not a fan of getting wet, you can still enjoy these creatures up close from the comfort of a glass-bottomed boat!
There are dozens of accommodation options to choose from for your stay and experience the Great Barrier Reef.
4. The Black Forest National Park, Germany
Germany’s largest national park is home to a lot more than just wildlife, as people also flock to see its pretty little villages with their half-timbered houses and buy delicate wood carvings and beautiful wooden cuckoo clocks as souvenirs! Thought to be the inspiration behind many of the famous Grimm fairytales, there’s something decidedly magical about this ancient woodland. Nowhere is this more evident than from the shore of the shimmering Mummel Lake or Mummelsee, covered in beautiful water lilies and long believed to be enchanted!
Animals of the Black Forest:
Elk and deer, buzzards, owls, badgers, squirrels, white-tailed eagles, rabbits, foxes and many more.
Whether you’re thinking of heading north or south for your next holiday, building your vacation around a national park always makes it that much more rewarding and memorable!