South Africa: Fairest Cape to Kruger
The perfect introduction to Africa.
South Africa is a spectacularly beautiful country, rich in wildlife. In the southwest there are two unique habitats, the stark heath-like fynbos and the expansive semi-desert Karoo. In the northeast, South Africa metamorphoses into golden-green grasslands and tropical savanna where species diversity increases dramatically. Spectacular species include a host of bee-eaters, hornbills, kingfishers, barbets, and sunbirds. We can expect to see over 400 species on this tour.
Day 1: Cape Town.
After arrival in in Cape Town we will transfer to a peaceful B&B in the suburbs, where we will be based for the next 3 days.
Day 2 or 3: Pelagic (optional).
The waters off Cape Town are regarded as one of the best pelagic spots in the world. Sailing from Simonstown we will be awed by the spectacle of thousands of seabirds of 15 to 20 species squabbling over scraps behind fishing trawlers. Once you have fought off the crippling views of Black-browed, Shy and Yellow-nosed albatrosses, White-chinned Petrel, Cape Gannet and Sooty Shearwater, we will sift through the clouds of birds in search of less common species. This trip is optional because it is weather dependent and may be canceled if we are unlucky with the weather. Those who opt not to do the pelagic trip can visit the Cape Peninsula.
Day 2 or 3: West Coast.
This dry coastline is incised by a series of wetlands holding fantastic densities of shorebirds. In the spectacular Langebaan Lagoon, Palaearctic waders abound. Resident shorebirds include the scarce Chestnut-banded Plover. The adjacent terrestrial vegetation supports a variety of very local specialties. The most absorbing are Black Harrier, Southern Black Korhaan and Cape Long-billed Lark.
Day 4: Cape Peninsula to Hottentot’s Holland mountains
The Cape Peninsula is exceptionally beautiful. We spend the morning searching for fynbos endemics such as Orange-breasted Sunbird, Cape Sugarbird and Cape Siskin. We visit Kommetjie, home of the Benguela-endemic African Black Oystercatcher, as well as Bank, Crowned and Cape cormorants. Continuing to the Cape of Good Hope we stop at Boulder’s Bay to mingle with the African Penguins. Our final stop is Strandfontein, a series of settling ponds supporting a remarkable variety of waterfowl. In the afternoon, we search for Cape Rockjumper, then drive to our lodge in the Hottentot’s Holland mountains.
Day 5: Hottentot’s Holland to De Hoop Nature Reserve
Situated 125 miles (200 km) east of Cape Town, the Agulhas plain stretches from the Langeberg Mountains to the southern tip of Africa. Here we seek the highly range-restricted Agulhas Long-billed Lark and Agulhas Clapper Lark. Other spectacular specialties include parties of stately Blue Crane and Stanley Bustard. We will overnight just outside De Hoop Nature Reserve.
Day 6: De Hoop to Wilderness
The morning will be spent at Potberg mountain, which holds the last Cape Vulture breeding colony in the region. Other targets are the endemic Southern Tchagra, Pied Starling, Orange-throated Longclaw and Pearl-breasted Swallow. In the afternoon we drive through to Knysna exploring the Wilderness Lakes en-route. We will spend two nights in the quiet town of Wilderness.
Day 7: Garden Route
The Garden Route winds over mountainsides dappled with fynbos flowers before it plunges into the thickly forested gorges where cola-hued rivers flow. Among the forest specialties we search for here are Forest Buzzard, Knysna Turaco, Narina Trogon, Knysna and Olive woodpeckers, Chorister Robin, Olive Bush Shrike, Swee Waxbill and Forest Canary.
Day 8: Garden Route to Karoo NP
We greet the dawn in the Swartberg Mountains where we will search for the skulking Victorin’s Scrub-Warbler, the charismatic Cape Rock-Jumper, the rare Protea Canary, and local Cape Siskin, and that will provide some dramatic rocky backdrops to our birding. Then we will descend into the hot and arid Karoo National Park, for a two night stay.
Day 9: Karoo NP
This park combines spectacular mountain scenery with the very best of Karoo birding; it is packed with Karoo endemics. The lowlands support Spike-heeled Lark, Gray-backed Finch-Lark, Karoo Chat, and Rufous-eared Warbler. The secretive Cinnamon-breasted Warbler, Pale-winged Starling, and Ground Woodpecker occur in rocky gorges, while the Sickle-winged Chat is found on the grassy plateau. The newly described Karoo Long-billed Lark is common throughout the park.
Day 10: Karoo NP to Johannesburg
We return to Cape Town and fly to Johannesburg, where we’ll overnight at a hotel away from this bustling city.
Days 11-12: Wakkerstroom
The area surrounding Wakkerstroom supports some of Africa’s most threatened species. Here we will search for the critically endangered Rudd’s Lark, Botha’s Lark and Yellow-breasted Pipit. The rolling grasslands also support magnificent endemics such as the striking Southern Bald Ibis, the elegant Blue Korhaan, and the Buff-streaked Chat. The rank vegetation is also home to magical widows, francolins, cisticolas, weavers, bishops and whydas. Two nights will be spent in the quiet country town of Wakkerstroom.
Days 13-15: Kruger National Park
We leave at the crack of dawn to make the most of our time at Kruger. Birding here is fantastic with many species living right in the park’s camps. The staccato calls of the Woodland Kingfisher and ridiculous moans of the Gray Go-away-bird reverberate throughout most lodgings. Elsewhere Trumpeter Hornbills, Saddle-billed Storks, and White-crowned Lapwings patrol the river edges, while menacing Nile Crocodiles watch from distant sandbanks. While looking for birds, we will undoubtedly bump into countless numbers of large mammals, including the possibility of Lion, Leopard, African Elephant, African Buffalo, and two species of beastly rhinoceros. Nights will be spent at several birdy camps inside Kruger.
Day 16: Kruger NP to Johannesburg
Today we will soak up the remainder of Kruger’s excellent birding and game viewing opportunities, before returning to Johannesburg for another night.
Day 17: Departure. This morning we fly out or start the Drakensberg extension.
Drakensberg: The Barrier of Spears extension (7 days)
Extension begins in Johannesburg, but ends in Durban.
We offer a 7 day extension to take in spectacular Mkuze, St Lucia, the Drakensberg Mountains and the midlands of Natal. This extension gives us chances at another suite of South African specialties.
Day 1: Drive Johannesburg – Mkuze. Today we drive to Mkuze Game Reserve area. Overnight in Mkuze Town.
Day 2: Mkuzi Game Reserve – full day. Today we will spend a full day at one of Africa’s most famous reserves, this is where the White Rhino was saved from global extinction. Birding here is fantastic, and we can only hope to take in a fraction of the 400 bird species that have been recorded in this small 36 000 ha gem. Its beauty is that many areas can be visited on foot, and walking trails and safaris are on offer, making it a better area for birdwatchers to visit than Kruger National Park. Highly diverse, this reserve comprises a wide range of habitats including pans, swamp forest, Acacia thornbush, woodland, riverine forest, and the highly unique sand forest. We will search for the main sandforest specials, the Rudd’s Apalis, Pink-throated Twinspot and Neergaard’s Sunbird. The surrounding bush offers a spectacular number of birds including a variety of kingfishers, barbets, bushshrikes, helmetshrikes, rollers, cuckoos, robins, bulbuls, starlings, sunbirds and seedeaters. Mkuzi is also renown as an excellent area for vultures and raptors, mostly because of the wealth of large predators in the park. While looking for birds we will undoubtedly bump into the countless numbers of large mammals, including 15 species of ungulates, and the possibility of predators such as Leopard and an excellent likelihood of the beastly White Rhinoceros. In the later afternoon we leave the reserve and head to St. Lucia. Overnight St Lucia.
Day 3: St Lucia-Eshowe. Up for an early breakfast, we head straight to the small coastal hamlet of St Lucia, where we will spend the morning soaking up the incredible Lake St Lucia, a World Heritage Site teeming with water birds and bushveld birds. We shall explore the swathes of forests that skirt the lagoons edge, in search of Green Coucal, Woodward’s Batis, Southern Banded Snake Eagle and Brown Robin. Other target birds include Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Pink-backed Pelican, Wattle-eyed Flycatcher, White-eared Barbet, Gorgeous Bush Shrike, Narina Trogon, Woolly-necked Stork, Grey Waxbill, Grey Sunbird, Crested Guineafowl, Green Twinspot and Trumpeter Hornbill. In the afternoon we heading to the coastal forests and mangroves surrounding Richard’s Bay, a relatively industrial complex which offers an amazing variety of birding options. On the face of it Richard’s Bay is a fairly ordinary looking place, but the reality is that it is loaded with top quality birding opportunities. We will visit open pans at Thulazihleka where we might see the scarce Lesser Jacana as well as the special Brown-throated Weaver and Pale-crowned Cisticola. We will surely see African Jacana as well as White-backed Duck, Whiskered Tern, Osprey and a variety of weavers, widows and water birds. We will also keep a keen eye on the countless waders, terns egrets, herons and other water birds that occur in this magical and diverse lagoon. St Lucia also has a good selection of mammals, and likely species to be seen include impressive Hippopotamus, Common Reedbuck, Burchell’s Zebra, Blue Wildebeest, Waterbuck, Vervet Monkey, Bushbuck and the tiny but exquisite Red Duiker. We will also take a shot at locating African Finfoot before heading to our accommodation in Eshowe. Overnight in Eshowe.
Day 4: Dhlinza. Dhlinza forest is mystical stop endowed with South Africa’s largest and most impressive canopy walkway. One of the key specials at this forest and our main target for the day is the globally endangered and legendary cryptic Spotted Ground Thrush, a bird with an uncanny ability to blend with the leaf litter when it is not moving! But Dhlinza has another mega-special, Delegorgue’s Pigeon, as well as a host of other great forest birds such as Narina Trogon, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Forest Weaver, Black-headed Oriole, African Goshawk, Green Twinspot, Terrestrial Bulbul and many other forest birds. Overnight Eshowe.
Day 5: Umlalazi to Underberg. In the morning we’ll head straight to Umlalazi Narure Reserve where we’ll look for a bunch of forest birds as well as the local specialty species, before heading off to Underberg for our assault on the Lesotho Drakensberg the following Day. Overnight Underberg.
Day 6: Sani Pass. This morning we head up the incredible Sani pass to 3482 m a.s.l (the highest mountain pass in southern Africa) into the mountain kingdom of Lesotho (remember your passport as it is a different country!). Here where we will begin our search for the many specials of the high Drakensberg. Near the base of the pass we will search the Leucosidea scrub for Bush Blackcap and Drakensberg Prinia, Yellow Warbler and perhaps entice out a Barratt’s Warbler. Higher up, where the grassland is dominated by Proteas, we seek Buff-streaked Chat, Gurney’s Sugarbird, Cape Rock-Thrush and Grassbird. Still higher we will search for the magnificent Bearded and Cape Vultures, Drakensberg Siskin, Orange-breasted Rockjumper, Sentinel Rock-Thrush, Cape Bunting, Layard’s Titbabbler, Southern Grey Tit, Fairy Flycatcher, Sickle-winged Chat, Rock and Mountain Pipits before heading down the mountains before night fall. We will see some interesting and bizarre mammals today including the specialised Ice Rat, Chacma Baboon and Rock Hyrax, colloquially known as the Dassie (the closest relative of the elephant!), and with luck some larger ungulates such as Eland, Mountain Reedbuck, Grey Rhebok and the agile Klipspringer. We overnight in Underberg.
Day 7: Xumeni Forest and Midland Grasslands to Durban. The morning will be spent at Xumeni, a marvelous block of Afro-montane forest, which offers our best chance to sample the exciting afro-montane specials. Amongst the residents here are Bar-throated Apalis, Blue-mantled Flycatcher, Starred and Chorister Robin, Yellow-throated Warbler and the ever so secretive Buff-spotted Flufftail. We should have good luck with the retiring Orange Ground Thrush and with patience we hope to see some of the few remaining pairs of the recently split Cape Parrots that breed and roost in this forest. In the afternoon we drive through the midland grasslands and look for Stanley’s Bustard, Red-collared Widowbird, White-winged Widowbird, Orange-breasted Waxbill, Long-crested Eagle, a few pipits and several larks. Creighton is an excellent area for Oribi, and hopefully we can find this increasing scare and specialised grassland antelope. We will also try for the increasingly scarce and threatened Blue Swallow. Its habitat is rapidly disappearing and it is nowhere else more apparent than here, where the only breeding pair in the district survives in a soccer pitch sized grassland sandwiched by pine plantations. It is a magnificent bird however, and if we are very lucky we should get superb views of these magical and scarce creatures. In the late afternoon we head to Durban where the tour finishes.
CLIMATE: Generally warm to hot on the January tour, with afternoon showers likely. Wakkerstroom can be cool in the evenings. The October tour is cool to warm. Cape Town can be chilly, as can Wakkerstroom.
DIFFICULTY: Easy. There will not be any difficult hikes. Much of the birding is from the car. This is a fairly fast-paced trip with a lot of driving.
ACCOMMODATION: Very good throughout.