South Africa: Nature Sketching Tour
This unique small group tour combines the skills of a very experienced Tropical Birding bird and naturalist guide with a qualified, expert visual artist and science educator (Christine Elder) to bring you a trip to one of the most beautiful corners of Africa to watch and sketch the multitude of wildlife on offer. This is suitable for not only sketchers, but also those who enjoy wildlife viewing where quality nature observations are at the core of this relaxed pace tour; (keener bird listers would be better off on one of our alternative South Africa tours, like Fairest Cape to Kruger). The tour focuses on two distinctly different areas, having extended stays in each to ensure plentiful, lengthy observations of wildlife for our sketchpads. Firstly, there will be the Western Cape province western South Africa, where specialty birds and animals abound, and then will be a prolonged stay inside Kruger National Park, where big mammals come to the fore. See a promotional video by artist Christine Elder HERE.
In the Western Cape, we are assured of intimate close ups with tame African Penguins at the famous Boulder’s Beach colony on the Cape Peninsula. While in other areas like the Cape of Good Hope and De Hoop Nature Reserve we will seek a series of Western Cape specialties, like Bokmakerie and cliff-nesting Cape Cormorants on the bird front, and Bontebok antelopes and Cape Mountain Zebras on the mammal agenda. De Hoop also offers some of the best land-based whale watching on the planet, and we will be able to watch the playful antics of nursing Southern Right Whales from an excellent observation point on the top of a white sand dune. The other alluring aspect of this first part of the trip in this season will be the widespread floral blooms of spectacular protea plants, which will be attended by their native pollinators, such as Cape Sugarbirds and Orange-breasted Sunbirds. A visit to the world-famous Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens is sure to bring us into close contact with these, with Table Mountain as an impressive backdrop to all of the action.
After that, we shall fly all the way across South Africa to Kruger National Park, within the eastern province of Mpumalanga. This massive park, comparable in size to the country of Belize, is home to more than 520 bird species and almost 150 mammals. We will utilize elegant, open-sided safari vehicles, which will allow good observations for all inside them of the myriad wildlife inside the multitude of habitats and microhabitats in Kruger, which is often touted as one of the best parks in all of Africa. While we drive around the park, aided by an experienced local guide who lives just outside Kruger, we will come across many conspicuous, open country, birds, such as storks, bustards, bee-eaters, kingfishers, rollers, hornbills, woodhoopes, turacos, weavers, oxpeckers, and honeyguides. There will also be plentiful mammals too to observe at length, and sketch to your heart’s content, with Kruger ranked as one of the best parks in all of Africa to quickly build an impressive mammal list. Our list is likely to include much of the iconic megafauna of Africa, such as Lions, Leopards, giraffes, zebras, elephants, buffalos, hippos and rhinos.
Participants will also be provided with FREE access to online wildlife sketching and painting courses before the start of the tour, as an added bonus. This tour is limited to only 6 participants, with two guides throughout, and an extra guide within Kruger. Christine will be hosting some upcoming online wildlife workshops, many of which will be focused around this tour. Please let us know soon if you wish to join, with such limited availability we expect this unique Tropical Birding tour to fill up fast!
TBA (2023 price was $6620; single supplement: $800)
Other Tour Details:
Length: 14 Days
Starting City: Cape Town
Ending City: Johannesburg
Physical Difficulty: Easy
Focus: Sketching, Birding, Wildlife, Botany
Group size: 6 + 2 Leaders
Day 1: Arrival in Cape Town
After arrival you will be transferred to our local hotel. Three nights will be spent at our comfortable hotel in Cape Town, so that you can get settled in, knowing you do not have to pack again for some time. There is no sketching on this day, with the first activity being a dinner together as a group at 6:30pm at the hotel, where there will be a briefing from your two guides about the opening days of the tour.
Day 2: Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, Cape Town
The botanic gardens in Cape Town are renowned as one of the best of their kind in the World. In this season, they will be full of colorful blossoming Fynbos plants, attended by spectacular Cape Sugarbirds and Orange-breasted Sunbirds. As well as the dramatic floral displays of Protea plants and their attentive avian pollinators, what sets Kirstenbosch apart is the setting in which it is located, abutting the stunning backdrop of Table Mountain.
Day 3: African Penguin Colony and the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve
We will visit Boulder’s Beach, where hundreds of African Penguins will waddle around us in this phenomenal colony. The penguins have become so accustomed to people, they act like we are not there, going about their daily business in full glorious view of us and allowing close up studies, which are idyllic for a nature sketching tour. After a morning admiring extremely confiding penguins, we will head to the nearby Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve. This is a rocky headland of outstanding natural beauty, which qualifies as one of the two key landmarks within Table Mountain National Park (the other being Table Mountain, which we will have covered on day 2). The rugged landscape of the Cape of Good Hope will be carpeted in floral blooms of Fynbos plants in this season, and it is noteworthy for its extraordinary diversity of this native vegetation. Aside from the setting, we will also be on the lookout for fauna to sketch too, which could include the overly friendly Chacma Baboons, or birds like Common Ostriches and cliff-nesting Cape Cormorants that at this time of year, sport bright orange gular pouches. We will enjoy a final, third, night in Cape Town.
Day 4: Cape Town to De Hoop Nature Reserve
After our extended stay in Cape Town, we will depart the city and head southeast along the Garden Route to De Hoop Nature Reserve, close to Cape Algulhas, the southernmost tip of Africa. This massive coastal reserve comprises sand dunes, sea views out into the Indian Ocean, mountain views, and more glorious fynbos plants, which are attended by large, grazing, native herbivores like Eland, Bontebok antelopes, and Cape Mountain Zebras. These large, tame, wild African mammals can often be found right around our chalets and can therefore be sketched right from our front doors! Two nights will be spent within wonderful chalets in the heart of this breathtaking natural setting.
Day 5: De Hoop Nature Reserve
De Hoop is spectacularly diverse. In addition to the aforementioned terrestrial fauna and flora, it is also renowned for its marine life, and is considered one of the best places on Earth for land-based whale watching. The marine reserve in De Hoop is classified as a World Heritage Site that is an important nursery for Southern Right Whales, which return to De Hoop in their hundreds in this season from their cold winter-feeding grounds in the Southern Oceans close to Antarctica. We will seat ourselves on the top of clean white sand dunes, from where we can look down on these massive, sea-faring mammals and observe their playful antics just offshore. A final, second, night will be spent in De Hoop Nature Reserve, with big game for neighbors!
Day 6: De Hoop to Cape Town
After a final morning sketching the myriad wildlife opportunities in De Hoop, we will drive back north to Cape Town for a single night in the same hotel used on the nights of days one to three.
Day 7: Cape Town to Kruger National Park
In the morning we will take a domestic flight out of Cape Town to Skukuza in the eastern province of Mpumalanga, dubbed as “the prettiest airport in the world”. Skukuza is within Kruger National Park, so this makes our travel time from one side of the country to the other relatively short, (this involves a two-and-a-half-hour flight). We have allowed plenty of time within Kruger, as there is so much on offer, from the world famous “Big 5” large mammals (i.e. Lion, Leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and buffalo), to a bewildering variety of birdlife. The park has a colossal bird list, exceeding 520 species owing to the wonderful variety of habitats within its borders. We will spend an entire week in Kruger, staying in comfortable national park bungalows within three different camps, and using open-sided safari vehicles, to experience the very best viewing experiences to enhance our sketching and wildlife observations.
Days 8-13: Kruger National Park
Although many look to East Africa for safari experiences, South Africa, (and Kruger in particular), is arguably better. The reasons for this are simple, Kruger is a huge park. It expands across 20,000km2 (more than 4,940,000 acres), equivalent to the size of Belize or the US state of New Jersey. This has created a haven for large populations of large mammals to thrive in the park. It is considered internationally important for its populations of White Rhino, Lion, and African Wild Dog, among others. The substantial breadth of the park also covers an area of complex geology that gives rise to a wide variety of habitats and microhabitats, which results in a long and diverse bird and mammal list. Experienced hands in African wildlife have often said that for sheer variety (in terms of mammals), Kruger is hard to beat. A long mammal list can be accrued relatively quickly even in only a short visit. And on this tour, you will be spending longer there than many tours do, giving you an excellent opportunity for mammal watching and nature sketching, with more than ample time to do so. The park boasts a list of nearly 150 species of mammals, including many iconic African species outside of the Big Five, like giraffes, zebras, hippos, and hyenas. Among the birds we will be seeking to observe are a dizzy variety of bustards, raptors, guineafowl, herons, storks, kingfishers, bee-eaters, rollers, mousebirds, hornbills, woodpeckers, woodhoopoes, barbets, honeyguides, shrikes, sunbirds and weavers! Just some of the stellar species that will be on offer are the well-named Goliath Heron, the sizeable Kori Bustard, the multicolored Saddle-billed Stork, the anvil-headed Hamerkop, the leaf-trotting African Jacana, the hulking Giant Kingfisher, the ravishing White-fronted Bee-eater, the pulchritudinous Purple-crested Turaco, the spectacular African Hoopoe, flocks of iridescent Green Woodhoopoes, the statuesque Southern Ground Hornbill that stands as tall as a 5-yaer old boy, the gorgeous Lilac-breasted Roller, the golden-colored Yellow-throated Longclaw, the drop-dead gorgeous Scarlet-chested Sunbird, as well as Red-billed Oxpeckers using animal hides as dinner plates! I think this has illustrated here what a wonderful array of subjects you will have for your quill, paint or pen on this epic nature sketching tour.
Day 14: Kruger to Johannesburg for INTERNATIONAL DEPARTURES
The tour will end this day, after we will take a short domestic flight from Skukuza Airport within Kruger, to South Africa’s largest city, Johannesburg in the afternoon. As most international flights out of there leave in the late evening, this will be well timed to connect with your flight home. Typically, it is best to book a departing flight out after 8pm, although please consult with the Tropical Birding office before booking your flights for this tour, to ensure you do not book an inappropriate, non-refundable ticket!
PACE: Easy. The days here in the summer are long. We will typically be up early, around 6 am, and stay out until around 5 pm. When possible, we will use the middle of the day to rest up, but on many days, we will use this time to travel between localities. There will be a few optional outings after dark to search for mammals, owls, and nightjars; these are normally done just after dinner and seldom last for more than 2-hours (typically between 7–9 pm). There are no especially long drives on this tour. The longest are two exceeding 3 hours on the Western Cape section (between Cape Town and De Hoop). Flying to and from Kruger NP eliminates a lot of unnecessary driving and is a luxury, although that comes at a cost. All meals will be sit-down affairs.
PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Easy. Almost all the wildlife viewing is from mostly flat roads or tracks, or from the vehicle (e.g. inside Kruger NP). The maximum walking on any day is likely around 2 miles (3 km).
CLIMATE: Usually pleasant and warm, though some nights and mornings can be on the cool side. For the Western Cape section of the tour (days 1-6), September-October is one of the drier times of year, averaging only 5 days a month with rain at this time. The temperatures average around 62.5°F, 17°C at this time, ranging between 52.5-74.5°F, 11.5-23.5°C in Cape Town in September-October. During September-October in Kruger temperatures range between 58-78°F, 14.5-25.5°C, and there are only around 3-4 rain days per month at this time.
ACCOMMODATION: Very good to excellent, all have private, en-suite bathrooms, and full-time hot water. Electricity is available everywhere 24 hours a day. Reliable Internet on this trip will be limited to our time in Cape Town. Although Internet is available at some of the camps in Kruger, it is often slow and unreliable in these too.
PHOTOGRAPHY: If you are a casual photographer, you will love this trip! Birds are cooperative, and mammals are easy to take pictures of, and because as we are visiting many places where birds are common, tame and easily seen, there are plenty of opportunities for the casual photographer to indulge and enjoy shooting. Our open-topped vehicle in Kruger also makes more a much better photographic experience as everyone will be able to easily use their cameras.
WHEN TO GO: This September trip is timed for peak spring activity of breeding endemic birds in both the dry west (Western Cape) and moist east parts of the country (i.e. Kruger). Also, the bush is drier at this time, and so it is easier to see mammals at this time of year.
TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS: A valid passport is required; the passport must be valid for at least six months past your intended stay. Tourist visas are currently not required for citizens of the US, Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand, and most European countries. Visas are currently only required of a few nationalities, mostly in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Travel requirements are subject to change; if you are unsure, please check with the nearest embassy or consulate, or ask our office staff for help.
WHAT’S INCLUDED?: Tips to lodge/restaurant staff; accommodation from the night of day 1 to the night of day 13; meals from dinner on day 1 (unless you arrive too late for dinner service) to lunch on day 14; one non-alcoholic drink during meals; safe drinking water throughout (do not drink the tap water on this tour!); 1 TROPICAL BIRDING birding/naturalist tour leader throughout with scope and audio playback gear from the evening of day 1 to the afternoon of day 14; 1 Nature Sketching tour leader (Christine Elder) from the evening of day 1 to the afternoon of day 14; 1 local guide for our stay in Kruger National Park; one arrival and one departure airport transfer per person on the stated arrival and departure days (transfers may be shared with other participants of the same tour if they arrive at the same time); ground transport for the group to all sites in the itinerary from day 2 to day 14; 1 domestic flight between Cape Town and Kruger; an elegant, open-sided, safari vehicles within Kruger NP; entrance fees to all sites mentioned in the itinerary; two domestic flights (Cape Town-Kruger & Kruger-Johannesburg); a printed and bound checklist to keep track of your sightings (given to you at the start of the tour – only electronic copies can be provided in advance). Access to guide Christine Elder's complete roster of online wildlife sketching courses (in value, worth more than $US1000).
WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED?: Optional tips to the TWO tour leaders; tips to 1 local guide inside Kruger; tips for luggage porters (if you require their services); flights other than the included internal flights listed above; snacks; additional drinks apart from those included; alcoholic beverages; travel insurance; excursions not included in the tour itinerary; extras in hotels such as laundry service, minibar, room service, telephone calls, and personal items; medical fees; excess baggage fees; other items or services not specifically mentioned as being included.
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