Lilac-breasted Roller, Kruger National Park
Lilac-breasted Roller, Kruger National Park

Introduction: 

South Africa is well known as a land of diversity. From its landscapes, people, and cultures to its fauna and flora, change is the constant in South Africa. For the international traveller this is both a blessing and a curse, as there’s so much to see yet most don’t have the time to see it all, or even a large part of it for that matter. To showcase some of the best of South Africa we’ve developed this Kruger National Park and KwaZulu-Natal itinerary, incorporating the best of Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal provinces, which will give participants a wonderful introduction to the fauna, flora and landscapes of Eastern South Africa. The itinerary includes the grassy highlands of the Dullstroom region; the forests of the escarpment; the mighty Kruger National Park, South Africa’s flagship wildlife destination; the Wakkerstroom countryside, home to some of the world’s rarest lark species; the coastal sand forest and elephants of Tembe; the wonders of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park; and the aerial boardwalk in Dlinza Forest. This tour promises to deliver a rewarding and memorable birding and wildlife experience and can be combined with our “Penguins & Sugarbirds”, 3rd – 11th November, to create a comprehensive South African natural history experience.

10 – 23 November 2018 (13 nights / 14 days)

Starts in Johannesburg on the morning of the 10th November 2018. Participants should ideally overnight in Johannesburg the night before the tour starts. We are happy to arrange this accommodation. Alternatively participants need to arrive on early morning flights the day the tour starts. Tour ends at Durban’s King Shaka Airport on the late afternoon of the  23rd November 2018. Please check with us before booking any flights.

2018: ZAR 47 550 per person sharing, ZAR  5 975 single supplement

Price subject to change based on external factors. Price is based on a minimum of 4 participants. Small group surcharge will be levied for groups smaller than 4 participants. Please contact us for more detail.

Includes
• Accommodation
• All breakfasts and dinners
• Lunches at Tembe and on the full day up Sani Pass
• Entrance fees
• Ground transport
• Boat excursion at St Lucia
• Bottled water in Lawson’s vehicle whilst travelling
• Personalised checklists
• Specialist guide fees

Excludes
• All airfares
• Travel and medical insurance
• Lunches (except at Tembe and on the Sani Pass day trip)
• All drinks
• Optional excursions where applicable
• Gratuities
• Items of a personal nature

Note
• This itinerary is subject to change due to weather conditions at the time and other factors beyond our control.
• The species mentioned in the itinerary represent only some of the possible ones we may see on the tour, however, none of these can be guaranteed even though every effort will be made where possible to locate them. A full list of possibles appears on your checklist.

Group size: maximum of 12 participants, 1 guide per 6 participants.

Areas visited: Dullstroom, Kruger National Park, Wakkerstroom, Tembe Elephant Park, iSimangaliso Wetlands Park and Eshowe.

Expected weather conditions: warm to hot most of the time. Rain is possible, usually in the form of summer convection thunderstorms, and cool wet weather is possible in the event of a cold front moving up from the south.

Tour tempo: medium to medium-plus, optional mid-day breaks on non-travelling days.

Accommodation standards: medium plus: lodges and guest houses.

Birding in brief: excellent variety, forest, marine, coastal, savannah, grassland and mountain habitats covered.

Top birds: Sentinel Rock Thrush, Buff-streaked Chat, Yellow-breasted Pipit, Orange Ground Thrush, Narina Trogon, White-starred Robin, Martial Eagle, Southern Ground Hornbill, Kori Bustard, African Finfoot, Verreaux’s Eagle Owl, African Scops Owl, Blue Crane, Grey Crowned Crane, Blue Korhaan, Rudd’s Lark, Botha’s Lark, Pink-throated Twinspot, Rudd’s Apalis, Woodward’s Batis, Spotted Ground Thrush, Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon.

Mammal viewing: Excellent, especially in the Kruger National Park, iSimangaliso Wetland Park and Tembe. Other destinations also include chances for additional mammal species.

Top mammals: The Big Five (Lion, Leopard, African Elephant, White and Black Rhinoceros and African Buffalo), Cheetah, Wild Dog, African Wild Cat, Oribi, Meerkat, Blue Duiker, Suni.

Add-ons: this tour can be combined with our “Penguins & Sugarbirds” tour in the Western Cape, 4th – 12th November 2016 & 3rd – 11th November 2017.

Cranes, Rollers & Raptors map
Start Johannesburg / end King Shaka Airport. 1: Dullstroom. 2: Mount Sheba. 3: Blyde Canyon. 4: Kruger Satara. 5: Kruger Skukuza. 6: Kruger Pretoriuskop. 7: Wakkerstroom. 8: Tembe. 9: St Lucia. 10: Eshowe.

Day 1: Dullstroom and the Mpumalanga Highlands
After arrival in Johannesburg we’ll drive northwards a short distance to Rietvlei Nature Reserve (note that this depends on the arrival time). This small reserve conserves some Highveld grassland habitat and holds a few bird species which we will probably not see on the rest of the itinerary. These include South African Shelduck, Greater Kestrel, Black-chested Prinia, Northern Black Korhaan, Greater Kestrel and Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler, among others. We’ll then continue eastwards through the maize, stock and coal mining regions of western Mpumalanga, an area termed the ‘highveld’, referring to the open nature of the habitat and the high altitude (1500 m.a.s.l / 4920 feet and over). At the small town of Belfast we will turn north off the main highway and head on to Dullstroom, our destination for the night. The high altitudes around Dullstroom – up to 2 200 m.a.s.l / 7200 feet – and rocky terrain mean that it is best suited for extensive stock farming and thus the habitat of open grassland remains relatively pristine, making it a superb birding area. Endemics and near-endemics are especially well represented in the high altitude grasslands and our main target birds will include Southern Bald Ibis, Gurney’s Sugarbird, Buff-streaked Chat, Sentinel Rock-Thrush, Yellow-breasted Pipit, Grey-winged Francolin, Cape Sparrow, Mountain Wheatear, Southern Ant-eating Chat, Pied Starling, Jackal Buzzard and Cape Vulture, among others. The three crane species occur in the area, though these are uncommon birds and are not recorded on every tour. Grey Crowned Crane is the most commonly encountered, followed by the endemic Blue Crane and then Wattled Crane, which is very rare in South Africa. Nevertheless we will do our best with the available time and other birds we may see include Denham’s Bustard, Secretarybird, Long-crested Eagle, Red-winged Francolin, African Snipe, Wattled Lapwing and Giant Kingfisher, among others. With luck we may see Meerkats, with these endearing little animals occurring here in small numbers.

Day 2: Mount Sheba
Today we will head out early on a morning, pre-breakfast excursion into the Veloren Valei (Lost Valley) Nature Reserve and Ramsar Site high up in the Steenkampsberg Range. Here the altitudes reach the 2250 metre (7380 feet) mark, and birds we will be on the lookout for include Denham’s Bustard, Secretarybird, Gurney’s Sugarbird, Eastern Long-billed Lark, Yellow-breasted Pipit, Grey-winged Francolin, Sentinel Rock-Thrush and Jackal Buzzard. After the morning excursion we will head back down to town for breakfast, after which we’ll make our way to depart for Mount Sheba, a lovely old hotel on the edge of the escarpment. The hotel is surrounded by a large patch of pristine Montane Forest. This forest derives much of its moisture from the mists that swirl up along the escarpment edge and provides habitat for some exciting forest birds such as Narina Trogon, White-starred Robin, Chorister Robin-Chat, Lemon Dove, Cape Batis, Yellow-throated Woodland-Warbler, Olive Woodpecker, Yellow-streaked Greenbul, Grey Cuckooshrike, Orange Ground Thrush and Knysna Turaco, as well as a few troops of Samango Monkeys (known as Syke’s Monkey in the rest of Africa). Forest birding can be a tricky, neck-craning affair, with the birds either flitting about in the canopy high above or skulking in thick bush close to the ground, but the rewards, when they come, are worth the effort. We spend one night here, with an afternoon and full morning on which to rack up a decent list of forest birds, many of which won’t be seen on the rest of the itinerary.

Days 3 – 4: The Kruger National Park, Satara
We’ll start the day with a walk in the forest before breakfast, on which we’ll aim to bag a decent number of forest bird species. We’ll then have a late breakfast and leisurely departure as we make our way to the Kruger National Park. After dropping out of the escarpment we will then level out in the flat savannah and make our way to Orpen Gate, where we enter the Kruger. From here the going gets really slow due to the sheer numbers of birds and animals to be seen. Common savannah birds we should see over the next few days include Burchell’s Starling, Southern Red-billed and Yellow-billed Hornbills, Lilac-breasted and Purple Rollers, Swainson’s Spurfowl, Crested and Natal Francolins, Blue Waxbill, Green-winged Pytilia, Burchell’s Coucal, Rattling Cisticola, Crested Barbet, Green Wood-Hoopoe, Brown-headed Parrot, Golden-tailed and Bearded Woodpeckers, Arrow-marked Babbler and many others. Raptors are particularly well represented and include Martial and Tawny Eagles, Lappet-faced, White-headed, White-backed and Hooded Vultures, Bateleur, Shikra, Gabar Goshawk, African Harrier-Hawk, Brown Snake-Eagle and many more. Animals we may see in the area include African Elephant, African Buffalo, Southern Giraffe, Plains Zebra, Blue Wildebeest, Impala, Lion and Leopard. The Satara region is fairly open country, with good grazing in the summer months, which attracts large herds of grazers. Knob-thorn and Marula are two of the dominant tree species, the former a favourite of Southern Giraffe. We have two nights at Satara Rest Camp and our program while in the park will entail early morning and afternoon game drives and rest periods in the camp in between. There is also an optional sunset drive available on the second night here, and your guide will fill you in on this beforehand (this is for your own account).

Days 5: The Kruger National Park, Skukuza
After a last early morning drive from Satara we will have breakfast and head south to Skukuza Rest Camp, 92 kilometres away. Skukuza is situated on the southern bank of the Sabie River, one of the biggest and most biologically diverse rivers in the park. As we head south there is a subtle but noticeable change in the terrain and vegetation. The terrain becomes more undulating, with granite koppies (rock outcrops) sticking up here and there, and the bush becomes much thicker with a more prominent tree and shrub layer. This denser habitat suits the browsers better and large herds of animals such as Wildebeest and Zebra are far less common here. Birds we will be on the lookout for include Goliath Heron, Hamerkop, African Finfoot (rare), Sombre Greenbul, White-crowned Lapwing, African Goshawk, Thick-billed Weaver, Orange-breasted and Grey-headed Bush-Shrike, Purple-crested Turaco, among others. The permanent water in the Sabie River supports a large population of Impala, which in turn support predators such as Leopard and Lion and we’ll hope to have a few sightings of these during our time here. There are also a few packs of Wild Dogs in the area and we’ll hope to have a sighting of these endangered predators. After breakfast we will have a short walk around the camp to look for birds such as Eastern Bearded Scrub-Robin, White-browed Robin-Chat, Collared Sunbird, Greater Blue-eared Starling and others and our routine here will again include morning and afternoon drives with relaxing lunch breaks in between.

Day 6: The Kruger National Park, Pretoriuskop
Moving on after breakfast we head south-west to Pretoriuskop Rest Camp. Once again the vegetation changes subtly, with a characteristic layer of thick, tall thatching grass predominating in this area (a vegetation type known as Pretoriuskop Sourveld) and large granite domes adding to the scenic appeal. This change in vegetation brings a few new birds, and species we’ll be looking out for specifically include Bushveld Pipit, Retz’s and White-crested Helmet-Shrikes, Dark Chanting Goshawk, African Cuckoo Hawk, Lizard Buzzard, Bennett’s Woodpecker, Mocking Cliff Chat, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Yellow-throated Petronia, Pale Flycatcher, Croaking and Lazy Cisticolas and Scarlet-chested Sunbird. The thick vegetation and predominance of coarse Thatching Grass means that this part of the park is not the best for large mammals, except during the early summer when it is often the first region to receive significant rainfall. Nevertheless, we should still see some mammals, such as Vervet Monkey, Chacma Baboon, Klipspringer, African Buffalo, Greater Kudu, Elephant and perhaps White Rhino (or Black Rhino is we’re very lucky). The camp itself is also a good spot for birds and offers good chances of seeing species such as Purple-crested Turaco, Brown-headed Parrot, Helmeted Guineafowl, Black-collared Barbet, Southern Black Flycatcher and Kurrichane Thrush, while Dwarf Mongooses are often seen in and around the camp.

Days 7 – 8: Wakkerstroom
After an early drive and breakfast we’ll pack and depart for Wakkerstroom, a small agricultural town in the Southern Mpumalanga highlands that is well known as one of South Africa’s best birding spots. We should arrive in the mid to late afternoon and if time (and energy) allows we’ll take a short drive down to the large wetland on the edge of town. This wetland and expanse of open water is easily viewable from the road bridge and we should record species such as Grey Crowned Crane, Purple Swamphen, Little Bittern, Black-crowned Night-Heron, African Spoonbill, Hamerkop, Southern Masked Weaver and others. In the late afternoon we’ll head back to our accommodation and then head into town for dinner. After dinner and completing our lists we’ll retire in anticipation of a full day birding the Wakkerstroom area, where the hilltops rise to over 2000 meters above sea level and the lack of intensive agriculture makes for superb Highveld grassland habitat. On our full day we’ll head out on and extended birding excursion, taking a packed breakfast and coffee basket with us. There are various loops in the area, and special birds we’ll be looking out for include Blue Crane, Secretarybird, Blue Korhaan, Ground Woodpecker, Quail Finch, Marsh Owl, Red-throated Wryneck and Rudd’s and Botha’s Larks, the two specials for the area. Mammals we may see include Yellow Mongoose and the endearing Meerkat / Suricate. We’ll return for lunch and a siesta, and will have the afternoon open for either another drive or a stroll down to the wetlands once again.

Days 9 – 10: Tembe Elephant Park
After a last morning activity in the Wakkerstroom area we’ll have breakfast, pack and depart for Tembe Elephant Park in far northern KwaZulu-Natal Province. Tembe Elephant Park is a large reserve on the border of South Africa and Mozambique, and is co-owned by the people of the local Tembe tribe. Much of Tembe comprises pristine sand forest habitat, which is where we’ll look for special birds such as Pink-throated Twinspot, Plain-backed Sunbird, Woodward’s Batis, Grey Waxbill, Rudd’s Apalis, African Broadbill and many others. Other habitats include grassy vleis (marshes) where we may see Black Coucal, Saddle-billed Stork, Purple Heron and Rosy-throated Longclaw, with a bit of luck. As its name implies Tembe is also home to a large number of African Elephants, many of which carry some impressive ivory (unfortunately Isilo, their biggest tusker and one of Africa’s biggest tuskers, died of natural causes early in 2014). In addition to some wonderful Elephant encounters we’ll hope to see Lion, and will no doubt see antelope species such as Impala, Nyala, Kudu, Suni and Red Duiker. Other species to see include Red Squirrel, Thick-tailed Bushbaby, Bushpig and Warthog. We should arrive at Tembe in the mid-afternoon in time for our afternoon game and birding drive in open-sided Land-Cruise game viewers. We’ll return to camp for dinner and drinks under the African night sky. The following morning we’ll have a morning drive, followed by breakfast and a chance to relax in the camp through the heat of the day. We’ll then have another afternoon drive followed by dinner once again.

Days 11 – 12: St Lucia and the iSimangaliso Wetland Park
After the morning drive at Tembe we’ll have breakfast and depart for the coastal village of St Lucia on the edge of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. The park was listed in 1999 as South Africa’s first World Heritage Site. Comprising three major lake systems, eight interlinking ecosystems, 700-year-old fishing traditions, most of South Africa’s remaining swamp forests, Africa’s largest estuarine system, 526 bird species and 25 000-year-old coastal sand dunes, which are among the highest in the world, this is an extraordinary place indeed. We should arrive in the early afternoon and have time to settle in to our accommodation in town before embarking on a birding boat cruise on the estuary at 16h00, looking for birds such as African Fish Eagle, Purple Swamphen, Malachite, Pied and Giant Kingfishers, African Jacana, Great White and Pink-backed Pelicans, Woolly-necked Storks and others in addition to the resident Hippo’s and Nile Crocodiles, some of which are true giants. On our full day we’ll take a packed breakfast and head into the Cape Vidal section of the iSimangaliso Wetlands National Park, where we hope to find a range of exciting birds, such as Woodward’s Batis, Livingstone’s Turaco, Black-bellied Starling, Southern Banded Snake-Eagle, White-eared Barbet, Collared Pratincole, Kitlitz’s Plover, African Yellow White-eye and Crowned Hornbill. As the day may be fairly warm this time of year we’ll try and get back to town early the afternoon for lunch and have a little bit of time to relax before we have a late afternoon walk along the estuary boardwalk, where we may add a few extra species. Rufous-winged Cisicola, Grey Heron, Yellow-billed Stork, Common Greenshank, Wood Sandpiper and Little Stint are usually present, often along with Sanderling, Pink-backed Pelican and Caspian Tern. Depending on time, we may opt to take a short walk down the beach to the mouth of the Umfolozi River, where the chance exists to see Terek Sandpiper, White-fronted Plover, Common Ringed Plover, Little, Common, Swift and Sandwich Tern, with this site also turning up more unusual species such as Greater and Lesser Sand Plover most years. We’ll return in time for a bit of time off before dinner at one of the many restaurants in this town.

Day 13: Eshowe
After a short morning walk on the iGwala-Gwala trail, looking for species such as Brown Scrub Robin, Green Malkoha, Livingstone’s Turaco, White-eared Barbet, Grey Waxbill, Woodward’s Batis, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Lemon Dove and others we’ll head back into town for breakfast and then depart for Eshowe via Mtunzini. Here we’ll look for the Palmnut Vultures which frequent this stretch of coast, and then move on to Ongoye Forest, where we’ll look for the extremely range-restricted Green Barbet, which in Southern Africa is found only in this forest (and some authorities consider it to be a full species). We should arrive in Eshowe in the afternoon and will have a chance to relax before a short walk in Dlinza Forest, where we’ll look for Narina Trogon, Green Malkoha, Purple-crested Turaco, Red-capped Robin Chat and one of the stars of the forest, Spotted Ground Thrush. We’ll then return to town for time to freshen up before dinner.

Day 14: Departure
We’ll have an early trip into Dlinza Forest, where we’ll spend time on the canopy tower looking for one of the other stars of the forest, the Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon. We’ll then have a walk in the forest before breakfast and then make our way to Durban for our departure flight to Johannesburg (or other onward destinations).

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