South Africa is world-renowned for its incredible habitat and biological diversity, and nowhere is this more poignant than in the north-east of the country. Within a day’s drive one can go from cool 2000 meters-plus grasslands to hot, sub-tropical savannah at no more than 250 meters above sea level, with much in the way of transitional habitats in between. This wonderful, compact itinerary is designed to make the most of this diversity while at the same time avoiding long days in the car and allowing enough time to enjoy the various accommodation venues. For the birder and wildlife enthusiast this translates into a superb range of species to be seen and is the ideal introduction to the region’s avifauna and wildlife in general. The highlands are an endemics hot-spot, and notable species to be seen include Bokmakierie, Gurney’s Sugarbird, Yellow-breasted Pipit, Drakensberg Prinia, Cape Grassbird, Sentinel Rock-Thrush, Buff-Streaked and Ant-eating Chats, among others. Descending in altitude, the tour explores some montane forest habitat, the cliffs and gorges of the Blyde River Canyon, third largest canyon in the world, and transitional habitats before leveling out in the Kruger National Park, where birds and beasts abound. Here daily lists of well over 100 species are to be expected, and sightings of big mammals such as Lion, Elephant and White Rhinoceros add substantially to the appeal. All in all this is a fantastic way to be introduced to some of South Africa’s scenery, birds and animals. This safari is designed as a follow-on to Eastern South Africa Highlights #1: Drakensberg & Zululand set-departure. Participants can sign up of one or both of these safaris. For those wanting to do both, it will be necessary to spend one night in between in Johannesburg (for own account).
1 – 9 February 2019 (8 nights / 9 days) – exact dates to be announced
Starts in Johannesburg on the morning of the 1st February 2020. 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 on the day the tour starts. Tour ends in Johannesburg on the late afternoon of the 9th February in time for evening transcontinental flights. Please check with us before booking any flights.
2020: ZAR 35 475 per person sharing, ZAR 5 500 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.
- All breakfasts and dinners
- Ground transport
- Bottled water in vehicle whilst travelling
- Entrance fees
- Personalised checklists
- Specialist guide fees
- All airfares
- Travel and medical insurance
- All drinks
- Optional excursions where applicable
- Items of a personal nature
- This itinerary is subject to change due to weather conditions at the time and other factors beyond our control.
- Birds and mammals mentioned on this itinerary do not represent all that can be seen. A full list of possibles appears on your checklist.
Group size: maximum of 12 participants, 1 guide per 6 participants.
Areas visited: Dullstroom, Mount Sheba, Blyde River Canyon, Kruger National Park.
Expected weather conditions: cool to mild in the highlands, hot and humid in the Kruger. Some rain to be expected.
Birding in brief: excellent variety, four major habitats included, tops for endemics.
Top birds: Southern Bald Ibis, Denham’s Bustard, Gurney’s Sugarbird, Jackal Buzzard, Knysna Turaco, Cape Vulture, African Scops-Owl, Southern Ground-Hornbill, Martial Eagle, Malachite Kingfisher, Southern White-crowned Shrike, Kori Bustard, Retz’s Helmet Shrike, Southern Carmine Bee-eater.
Mammal viewing: excellent, especially in the Kruger National Park.
Top mammals: The Big Five, Klipspringer, Honey Badger, African Wild Dog, African Wild Cat, Nyala.
Add-ons: Combine with Eastern SA Highlights #1: Drakensberg & Zululand; 19 January – 1 February 2019
Day 1: Dullstroom and the Mpumalanga Highlands
After arrival in Johannesburg we’ll drive northwards a short distance to Rietvlei Nature Reserve. This small reserve conserves some Highveld grassland habitat and holds a few bird species which we will not have a chance of seeing on the rest of the itinerary. These include South African Shelduck, Northern Black Korhaan, Greater Kestrel and Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler, among others. We’ll then continue eastwards through Mpumalanga Province. The eastern reaches of the province are dominated by extensive beef and maize farming, with coal mining taking place here and there. The scenery is not too spectacular for the first two hours or so, but will improve as we leave the highway at Belfast and head north-east into the highlands. Before turning off however we will have a few stops to add some water birds to our list. Not far off the highway there are some pans and marshes where we will look for species such as Greater Flamingo, Cape Shoveler, Hottentot and Red-billed Teals, Yellow-billed, White-backed and Maccoa Ducks, Southern Pochard, Black-necked Grebe, Southern Red Bishop and others. Further on we may deviate slightly to check out a South African Cliff Swallow colony before heading on for lunch in Dullstroom, our base for the next two days. The altitudes around Dullstroom vary from 2000 – 2250 metres (6500 feet) above sea level, and the habitat comprises open grasslands and rocky hillsides, while here and there stands of alien trees provide an additional habitat. We will probably arrive in the afternoon some time and if time allows may have a short afternoon activity before getting ready for dinner. Species we will be on the lookout for include Southern Bald Ibis, Cape Longclaw, Ant-eating Chat, Mountain Wheatear, Pied Starling, Steppe Buzzard, Cape Crow, Common Fiscal, Bokmakierie and many others. The Dullstroom area does not hold too many large mammals, though Black Wildebeest, Blesbok, Springbok and other antelope can be seen on farms, having been re-introduced by many landowners. Grey Rhebok, Mountain Reedbuck, Yellow Mongoose, Meerkat and Natal Red Rock Rabbit live under free-ranging conditions and can be seen in the area. We’ll then have some time to freshen up before dinner.
Day 2: Mount Sheba
Today we will head out early on a morning 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, among others. There’s also a chance to see both Blue and Wattled Cranes in the reserve, although the numbers are low and there are many unseen valleys and depressions where they can hide from our view. After the morning excursion we will head back down to town for breakfast, after which we will make our way to Mount Sheba, a hotel situated around two hours’ drive away on the edge of the escarpment. Here the warm air rising up from the Lowveld (low-lying plain) to the east brings a lot of moisture and large stands of indigenous forest grow here and there on the slopes. Mount Sheba is situated close to one of the largest remaining forest patches, and this is where out morning’s birding will take place. Our temperate forests do not hold as many species as can be found in tropical forests, and yet present many of the inherent challenges of forest birding: reduced visibility, low light levels and secretive birds. Nevertheless, there are some great species to be seen here, such as Narina Trogon, Knysna Turaco, White-starred Robin, Chorister Robin-Chat, Cape Baits, Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler, Olive Woodpecker, Orange Ground-Thrush, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Southern Double-collared Sunbird and many others. We may have time for a brief birding session during the afternoon, after which we’ll have time to freshen up before dinner in the hotel restaurant.
Day 3: The Blyde River Canyon
Today we’ll hope to have an early to start, heading into the surrounding forest for some pre-breakfast birding, though as the region is often shrouded in mist we’ll have to play it according to the weather conditions at the time. We’ll put in quite a bit of effort to try and rack up a decent list of forest birds before breakfast, and if we still have some key species to see we’ll have another bash in the forest before packing and departing for the Blyde River Canyon. En-route we’ll stop off at a few of the major view sites before checking in to the resort. An afternoon walk in the resort grounds could produce Lazy Cisticola, Greater Double-collared and White-bellied Sunbirds, White-throated Robin-Chat, White-browed Scrub-Robin, Streaky-headed Seed-eater, Alpine Swift, Rock Kestrel and others, and we’ll probably see the day out at the resort’s Upper View Point, which provides fine views of the lower Blyde River Canyon. We’ll then head back to the rooms to freshen up before dinner.
Days 4 – 5: The Kruger National Park, Satara
We start the day with a walk in the rocky woodland around the lodges, where the transition zone between the highveld and the lowland savannah is found. Birding here can be superb and we hope to see Mocking Cliff-Chat, Striped Pipit, Lazy Cisticola, White-throated Robin-Chat, African Firefinch, Swee Waxbill, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Black-crowned Tchagra and Golden-breasted Bunting, among others. Our route will take us along the Kadisi Trail, with views of some of the stream’s wonderful Tufa geological formations. After breakfast we pack our luggage and depart, perhaps taking in the canyon view site before heading for the edge of the escarpment and dropping down to the Lowveld (the low-lying savannah region of the north-east). We enter Kruger National Park at Orpen Gate on the western side of the enormous National Park. This is where the going gets really slow, due to the incredible numbers of bird species to be seen. These could include Green-winged Pytilia, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Yellow and Red-billed Hornbills, Swainson’s Spurfowl, Senegal and Crowned Lapwings, Magpie Shrike, Lilac-breasted and Purple Rollers, Common Scimitarbill and many others. Raptors are plentiful and we could see Gabar Goshawk, Wahlberg’s, Tawny and Martial Eagles, Bateleur, Brown Snake-Eagle and several other large raptors. Here in the south-central region of the park the basaltic soils result in good grass growth and a reduced shrub component, and this more open Knobthorn / Marula savannah attracts the grazers such as Burchell’s Zebra, Blue Wildebeest, Common Waterbuck and Cape Buffalo. These in turn provide food for Lion prides and Spotted Hyena clans, while the smaller herbivores such as Impala and Warthog are preyed upon by Leopard and Cheetah. Our routine here will comprise morning and afternoon excursions, birding walks in the camp, a rest period and an optional sunset drive.
Days 6 – 7: The Kruger National Park, Skukuza
After a last morning drive from Satara we’ll have breakfast, pack and depart, heading to Skukuza Rest Camp 92 kilometres to the south. Skukuza is the park’s headquarters and is situated on the southern bank of the Sabie River. This is a perennial river and one of the largest and most biologically diverse in the park. The habitat here comprises riparian zones, with large trees lining the river banks, and Sabie River Thickets away from the river courses. Birds we will be looking out for in this area include Saddle-billed Stork, Goliath Heron, White-crowned Lapwing, African Finfoot, African Darter, White-browed Robin-Chat, Bearded Scrub-Robin, Collared and Scarlet-chested Sunbirds, African Fish Eagle, Orange-breasted and Grey-headed Busk-Shrikes, Wire-tailed Swallow, Pied and Giant Kingfishers, among many others. The permanent water source here attracts large numbers Impala, one of the main prey items of Leopard, and we will be on the lookout for these and other predators such as Lion, Wild Dog and Spotted Hyena. Elephant and Cape Buffalo are also common in the area, usually heading down to the river as the day heats up. The area is, however, not really suited to large numbers of grazing animals and small herds of browsers such as Kudu and Bushbuck are more common here. We should arrive at the camp in time for lunch and a rest period, after which we will head out on an afternoon drive.
Day 8: The Kruger National Park, Pretoriuskop
Once again, after a morning drive and breakfast, we’ll head on to our next camp and the last stop for the tour. Pretoriuskop Rest Camp is situated in the wettest region of the park and is dominated by a veld type known as Pretoriuskop Sourveld. The tall, coarse grasses growing here are not too palatable, so the area does not hold large numbers of grazers, though it is particularly good for White Rhinoceros (or at least used to be before the current poaching epidemic). Birds we will be searching for in this area include Lizard Buzzard, Dark Chanting Goshawk, African Cuckoo-Hawk, Bushveld Pipit, Yellow-throated Petronia, Pale Flycatcher, Retz’s and White-crested Helmet-Shrikes, Grey Penduline Tit, Neddicky, Green-capped and Yellow-bellied Eremomelas, among others. We will probably arrive at camp in the afternoon and will have time to settle in before an afternoon drive in the area and a final dinner in the camp’s restaurant.
Day 9: Departure
There will be a final optional activity on the last morning, offering a last chance to see species missed so far. After breakfast we’ll meander slowly out of the park and then head back to Johannesburg, a five hour drive away.
“… the best holiday we have ever had by some distance.”
Dave and Liz Hallam, UK, after Eastern SA Highlights #2 2015.