A journey through the eastern parts of South Africa is a journey characterised by diversity. The habitats change dramatically over a relatively short distance, thanks in part to the significant altitudinal variation created by the Drakensberg Escarpment. With the changes in altitudes and habitats come associated changes in the bird and animal communities, and each day brings with it new species to be seen and new landscapes to behold. From scouring the high altitude grasslands of the roof of Mpumalanga Province at over 2000 meters above sea level to scanning the blue waters of the Indian Ocean for whales and dolphins; from encounters with big cats in the Kruger to searching for Black Rhino in Ithala Game Reserve, this tour will enthral from start to finish. Major reserves visited are the Kruger National Park, Ithala Game Reserve, Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve and the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, as well as numerous smaller reserves and parks. Depending on the time of the year one can see up to and over 300 species of bird, and 45 species of mammal, the latter group including Africa’s famous Big Five (Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Buffalo and both Black and White Rhino) as well as Cheetah and Wild Dog. All in all this is a fantastic all round natural history experience and a superb introduction to eastern South Africa.
11 – 24 May 2019 (13 nights / 14 days)
Starts in Johannesburg on the morning of the 11th May 2019. Participants should ideally overnight in Johannesburg on 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 King Shaka Airport near Durban on the afternoon of the 24th May 2019 in time for connecting flights to Johannesburg and onward transcontinental flights. Please check with us before booking any flights.
2019: ZAR 47 525 per person sharing, ZAR 7 050 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 the Lawson’s vehicle whilst travelling
• Entrance fees
• Personalised checklists
• Specialist guide fees
• All airfares and associated airport costs
• 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, Blyde Canyon, Kruger, Maguga Dam (Swaziland), Ithala Game Reserve, Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve and St Lucia.
Expected weather conditions: warm to very hot conditions expected, with possible afternoon thunder-storms. Cold fronts can usher in periods of inclement weather, so rain / drizzle is a possibility. Even in summer, participants should be prepared for cool to cold conditions on occasions.
Tour tempo: medium to medium-plus, optional mid-day breaks on non-travelling days (advisable in the hotter areas).
Accommodation standards: medium: lodges, guest houses and National Park’s rest-camps.
Mammal viewing: excellent, especially in the Kruger National Park, Ithala and Hluhluwe-iMfolozi.
Top mammals: Meerkat, Samango Monkey, the Big Five (Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Buffalo, Black and White Rhino), Wild Dog, Cheetah, Nyala, Red Bush Squirrel.
Birding in brief: excellent variety, various habitats included, tops for endemics.
Top birds: Southern Bald Ibis, Sentinel Rock-Thrush, Gurney’s Sugarbird, Jackal Buzzard, Southern Ground Hornbill, African Scops-Owl, Martial Eagle, Blue Crane, Narina Trogon, Barrow’s Korhaan, Four-colored Bush-Shrike, Verreaux’s Eagle, Palm-nut Vulture, Rudd’s Apalis, Secretarybird.
Add-ons: this tour can be combined with extensions to the Cape or Victoria Falls (year round).
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 common, 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: The Blyde River Canyon
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. Mammals we may see include Blesbok, Oribi and Grey Rhebok. After the morning excursion we will head back down to town for breakfast, after which we’ll make our way to the Blyde River Canyon, en-route taking in some of the sights such as the Three Rondavels, where we will also look out for birds such as Peregrine and Lanner Falcons, White-necked Raven, Jackal Buzzard), Mocking Cliff-Chat and Lazy Cisticola. We’ll then check in at our resort on the edge of the Blyde River Canyon. After settling in there will be an optional birding walk in the resort grounds as a final afternoon activity, perhaps heading up to the private view site of the Three Rondavels to photograph the scene as the setting sun gives the iron-oxide stained cliffs a lovely golden hue.
Days 3 – 4: The Kruger National Park, Satara
In the morning we will have another birding walk, heading down to the Lower View Site and perhaps the spectacular Tufa waterfall, where calcium carbonate deposits over millennia have extended the waterfall outwards as opposed to it cutting backwards, as is the case in normal waterfalls. Bird species to look out for here include White-throated Robin-Chat, Lazy Cisticola, Striped Pipit, Swee Waxbill, Red-winged Starling, Cape Rock-Thrush, Mocking Cliff-Chat, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Cardinal Woodpecker, Rock Kestrel, African Black Swift, Collared Sunbird, Mountain Wagtail and others. Leaving the canyon after breakfast we depart for the Kruger National Park via the Abel Erasmus Pass. 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 National Park. 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 before hand (this is for your own account).
Days 5 – 6: 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-Shrikes, Purple-crested Turaco, White-crested Helmet Shrike and Wire-tailed Swallow 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 7: The Kingdom of Swaziland
After a last morning activity we’ll head southwards out of the Kruger and into the Kingdom of Swaziland. Our route will take us southwards through the park and we’ll exit via Malelane Gate, where we will spend a bit of time viewing birds and wildlife on the Crocodile River before we make our way to the border post. We stay at a lodge overlooking Maguga Dam, a large impoundment on the Komati River, where there can be some good birding around our chalets and in the resort grounds. Birds to see here include Bronze Mannikin, Lesser Striped Swallow, Amethyst, Olive, White-bellied, Greater Double-collared and Scarlet-chested Sunbirds, Brimstone Canary, Hamerkop, Black-collared Barbet and, with a bit of luck, African Finfoot. We’ll probably arrive in the late afternoon and may opt for a cup of tea on the porch overlooking the dam and / or some leisurely birding in the resort grounds.
Days 8 – 9: Ithala Game Reserve
Leaving Maguga Dam after an early breakfast we’ll pay a visit to Malalotja Nature Reserve in the high altitude grasslands of the Swaziland Escarpment. Birds to see here include Red-throated Wryneck, Greater Striped Swallow, Cape Longclaw, Buff-streaked Chat, Wailing Cisticola, Drakensberg Prinia and others, though the prime attraction here in the summer months (September to March) is the highly endangered Blue Swallow. Leaving the reserve we’ll make our way down through Swaziland, exiting in the south-eastern corner and entering KwaZulu-Natal Province, home of the Zulu Nation, arriving at Itlhala Game Reserve in the mid to late afternoon. We have two nights in Ithala, a protected area that offers a wide range of habitats, and as such, a correspondingly diverse range of both birds and mammals. During our time here we should find an assortment of mammals such as Red Hartebeest, Blesbok, Eland, Cape Buffalo, White Rhinoceros and possibly also Black Rhinoceros, whilst the camp itself is an excellent place to see Rock Hyrax. Birds we may see include Flappet, Rufous-naped and Sabota Larks, Rock Kestrel, Lanner Falcon, Verreaux’s Eagle, Cape Longclaw, Blue Crane, Striped Pipit, Common Ostrich and possibly Barrow’s Korhaan.
Days 10 – 11: Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve
After an early morning game drive and breakfast at Ntshondwe Camp in Ithala we’ll depart for the well known Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve, where we’ll have a two night stay. This is the oldest Game Reserve in South Africa and was proclaimed in 1895, with it originally having been the Royal hunting grounds for the Zulu people who live in this region. It’s also known as the home of the White Rhino, as this was where the species was brought back from the brink of extinction in the 1960’s, and today is probably the best place in the world to see this iconic creature. During our time here we’ll cover several of the drives in the area, where we hope to encounter a wide range of game species such as Black Rhinoceros, Blue Wildebeest, Southern Giraffe, Lion, Leopard, Wild Dog and possibly Cheetah. Birds are also well represented and we have a chance to encounter Four-coloured (Gorgeous) Bush-Shrike, Crested Guineafowl, Narina Trogon, Chin-spot Batis, Southern Black Tit, Grey Penduline Tit, Brown Snake-Eagle and African Goshawk, among others.
Days 12 – 13: St Lucia and the iSimangaliso Wetland Park
On our final morning in Hluhluwe we’ll start off with a last early morning drive, followed by breakfast and departure. We plan to visit False Bay Park for the morning, where we’ll spend time looking for birds on the western shores of Late St. Lucia and the surrounding Sand Forest habitat. We’ll then have a fairly easy drive through to the coastal town of St. Lucia where we’ll spend our final two nights, aiming to arrive in the mid afternoon for a rest before our boat trip on the estuary. This should produce good views of numerous pods of Hippopotami and birds such as Giant, Pied and Malachite Kingfishers, African Fish Eagle, Caspian and Greater Crested Terns, Yellow Weaver, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater and others. On our full day here we’ll take a long excursion into the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, which will include a packed breakfast. This large park includes a variety of habitats such as coastal forest, coastal grasslands, brackish pans and sandy beaches and birds we’ll be looking out for include Southern Banded Snake-Eagle, Black-chested Snake-Eagle, Collared Pratincole, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Grey Waxbill, Grey Sunbird, Woodward’s Batis, Rudd’s Apalis, Crested Guineafowl, Brown Scrub-Robin and others. We return to town in the afternoon for some relaxation, and later on will head down to the river mouth, where large Nile Crocodiles and Hippos can be seen, and perhaps take a walk in the surrounding coastal forest for some more birding if time allows.
Day 14: Departure
On our last morning we’ll spend some time exploring the iGwalagwala trail along the southern edge of town, where we’ll be looking for coastal forest species such as Green Malkoha, Brown Scrub-Robin, Woodward’s Batis, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, White-eared Barbet, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Eastern Nicator, Narina Trogon, Grey Cuckooshrike and others. We’ll then have breakfast before departing for a final birding session in the Raffia Palm groves around the coastal town of Mtunzini, where we hope to find one or more of the resident Palm-nut Vultures. If time allows we’ll have a final refreshment stop at a local restaurant before departing for King Shaka International Airport, where the trip will come to an end.