South Africa – Maximum Diversity tour description
Day 1 – Arrival at Durban International Airport.
After meeting and greeting we will head up the coast to Eshowe. During the transfer we will have time for birding, although we will make it an easy day, giving you time to rest a bit after your long international flight. In the afternoon we can start birding the Dlinza Forest with its splendid canopy tower and aerial boardwalk.
We will stay for 2 nights in Eshowe B&B. Eshowe B&B offers (5) units all with their own entrance, set on a large property in a quiet cul-de-sac, Eshowe B&B is most popular with birders – not only for the expert advice available from the hosts – but also for the information, maps and birding checklists provided in all the rooms.
Day 2 – Birding in the Dlinza Forest and trip to nearby Mtunzini.
We will visit the Dlinza Forest canopy tower in the early morning. Here it is often possible to see Grey Cuckooshrike and other generally elusive species at eye-level. White-eared Barbet, Green Malkoha, Trumpeter and Crowned Hornbills, Olive Bushshrike, and a whole host of other species often put in an appearance. When mixed feeding flocks (bird parties) gather, the birding becomes even more exciting than usual. Thanks to the new canopy tower, this is probably the easiest place in South Africa to find Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon, but in some years this species is absent.
Mtunzini is a bird watchers paradise and is renowned as one of the few places where one of South Africa’s rarest birds of prey, the Palm-nut Vulture, is found. These birds feed on the fruit of the Rafia Palm which produces its fruit once every twenty years before dying. Visitors can enjoy a walk through the lush vegetation at the Rafia Palm Monument, which features a raised boardwalk that meanders through to the magnificent palms.
Day 3 – Transfer to St Lucia, boat-ride on the Estuary
After some morning birding around Eshowe, we head to the famed Lake St. Lucia, which has a phenomenally rich assemblage of waterbirds, forest birds, grassland birds, and others in its great variety of different habitats. When we arrive at our accommodation, we’ll immediately start birding –Livingstone’s Turaco, Lemon Dove, Klaas’s Cuckoo, Rudd’s Apalis, and other spectacular forest birds have actually become garden birds here. In the afternoon we will take a boat-ride on the St Lucia Estuary. This is the best way to see water birds around Estuary. Yellow-billed Storks, Fish Eagles, Goliath Herons, flocks of Pelicans, Terns and Lesser Flamingo may be seen. Yellow-billed Stork and Woolly-necked Stork, Caspian Tern, and a variety of waders including Ruff, Ruddy Turnstone, Grey Plover and Pied Avocet are also found here. The bridge area is a good spot for seeing Mangrove Kingfisher, Banded Martins and Wire-tailed Swallow.
With over 800 Hippo’s in the St Lucia lake system, you are sure to come face to face with these creatures too!
We will stay for 3 nights at St. Lucia Kingfisher Lodge. The St Lucia Kingfisher Lodge has only seven luxury air-conditioned suites, each with their own private (fully furnished) patio overlooking the tropical estate, tea/coffee making facilities, a fully licensed bar fridge, pure Egyptian Cotton linen of the highest quality, and four poster mosquito nets – purely for that romantic feel that Africa always evokes.
Day 4/5 – Around St. Lucia, birding Cape Vidal
We have 2 full days to bird around St. Lucia and the Estuary. On one of these days we will enter in the iSimangaliso World Heritage Site and drive up to Cape Vidal. That day we will leave early with a packed breakfast. We are bound to stumble across White Rhino and other megafauna en route to Cape Vidal, which is one of the best sites for Green Twinspot, the elusive Southern Banded Snake Eagle, and the attractive Crested Guineafowl – far more exotic in appearance than its more common cousin, the Helmeted Guineafowl. There are of course many other birds, such as Green Malkoha, Red-backed Mannikin, etc. The rare and local Samango monkey also occurs at Cape Vidal along with the more widespread vervet monkey.
Day 6 – Mkhuze Game Reserve
Today we’ll drive to the small but magnificent Mkhuze Game Reserve, which boasts 420+ bird species as well as a plethora of mammals, including black and white rhinos and leopard. Time-permitting, we may look for Pel’s Fishing Owl before entering the reserve. After dinner, we can embark on a night drive. Mkhuze night drives quite often yield leopard, and there are chances of seeing several owl, nightjar, thick-knee, and courser species.
We will stay for 2 nights in Main Camp Mkhuze. The camp has one 6 bed cottage, four 2 bed chalets, five 4 bed chalets and six 2 bed rest huts. The rest huts are served by a central kitchen and communal ablutions
Day 7 – Mkhuze Game Reserve
An early morning bird walk in the Sand Forest should yield the extremely localized Neergaard’s Sunbird,
African Broadbill with its bizarre display flight, Pink-throated Twinspot, and other tantalizing endemics, plus a phenomenal diversity of other species. Mkhuze is one of the richest sites for birds on the entire African continent. We will also have a reasonable chance of finding the diminutive suni antelope in the Sand Forest. After our early morning bird walk we will embark on birding drives in search of a whole host of exciting species – we will bird woodland, savanna, and wetland areas. While looking for birds there is also an excellent chance of stumbling across white rhino (and possibly the rarer black rhino) and nyala, as well as other mammals that are difficult to find in most other game reserves.
Day 8/9 – Wakkerstroom
After final birding in Zululand, we’ll depart for Wakkerstroom, an area of rolling green hills on the Drakensberg Escarpment – in stark contrast to Mkhuze’s dry woodland. The first bird we will focus on finding at Wakkerstroom, in areas of long grass at relatively low altitude is Barrow’s Korhaan (Southern White-bellied Bustard), a localized subspecies of White-bellied Bustard. This is a difficult korhaan because it is small, yet commonly lurks in tall grass. We usually find it in the late afternoon when it ventures into open fields close to its typical habitat. While looking for this bird, we should also find South African Cliff Swallow, Southern Ant-eating Chat, Grey Crowned Crane, Blue Crane (South Africa’s national bird), and many more.
We will stay for 2 nights at Wakkerstroom Wetlands Country House. Wetlands Country House is set on six hectares of breathtaking grasslands and wetlands, within 100 metres of Martin’s Dam, which feeds the river that forms the boundary to the property. The en-suite bedrooms , complete with fireplace and own private wooden deck are overlooking Martin´s Dam
Day 10/11/12/13 – Kruger National Park
After some final early morning birding around Wakkerstroom we head for one of Africa’s greatest game parks, the Kruger National Park! This park has a staggering bird diversity, and we are bound to find multiple species of each of the following groups: hornbills, barbets, rollers, bee-eaters, kingfishers, cuckoos, storks, eagles (including the amazing Bateleur), vultures, owls, weavers (including Red-headed Weaver), turacos, and many others. As a byproduct of our marked focus on birding, we should also encounter elephant, lion, giraffe, buffalo, a plethora of antelope species, hippopotamus, crocodile, and many small mammals, such as mongooses, etc. We will, however, require much luck for leopard or cheetah.
We will enter the park via Crocodile Bridge in the South-east and stay for four nights in 2 different locations.
2 nights in Lower Sabie Restcamp, with huts, tents and bungalows. We will stay in bungalows. The Sabie River borders the camp. The vegetation exists of large riverine trees and the sycamore fig tree, which attracts many birds and animals. Because of the great quantity of water and sweet grass, Lower Sabie Rest Camp attracts a large numbers of game, which cannot be found anywhere else in the park.
2 night in Skukuza Restcamp. This is the largest camp of the Kruger National Park. Here we will also stay in bungalows. Skukuza Restcamp is situated on the southern banks of the Sabie River. Well foliaged, with lofty trees along the river’s edge.
Day 14 – Kruger to Dullstroom
After a final morning of birding in Kruger, we will depart for the escarpment. Here, we will look for one of Africa’s rarest birds, the small but powerful and extremely fast Taita Falcon. This species was only recently discovered as a breeding bird in South Africa, but this site is probably the most reliable place on earth to find it at present. As usual, we may find all sorts of other birds, including Mocking Cliff Chat, Lanner Falcon, Cape Vulture, etc. We’ll then head further west, eventually arriving at one of South Africa’s premier grassland endemic birding sites, Dullstroom. Here, we may find Gurney’s Sugarbird, Malachite Sunbird, Secretarybird, Yellow-breasted Pipit, Cape Eagle Owl, and others.
Overnight: Linger Longer Country Retreat, near Dullstroom and only at 280 km from Johannesburg International Airport
Day 15 – Departure Day – Start of the Extension to the Cape
Morning birding around Dullstroom, before making way back to Johannesburg for international departures, or a connecting domestic flight to Cape Tow, for the start of the extension (see below).
Day 1 – Arrival at Cape Town
We expect to arrive around midday. Time-permitting, we may already start some birding today – we can bird one of the Cape Peninsula’s fine wetlands (Intaka Island, Rietvlei or Rondevlei). Here we will look for Great White Pelican, Greater Flamingo, a host of shorebirds, Cape Teal and Maccoa Duck among many other waterfowl, Little Bittern, and many other herons, three grebe species, Greater Painted-snipe, African Snipe, four species of reed-associated Warblers, and other waterbirds. While looking for waterbirds (or even while driving to our B&B) we should also find good numbers of terrestrial endemics, including Karoo Prinia, Cape Bulbul, and Jackal Buzzard.
We will stay for 3 nights in Mariner Guesthouse, Simonstown. Custom built and located in a quiet street on the mountainside in historical Simon’s Town, award-winning 4-star Mariner Guesthouse offers breathtaking sea views across False Bay.
Day 2 or 3 – Pelagic trip
After an early breakfast, we embark on a pelagic trip (weather-permitting, otherwise Cape Peninsula and False Bay birding), departing from Simonstown, where we will find African Penguin, and from here we’ll be going 30-50 km out to sea. En route, we pass the magnificent Cape Point – really spectacular when seen from the sea. Our first pelagic species are usually Sooty Shearwater and White-chinned Petrel (with the occasional Spectacled Petrel), followed soon by sometimes both species of Giant Petrel, Northern and Southern. Further out, a minimum of four Albatross species, Pintado and other Petrels, several Storm Petrels (two species are usually common), shearwaters, and many others are observed. We almost always find at least one trawler, and it is around these fishing boats that huge congregations of albatrosses and other seabirds create an amazing spectacle. We also often encounter marine mammals, such as Bryde’s whale, on these pelagics.
Day 2 or 3 -Birding the Cape Peninsula and False BayToday, we plan to visit excellent sites such as the Strandfontein Bird Sanctuary, one of the best waterbird sites, and Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, one of the most beautiful places anywhere and full of birds. At Kirstenbosch, it is quite easy to find some important fynbos endemics such as Orange-breasted Sunbird and Cape Sugarbird, while Cape Spurfowl, Southern Boubou, Cape Canary, Brimstone Canary, Cape Robin-Chat, Swee Waxbill (with luck), and a whole host of other quality birds entertain us. Many raptors are possible here and at other sites we will visit – including Verreaux’s (Black) Eagle, several exciting accipiters, Jackal Buzzard (endemic), Forest Buzzard (endemic), Peregrine Falcon, Rock Kestrel, and others. After birding these beautiful gardens, we depart for Rooiels (although sometimes we reverse the order and bird Rooiels first). To get to this village, we have to traverse one of the most scenic drives in South Africa along the False Bay coast. First we drive parallel to an extremely long white beach bordering the “Cape Flats” that separate the mountainous Cape Peninsula from the inland Cape Fold mountain ranges. Then we reach an area where impressive mountains meet the sea, to begin a truly stunning marine drive. The main target bird at Rooiels is the charismatic and localized Cape Rockjumper. But we should also find Cape Siskin, Cape Rock Thrush, and many more. On our return to the Cape Peninsula, time-permitting (else later in the itinerary), we can bird the superb Strandfontein Bird Sanctuary for a plethora of herons, reed-associated warblers, waterfowl, shorebirds, African Black Oystercatcher, Purple Swamphen, Great White Pelican, Greater Flamingo, African Marsh Harrier, and (as usual) many others.
There will be a certain refund per client if the pelagic is cancelled due to bad weather conditions!
Day 4/5 – West Coast National Park
Today we begin an exciting birding journey northwards from Cape Town. We will first spent the morning at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. The Kirstenbosch estate covers 528 hectares, of which 36 ha is cultivated and the rest is a protected area supporting natural forest and fynbos, and a wide variety of indigenous birds, animals, reptiles, frogs and invertebrates.
Birds are abundant at Kirstenbosch, particularly in the Garden – more than 125 species have been recorded. Look out for the Sugarbird, Sunbirds and the African Dusky FlycatcherLater we will visit West Coast National ParkWe hope to find Black Harrier, Chestnut-banded Plover, Cape Penduline Tit, Cape Clapper Lark, Cape Long-billed Lark, Grey-winged Francolin, Southern Black Korhaan, and other specials in addition to a tremendous shorebird spectacle. Langebaan Lagoon is one of Africa’s most important shorebird stopover sites, and there are good hides (blinds) from which to observe the spectacle. We may also find Osprey, African Fish Eagle, and many others. During these two days we will also have time to visit Velddrif, via Paternoster and St. Helena Bay for farmland birding.
We will stay 2 nights in Le Mahi, Langebaan. This Guest House, earned the 2015 Certificate of Excellence of Trip advisor. Located at short distance of the Langebaan Lagoon. The Lagoon also offers nature lovers a wide variety of activities and things to do. Experienced bird watchers and birders clubs unanimously agree that the area is one of the best places to view hundreds of indigenous and migratory bird species. The rich wetland area attracts up to 70 000 migrating birds each summer who grace the shores to breed and feed. Birds come from as far away as Siberia and Greenland to feed on the plankton rich wetland area. Langebaan Lagoon is an important natural heritage site for South Africa and has been acclaimed as a Ramsar site due to its uniqueness. There is also a large population of various types of mammals and buck which roam the veld and is easily spotted at the right time of day, mostly in the Postberg section of the park.
Day 6 – Departure
Depending on departure times of our guests we will spend time for birding in West Coast National Park. Later we will heading back to Cape Town. And also the extension of a great birding tour came to an end
Travelling together as Friends