East Africa Safari: Eastern South Africa Part 2
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, the setting for this Birdwatching Tour South Africa.
Within a day’s drive, one can go from cool 2 000 m.a.s.l grasslands to hot, sub-tropical savanna at no more than 250 m.a.s.l, with much in the way of transitional habitats in between. This wonderful, compact Africa Wildlife Safari is a moderately-paced tour 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. One can expect to see between 300 and 350 species of birds, including 30 endemics and near-endemic species; and 35+ species of mammals on this African wildlife safari.
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. On this Africa Wildlife Safari and Birding Safari, 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, the 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.
Please note: this set-departure tour is also available as a private or custom tour on request. Please submit an enquiry with your preferred dates and group size.
Africa Wildlife Safari Tour Highlights include:
- Search for endemics and other specials in the 6000 ft + highlands of Mpumalanga Province.
- Do some forest birding in the Afro-Montane forest of Mount Sheba.
- See the spectacular Blyde River Canyon.
- See the wealth of birds and mammals in the Kruger National Park.
- See 300+ species of birds in only 9 days!
If you'd like to try an alternative tour, have a look at the Eastern South Africa Wildlife Tour: Kruger to Coast.
Alternative Tour Name: Eastern South Africa Highlights Part 2: Escarpment & Kruger
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Wildlife species expected to see:
See over 300 species on this 9 day tour! Some of the targets include: Long-tailed Widowbird, Northern Black Korhaan, Red-faced Mousebird, Gurney’s Sugarbird, Blue Crane, Yellow-breasted Pipit, Sentinel Rock Thrush, Buff-streaked Chat, Malachite Sunbird, Secretarybird, Jackal Buzzard, Long-crested Eagle, Red-winged Francolin, White-throated Robin Chat, Taita Falcon, Southern Bald Ibis, Knysna Turaco, Narina Trogon, Grey Cuckooshrike, Cape Batis, Olive Woodpecker, Yellow-streaked Greenbul, Chinspot Batis, Chorister Robin Chat, Martial Eagle, Kori and Denham’s Bustards, Southern Carmine Bee-eater, Verreaux’s Eagle Owl, White-crowned Lapwing, Purple-crested Turaco, Lappet-faced and White-headed Vultures, Brown-headed Parrot, Grey-headed Bush Shrike, Greater Blue-eared Starling, Violet-backed Starling, African Green Pigeon, Gabar Goshawk, African Fish Eagle, African Pygmy Goose, Southern White-faced Owl, Red-crested Korhaan, Long-tailed paradise Whydah, Broad-billed Roller, Malachite Kingfisher, Giant Kingfisher, Magpie Shrike, Grey Go-Away Bird, Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill, Southern Red-billed Hornbill and many others. Mammals to be seen include Lion, Leopard, Cheetah, African Wild Dog, Spotted Hyena, Elephant, Southern Giraffe, Nyala, Samango Monkey and many others.
What is included?
- All accommodation or lodgings based on double occupancy
- Single occupancy available at extra cost (single supplement)
- All breakfasts and dinners
- Local transfers and all ground transport throughout the trip/tour/safari
- Lawson's insulated water bottle (clients to purchase own water or use tap water)
- Entrance fees to all National Parks, Provincial Reserves and other sites / attractions on the specified itinerary
- Personalised bird / mammal checklists and itinerary
- Specialist guide fees (professional English-speaking birding and wildlife guide)
What is not included?
- Travel and medical insurance (incl. personal equipment and repatriation)
- All airfares unless otherwise indicated
- Excess baggage charges
- Visa fees (if applicable)
- All drinks
- Optional excursions where applicable
- Tips and Gratuities
- Items of a personal nature (incl. laundry and telephone charges)
In 2020 we celebrated our 30th year of running birding and wildlife safaris in Africa. So we have plenty of experience in the game, and pride ourselves in creating incredible wildlife holiday experiences for our clients from across the globe. We offer quality wildlife experiences through set-departure and custom safaris, guided by fun and experienced birding and wildlife guides. Like our motto says, "you'll want to return to Africa with us time and time again!" See more on our website.
A deposit will secure your place on the tour, with full payment due 8 weeks before the tour starts. Terms and Conditions apply, we'll give you all the info during the inquiry process.
This tour is primarily a birding tour, so it's suited to any level of birder, be you a beginner or more advanced birder. Wildlife, and mammals in particular, is a secondary focus and the Kruger Park in particular will deliver a rewarding mammal experience - mammal enthusiasts can rest assured that we won't bypass anything of interest just because it isn't a bird. If you aren't a birder then perhaps some of our other wildlife-focused tours will be a better bet, speak to one of our consultants for advice.
On days we aren't moving location or camp, we usually meet up for a cup of tea / coffee before heading out on a long morning activity, returning for late breakfast / brunch. Then we may have a bit of down time before an afternoon activity, returning in time to freshen up before dinner. There are exceptions - on some days we may head out on longer trips, taking packed meals with us and only returning after lunch; or we may have an early breakfast before departure for the next destination. Whatever the exact program we try to keep the pace manageable, after all it is supposed to be a holiday. *Some tours, such as our Endemics tours, are fast-paced overall.
There generally aren't any age limits on the tours, so children are welcome. However, given the nature of the tours (long periods spent in vehicles looking for birds / animals, and not always finding our target species, despite the effort put in), our set-departures probably aren't suitable for children. For families we'd rather recommend a custom-safari, where you can dictate the pace and level of interest, and include more child-friendly accommodation venues. Speak to one of our consultants for advice.
In general credit cards are widely accepted in South Africa and across much of Southern Africa, though Diner's Club is the exception (Visa and Master are better options). It is a good idea to have some South African Rands (ZAR) on hand for smaller purchases or times when card machines may not be working. Note that South Africa and Namibia do not accept US Dollars cash, but US Dollars can be used in most of the rest of Africa.
Most certainly! We usually recommend coming in a day early to acclimatize and reduce the risk of missing out a day or two due to flight delays or other travel problems, and we are happy to arrange this accommodation for you. And if you would like to extend your time in the country, our consultants are happy to help with suggestions and bookings.
We send out more detailed packing lists as part of every safari info pack, but basically you'll need comfortable clothing, preferably in neutral colors. In general clothes dry quite quickly for self-washing, and most private places have laundry services, so it's not necessary to over pack. In order to avoid having to tow trailers etc we ask participants to keep their luggage down to one main bag and one day / carry-on bag plus photo / optics gear. We do recommend some warm gear for all safaris, just in case of cooler weather coming through, and especially for safaris entailing open-vehicle drives. Even at 20 degrees Celsius it can start getting a little chilly on a moving vehicle when you are exposed to the wind. Hats and sunglasses are essential. A torch / flashlight is also essential, and we strongly recommend socks and closed shoes after dark. Adapters - make sure you have the right adapters to be able to charge your devices. The 'universal' adapter does not work in South Africa!
Unless otherwise stated, our set-departures do not require any advanced degree of fitness, as most of the activities are vehicle-based. However, on tours with open-sided safari vehicles, getting into the vehicle does require a some climbing ability - if you have difficulty climbing up a step or two let us know in advance so we can make arrangements such as including steps to help you get up or making sure the passenger seat is available. Where there is any walking involved this is normally an optional activity so you are welcome to sit it out.
In general yes - when using restaurants you are able to order whatever item on the menu suits you. When using lodges doing their own catering then advanced warning will usually enable them to cater for your needs. Please indicate any special needs to us well in advance. Note that the food is very good in general on our trips so you don't need to indicate that you are vegetarian just because you are worried about what meat may be served - for the most part it's beef, pork, lamb and chicken, though game meat may be available as an option. Speak to our consultants if you have any specific questions.
Cool to mild in the highlands, hot and humid in the Kruger. Some rain to be expected.
Medium-plus: option rests / personal birding on non-travelling days (recommended in hotter destinations).
Birding in brief: excellent variety, four major habitats included, tops for endemics. Mammal viewing: excellent, especially in the Kruger National Park.
This tour runs immediately after Eastern South Africa Highlights #1: Drakensberg & Zululand. Alternatively, it's easy to combine with the Cape or a private lodge in the Greater Kruger area.
Medium: chalets, hotels and national park chalets.