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Eastern South Africa Highlights Part 2: Escarpment & Kruger - 9 Days

Eastern South Africa Highlights Part 2: Escarpment & Kruger
31650

A compact 8 night /9-day birding and wildlife safari through the Eastern Escarpment and Kruger National Park visiting Dullstroom, Mount Sheba, Blyde River Canyon and the Kruger National Park.

Day 1
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
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
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.

Day 4
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.

Day 6
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
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
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.

What is included?

  • Accommodation
  • All breakfasts and dinners
  • Ground transport
  • Bottled water in vehicle whilst travelling
  • Entrance fees
  • Personalised checklists
  • Specialist guide fees

What is not included?

  • All airfares
  • Travel and medical insurance
  • Lunches
  • All drinks
  • Optional excursions where applicable
  • Gratuities
  • Items of a personal nature
Wildlife Reviews
5 stars
- based on 2  reviews
  1. Great tour! Hope to travel with Lawson\'s again!
    Sandra paci16 Sep 2016
    5
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    Recently completed the set departure Birds and Wildflowers of the Western Cape tour and it could not have been better. The bird, botany and wildlife sightings were great. Our guide, Martin Benadie, was extremely knowledge, easy-going and fun to be with. Accommodations and food were very good to excellent. Everything was handled with the utmost efficiency and professionalism beginning with my very contact with Lyndell in the Lawson's office. Lyndell also handled many extras for me, including additional nights in Cape Town, a short safari in Kruger and Sabi Sand, flights and transfers, etc. I look forward to traveling with Lawson's again.
  2. Lawson\'s Tours are first class
    John and Pam Hall30 Nov 2014
    5
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    We have travelled with Lawson's on four separate occasions and hopefully intend to travel with them again later on this year. We have used their guided tours and also self drive. On all occasions the detailed planning and information provided has always been first class. They are always prepared to go out of their way to ensure your trip runs smoothly. Highly recommended.

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01/02/2020 - 09/02/2020 available ZAR 35,475
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9 Days

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4.99 Based on 19 reviews
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