South African Bird Photography Safari
Introducing something new from Lawson’s, the 13-day Photo Safari in South Africa Tour. If you are keen on the photographic aspect of birding, this is a tour that will interest you. On ‘normal’ birding safaris the main goal is usually to see as many species as possible.
On this bird photo safari, however, our main goal will be to photograph the birds we encounter. This means that we’ll slow it down and concentrate on getting great images. The big, colourful and charismatic species will be our main targets, and the itinerary is built around some of the best of South Africa’s birding and photography venues.
Our South Africa Photo Safari tour starts off at King Shaka International Airport near Durban. Our first stop is St Lucia and the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. From there we stay at Falaza Game Park to explore Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve. Moving on, we stay at Ghost Mountain Inn, giving us a chance to visit Mkuze Game Reserve.
Next up is Hlane Royal National Park in the Kingdom of eSwatini, after which we spend time in the Kruger National Park, at two different rest camps. And to end off, we have two nights at Indlovu River Lodge, where we’ll have open-vehicle drives and spend time in special bird photography hide.
In conclusion, this South African bird photo safari is aimed at those who like to go ‘birding with a camera’. We won’t spend time on tracking down rare species or identifying small, brown birds. We’ll focus on the photographic aspect, giving ourselves time to get the shots we want. We’ll visit some incredible places, see and photograph an incredible range of birds, and have a lot of fun in the process!
Top 5 Highlights:
- Go on a morning photographic boat cruise at St Lucia
- Do a morning guided safari in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve
- Go on a photographic boat cruise on Lake Jozini
- Visit the tiny Kingdom of eSwatini
- Go on open-sided vehicle safaris in the Kruger National Park
- Spend time in the sunken photo hides at Ndlovu River Lodge
You also might be interested in a 16-days Eastern South Africa Endemics Birding Safari Tour. Please check out the link.
Alternative Tour Name: South African Bird Photography Safari
The tour will start off with a morning arrival at King Shaka International Airport in Umhlanga, on the Indian ocean Coast not far north of the port city of Durban. From there we'll take a leisurely drive to St Lucia, gateway to the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, a World Heritage Site and our base for the next few days.
On our full day here we'll visit the Eastern Shores section of the park. The park covers a variety of habitats, including coastal grasslands, forest, freshwater pans and marshes, rocky and sandy shorelines and open ocean. The park is home to a wide variety of game species, including Rhino, Elephant, Buffalo, Leopard, Zebra, Wildebeest, Kudu, Bushbuck, Warthog and others. In terms of the birds there's a wealth of species to see and photograph, including Livingstone's Turaco, Green Malkhoa, White-eared Barbet, Woodward's Batis, Narina Trogon, African Fish Eagle, African crowned Eagle, African Cuckoo Hawk, Yellow-throated and Rosy-throated Longclaws, Brown Scrub Robin, Crested Guineafowl, Rudd's Apalis, Grey Waxbill, Southern Banded Snake Eagle and many others.
In addition to the park the forest surrounding the town provides some good opportunities for birding and photography on foot, as it is free from dangerous animals (besides Hippos, so we won't venture into the forest very early in the morning or late in the evening). In the evening we'll dine at one of the many restaurants in town.
Today we'll have an early departure on a birding boat cruise on the St Lucia estuary. We'll take a packed breakfast with us to eat on board, and will spend time on the water, photographing birds such as African Fish Eagle, Grey and Goliath Herons, Giant, Pied and Malachite Kingfishers, Water Thick-knee, Caspian Tern, African Finfoot (with some luck),
African Jacana and others, as well as pods of lazy Hippopotamii and Nile Crocodiles. Back on shore we'll leave St Lucia, and make our way up through the Western Shores of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park to Hluhluwe, where we are staying at Falaza Game Park. After arriving and settling in we can do some casual birding and photography in the lodge grounds to see out the rest of the day, before meeting up for drinks and dinner in the lodge restaurant.
Today we'll have an early start as we head out on an open vehicle game and birding drive into Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve. This is the province's flagship big game park, and one of the oldest in Africa, proclaimed in 1885. It's also where the Southern White Rhino was literally saved from extinction in one of Africa's greatest conservation success stories.
Today the park boasts a healthy population of these great animals, as well as their cousins the Black Rhino, and the full compliment of big game - Elephant, Buffalo, Lion, Leopard, Southern Giraffe, Plains Zebra and a host of antelope species. The birding is also good and species we'll be looking out for include Crowned and Trumpeter Hornbills, Purple-crested Turaco, White-eared Barbet, Gorgeous Bush Shrike, African White-backed Vulture, Martial and Tawny Eagles, White-fronted Bee-eater, White-crested Helmet Shrike, Ashy Flycatcher, Green-winged Pytilia and many others.
Back at the lodge we'll have a leisurely breakfast before we make our way to Ophansi Gate, where we'll enter Mkuze Game Reserve. Mkuze is another superb birding reserve, with an impressive tally of around 500 species of birds, plus a decent range of mammals. We'll make our way through the reserve to exit at the other end, and from there will carry on to Ghost Mountain Inn, our accommodation for the the next two nights. On arrival we can settle in and have some down time before drinks and dinner.
On our full day here we'll take packed meals with us and head into Mkuze Game Reserve for much of the day, with special emphasis on Kumasinga Hide and Nsumo Pan, both of which provide great birding and photographic opportunities. Species to see and photograph include Great White Pelican, African Openbill, Grey, Purple and Goliath Herons, Great White and Little Egrets, African Jacana, African Fish Eagle, Purple-crested Turaco, Grey Waxbill, Ashy Flycatcher, Trumpeter Hornbill, Pink-throated Twinspot, and many more. In the afternoon we'll make our way back to the inn for some time to relax, download photos etc, before dinner in the evening.
Today we'll have an early morning boat cruise to start the day off. The massive dam on the Pongola River is also known as Lake Jozini and is surrounded by a number of game reserves, so Elephants and other game species are often seen down at the water's edge.
Birds are prolific too, and we'll be focused on a range of water-associated species such as Egyptian and Spur-winged Goose, Hamerkop, Reed and White-breasted Cormorants, African Darter, African Fish Eagle, Whiskered Tern, Pied, Malachite and Giant Kingfishers, African Jacana, Blacksmith Lapwing, Goliath and Purple Herons, Black and Squacco Herons, African Openbill and Yellow-billed Storks, African Sacred and Glossy Ibises, African Spoonbill, White-faced and Fulvous Ducks, African Purple Swamphen and many others.
We'll then make our way to Golela Border Post, where we'll cross into eSwatini (formerly known as Swaziland). Our destination in Hlane Royal National Park, one of eSwatini's premier national parks. Here we can settle in and do some casual birding in the lodge grounds, download photos and just relax for the afternoon.
Today we'll have a pre-breakfast birding and photo session in the resort grounds, before breakfast and departure for the Kruger National Park. At Crocodile Bridge gate we'll transfer into our open-sided safari vehicle and begin our Kruger experience. Our first stop is at Lower Sabie Rest Camp, situated on the Sabie River.
The photo opportunities in the area can be superb, with Sunset Dam - a shallow lake just outside the camp gates - providing plenty of opportunity to photograph water-associated birds and a variety of game species. The broader area offers some of the best game viewing in the park as well, and two nights here will give us one of the highlights of the tour.
Birds to be seen and photographed include Martial, Tawny and Wahlberg's Eagles, Brown Snake Eagle, African White-backed, Hooded, Lappet-faced and White-headed Vultures, Helmeted Guineafowl, Crested Francolin, Swainson's Spurfowl, Southern Yellow-billed, Southern Red-billed and African Grey Hornbills, Greater Blue-eared Starling, African Green Pigeon, Lilac-breasted Roller, Little and White-fronted Bee-eaters, Burchell's Coucal, Double-banded Sandgrouse, Red-faced Mousebird, Black-backed Puffback, Green Wood Hoopoe, African Hoopoe, Common Scimitarbill, Black-collared and Crested Barbets, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Orange-breasted Bush Shrike and many others.
Of course the mammals will also be a highlight - Elephants, Giraffe, Buffalo, Blue Wildebeest and other plains game species are common, and the area is also one of the richest when it comes to the predators such as Lion, Leopard, Cheetah and so forth.
Today we'll move on from Lower Sabie, heading north to Satara in the central plains. Satara is another wonderful camp, also offering some great birding and game viewing. The habitat here is a bit different to the lush riverine habitat of Lower Sabie, being more open with fewer trees and shrubs.
We should arrive in the mid afternoon, and our routine here will be similar to that of our previous stop. Birds we'll be looking out for here include Purple Roller, Common Ostrich, Southern Ground Hornbill, Magpie and Southern White-crowned Shrikes, Black-headed Oriole, Arrow-marked Babbler, Golden-breasted Bunting, Red-crested Korhaan, Kori Bustard, Bateleur, Tawny Eagle, African Hawk Eagle, African Harrier Hawk, Grey Go-away Bird, Sabota Lark, Brown-headed Parrot, Verreaux's Eagle Owl, Red-billed and Yellow-billed Oxpeckers, Common Scimitarbill, Blue Waxbill, Burchell's Starling and many others.
And once again the mammals will also add to the experience, and we can hope for some exciting encounters with the area's large Lion prides and Spotted Hyena clans.
Today we'll have a last morning drive in the Satara area followed by breakfast and departure. We'll make our way to Orpen Gate, where we'll swap our safari vehicle for a van and then make our way to Indlovu River Lodge in Karongwe Private Game Reserve, a 9000 hectare reserve boasting the Big Five as well as the usual complement of plains game and other typical species, plus some excellent birding.
We've chosen this venue mainly for the photographic hides on the property, Honseng and Thapama Hides. These are 'sunken' photographic hides, offering eye level shooting of subjects coming down to drink. These include a variety of bushveld birds such as Emerald-spotted Wood Dove, Cape Turtle Dove, Kurrichane Thrush, Golden-breasted Bunting, Green-winged Pytilia, Blue Waxbill, Grey Go-away Bird, Crested Francolin, Cape Glossy Starling, Yellow-fronted Canary, Helmeted Guineafowl, Red-billed Quelea, Little Sparrowhawk and many others. Moreover, there may be a wide variety of mammals visiting the waterhole to drink, such as a range of antelope, Chacma Baboon, Blue Wildebeest, Warthog, Elephant, Southern White Rhino and even predators such as Black-backed Jackal, Lion, Leopard, Spotted Hyena etc.
These hides offer a wonderful low angle and mirror-image reflection, making for some incredible shots. In addition to the birding and photography, the accommodation and wonderful food will only add to the experience, making for a fine way to end off this South African birding, wildlife & photographic safari.
Today we'll have time for a last morning activity before breakfast and departure for Eastgate Airport near Hoedspruit for a flight to Johannesburg.
Birds we’ll be looking out for include: Livingstone’s Turaco, Pink-throated Twinspot, Narina Trogon, Rudd’s Apalis, Gorgeous Bush Shrike, Southern Banded Snake Eagle, Eastern Golden Weaver, Crested Guineafowl, Neergard’s Sunbird, Crowned Hornbill, African Crowned Eagle, Martial Eagle, Tawny Eagle, African Fish Eagle, Magpie Shrike, Purple-crested Turaco, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Kori Bustard, Orange-breasted Bush Shrike, Grey-headed Bush Shrike, Lilac-breasted and Purple Rollers, White-fronted Bee-eater, Saddle-billed Stork, White-headed and Lappet-faced Vultures, Little and White-fronted Bee-eaters, Verreaux’s Eagle Owl and many more.
Mammals we may see include Lion, Leopard, African Elephant, African Buffalo, Black and White Rhino’s, South African Giraffe, Plains Zebra, Greater Kudu, Nyala, Bushbuck, Common Waterbuck, Steenbuck, Red and Common Duikers, Common Warthog, Hippopotamus, African Wild Cat, Honey Badger, Black-backed Jackal, Vervet and Samango Monkeys, Chacma Baboon and others.
What is included?
- All accommodation or lodgings based on double occupancy
- Single occupancy available at extra cost (single supplement)
- All breakfasts and dinners (and lunches at Falaza and Indlovu River Lodge)
- 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)
- Lunches (except at Falaza and Indlovu River Lodge)
- 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 is primarily a birding and photographic tour, with a huge emphasis on spending time getting photographs of birds. The emphasis is not on numbers, but on quality sightings and good photographic opportunities - if this sounds good, then this tour is for you!
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 personal 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.
Warm to hot in general, though it can be a bit cool on open-vehicle drives, depending on the weather conditions at the time.
Medium-plus: option rests / personal birding on non-travelling days (recommended in hotter destinations). Participants are free to photograph birds in the camp grounds during afternoon breaks.
Birding in brief: excellent variety, this tour visits some of the biologically richest parts of the country. so bird numbers and variety are very impressive! Mammal viewing: excellent, good chances for most of Africa's classic 'big game' species, plus a wide range of antelope and other plains game.
Yes, one could stay on at Indlovu River Lodge or visit another private reserve in the area.
Medium to high standard: guest houses, national park chalets and private lodges.