Northern South Africa Wildlife Tour: Limpopo Valley & Kruger
As a global birding destination, South Africa scores very highly indeed. While it may not have as many bird species as some other more tropical African countries, it is extremely rich in endemics and near-endemics; it is an easy travel destination with a good road network and well-developed tourism infrastructure; it offers unrivaled habitat diversity, and combines birds with big game and other wildlife to appeal to anyone with an interest in natural history. Experience it for yourself on this epic Northern South Africa Birding experience!
This South Africa Wildlife Tours aims to show off the best of South African birds and wildlife in a concise itinerary that will introduce participants to a wonderful array of bird species, mammal species, habitats, and landscapes. The tour starts in Johannesburg and visits the Polokwane region; Mapungubwe National Park along the Limpopo River, the Louis Trichardt / Lake Albasini area; the northern and central Kruger National Park; and the forests of the Magoebaskloof region before ending off back in Johannesburg. From the ancient Baobabs and Sandstone formations of Mapungubwe to the forested and often mist-shrouded slopes of the Soutpansberg and the vastness of the Kruger National Park, this tour will leave participants hankering for more of Southern Africa’s wonders.
Top 5 Highlights.
- Exploring the sandstone formation wonderland of Mapungubwe National Park.
- A full day trip with a local guide to look for the special birds of the Soutpansberg / Levuvhu area.
- Open-vehicle birding drives in the magic world of Pafuri, the northern tip of the Kruger National Park.
- Birding and wildlife watching from your tent deck at Pafuri Camp.
- Birding and wildlife drives in the Kruger National Park.
Like the look of this tour but want to try a different location within South Africa, specialising in birdwatching? Have a look at the Bird Watching in Western South Africa Endemics Tour.
Alternative Tour Name: Northern South Africa Highlights: Limpopo Valley & Kruger
The tour begins early on the morning today, and we suggest that participants spend the night before the tour in Johannesburg to allow for an early start. Lawson’s can book the accommodation for you. We’ll leave after an early breakfast and the tour will begin with a journey northwards to the Zaagkuilsdrift area along the Pienaarsrivier for our first taste of western bushveld and water-associated birds. Bushveld birds we’ll be looking for include Southern Pied Babbler, Northern Black Korhaan, Barred Wren-Warbler, Common Whitethroat, Acacia Pied Barbet and African Paradise-Whydah, while the water-associated species will vary according to how much water there is in the system. We’ll have a packed lunch in the shade of a tree somewhere along the road and will hopefully make it as far as the Kgomo-Kgomo floodplain before turning back to the N1 and heading north to our first night’s stop in Polokwane. We’ll arrive in the late afternoon and have time to settle in before dinner.
With an early morning start we’ll head through to Polokwane Nature Reserve on the edge of town to look for Short-clawed Lark specifically as well as a wide range of bushveld birds such as Crimson-breasted Shrike, Marico Flycatcher, Ashy Tit, Burnt-necked Eremomela, Common Scimitarbill, Green Woodhoopoe, Secretarybird and others. Mammal species we may see include a superb array of antelope, from the diminutive Common Duiker to the massive Eland, Africa’s largest antelope. We'll have a packed breakfast with us to allow us to spend a full morning in the reserve before moving on to Louis Trichardt to the north, where we stay at a comfortable guest house just out of town. After arriving and settling in we’ll have some time to relax. The following day we’ll have a very early departure on a day trip to some of the main birding spots in the area, assisted by a local guide. Target species for the day include African Broadbill, Blue-spotted Wood-Dove, African Pygmy-Goose, Lesser Moorhen, African Finfoot, White-backed Night-Heron, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Chorister Robin-Chat, African Emerald Cuckoo, Narina Trogon and Orange Ground-Thrush, among others. We’ll return in the afternoon for some time to relax and do some birding in the lodge grounds before dinner in the evening.
Today we'll start off with an early birding trip in Hangklip State Forest, where we'll hope to see more forest specials such as Narina Trogon, African Emerald Cuckoo, Chorister Robin Chat, Grey Cuckooshrike and Cape Batis. We'll return to town for breakfast and departure for the spectacular arid world of Mapungubwe National Park on the southern bank of the Limpopo River. This is a world of orange sandstone outcrops, ancient Baobab trees, Elephant and other big game, as well as a host of exciting bird species such as Temminck's Courser, Thick-billed Cuckoo, Meyer's Parrot, Grey Tit-Flycatcher and both White-Crested and Retz's Helmet-shrikes and maybe even the highly elusive Three-banded Courser. Mammals to be seen include the majestic Gemsbok, Southern Giraffe, African Elephant, Rock Hyrax, Lion and other species. We have two nights in the area, staying at a wonderful bush lodge just outside the park, and will spend our time on morning and afternoon drives in the park and relaxing at the lodge.
Today we'll have a last morning activity before we have breakfast and make our way into the Kruger National Park, where we’ll be based for the first two nights at a private camp in the Makuleke Concession between the Levhuvu and Limpopo Rivers. This is often touted as the most spectacular part of the whole park, with impressive Fever Tree forests and riverine forest along the banks of the two lazy rivers. We’ll explore the concession on open-vehicle game drives, and time spent viewing birds and wildlife from the comfort of our luxury tents overlooking the Luvuvhu River. The region also holds some of the best birding in the Kruger, and we’ll be searching for species such as African Yellow White-eye, Meves’s Starling, African Crowned Eagle, Green-capped Eremomela, Lemon-breasted Canary, Black-throated Wattle-eye, Böhm’s and Mottled Spinetaisl, African Cuckoo Hawk and Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, while the elusive Pel’s Fishing Owl is a possibility. Game species to be seen includes large herds of Buffalo and Elephant, as well as Lion, Leopard and a host of herbivore species. Our afternoon drives will include an after dark portion during which we may see nocturnal species such as Fiery-necked and Square-tailed Nightjars (and Pennant-winged Nightjar if we’re lucky), Spotted Thick-Knee, Spotted Eagle Owl and mammals such as Serval, African Civet and Genet (Small- and Large-Spotted).
Leaving the camp after a morning activity and breakfast we’ll make our way into the public part of the park and on to Shingwedzi Rest Camp, a small rest camp situated on a weir in the Shingwedzi River. The camp has been refurbished after being flooded out during a cyclone in January 2013, and will provide a great base from which to explore the 'public' part of the northern Kruger. We’ll concentrate our efforts on the river drives, where mature riparian vegetation growing on the alluvial soils provides a welcome respite from the endless Mopane Veld stretching out in all directions. The area is well known as the haunt of big tusker Elephant bulls, and we’ll be on the lookout for some impressive specimens. Birds we’ll be looking out for include Goliath Heron, Saddle-billed Stork, Yellow-billed Oxpecker, Water Thick-knee, Mosque Swallow, Red-headed Weaver and others. Back at camp we’ll enjoy dinner and breakfast at the restaurant overlooking the river between morning and afternoon drives and time spent relaxing in camp.
After an early breakfast we’ll leave Shingwedzi and make our way southwards to Letaba Rest Camp. Situated on a bend in the Letaba River, this camp has an incredibly scenic setting overlooking a permanent pool in the river. Here we’ll again embark on morning and afternoon game drives with rest periods during the heat of the day, perhaps spending time enjoying the view of the river and watching animals come down to bathe and drink. Birds we’ll be looking out for include Collared Pratincole, Greater Flamingo (rare in the Kruger), Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl, Red-headed Weaver, African Palm-Swift, a host of Flycatchers and Green-capped Eremomela, among others, while we’ll also hope for sightings of Lion, Leopard and other big game. Once again, there is a chance for participants to book on the park sunset or night drive (at own cost).
Moving on from the Kruger, we'll exit the park and head west into the Escarpment for a radical change in habitat over a relatively short distance. Here we have our final two nights of the tour in the Magoebaskloof region, a world of forest patches and misty mornings. We will do some forest birding, with the main targets being Black-fronted Bush-Shrike and Cape Parrot. Other birds we could expect to see include Square-tailed Drongo, Yellow-streaked Greenbul, White-starred Robin, Cape Batis, African Emerald Cuckoo and many more, while a visit to the nearby Debengeni Falls may give us Mountain Wagtail, and if we are lucky, Grey Wagtail, a regional rarity that has been returning to this site regularly.
Depending on departure flight times, we may have a morning activity followed by breakfast and departure for Johannesburg, where the tour will come to an end. If time allows we may do some birding at Nylsvley or Rietvlei Nature Reserve between Pretoria and Johannesburg to end off the birding before heading in to the airport.
These are some of the species we’ll be looking for on this tour: Short-clawed Lark, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Violet-eared Waxbill, Black-faced Waxbill, Southern White-crowned Shrike, Common Scimitarbill, Acacia Pied Barbet, Blue-spotted Wood Dove, African Broadbill, African Finfoot, White-backed Night Heron, Allen’s Gallinule, Lesser Moorhen, Mountain Wagtail, Half-collared Kingfisher, Bat Hawk, African Crowned Eagle, Verreauxs’ Eagle, Meyer’s Parrot, Brown-necked Parrot, Pel’s Fishing Owl, Arnot’s Chat, Racket-tailed Roller, Broad-billed Roller, Meve’s Staring, Three-banded Courser, Martial Eagle, Tawny Eagle, Southern Carmine Bee-eater, White-fronted Bee-eater, Gabar Goshawk, Lemon-breasted Canary, Saddle-billed Stork, Secretarybird, Verreaux’s Eagle Owl, Purple Roller, Lilac-breasted Roller, Green-winged Pytilia, African Fish Eagle, Giant Kingfisher, Cape Parrot, Narina Trogon, Black-fronted Bush Shrike, Olive Woodpecker, Orange Ground Thrush, Grey Cuckooshrike, African Elephant, Lion, Spotted Hyena, Eland 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 (except at Pafuri Camp where lunch and snacks are included)
- 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 Pafuri Camp)
- All drinks
- Optional excursions where applicable
- Tips and Gratuities
- Items of a personal nature (incl. laundry and telephone charges)
In 2020 we are celebrating 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. 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 most of the time. Rain is possible, usually in the form of summer convection thunderstorms, and cool wet weather is possible in the event of a cold front moving up from the south.
Generally medium to medium-plus, optional mid-day breaks (advisable considering on hot days), no serious walking.
Birding in brief: excellent variety of birds to be seen; Pafuri rated as the top birding region of the Kruger National Park. Good chances for large birds of prey. Mammal viewing: very good game viewing throughout, especially the Kruger National Park; Big Five as well as Cheetah, Spotted Hyena and typical savannah general game, and good chances for uncommon smaller species.
This tour can easily be combined with extensions to Victoria Falls or Cape Town.
It's of a medium to medium plus standard, comprising hotels and private lodges.