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Kruger and Zululand Itinerary

Day 1

An evening scheduled flight from London will bring you to Johannesburg in the early hours of day one.   You will be picked up by our local guide and myself at the airport and drive south-east to Wakkerstroom.  The journey will take four to five hours, but it will be enriched with records of our first birds and mammals.

We will arrive at our guest house, set in a peaceful valley surrounded by panoramic views, in the early afternoon.  After refreshing ourselves and lunch, we will undertake our first birding trip.  Wakkerstroom is a sleepy little village, but the presence of rare highland birds and the most sought-after South African endemics in its vicinity has put it in the international birding limelight.   The biggest attraction here is a huge wetland, complete with bird-viewing hides on the edge of the village, where a good selection of waterfowl, herons and warblers can be seen. Marshes here accommodate Marsh and Grass Owls, whereas nearby pristine upland grasslands host flocks of elegant Blue and Grey Crowned Cranes, Blue and Barrow’s Korhaans, and Denham’s and Blue Bustards. Meerkats, staring back at us from their burrows, will be one of the first mammals on our list here. 


Day 2

We will continue birdwatching at Wakkerstroom and its surroundings in the morning and later depart south to the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Park.   Established in 1895, the park is the oldest game reserve in South Africa, where Zulu kings such as Dingiswayo and Shaka hunted and put in place the first conservation laws.  The park is the only one under formal conservation in the region where the Big Five occur (Lion, Elephant, Leopard, Buffalo and Rhinoceros).  Although game viewing is the principal attraction in this reserve, birding is equally rewarding and the reserve supports species largely extirpated from other parts of the province.  A number of viewing hides overlooking pans and waterholes will enable us to observe the wildlife at close range.


Days 3-4

Today, we will travel north to reach the Bonamanzi Game Reserve, conveniently situated close to the best birding spots in the area.  We will stay here in en-suite, air-conditioned chalets for two nights.  From your private veranda, you will be able to view a herd of impala sleeping at your doorstep or warthog families ambling around the camp all day long.  The lounge area is built over the dam and walking distance from a picturesque water-hole, which offers excellent birdwatching and game viewing.  Here, we will explore the reserve on foot and take a game drive in an open Land Rover.

The reserve borders the Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park and we will devote one day to exploring this fantastic complex of wetlands.  The St Lucia wetlands are home to a phenomenal congregation of waterbirds and the best way to see them is from a boat, which will also give us an opportunity to view Crocodiles and Hippos from close range.  The walks into the adjacent dune forest, the most outstanding habitat here, should enrich our bird list with several endemics and specialities such as Livingstone’s Turaco, Green and Burchell’s Coucal, White-eared Barbet, Natal and Brown Robins, Rudd’s Apalis, Neergard’s Sunbird, Woodward’s Batis, Olive Bushshrike, Green Twinspot, Red-backed Mannikin and many others.  Two tiny antelopes, Red and Blue Forest Duiker, a favourite prey of Crowned Eagle, should be seen here as well.

We will also spend a considerable amount of time at the magnificent Mkuzie Game Reserve, reputed for its Black and White Rhino populations.  The reserve’s main attraction lies in the diversity of its habitats; sand forest, Fig forest, Acacia and Lala Palm savanna, grassland, rocky ridges, gorges and wetlands.  Each of them supports different species of birds making birding here a superb experience.  We will drive around the park, visit its fabulous bird-hides and walk through its woodlands on the trail of Crested Guinea Fowl, Kurrichane and Black-rumped Buttonquails, Purple-crested and Grey Turacos, Black-collared Barbet, African Broadbill, Lemon-breasted Canary, Pink-throated Twinspot, along with many more.  Mammals in this area, apart from a healthy population of Black and White Rhinoceroses, include the endemic Nyala antelope.


Day 5

We will leave South Africa behind today and drive north west to cross the border with Swaziland.  Our destination for the day is the luxurious Mountain Inn Hotel with breathtaking views over the Ezulwini Valley – the valley of heaven.  Indeed, you will be taken by the beauty of this place and will enjoy a lovely alfresco dinner in this superb surrounding.


Day 6

After breakfast and some birding around the hotel grounds, we will head north to Kruger National Park.  We break the journey with a stop at the Malolotja Nature Reserve, one of the most impressive and unspoiled mountain parks in southern Africa. The spectacular scenery and the variety of fauna and flora make it a prime highveld conservation area and the largest proclaimed protected area in Swaziland. The reserve is particularly important for montane grassland endemics or endangered species including Blue Swallow, Blue Crane, Bald Ibis and Stanley's Bustard.  It is also a haven for botanists.

As we head north and east, we’ll descend from the rolling montane grasslands into the lowlands with a more tropical feel.  We will enter Kruger National Park through the Crocodile Bridge gate in the south and enjoy our fist night in this superb park.


Days 7-9

We will spend the next three days exploring Kruger National Park, splitting our stay here between two different camps in the southern and central parts of the park.

With a bird list of over 500 species, birdwatching in Kruger is simply amazing and will give us a whole range of birds.  More than 30 species of raptor can be found here, including Hooded, White-backed, White-headed and Lappet-faced Vultures, Wahlberg’s, Tawny, Steppe, Martial, Black-breasted Snake and Lesser Spotted Eagles, the graceful Bateleur and spectacular Secretary Bird.  Other species, with a limited distribution in southern Africa that we’ll look for here, include Lesser Black-winged Lapwing, Retz’s Helmetshrike, Sterling’s Wren-warbler and Eastern Bearded Scrub Robin. In addition to a high diversity of woodland birds, Kruger is a vital refuge for a host of large birds which require extensive areas of prime habitat.  Those include the striking Saddle-billed Stork, African Finfoot, Kori Bustard, Southern Ground Hornbill and smaller korhaans.

While the birding is brilliant, the park is perhaps even more famous for its mammals, with 147 species recorded.  Due to the water pipeline and a number of water-holes in the region, huge herds of Impala, Blue Wildebeest, Common Zebra, Giraffe, African Elephant and African Buffalo can be found here.  No wonder, therefore, that the park hosts a healthy population of Lion and Leopard and we will explore some of the best drives in the park to look for these species.  Less obvious are African Wild Dog, Cheetah and Spotted Hyena, so we will have to keep a watchful eye open for them.  In the wetter parts of the park, along the river banks and at the dam, we will be able to view Crocodiles and Hippopotamus basking on the sand banks.  The 'little five' - Lion Ant, Elephant Shrew, Rhino Beetle, Buffalo Weaver and Leopard Tortoise, will be equally fascinating to see.

One of the highlights of the park is a night drive.  One night, we will go out in a large, wildlife-viewing park vehicle, equipped with powerful spotlights to search for elusive nocturnal mammals and birds.

To make the most of our stay at Kruger, we’ll head out on wildlife drives at dawn, but with breaks either for breakfast or lunch at the camps.  There will also be plenty of time to explore the bird-rich habitats within the camps themselves.


Day 10

Reluctantly, we will leave Kruger today and head west into the hills, to a very different habitat.  Our first stop will be on the Drakensberg escarpment, where we’ll stop at a dramatically beautiful mountain pass and scan for South Africa's rarest breeding bird and one of the world’s rarest raptors: the Taita Falcon. The birds breed on an inaccessible cliff and we might get a glimpse of this attractive, orange-coloured falcon hunting overhead or perching on the cliff face.

We’ll then head further inland, and make another quick stop to view the massive Blyde River Canyon, the third largest in the world.  Here, apart from viewing the spectacular vistas, we might record resident Swee Waxbills, Narina Trogon, Orange Ground Thrush or Knysna Turaco.

We should reach our luxurious lodge, surrounded by the lush indigenous Afro-montane rainforest, by late afternoon.  There will be plenty of time to relax in this beautiful surrounding or simply take a walk into the forest directly from our rooms.  Narina Trogon, Grey Cuckoo-shrike, Orange Ground-thrush, Bush Blackcap and close views of Samango Monkeys will be our most likely encounters.


Day 11

After some birding in the morning and scrumptious lunch, we will undertake our drive to Johannesburg to catch an evening flight to London. 

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umfolozi game reserve

Violet-backed Starling

Mocking Cliff-chat

Crested Barbet

Sekretarybird

Purple-crested Turako

Lappet-faced Vulture

White-backed Vulture

Ground Hornbills

Wild dog

Leopard in Kruger

lions with a prey

Nyala

Elephants

zebra in kruger