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South Africa: birds and big cats

A birdwatching and wildlife tour to South Africa’s rich north-east corner, taking in the highveld, the Kruger National Park and a superb private reserve with unparalleled opportunities to see Lion, Leopard and other mammals.

Status Starts Ends Group size Led by Duration/price Inc. flights from/to UK* Price Exc. international flights Single supp. Min. deposit
Available 31 Aug 2015 12 Sep 2015 Max. 10 Bert Palthe 13 days: £4295 pp. 11 days: £3500 pp. £465 £600
Available 29 Aug 2016 10 Sep 2016 Max. 10 Bert Palthe 13 days: £4195 pp. 11 days: £3295 pp. £500 £700

Outline itinerary

  1. Day 1

    We take an evening scheduled flight from London to Johannesburg, arriving early on day 2.

  2. Days 2-3

    After meeting up with the South African guide(s) at Johannesburg airport, we head eastwards to Dullstroom in the highveldt. Two nights Dullstroom.

  3. Days 4-5

    After a last morning activity in Dullstroom we’ll have breakfast and depart for Mount Sheba, a lovely old hotel on the edge of the escarpment. The hotel is surrounded by a large patch of pristine Montane Forest. Two nights Mount Sheba.

  4. Days 6-7

    After an early breakfast at Mount Sheba we’ll depart, taking in some of the highlights of the scenic Panorama Route. We’ll then leave the escarpment behind and enter the Kruger National Park.

    The Kruger routine is typified by early morning vehicle activities, followed by breakfast, a birding walk in the camp, lunch and a siesta followed by an afternoon vehicle activity. Two nights Skukuza.

  5. Days 8-9

    Savannah birding involves early starts to make the most of the cooler hours, and after an early cup of coffee and some rusks we’ll head out into the park as the gates open for the day, searching the area for big cats and birding as we do so.

    On one day there is also the option of a night-drive with the park guides. Two nights Satara Rest Camp.

  6. Days 10-11

    After breakfast we travel through some rural villages before we enter the world renowned Sabi Sand Game Reserve, adjacent to the neighbouring Kruger National Park.The reserve is home to all six species of cat found in the eastern regions of the country, although it is most famous for its regular close-up encounters with Lion and Leopard. Two nights Sabi Sand Game Reserve.

    Bush Walks: Bush walks are undertaken under the leadership of an armed guide and a tracker. The main point is not to see big game, as this is more easily done in the vehicle, but rather to get closer to the ground and learn about the smaller life forms, tracks and signs, birds and their nests and the general ecology. However, encounters with potentially dangerous game are possible, even if not actually sought out. The guides are trained to deal with such animals, but there are rare occasions when ‘evasive action’ is required, which may entail climbing trees, or running to the nearest cover. If you are not physically able to undertake such action, it might be better to not partake in the bush walk. Participation is also at the discretion of the lodge guide who will be leading the walk.

  7. Day 12

    After a final safari at Sabi Sand Game Reserve we’ll have breakfast and head back to Johannesburg, a seven hour drive away. Our flight returning to London departs in the evening, arriving on day 13.

South Africa is world-renowned for its incredible biological diversity, and nowhere is this more evident than in the north-east of the country. Within a day’s drive one can go from cool 2,000 metre-plus grasslands to hot, sub-tropical savannah at no more than 250 metres above sea level, with much in the way of transitional habitats in between. This wonderful, compact itinerary is designed to make the most of this diversity while at the same time avoiding long journeys between stops and allowing enough time to enjoy the various accommodation venues. 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.

The highlands are an endemics hot-spot, and notable species to be seen include Bokmakierie, Gurney’s Sugarbird, Drakensberg Prinia, Cape Grassbird, Sentinel Rock-Thrush, Buff-Streaked and Ant-eating Chats, Denham’s Bustard and Secretarybird, among others. Descending in altitude, the tour explores some montane forest habitat and the cliffs and gorges of the Blyde River Canyon, third largest canyon in the world, before levelling out in the Kruger National Park, where birds and beasts abound. Here the birding really gets going, with daily lists in the 80 – 100 species range possible, while encounters with big mammals such as Lion, Leopard, Cape Buffalo, Elephant and White Rhinoceros add substantially to the appeal. After the Kruger National Park comes the highlight of the tour; two nights at a private lodge in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve, where some of Africa’s best game viewing is to be had, and where our chances for encounters with Africa’s big predators are highest. All in all this is a fantastic way to be introduced to some of South Africa’s scenery, birds, animals and wildlife in general.

September is early spring, an excellent time to see mammals, before the savannah vegetation gets too leafy. It is one of the better months for birdwatching here, with many species coming into breeding plumage.

Accommodation: Will be medium to high quality, in lodges, hotels and National Park rest-camps. All accommodation is en suite.

Transport: will be in open sided vehicles for the Kruger section of the tour.

Meals All included in the price.

Walking Generally easy. In the Kruger, the presence of wild animals precludes excursions on foot. However we do offer Bush Walks in Sabie Sands – see details above. Sturdy, comfy walking shoes or boots are adequate for this tour.

Baggage restrictions For the trip itself, it is essential essential to limit your main baggage to one item, to prevent overloading of the tour vehicles. This should be a soft holdall. You may in addition bring optical equipment, but if this includes telescope and tripod, please bring them in separate cases for their protection in the vehicles.

Travel plan PDFs

What’s included

All prices are per person and include:

  • Services of the naturalist leader
  • Scheduled flights London to Johannesburg
  • Airport taxes
  • Ground transportation and excursions as described
  • Full-board accommodation
  • Bottled water in the vehicle
  • Park and reserve entrance fees
  • Local taxes
  • Tips