Duration: 9 days
Group Size: 4 – 8 (rarely 9)
Spaces Available: 6
Date Start: April 10, 2019
Date End: April 18, 2019
Tour Start: Durban
Tour End: Durban
KwaZulu-Natal is one of the richest places for mammals and birds in South Africa. On this tour we first sample the impressive Drakensberg, which has lots of bird endemics and a lot of other attractions, before spending most of our time in mega-diverse Zululand, a true African wildlife paradise.
This tour can be combined with our Kalahari Mammal Extravaganza, with optional 6-day Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park pre-trip (March 28 or April 2 – April 9 2019). You can join either tour independently, but we strongly recommend doing both. Doing both tours means you will sample two African habitats that are absolutely poles apart.
Itinerary (9 days/8 nights)
Day 1. Giants Castle Game Reserve
We leave Durban after breakfast and drive to Giants Castle Game Reserve (about 3.5 hours) on the slopes of the impressive Drakensberg Escarpment, or “Barrier of Spears”, as the locals have named these imposing mountains. The vulture hide here can attract Bearded Vulture in winter, along with the more (locally) abundant Cape Vulture and Jackal Buzzard. The park is famous for San rock art. We’ll look for small mammals, and with luck we might also see some larger animals such as Common Eland. The Drakensberg is a World Heritage Site.
Day 2. Giants Castle Game Reserve
We spend a full day exploring Giants Castle Game Reserve, largely on foot.
Day 3. Transfer to St Lucia
We embark on a long but interesting drive through rolling hills to one of Africa’s most diverse areas for mammals and birds, Zululand. It takes at least half a day to do this drive. We eventually reach St Lucia village, where we’ll spend two nights. Thick-tailed Greater Galagos cry from the trees within the town at night, and the town is an absolute paradise for birds, with Livingstone’s Turaco, Brown Scrub Robin, Lemon Dove, Rudd’s Apalis, and a host of others quite possible within St Lucia itself.
Day 4. St Lucia
We leave early for the massive Lake St Lucia, part of the huge iSimangaliso Wetland Park, which is a mega-diverse region with lots of large animals such as Leopard, both Black and White Rhinoceros, and Hippopotamus, along with a host of smaller mammals and a huge diversity of birds, which can include such spectacular and uncommon species as Southern Banded Snake Eagle and Green Twinspot. We eventually reach Cape Vidal, which has whale lookout towers, from where we sometimes also see albatrosses. The forests here are inhabited by two monkey species, Samango Monkey and Vervet Monkey.
Day 5. Mkhuze Game Reserve
We drive to the nearby Mkhuze Game Reserve for two nights. This is one of Africa’s most bird-rich parks, with over 400 species, even though the size of the reserve is tiny. But the greatest attraction for us is the mammal species that are common here but tough in most parks such as Kruger. These include Nyala, both rhinoceros species (but Black Rhinoceros is more often seen in Hluhluwe), the diminutive Suni antelope, Leopard (always needs luck, though), and loads more. Bird-wise we’ll be in for an amazing treat and should find extremely localized species such as Pink-throated Twinspot, Neergaard’s Sunbird, and a plethora of others. The spectacular Pel’s Fishing Owl is occasionally seen.
Day 6. Mkhuze Game Reserve
We have a full day exploring amazing Mkhuze.
Day 7. Hluhluwe Game Reserve
We drive to the nearby Hluhluwe Game Reserve for two nights. This is a Big Five reserve with a host of smaller mammals and spectacular birdlife as well.
Day 8. Hluhluwe Game Reserve
We have a full day in one of South Africa’s premier game parks, Hluhluwe.
Day 9. Departure
After some final game-viewing we’ll drive back to Durban’s King Shaka International Airport (about 4 hours) to catch our homebound flights.
Please note that the itinerary cannot be guaranteed as it is only a rough guide and can be changed (usually slightly) due to factors such as availability of accommodation, updated information on the state of accommodation, roads, or birding sites, the discretion of the guides and other factors.
Just a quick note today to let you know that mom (Eleanor) and I had a fantastic day with Dylan. First of all it was a great comfort to meet someone at the airport from the area who knows how to go about things. Dylan provided us with a splendid introduction day to the common bird families and antelope (plus a mongoose) at Rietvlie which was exactly what we needed after being cooped up on a plane for so long! He also capably described things about each family and then the species we were seeing. What surprised me was how knowledgeable he is about other species around the world which makes it easy for him to relate to our knowledge base. We had a splendid day talking about all sorts of things. You guys are doing everything right -Bravo! Your website came up first in a Google search and it’s very inviting which encourages an inquiry. Chris, you got back to me right away, and Dylan followed up with answers and then read perfectly what we needed. Thank you so much! I will most definitely recommend you to anyone coming to this part of Africa. Keep up the good work! Dylan, thank you! I look forward to coming back some day
Kim Hartquist, Rochester, New York, USA
Important explanation about the default vehicles we use on our southern African tours:
Whereas the standard birding-tour vehicle in East Africa is the popup-roof stretch Land Cruiser, in southern Africa these are extremely rare and not usually legal except within some parks. Open safari vehicles, on the other hand, are commonly seen in southern African parks but can’t be used outside the parks, and they are extremely unpleasant to be in when the weather is bad even inside the parks. The only tried-and-tested tour vehicle available in southern Africa that allows us to cover the ground we need so we can find the greatest diversity of birds (and other wildlife), and which is comfortable in all weather, is legal, has proper air conditioning, and does not make the overall tour price exorbitant, is the 13-seater Toyota Quantum when we have 6-8 (rarely 9) tour participants (or similar 7-10-seater vans when we have smaller group sizes). In areas where we are not restricted to the vehicle during the tour (such as in the Cape) we usually use unmodified standard Quantum vans – everyone gets out of the vehicle when we see a good bird or animal. In areas in which we are at times restricted to the vehicle because of the presence of dangerous megafauna including lions, elephants, and more (such as the Kruger National Park) we typically use a Quantum van with modified windows for better viewing of birds and other wildlife. In Kruger (and sometimes in Etosha) National Parks we usually do include a day or two in open safari vehicles as part of the tour price. Optional night drives (at nominal cost) in open safari vehicles are available at most southern African parks (including Kruger) for those who have less of a focused interest in birds (as these are operated by the park’s guides, who usually focus mainly on the “Big 5”). You can speak to the tour leader about joining these night drives, but in our experience some tour participants prefer not to join them, and hence we leave them as an optional extra for those willing to pay a (small/nominal) extra fee.
Even the tried-and-tested Toyota Quantum (or similar) vans we use fall far short of being ideal (small windows that are quite low, etc.), and we truly wish there were something better available without breaking the bank. But we use the best available vehicles, and we ensure that everyone has a fair turn in and near the front of the vehicle – we typically swap seating positions daily, but in the parks we can swap positions four times a day as necessary. The vehicles we use are by far the best vehicles available at a reasonable price. All the birding tour companies use the same vans unless their tours have a narrow focus just around Kruger/nearby or another park. It’s a big problem in South Africa that the East African style safari vehicles are, simply, unavailable, except for a handful of very old, shaky ones (and usually in East Africa they don’t have air conditioning anyway, are extremely slow between sites, and, in short, have a different suite of disadvantages). We use the very best vehicles we can without making our trips much more expensive than anyone else’s, but we also feel we have to be clear about what to expect before the tour, hence this note. If you are worried about the vehicle then please:
While we generally allow a window seat for every passenger and like to have at least a couple of free seats available for birding gear etc., it’s better to ask us about the specific tour to be sure what is the case. For photography trips the per-person price is higher because we leave more empty seats available as more tour participants have bulky camera gear!
It is our philosophy only to have one vehicle per tour as it invariably gets very frustrating when one vehicle sees a bird or animal and the other vehicle misses it! And our group sizes are small – maximum of eight (rarely nine). The tour prices would be very high and uncompetitive if we had a second vehicle and driver-guide with twice the guide’s accommodation, food, fuel and toll costs, considering the small group sizes on our tours. Again, if you request a private tour, we can take two or even three vehicles or absolutely whatever you request – a private tour is different. (It is illegal for us to have any person without a local driver’s license and professional driving permit to drive passengers who are paying to be on a tour, so we can’t even suggest that a tour participant drives a second vehicle to allow more space and window seats).