from the Drakensberg mountains to the elephant coast of Kwazulu Natal




For loads of pictures from our South Africa Tour - click here


There is no doubt that the rugged Drakensberg Mountain range is an awe inspiring setting in which to go birding. It is South Africa’s most prominent geological feature stretching for over 600 miles, dividing the savannah woodland along the coastal plain from the high-lying grasslands of the interior. The towering volcanic peaks rise to over 11,000 feet and form an intimidating and impregnable escarpment known to early pioneers as the Dragon Mountains. On the plains below, the Zulu people knew it as the Barrier of Spears on account of its sharp peaks.


Our journey takes us through the arid kopjes to the windswept highveld grasslands before descending through the passes and eroded valleys of the Drakensberg. Drakensberg Rockjumper, Sentinel Rock Thrush and Drakensberg Siskin are watched over by Lammergeiers and Cape Vultures. At lower altitudes we will explore a number of relic forest patches close to the Indian Ocean. Here, thornveld, dune forest and wetlands contain highly localized birds such as Purple-crested Turaco and Gorgeous Bush Shrike. Highly desirable species such as Pel's Fishing Owl and Pygmy Goose are possible if water levels are right. 


Big game such as Elephant, Rhino and the beautiful Nyala Antelope are present as our route takes us back onto high open grasslands where we will search for a number of very special South African endemics.


South Africa has so much to offer and our tours have been so successful here that there is always a longing to return. Many species have been isolated for thousands of years in the Drakensberg. Created by massive geological forces, the wonderfully dramatic scenery will make this a very memorable trip. A glass of excellent local wine while recording the great bird diversity of Zululand is something that has to be experienced.





Having landed at Johannesburg International Airport, we will drive to the Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve to satisfy the immediate need to stretch our legs, get fresh air into our lungs and see some wonderful birds. Some of these are at the eastern extremity of their known range and include Red-throated Wryneck, Northern Black Korhaan, Mountain Wheatear, Orange River Francolin, Red-eyed Bulbul, Chestnut-backed Finch Lark, Black-throated Canary, Red-capped Lark, Pink-billed Lark and Grey-winged Francolin. We will then head on to Harrismith for the night.



The next morning we will descend the escarpment, taking a scenic route to Underberg. En route we will search for a select number of birds including Malachite Sunbird, Cape Batis and Black-headed Oriole. Denham’s Bustard and Blue Crane prefer the open high lying areas.


Descending through a series of narrow passes, we enter the foothills of the Drakensberg itself. The eroded valleys hold habitat-specific species that favour the rocky slopes and dramatic dolerite cliffs. These include the gorgeous Sentinel Rock Thrush, unique rock-nesting Ground Woodpecker, Mountain Pipit, Sickle-winged Chat, Southern Bald Ibis, Barrett's Warbler, White-necked Raven and Jackal Buzzard. The endemic Bush Blackcap, Drakensberg Rockjumper and Drakensberg Siskin are only found in this part of South Africa. Usually Lammergeier and Cape Vulture guard the head of the Sani Pass as we enter the Lesotho.



Day four is spent birding patches of indigenous forest in the foothills before arriving at Creighton. The open grassland and forests here keep us busy the next day as we search for Grey Crowned Crane, Grey Cuckoo-shrike, Orange Thrush, Starred Robin, Forest Canary, Bar-throated Apalis and the beautiful Knysna Turaco. If we are very lucky we could come across the highly endangered Cape Parrot.


Closer to the Indian Ocean coast the country changes to a more tropical nature, comprising thornveld scrub and dune forest. We can expect to find highly localized birds such as Purple-crested Turaco, White-eared Barbet, Long-crested Eagle and Trumpeter Hornbill.


Our meander through Zululand takes us inland to the hamlet of Eshowe close to the where Shaka, the legendary King of the Zulus, had his kraal in the early 19th Century. From here, hordes of Zulu warriors raided the interior of Southern Africa in search of cattle and ivory.


We will birdwatch in the magnificent Dhlinza Forest at daybreak from a canopy tower, before dropping down to the leaf littered forest floor. Birds we can expect to encounter include Spotted Ground Thrush, Green Malkoha, Narina Trogon and possibly the rare Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon. Later, we will reach Richard’s Bay, our base for the night.


We will check the coastal plain waterways for Woolly-necked Stork, African Pygmy Goose, White-backed Duck, Little Bittern, African Rail, Southern Brown-throated Weaver, Black Crake, and African and Lesser Jacanas. Leaving for St Lucia estuary via the Duku Duku forest we may pick up Livingstone's Turaco, Red-capped Robin Chat, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Olive and Grey Sunbirds, Woodward’s Batis and Southern Banded Snake Eagle.


We can also check the mouth of St Lucia estuary for Hippopotamus and Nile Crocodile.



We will explore the coastal forest and estuary before reaching Mkuze Game Reserve, spending two full days birding here. Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill, and Lilac-breasted and Broad-billed Rollers are often found in open areas hawking insects above the grassland. In the thorn and dune forests we can expect to find Bearded and White-throated Robins, Pink-throated Twinspot, Neergaard's Sunbird, Rudd's and Yellow-breasted Apalis, Gorgeous Bush Shrike, Green-spotted Dove and a host of raptors including Bateleur, Brown and Black-breasted Snake Eagles and Lappet-faced and White-backed Vultures. Big game is never ignored in Africa and we can expect to see Elephant and the striking Nyala Antelope among Zebra, Waterbuck and Tsessebe. 



From Mkuze our extended loop takes us back onto the open grassland of the Highveld where we will search for a highly localized suite of very special South African endemics including Southern Bald Ibis, Blue Korhaan, Yellow-breasted Pipit and the rare and endangered Rudd’s and Botha’s Larks.


After birding Piet Retief and Dirkiesdorp we will reach Wakkerstroom. Nowhere else can you find Rudd’s and Botha’s Larks. In the process of searching for them, we are likely to glimpse Kurrichane Button Quail. Not rare, just very difficult to see well.


On day 14, we depart for Johannesburg around mid-morning, stopping at various points of potential birding interest along the way. We may say goodbye with a fine Southern Bald Ibis or Blue Korhaan, as these two sought after endemics are often found by the roadside.



The cooler temperatures and early wildlife activity mean that we must rise early to make the most of the opportunities available. The pattern in South Africa normally involves an early morning watch and a late afternoon excursion, resting and relaxing, or travelling, between these times. Basic fitness is all that is required.



Full-board accommodation is provided in a variety of guest houses and hotels. We shall spend one night at Harrismith, two at Underberg, single nights at Creighton, Eshowe, Richard’s Bay, and St Lucia, three nights at Mkuse and three nights at Wakkerstroom. All accommodations have private facilities en suite. Some of the guesthouses are small and we may be split between two buildings. Evening meals will nevertheless be taken together.



All birdwatching excursions with expert leader and local guide, full-board accommodation, soft drinks at meal times, local transport by mini-bus, park entrance fees, return flight to Johannesburg and airport taxes.



Our optional travel insurance, payable at the time of booking. Items of a personal nature, alcoholic drinks, laundry.



Return flight from London Heathrow to Johannesburg using the scheduled services of South African Airways. Outbound flight departs early evening, return flight arrives back early morning. Shuttle flights are available on this tour for £70 return (due at time of booking), from Manchester and other regional airports.



15 nights including

two overnight flights:


Principal leader:


Local guide:


Maximum group size:


Cost with discount

(if you book before

26th July 2008):


Full Cost:


Single supplement:




Insurance premium:




8th to 23rd November 2008


Phil Palmer


Patrick Cardwell


10 clients with one leader

and a local guide



£2980 per person sharing


£3130 per person sharing






£59 due at time of booking

(£89 for age 65 to 69)

(£118 for age 70 and over)




To see photographs taken on our recent South Africa Tour in December 2007, click here



Black-backed Puffback displaying (left) and White-throated Robin (right).


The African Broadbill is a difficult bird to find in dense forest. This bird posed for us on our 2006 tour.

Although Spotted Hyenas can be seen in various African reserves, the shy Brown Hyena is rarely encountered. This was a lucky find near the Limpopo in 2006.



This Black Crake was taken by customer Voirrey Oxley during our 2007 tour.

home page