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Best of KwaZulu-Natal 9-Day Tour

Midlands & Drakensberg – Zululand & Elephant Coast – North Coast

Scheduled Date29 September − 11 October 2023.

Or alternate date on request.

Introduction:

This guided 9-day Best of KwaZulu-Natal birding and wildlife safari package with Sustain will lead you to some extraordinary destinations within KwaZulu-Natal, including 2 World Heritage Sites renowned for amazing bird and mammal sightings, as well as numerous Important Birding Areas. The species richness and diversity on this tour is extraordinary, and we will focus on optimizing your chances of experiencing many endemics and specials, as well as other highly sought-after animals and all other manner of biodiversity. The scenery on offer is also breathtaking, making spectacular landscape photos possible.

This birding focused adventure explores numerous inland and mountain regions rich in endemic and special birds, some wildlife and splendid scenic beauty. The route caters to a huge bird list in excess of 600 species, and we can set a sightings goal of 320+ bird species (including 8 endemics, many raptors and owls) in the summer months and 250+ species in winter. In addition, we can expect to encounter over 50 mammal species along our route, including the Big 5 and many other large and nocturnal predators. We will also discover a large array of reptiles, amphibians, butterflies and orchid species across the varied habitats.

The tour covers a tremendous altitudinal range that starts near sea level and extends to 2,900masl, thus offering the opportunity to explore varied habitats supporting a broad array of species. Habitats we venture into include grassland, wetlands and riverine areas, mountains and cliffs, rocky slopes, indigenous scarp and mist belt forests, and private botanical gardens.

Tour Highlights:

  • A birding day trip by 4x4 up into Lesotho via the extraordinarily scenic Sani Pass, and a Fig Forest walk in uMkhuze.

  • Expect to find the Big 5 mammals in uMkhuze and iSimangaliso, and numerous rarer small mammals as well.

  • Explore 2 World Heritage Sites – the majestic Maloti-Drakensberg Park and iSimangaliso Wetland Park.

  • Search for numerous bird endemics and specials, including Drakensberg Rockjumper, Gurney’s Sugarbird, Ground Woodpecker, Blue Swallow, Cape Parrot, Orange Ground Thrush, Spotted Ground Thrush, Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon, Green Barbet, Green Malkoha, Pel’s Fishing Owl, African Broadbill, Southern Banded Snake Eagle, Woodward's Batis, Southern Bald Ibis, Drakensberg Siskin, Knysna Turaco and many more.

  • Hunt for desirable mammals such as Lion, Leopard, African Elephant, Black Rhino, White Rhino, African Buffalo, Cheetah, African Wild Dog, Spotted Hyena, Pangolin, Hippo, Giraffe, Serval, Caracal, Honey Badger, Cape Porcupine, Eland, Oribi, Sloggett's Ice Rat, Samango Monkey, Thick-tailed Bushbaby, Suni, Red Duiker, Blue Duiker, Spotted-necked Otter, Cape Clawless Otter, Side-striped Jackal.

Daily Itinerary:

The safari both commences and ends at King Shaka International Airport in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal.

Day 1: Durban to Himeville

On Day 1 we first visit the Creighton area, followed by Coleford Nature Reserve, where we target numerous endemic and red-list species on the birding front, including Yellow-breasted Pipit, Wattled Crane, Striped Flufftail, African Grass Owl, Secretarybird, Mountain PipitShort-tailed PipitDenham’s Bustard, Southern Ground Hornbill, Red-winged Francolin, Shelley’s FrancolinCoqui Francolin and many others. On the mammal front, some of what we can expect includes Black Wildebeest, Oribi, Red Hartebeest, Grey RhebokSouthern Reedbuck and Blesbok. We then head through Underberg to the Himeville area where we spend our first night.

AccommodationMkomazana Mountain Cottages​, Sani Pass

Day 2: Up Sani Pass and around Himeville 

On Day 2 we undertake a guided 4x4 mountain expedition up and down the breath-taking Sani Pass and explore the greater region, before spending our second night at the same mountain setting accommodation. Here we focus on the multitude of bird endemics and specials, with the main targets being Drakensberg Rockjumper and Gurney's Sugarbird. Other treats include Ground Woodpecker, Cape Eagle-OwlCape and Bearded Vultures, Southern Bald Ibis, Bush BlackcapBuff-spotted FlufftailRed-chested FlufftailBarratt's Warbler, African Rock Pipit, Grey-winged Francolin, Buff-streaked ChatDrakensberg SiskinLayard's Warbler, Fairy FlycatcherSentinel Rock-ThrushFan-tailed GrassbirdBokmakierieMountain WheatearSickle-winged ChatOlive Woodpecker, Cape Grassbird and Red-throated Wryneck. Some mammals to search for include Eland, Spotted-necked Otter, Serval, Sloggett's Ice Rat, Mountain Reedbuck, Southern ReedbuckWater MongooseGrey Rhebok, Black-backed Jackal and Chacma Baboon.

AccommodationMkomazana Mountain Cottages​, Sani Pass

Drakensberg foothills                                  Sani Valley                                       Sani Pass

Day 3: Himeville to Karkloof

On Day 3 we rise early to head for the Marutswa Forest trail and boardwalk in search of the critically endangered Cape Parrot, and others like Knysna TuracoOlive Bush-Shrike, Yellow Woodland WarblerWhite-starred Robinand Chorister Robin-Chat before continuing to Midmar Dam Nature Reserve in search of Black-rumped ButtonquailShort-tailed PipitMarsh OwlAfrican Marsh Harrier, and the more diminutive African QuailfinchWing-snapping Cisticola and Pale-crowned Cisticola. In winter, we may also enjoy Buffy PipitBlack-winged Lapwing and Eastern Long-billed Lark. We then proceed the short distance to the mist belt grasslands, wetlands and mist belt forests of Karkloof, where we search for 3 crane species, namely Wattled, Grey-crowned and Blue Cranes, Red-chested Flufftail and African Rail amongst others. We spend our last night in a cozy mistbelt country cottage. Some mammals to search for include ServalCape Clawless Otter and Samango (Blue) Monkey.

Accommodation: Thistledown Country House (or similar), Karkloof

Day 4: Karkloof to St Lucia

Day 4 sees us embark for Benvie Gardens to search for Orange Ground Thrush, Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon, Forest BuzzardAfrican Emerald CuckooChorister Robin-Chat, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Mountain Wagtail. We then embark for the north coast and spend our next 2 nights in the famous estuary town of St Lucia, where we explore the ‘Miracle and Wonder’ of South Africa’s first World Heritage Site − iSimangaliso Wetland Park. That evening we search for Swamp Nightjar, African Wood Owl and Thick-tailed Galago (Bushbaby), amongst others.

AccommodationAmaZulu Lodge (or similar), St Lucia

Day 5: Around iSimangaliso Wetland Park and St Lucia

On Day 5 and morning of Day 6 we have many targets on the Eastern and Western Shores and the St Lucia Estuary. These include Black-throated Wattle-eye, Livingstone's Turaco, Southern Banded Snake-Eagle, African Crowned Eagle, African Fish EagleAfrican Cuckoo HawkSooty Falcon, Narina Trogon, Green Malkoha, Woodward's BatisCrested Guineafowl, Green TwinspotBlack-bellied Korhaan, Brown Scrub-RobinRudd's ApalisOrange-breasted Waxbill, Southern Brown-throated Weaver, Blue-mantled Crested FlycatcherTrumpeter Hornbill, African Pygmy Goose, White-backed Duck, Lesser JacanaCape Longclaw, Rufous-bellied Heron, Grey Sunbird and Blue-cheeked Bee-eater. On the shoreline and estuary mouth we search for African Skimmer, Palm-nut Vulture, Western OspreyYellow-billed Stork, Goliath HeronSooty TernLittle Tern, many other waders and shorebirds, as well as many migrant specials and rarities in summer. Mammals in this region are abundant, and we will search for Leopard, Black Rhino, White RhinoAfrican Elephant, Spotted Hyena, African Buffalo, HippopotamusGiraffeGreater Kudu, WaterbuckSide-striped JackalBlue Wildebeest, Burchell's ZebraTsessebeRed Duiker, Warthog, Bushpig and Nile Crocodile.

AccommodationAmaZulu Lodge (or similar), St Lucia

Day 6: Through iSimangaliso Wetland Park to Mkuze Game Reserve

Before lunchtime on Day 6 we push on to the Nibela Peninsula, Mpempe Pan and Muzi Pan, before heading to Mkuze Game Reserve, where we also spend 2 nights. Our targets in these areas are all birds and include Rosy-throated Longclaw, Lemon-breasted Canary, African Pygmy Goose, Lizard BuzzardCollared PratincoleWooly-necked StorkSenegal Lapwing, Great White Pelican, Pink-backed Pelican, Saddle-billed StorkLesser Flamingo, Greater Flamingo, Burnt-necked Eremomela, Black HeronTemminck's Courser, African Rail, African Snipe, Blue-billed Teal, Rufous-winged Cisticola, Red-faced Cisticola and in summer Caspian Plover, Lesser Moorhen, Allen's GallinuleAfrican Openbill and the odd vagrant and rarity.

AccommodationMantuma Rest Camp(or similar), Mkuze Game Reserve

Mkuze Fig Forest Walk                         Mkuze Sand Forest                       Mkuze Nsumo Pan

Day 7: Around Mkuze Game Reserve

On Day 7 we get to savour Mkuze Game Reserve, considered the ‘Holy Grail’ of Southern African birding hotspots, and a 'Big Five' reserve that offers tremendous interest on the mammal side. In the morning we undertake a fig forest walk in search of Pel’s Fishing-Owl, Narina Trogon, Purple-crested TuracoAfrican BroadbillAfrican Green PigeonGrey Tit-Flycatcher and more. On the mammal front we keep our eyes peeled for Leopard, Cheetah, LionBlack Rhino, White RhinoAfrican Elephant, Spotted Hyena, African Buffalo, HippopotamusGiraffeHoney Badger, Cape Porcupine, White-tailed Mongoose, Greater Kudu, Waterbuck, Nyala, Bushbuck, Blue Wildebeest, Burchell's Zebra and Hippo. At the same time we concentrate on finding the multitude of other great birds, some of which include Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl, Bateleur and many other eagle, accipiter and other raptor species, Eastern NicatorPink-throated Twinspot, Secretarybird, Gorgeous Bush-Shrike, Grey-headed Bush-ShrikeBearded Scrub-RobinBearded WoodpeckerRudd’s Apalis, African Pygmy Goose, Common Ostrich, Lappet-faced Vulture, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Neergard’s Sunbird, Purple-banded Sunbird, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Southern Ground-Hornbill, Stierling’s Wren-Warbler, Burnt-necked Eremomela, Broad-billed RollerAfrican Pygmy Kingfisher, Half-collared Kingfisher, Greater HoneyguideDwarf Bittern, Grey Penduline-TitRed-fronted TinkerbirdGreen-winged PytiliaJameson's Firefinch and African Firefinch

AccommodationMantuma Rest Camp(or similar), Mkuze Game Reserve

Day 8: Mkuze Game Reserve to Umlalazi, Ongoye and Eshowe

Our penultimate Day 8 sees us searching further into Mkuze before departing this haven to head back southwards. We first stop at Umlalazi Nature Reserve and then the enchanting scarp forests of Ongoye Forest Reserve, before overnighting in Eshowe. Our targets in these areas include

African Finfoot, Black Coucal, Black-throated Wattle-eye, Green Malkoha, Livingstone's Turaco, Mangrove KingfisherTrumpeter Hornbill, Palm-nut Vulture, Green Barbet, Striped Pipit, Plain-backed Pipit, Yellow-streaked Greenbul and Black-rumped Buttonquail.

Accommodation: Birds of Paradise B&B, Eshowe

Day 9: Dlinza Forest to Stanger and Airport / Umhlanga

Day 9 is our last morning, which sees us exploring the towering Dlinza Forest Reserve and Aerial Boardwalk in search of treats such as Eastern Bronze-naped PigeonSpotted Ground-Thrush, Crowned Eagle, Black Sparrowhawk, African Emerald Cuckoo, Grey Cuckooshrike, Red-backed Mannikin, African Olive PigeonLemon Dove, Green Twinspot, Narina Trogon, Knysna Turaco, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Olive Bush-ShrikeSouthern Bald Ibis and Blue DuikerShould time allow and water levels be fav, our final stop will be the Sappi Stanger Mbozambo wetlands where we will try fill in any missed waders and riverine species, including Black-crowned Night-HeronGreater Painted-Snipe, Little BitternGreat White Pelican, Purple Heron, Baillon’s Crake, African Rail, Western Yellow Wagtail, Rufous-winged Cisticola, White-fronted Bee-eater. We then end our fantastic tour with a return to Umhlanga or King Shaka International Airport.

 

Travel regions include:

  • Explore the breath-taking and dramatic Drakensberg Mountains up to the top of winding Sani Pass for 2 nights.

  • Birding the lush grasslands, misty wetlands, leafy forests and bubbling streams of the KwaZulu-Natal midlands for 1 night.

  • Search the verdant bushveld region of Zululand and Maputaland for large and predatory mammals and extraordinary bird diversity of St Lucia, the Eastern Shores and Mkhuze Game Reserve for 4 nights.

  • Explore towering forests and mangrove in search of several ground and treetop endemic birds for 1 night.

  • An extraordinary variation of altitudes and array of habitat types. 

 

Habitats:

Each destination we visit en-route offers unique habitats, extraordinary scenery, and breath-taking beauty, providing you with fantastic photographic opportunities. Habitats we explore include numerous forest types, woodlands, savanna, wetlands, grassland, mountains and cliffs, shorelines and estuaries, which host numerous regional endemics, threatened and endangered mammal and bird species, as well as great floral diversity.

Accommodation: On the accommodation front we typically use very comfortable private lodges and national park resorts, but should you prefer, at an added cost, luxury lodging options can also be arranged.

 

Tour tempo: The tempo of our Birding and Wildlife Tours are typically medium-paced, with optional mid-day breaks (advisable on hot days). If you are a keen photographer, well so are we, and we can offer many opportunities to capture the moments that will make you the envy of your wildlife-watching friends.

Expected weather conditions: Subtropical and mostly hot during the day in the summer, and cooler in the evenings, with a chance of mist. 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 in the winter months, with frost and even snow possible at high altitudes. On a climate level, the region falls in the summer rainfall region, with an average rainfall of between 700mm and 1,100mm per year. Temperatures range from -5˚C in winter to 32˚C in summer, with an average maximum of 28˚C and an average minimum of 10˚C. The driest month is July, the most rainfall falls in January, and the warmest is in February. 

Optional extension: An optional tour extension is available to also include:

  • Wakkerstroom – add 2 days by heading into the renowned and abundant Mpumalanga highland and wetland region of Wakkerstroom.

  • Kruger National Park, Blyde River Canyon and Magoebaskloof – add several days by exploring Blyde River Canyon and the iconic Kruger National Park, by proceeding from northern KwaZulu-Natal through Eswatini.

 

Please note: this set-departure tour is also available as a private or custom tour on request. Please submit an enquiry with your preferred dates and group size.

Tour Summary

  • Date:  29 September 11 October 2023, or other date on request.

  • Validity: 01 January 2023 – 31 December 2023.

  • Duration9 days, 8 nights.

  • PriceZAR 41,950.00 per person sharing, and ZAR 4,750.00 single supplement.

  • Price may be subject to change based on factors beyond our control. 

  • No. of Pax:  Maximum 6 guests per vehicle and per guide.

  • Tour Starts and Ends:  At King Shaka International Airport in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal.

  • Distance:  Total driving distance (including around sites) = 1,750km.

 

Tour Includes:

  • Private wildlife and birding guide;

  • Accommodation (may change subject to availability, in which case similar will be found);

  • All breakfasts, dinners, tea and coffee;

  • All ground transport – Maximum 6 participants and 1 guide per luxury touring vehicle;

  • Bottled water in vehicles whilst travelling per person per day;

  • All entrance fees, conservation and community levies to parks and reserves;

  • Trip Guide and personalized checklists;

  • Specialist guide fees – 1 day Sani Pass 4x4 Tour, uMkhuze Fig Forest walk.

Tour Excludes:

  • All airfares;

  • Airport departure taxes or visa fees;

  • Travel and medical insurance (incl. personal equipment and repatriation) ;

  • All lunches, snacks and drinks (except bottled waters);

  • Optional excursions;

  • Specialist guide fees and activities not specified;

  • Items of a personal nature.

  • Laundry and telephone charges;

  • Tips and gratuities for guides and local restaurants;

  • Anything else not mentioned in “Includes”.

 

Note:

  • Terms and Conditions apply;

  • Minimum of 4 participants per vehicle required to undertake the trip. Should the number of guests change, the cost of the tour and the per person cost will change accordingly;

  • The species mentioned in the itinerary represent only some of those we may possibly view on the tour, however, none can be guaranteed;

  • This itinerary is subject to change due to weather conditions at the time and other factors beyond our control;

  • Tour group is responsible for paying for all guide meals;

  • All images taken on tour with Sustain Safaris.

Russians in Sani signed.jpg
Ntsikeni views
Sani Valley Lodge
Sani Pokers
Fig Forest Walk
Tembe Rises WBS signed.jpg
Nyamithi.jpg
Cape Parrot hanging signed.jpg
African Broadbill1 signed.jpg
African Cuckoo Hawk2b signed.jpg
White-backed Vulture signed.jpg
Greater Painted-Snipe
Lion flehmen
European Nightjar1 signed.jpg
Redfronted Tinkerbird5.jpg
Elephant bull appearing
White-starred Robin
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