Grasslands to Coastline
Close to 470 bird species have been recorded in the Free State, including more than 100 Southern African endemics and near-endemics. This tour offers magnificent scenery and exceptional birding in high-altitude grassland, mountain, wetland, and forest habitats. See below for a day-by-day outline!
Eastern Free State
Ithala Game Reserve
A South African Experience You Will Never Forget
Day 1 - Arrive JHB
Arrive and overnight Johannesburg at African Sky Guesthouse.
Day 2 – JHB to Memel
Morning departure from Johannesburg for Memel in the Free Sate.
Surrounded by wetlands, Memel is a nature lover's paradise. Even though Memel has been almost forgotten for many years, it is starting to grow in popularity and as people escape the city to build peaceful new lives in this picturesque town.
The Seekoeivlei Nature Reserve is located around the city, and in earlier years the wetlands were being starved of water due to farmers building drainage canals for agricultural land. This has now almost been rectified, with rehabilitation programs being put into place in the 1990’s, allowing more than 250 bird species to return to their home, and reintroducing hippopotamus to the wetlands.
Afternoon birding, overnight Mahem Country Guesthouse.
Day 3 – Memel Birding
The Memel district is characterised by varied landscapes ranging from undulating grassy hills with vleis, dams and streams in shallow valleys to the north of the town to deeply incised river valleys, rock-strewn hillsides, grassy plateaus and sheltered forests clinging to the south-facing slopes of the Drakensberg Escarpment to the south. This provides for some majestic scenery characterised by some well-known flat-topped sandstone (koppies) mesas rising above the surrounding areas.
Today will be set aside birding and exploring the Memel area.
Overnight Mahem Country Guesthouse.
Day 4 – Memel Birding
A further day of birding and exploring Memel.
Overnight Mahem Country Guesthouse.
Day 5 – Sani Pass
Depart Memel for Sani Pass.
Sani Pass must rank as one of the top ten birding spots in Southern Africa. As the only road running from east to west over the Drakensberg escarpment and into Lesotho, it provides a unique opportunity for fantastic birding in a wide range of escarpment and alpine habitats, together with spectacular scenery. Almost every bird encountered is an endemic or a special, including four species not found elsewhere in southern Africa, namely the Drakensberg Rock-jumper, Drakensberg Siskin, Mountain Pipit and the Bearded Vulture. These are birds of limited distribution and this is the easiest place to find them. A bonus is that Gurney's Sugarbird and Drakensberg Rock-jumper represent two bird families that are endemic to the region, while a number of endemic western species normally associated with the drier karoo are also found in the karoo-like vegetation that occurs right to the top of the pass.
We will arrive mid morning and make the trip up Sani with a 4x4 vehicle and a local guide.
Dinner and overnight Sani Top Chalets.
Day 6 - Depart Sani Pass for Giants Castle
Driving down Sani Pass by 4x4 vehicle will afford us the opportunity to mop up any species that we might have missed the previous day.
After descending the pass we depart for Giants Castle, arriving in the afternoon.
Afternoon birding around the camp area, overnight Giants Castle Camp.
Day 7 - Giants Castle
Today will be set aside birding Giants Castle, as well as spending time in the renowned Lammergeyer Hide with its unsurpassed opportunities for bird photography and bird viewing.
Overnight Giants Castle Camp.
Day 8 - Giants Castle to Eshowe
Morning departure for Eshowe.
The sound of the breeze rustling through the Dlinza Forest in the heart of the town is the romantic explanation for the town's name. The more scientific is that it is a corruption of the isiZulu word ishongwe, meaning 'milkbush shrubs', also prominent in the area.
Eshowe is situated close to the Capitals of the old Zulu kingdoms. Eshowe was the colonial capital of Zululand, and it is steeped in Zulu and colonial history. With a rich cultural and royal history, Eshowe has been home to Zulu Kings Shaka, Mpande, Cetshwayo and Dinuzulu, as well as the British military headquarters.
We spend the afternoon visiting and birding Entumeni forest
Overnight Birds of Paradise B&B in Eshowe.
Day 9 - Eshowe/Dlinza to St Lucia
We will head for Dlinza forest before breakfast in order to try and maximize our birding opportunity in the forest.
The core of the 250-hectare coastal scarp forest is a declared nature reserve but tracts of the beautiful, high forest as well as patches of wild flowers and grassland are dispersed throughout the leafy avenues of the town.
After a morning spent birding the forest we will head back to enjoy breakfast before departing for St Lucia (Isimangaliso Wetland Park).
En route we will stop by Enseleni Nature Reserve, on the outskirts of Richards Bay and Empangeni, and one of the best places in South Africa for African Finfoot.
Afternoon birding around the estuary, overnight Seasands Lodge.
Day 10 – St Lucia
The iSimangaliso Wetland Park is one of the jewels of South Africa's coastline, with a unique mosaic of ecosystems - swamps, lakes, beaches, coral reefs, wetlands, woodlands, coastal forests and grasslands - supporting an astounding diversity of animal, bird and marine life.
Formerly known as the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park, the Park was renamed on 1 November 2007 to better reflect its unique African identity - and to avoid confusion with the Caribbean island country St Lucia.
Early morning departure for a full day excursion into eastern shores of the park, searching for the areas specials and spending time in the newly constructed hides.
Overnight Seasands Lodge.
Day 11 – St Lucia
Another full day spent birding in St Lucia – today we will visit the western shores of the reserve.
Overnight Seasands Lodge
Day 12 – Hluhluwe/Imfolozi Game Reserve – southern section
Early morning departure for Hluhluwe/Imfolozi Game reserve.
Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve is probably KwaZulu Natals premier game viewing destination which holds good populations of the Big Five as well as Cheetah and Wild dog. Birding is excellent with the camps being particularly good for bird photography.
On our first day in the reserve we will concentrate on the southern section, which is drier than the northern section and famous for its high predator concentrations.
Overnight Mpila Camp.
Day 13 - Hulhuwe/Imfolozi Game Reserve – northern section
After an early morning drive and breakfast we will depart for the northern section of the reserve.
The northern section of the park is noted for its wide variety of both bird and animal life. It is one of the best places in the world to see nyala. Hluhluwe is also known for its rhino conservation and boasts good rhino sightings.
Overnight Hilltop Camp.
Day 14 - Hulhuwe/Imfolozi Game Reserve – northern section
Today will be set aside exploring the northern section.
Overnight Hilltop Camp.
Day 15 - Ithala Game reserve
Morning departure for Ithala Game Reserve.
Ithala Game Reserve is one of the youngest game parks in South Africa. The altitude varies from 400 m (Phongolo River) to 1450 m (Ngotshe Mountains), so there is a great variation of terrain which extends over lowveld and densely vegetated river valleys to high-lying grassland plateaus, ridges and cliff faces, and this makes for interesting and varied birding. Raptors are particularly abundant.
Afternoon drive in Ithala.
Overnight Ntshondwe Camp.
Day 16 - Ithala game reserve
Full day exploring and birding Ithala Game Reserve.
Day 17 – Ithala Game Reserve – Return
Return to Jhb and depart for airport.
We enjoyed laughter, sunsets, elephants tussling and drinking water, hippos in St. Lucia estuary, dipping our toes in the Indian Ocean and so much more. It truly was a wonderful, memorable visit that will linger inside us forever. Thank you Outdoor Africa!
THANK YOU OUTDOOR AFRICA for providing me with the experience of a lifetime. Toby customized the trip based on our specific preferences and abilities. Hayden was truly a wealth of knowledge about all things South African and I learned to really appreciate nature in a way that I never had before.
We could not have had a better trip! My husband worked with Toby Brown in the U.S. who then coordinated with Hayden Elliott over in SA. We had three weeks with Hayden driving us the entire time. His knowledge of the area, animals, birds, etc. was amazing.