This was my first tour with Rockjumper and hopefully will not be my last. The service provided was excellent and Gareth Robbins was an excellent guide. I would have no hesitation in travelling with him again.
Our Budget Eastern South Africa birding safari incorporates the very best of southern African bird watching and game viewing at a more affordable rate than our standard tour. On this adventure we will explore the classic African savanna of the world-renowned Kruger National Park, the teeming Zululand game reserves, and the endemic-rich mist-belt forests and grasslands of the Natal Midlands. Target birds include Southern Bald Ibis, Blue and Wattled Cranes, Blue Korhaan, Knysna and Livingstone’s Turacos, Rudd’s and Botha’s Larks, Orange and Spotted Ground Thrushes, Bush Blackcap, Rudd’s Apalis, the lovely Pink-throated Twinspot, Olive and Gorgeous Bushshrikes, delightful Swee Waxbill, Forest and Cape Canaries, Buff-streaked Chat and the highly endangered Cape Parrot. Our chances of finding the classic ‘Big Five’ (Lion, Leopard, African Elephant, African Buffalo and Rhinoceros) are excellent, while less common mammals on our route include African Wild Dog, Cheetah and the endemic Black Wildebeest. This tour can be combined with our Budget Western South Africa tour for a very comprehensive coverage of the birds and wildlife of this amazing country.
Blue, Wattled and Grey-crowned Cranes, Blue Korhaan, Southern Bald Ibis, Bush Blackcap, Rudd’s & Botha’s Larks, Knysna, Purple-crested and Livingstone’s Turacos, Cape Parrot, Narina Trogon, Gorgeous & Olive Bushshrikes, Spotted and Orange Ground Thrushes, Cape Rock Thrush, Rudd’s Apalis, Brown and Bearded Scrub Robins, Buff-streaked Chat, Pink-throated Twinspot, Neergaard’s and Southern Double-collared, Scarlet-chested Sunbirds, Yellow-breasted, African Rock and Long-billed Pipits, Southern Boubou, Cape Shoveler, South African Shelduck, Maccoa Duck, Cape and Forest Canaries, Ground Woodpecker, African Black Swift, Jackal Buzzard, Cape, Eastern Golden and Southern Brown-throated Weavers, White-eared Barbet, Black-bellied and Burchell’s Starlings, Green Malkoha, Southern Red-billed and Southern Yellow-billed Hornbills, Southern Ground Hornbill
The ‘Big 5’ (Lion, Leopard, African Elephant, African Buffalo, Rhinoceros), Cheetah, African Wild Dog, Meerkat, Black Wildebeest, Nyala, Greater Kudu, Giraffe, Plains Zebra
mist-belt forest, Acacia savanna, high elevation and coastal grasslands, wetlands
subtropical with occasional rain, warm in Kruger National Park and Zululand, cooler in the highlands, can be cold in winter
moderate pace with some long drives
Kruger National Park, great food & wine, Zulu culture
Day 1: Johannesburg to Kruger National Park
After a morning arrival at Johannesburg International Airport, we’ll transfer northwards to the world renowned Kruger National Park. En route to our destination in the park we will travel through a variety of interesting habitats, ranging from the stark Highveld grasslands to the scenic drop through the Northern Drakensberg into the Lowveld. If time allows, we will make a few birding stops along the way before arriving in the Kruger National Park, where we will be based for the next 4 nights of our budget birding tour.
Days 2 to 4: Kruger National Park
The Greater Kruger conservation area includes vast areas of adjacent Mozambique and is one of Africa’s most famous parks. We will explore the superb road system in an attempt to locate big game, including the legendary “Big 5” – Lion, African Elephant, Leopard, African Buffalo and White Rhinoceros. Kruger will be our best opportunity to watch these spectacular animals in their natural habitat and some of them we may encounter in very large numbers and at very close quarters. Other highly sought-after animals we have a chance of finding are Cheetah, African Wild Dog, Hippopotamus and a myriad of antelope and other mammals including Giraffe, Common Zebra, Blue Wildebeest, Greater Kudu, Impala, Klipspringer, Bushbuck, Warthog, Chacma Baboon, Vervet Monkey and Dwarf Mongoose.
The rich bushveld of the Kruger National Park will provide us with some of the most exciting and rewarding birding of the trip. Of special note here are species requiring vast areas of wilderness, namely Common Ostrich, Kori Bustard – the world’s heaviest flying bird – the incomparable Southern Ground Hornbill, Martial Eagle, Bateleur, Marabou and Saddle-billed Storks and up to five species of vulture. The park is particularly well known for its large variety of raptors, including those over-wintering from the Palaearctic, and we hope to find Lesser Spotted, Tawny and Wahlberg’s Eagles, Dark Chanting and Gabar Goshawks, Shikra and Lizard Buzzard. The bushveld biome is famous for its diversity of birdlife and included in this fantastic suite are Crested Francolin, Swainson’s and Natal Spurfowls, Brown-headed Parrot, Orange-breasted and Grey-headed Bushshrikes, Violet-backed Starling, rare African Finfoot, Red-crested Korhaan, White-crowned Lapwing, Southern Red-billed, Southern Yellow-billed and African Grey Hornbills, Southern White-crowned and Magpie Shrikes and Red-billed Oxpecker.
On optional evening drives, we might find a variety of nocturnal birds including African Scops, Southern White-faced and Verreaux’s Eagle Owl, Square-tailed and Fiery-necked Nightjar and Water Thick-knee while nocturnal mammals include Large and Small-spotted Genets, African Civet, Serval and, if we are very lucky, we may even find Aardvark.
Day 5: Kruger National Park to Wakkerstroom
We will leave early this morning, bidding farewell to the splendours of Kruger. We then move inland, into the Highveld, to the country village of Wakkerstroom for a two-night stay. This quaint village is surrounded by pristine upland grasslands rich in endemic birds, many of which are currently threatened by the ongoing destruction of their grassland habitat.
We will arrive in time to spend the late afternoon birding the highly productive Wakkerstroom marsh at the edge of town. This is a haven for waterbirds and offers the chance for a number of uncommon or localised species. Purple Heron, South African Shelduck, Cape Shoveler, African Swamphen, South African Cliff Swallow, Levaillant’s Cisticola, Lesser Swamp Warbler and Cape Weaver are all regular; and, with luck, we may find African Snipe and the elusive African Rail.
Day 6: Wakkerstroom Area
Driving along the network of dirt roads radiating out from Wakkerstroom, we will explore the grasslands, rocky outcrops and gorges of this unique area in search of Southern Bald Ibis, Blue Crane (South Africa’s national bird), endemic Blue and Barrow’s Korhaans, Ground Woodpecker, the rare and localised Botha’s and Rudd’s Larks (the latter considered one of the world’s most endangered larks), Pink-billed and the recently split Eastern Long-billed Larks, Mountain Wheatear, Sentinel Rock Thrush, African Rock and Yellow-breasted Pipits, African Pied Starling, Yellow-crowned Bishop, the tricky African Quail-Finch and Cape Canary. Red-winged Francolin is fairly common in the moist grasslands and we may find coveys feeding at the roadside or sunning themselves at dawn.
Some of the farms in the area around Wakkerstroom support populations of the peculiar Black Wildebeest (also known by its less-used English name of White-tailed Gnu) and Blesbok, while smaller mammals occurring in the grasslands include Yellow Mongoose and the rare Cape Fox. One of the other interesting denizens of these grasslands is the curious Suricate, or Meerkat, immortalised in Walt Disney’s ‘Lion King’. We have a good chance of finding family groups of these unusual animals.
Day 7: Wakkerstroom to Mkuze
After some final early morning birding in Wakkerstroom we will drive south to Mkuze, an area in northern Kwazulu-Natal that is home to a host of exciting specials and a handful of endemics. We will arrive in the mid to late afternoon for a two-night stay.
The Mkuze area is one of the most productive birding hotspots in Southern Africa and, with its wide variety of savanna, forest and wetland habitats, we can expect an excellent diversity of bird and mammal species in our days here. While we will take time to appreciate the overwhelming number of birds, we will mainly concentrate on finding the localised specials, and these include Eastern Nicator, Bearded Scrub Robin, Gorgeous Bushshrike and the stunning Pink-throated Twinspot. More widespread but none-the-less spectacular species that we will look for are Black-bellied Bustard, with its strange, “cork-popping” display, the nomadic Senegal Lapwing and the beautiful Narina Trogon.
Day 8: Mkuze area
We will spend the whole day exploring the wonders of the area, searching the great diversity of habitats. One of the more exciting habitats for us here is Sand Forest, a rare and localized dry forest habitat severely threatened by development. This is home to Neergaard’s Sunbird, Rudd’s Apalis, Crested Guineafowl and the strange African Broadbill. We will also be on the lookout for the diminutive Suni, South Africa’s smallest antelope.
The ephemeral wetlands in the area can be very productive after good rains, and depending on the local conditions we may opt for some time at one of these ‘pans’ where we will search for Black Heron, Lesser Jacana, African Pygmy Goose and White-backed Duck. While in Mkuze we will be sure to enjoy some ‘bushveld’ birding – an excellent habitat for raptors and mixed feeding flocks – and here we will be ever vigilant for the huge Crowned and Martial Eagles, tiny Little Sparrowhawk, Grey Penduline Tit, Bushveld Pipit, White-fronted and Little Bee-eaters, White-crested Helmetshrike, Grey-headed and Orange-breasted Bushshrikes, and Purple-banded and Marico Sunbirds.
An optional nightdrive tonight could yield a variety of owls, nightjars and small mammals (Greater Galago and White-tailed Mongoose are often seen).
Day 9: Mkuze to Eshowe
We will have an early start this morning on our budget birding tour, to make the most of our final time in Mkuze. Mkuze is not only an excellent birding area, but also showcases a number of exciting mammal species; and, with a bit of luck, we may encounter African Elephant, Hippopotamus, African Wild Dog, White Rhinoceros, Cheetah and a number of different antelope species. Mkuze also provides great opportunities to observe the critically endangered Black Rhinoceros and an encounter with one of these large pachyderms is certainly a highlight of any trip. In the afternoon we depart this wonderful reserve and head south to Eshowe for an overnight stay.
Day 10: Eshowe to Howick via Dlinza Forest
Today begins with an early morning exploration of Dlinza Forest. This beautiful forest reserve supports an avifauna combining both coastal and mistbelt species and here we will search for African Goshawk, the rare Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon, Narina Trogon, raucous Purple-crested Turaco, Crowned and noisy Trumpeter Hornbills, Cape Batis, Chorister Robin-Chat, Grey Cuckooshrike and the highly endangered Spotted Ground Thrush. We may even be fortunate enough to watch the diminutive Blue Duiker roaming the forest floor in search of fallen fruit and leaves.
Journeying south and then inland, we will arrive at our accommodations near the town of Howick in the late afternoon.
Day 11: Karkloof and Bulwer areas
We commence our birding this morning in the Karkloof, a range of forested hills near the town of Howick, home to a number of uncommon and local birds restricted to Afro-montane forests. We will be searching for southern African endemics such as Forest Buzzard, Knysna Turaco, the elusive Bush Blackcap – one of South Africa’s most sought-after endemics – the difficult Barratt’s Warbler, Olive Bushshrike, delightful little Swee Waxbill and Forest Canary, as well as many more widespread yet no less spectacular birds such as African Olive Pigeon, Olive Woodpecker, the uncommon Orange Ground Thrush, White-starred Robin and Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler.
Further up the Karkloof range we visit a pristine area of upland grassland where Grey Crowned and Blue Cranes and, if we are very lucky, Wattled Crane can sometimes be found. Black-winged Lapwing and Cape Longclaw also occur here, but the star bird is undoubtedly the striking Buff-streaked Chat, an endemic wheatear that is breathtaking both in appearance and song. Mammal possibilities here on our budget birding tour include Mountain Reedbuck and the sleek Oribi antelope.
Next we will head towards the Richmond area and pass through the dramatic Umkomaas River valley before arriving at a wonderfully lush patch of Mistbelt forest in the late afternoon. Here we will listen for the high pitched screech of the highly endangered Cape Parrot, and attempt to locate flocks of these birds as they make their way into the forest to roost.
Day 12: Howick to Durban
Today we depart for Durban International Airport where this South Africa budget birding tour will conclude.
What our clients say about tours to South Africa
- HL, South Africa 2015
Glen’s pacing of the tour was particularly good – relaxed whenever possible and upping the pace when necessary. His responsiveness and attention to client requests was admirable, as was his general demeanor throughout. Nice to spend such a long trip with someone so enthusiastic and sociable.AC, South Africa Mega
Greg was brilliant (the best guide I’ve ever had). He found most of the birds we were trying for, and always did his utmost to get us all onto them.PW, South Africa
David was a fantastic guide whose love for his homeland, and passion for its wildlife, shone brightly. I couldn’t have wished for a better guide to show me the wonders of South Africa.MW, South African Mega 2015
Our guide, Gareth Robbins was excellent. His knowledge of the area covered was exceptional, sometimes down to the rock the bird might land on. His repertoire of the bird calls and songs was impressive. He was adamant about getting each of us on the bird, and his delight when we saw it was transparent.AE, Eastern South Africa VIII 2015
My wife and I were part of a six person tour of South Africa that was led by David Hoddinott. Our trip was excellent and seamless. David was the perfect guide for our group and, as I’m sure you’re aware, is an extraordinary birder and bird finder…. Thank you to Rockjumper, and David especially, for taking the time to create such a wonderful trip for our group.
As always, I’m sure that it’s a challenge to accommodate numerous personalities within a group and David was great at it. We all liked him from day one and he was always positive and up for anything. He was an absolute joy to be with.
We’d previously been to Zimbabwe, Uganda, and Botswana and South Africa was a totally different experience. We really enjoyed the people that we got to meet and the sheer beauty of the country is breathtaking. David’s enthusiasm and pride of his homeland was inspiring and infectious. We can’t thank him enough for making it come alive for us.
And thanks to all who had a part in setting it all up. We’d happily recommend Rockjumper to anyone thinking about a trip led by you.EB, South Africa 2014
Rainer established what each of the participants expected from the tour [Cape to Wiindhoek, South Africa] and then managed to excel expectations without seeming to try to do this. We saw all our favourite birds and animals and even plants. Yes we even enjoyed the wildflowers too! His birding skills, including recognition of calls, were exceptional. His effortless ability to manage logistics and his energy for making it happen, made this tour easy and stress-free; something I’m exceptionally grateful for. His enthusiasm for new finds (not just birds!) was totally contagious and added to the enjoyment. His broad knowledge met all my needs for information about this new continent – and that made this tour particularly satisfying for me.Cape to Windhoek
Gareth was very considerate of all tour member and kept everything on schedule. He went out of his way to find bird species of particular interest to those on the tour and very enthusiastic about birding.South Africa 2015
A first rate, very satisfying…tour that met all expectations. We missed two species we were especially interested in but our guide made an extra effort to find them and we were very pleased with him. A first rate birder. He is a great addition to the Rockjumer Team.IT, Private South Africa
Thoroughly enjoyed Gareth – sense of humour was great and he worked tirelessly to ensure everyone could see the bird.SH, South Africa Comp V 2015
Gareth studiously worked to meet each participant’s individual needs without sacrificing the overall experience of the group. His audio sense and grasp of song probably even exceeded his other birding skills (which were quite formidable in the own right). His sense of humour and engagement with people was excellent.DH, South Africa Comp V 2015
I would like to add my thanks to you, Crystal, and all the other people associated with Rockjumper for making this the best birding tour in which I have participated. David’s leadership was superb as our trip bird count shows. I would be happy to go with Rockjumper on future trips. Thanks again for your assistance during the Mega South Africa trip.G, South Africa Mega
Tour was FANTASTIC and Wayne was a big reason for our enjoyment.MM, Eastern South Africa II 2015
The trip was excellent. It exceeded my expectations. All the travel went perfectly. Thank you so much for arranging it.EL, South Africa
Wayne Jones is one of the best tour leaders I have been with… He is great at making we all see the birds. He knows their songs and call and the habitats where they occur.VP, South Africa
Heinz was incredible. His knowledge and personality were wonderful. What a wonderful young man! We had an incredible time.JH, Cape & Kruger II 2015
The [Eastern South Africa] trip has become even more exciting and memorable in retrospect, and we can’t thank you enough. It was planned particularly well, giving us a great idea of the varied terrain and landscape across eastern South Africa, and it would be hard to choose the best of the places we stayed in – they were all so good and yet so varied. The birds were tremendous, and the animals scarcely behind; I don’t think we shall ever forget the elephants in the mudbath. Nor shall we forget the Sani Pass and the rockjumpers, not to mention the hail! It really was a magnificent trip, and we enjoyed it enormously.EE & RE, South Africa
We found our guide, Andre Bernon to be extremely competent at finding and identifying birds. He also had an impressive range of knowledge about other biota, plus extensive knowledge of the local history.JT, South Africa 2017
The lynchpin for our entire experience was the guide – and Greg de Klerk was simply brilliant. He was extremely skilled in knowing where the birds might be, and finding them once we got there. He carefully made sure that we all saw the bird. He was very knowledgeable about bird and mammal behaviour, and shared a lot of information with the tour members. He smoothly handled logistics, is a good driver, and patient with non-nationals who are unfamiliar with South African customs. He has a wonderful sense of humour; and a very warm and outgoing personality, which stimulated good relations between tour members. We would be very excited to go on another Rockjumper trip with him!WB & BB, South Africa