The dry season is one of the best for all of the key mammal species here including some of the more elusive such as Leopard, Caracal, Serval and Wild Dog. Multiple river systems are extremely fruitful in with resident hippos and crocodiles and following re-introduction fifty years ago Kruger now has an impressive population of White Rhinos.
In addition, even without visiting migrants, the range of birds is equally large and includes many which are found only on the eastern side of Southern Africa including Crowned Eagle, Pel’s Fishing Owl, Saddle-billed and Open-billed Storks, Grey-headed Bush-Shrike, Black-collared Barbet, Black-headed Oriole and Purple-crowned Turaco. Our tour will be unhurried, exploring Kruger from north to south, deliberately taking time and thoroughly enjoying the best parts.
We will conclude our vacation with two nights in a beautiful hotel Mount Sheba, set in the scenic splendour of the northern Drakensberg Mountains. Here, a whole range of forest bird species such as White-starred Robin, Black Cuckoo-shrike and Knysna Turaco can be seen.
London / Johannesburg
Depart Heathrow on an overnight flight to Johannesburg.
Johannesburg / Louis Trichardt
Arrive in Johannesburg in the early morning. Transfer to Shiluvari Lakeside Lodge where one night is spent (approximately 5 hours from the airport). Our first accommodation is situated along the banks of the Albasini Dam, east of Louis Trichardt, and is a very pleasant lodge with excellent gardens perfectly positioned to break our journey up to Kruger.
En route, we should see the first Fork-tailed Drongos and Black-shouldered Kites. The rest of the day, for those with remaining energy, we will explore the gardens and trails around the lodge or alternatively, you may wish to simply relax. Either way there is much on offer such as White-browed and Bearded Scrub-robins, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Natal Francolin, Yellow-throated Longclaw and with luck, the perfectly-named Gorgeous Bush-shrike. The echoing yelp of African Fish-eagle from the nearby lake is one of the truly atmospheric sounds of Africa.
Shingwedzi & Olifants
For those who wish, an early morning walk around the gardens should produce even more birds, many of which are common but new to us. Our journey will then take us north and east to the Punda gate of Kruger. To make the most of this enormous area without rushing, we have deliberately allocated ten nights, dividing our time between five equally spaced rest camps. The rooms at the rest camps are bungalow-style and include the key ingredients of a comfortable bed, a hot shower and air conditioning. All are of course en suite. All the rest camps are within the National Park and although we looked at options outside, these were invariably much more expensive and would have necessitated a significantly higher cost for the tour. We think the rest camps provide the essential requirements, being comfortable, affordable and excellent birdwatching spots in their own right. Each has its own character and we have chosen them to provide the greatest range of wildlife as well as a logical route through the National Park.
During our time in Kruger, there will be the opportunity to do a night drive which is excellent for seeing such nocturnal species as Spring Hare, hunting lions and Verreaux’s Eagle Owl. We will start in the north of the National Park where the relatively tree-rich habitat is home to several key bird species, such as the Crested Guineafowl, Retz’s Helmet-shrike, White-fronted Bee-eater, Racket-tailed Roller, Crested Francolin and Yellow-billed Oxpecker. A variety of raptors can be seen including Tawny Eagle, Bateleur, Dickinson’s Kestrel, Martial Eagle and with luck, the even more powerful Crowned Eagle, a specialist monkey-predator.
We will not have to wait long for our first mammals, not only the ever-present Common Impala and Greater Kudu, but also the rather striking Nyala, a speciality of the north. Herds of Elephants can be encountered anywhere and we may be lucky enough to see our first predators, from mighty Lions to the diminutive Dwarf Mongoose. Even the secretive Caracal is a possibility. The rest camps where we will be staying provide some of the best birdwatching thanks to substantial trees attracting Golden-tailed, Bennett’s and Cardinal Woodpeckers, Black-collared and Crested Barbets and Purple-crested Turacos while flowering plants are frequented by dazzling iridescent Collared, White-bellied, Scarlet-chested and Marico Sunbirds.
Kruger: Satara & Skukuza
Our tour now takes us into the heart of Kruger where, from apparently endless Mopane forest the habitat opens out to the rather more classic open plains with Acacia trees. This area is one of the best for mammalian predators including Leopard, Cheetah and the ever-elusive Wild Dog. Several packs operate within Kruger but they are never easy to see but the area around Satara offers some of the best chances.
Whilst the number of visitors to Kruger makes it less exclusive than some destinations, it actually increases the chances of sightings, and many of the more secretive mammals could easily be missed crossing the road. Not surprisingly, where there are predators there are also the attendant scavengers, such as Black-backed and Side-striped Jackals, Spotted Hyena plus of course vultures including Cape, White-backed, White-headed and Lappet-faced. The open grasslands are extremely good for some of the more terrestrial birds, such as Kori Bustard, Red-crested Korhaan and the totally bizarre Southern Ground Hornbill which has the most extraordinary eyelashes!
The rest camp at Satara is one of the best places for owls with up to 5 species including one of the most confiding – African Scops Owls. The extensive grounds at Skukuza are some of the best for birds. Moving south from Satara we enter a more vegetated habitat with large rivers which are always worth scanning for Open-billed and Saddle-billed Storks and with luck the rather strange African Finfoot. The road following the Sabie River is one of the very best in the park for sightings of Leopard.
Kruger: Berg-en Daal
Our final days in Kruger will take us right down to the south where we find ourselves in hillier, rocky country. Here, the concentration of White Rhino must be as great as anywhere in Africa and despite continued poaching, we stand very good chances of seeing these fabulous animals. Our journey takes us through prime Wild Dog country which may give us more chances of sightings. Berg-en Daal is also regularly frequented by leopard. The woods within the grounds are well worth exploring with chances of Africa Paradise, African Dusky and Pale Flycatchers, Chinspot Batis, Acacia Pied Barbet, Terrestrial Bulbul and Southern Black Tit.
Kruger: Mount Sheba
By way on contrast, having given Kruger a really generous time, we now head into the northern Drakensberg at the beautiful Mount Sheba Hotel for two nights of relative luxury. Situated high up in the foothills of the north Drakensberg near Pilgrim’s Rest, this is a delightful spot with excellent cuisine, log fires and extensive grounds, which include a large area of rainforest. Mount Sheba also boasts an extensive list of species, many of which we would not have encountered on the trip. Within the grounds there remains an important patch of Afromontane forest which is home to a range of birds such as Yellow-streaked Greenbul, White-starred Robin, Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler, Knysna Turaco, Chorister Robin-chat and Narina Trogon. We will spend time exploring the trails which we can walk to from our rooms.
We should have a relaxed final morning before our journey back to Johannesburg with plenty of time to spare for the flight connection back to Heathrow, arriving the following day.