A new 2BWild Seven Day Tour in the making – the perfect adrenaline rush of Africa.
By John Thomé, chief cook and bottle-washer, 2BWild Safaris
Viv and I of 2BWild Safaris undertook this short but exciting recce trip to the beautiful north east corner of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa in March 2016 – with the objective of plotting not only an interesting route to and from the area, but to explore and freshen up on first-hand and current information about the region – which we both know quite well already – and to polish this new 2BWild tour for our foreign visitors
Our carefully planned route takes us through the most scenic areas, using the road less travelled wherever possible. Our accommodation throughout is carefully selected, cosy and inviting. Viv, as always, had researched our accommodation thoroughly and made all the bookings. And our professional hand-picked guides along the way share with us their deep and unsurpassed knowledge of the flora, fauna and history of these areas – as they will on your tour.
Bird-life in these areas is undoubtedly the most abundant in South Africa, with over 430 species recorded.
The beginnings of the 2BWild KZN Birding Tour
Our three hour drive from Johannesburg to Wakkerstroom is smooth and uneventful. En route, the plains of the South African Highveld give way to gently rolling hills of the Mpumalanga province.
The tiny town of Wakkerstroom is steeped in history and our quaint cottage, which overlooks the expansive wetland area, is welcoming, homely and most comfortable. [You too will love it.]
Having arrived at midday we’re ready for our first wetland tour with our guide. His excellent birding knowledge and amenable character makes for a very relaxed and productive afternoon, as he confidently points out an extensive variety of bird species along the way.
We return to our cottage pleasantly tired, ready for an early dinner and our trip to Mkuze reserve the next day.
That evening we were visited by the resident Spotted Eagle Owl, who glided silently down onto the front lawn in search of insects.
A pleasant drive all the way and upon our arrival the friendly staff check us in to our simple but cosy bungalow. Right nearby is a well equipped communal kitchen, as well as basic but clean ablutions with really good water pressure in the showers and piping hot water.
In the morning our guide is ready and waiting for us at 6AM to take us off to the enchanting riverine Fig and Fever Tree Forest – which is part of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park World Heritage Site – renowned for its scenic beauty, its massive Sycamore Fig trees, rich diversity of African birdlife and wildlife.
On our 40 minute drive through the park our guide points out interesting bird species along the way,
and relates the sightings reported the previous day on this route, where visitors had seen a female Cheetah with her two cubs, as well as a resident pride of Lion.
Arriving at the forest area, we now make our way into the riverine forest on foot. As this is Big Five 1 country our guide, who is also rifle qualified, takes the lead as we follow quietly in single file.
The eerie silence of the forest pervades as we move steadily through the deep undergrowth and towering Sycamores. The child-like cries of the Trumpeter Hornbill and the raucous Purple-Crested Lourie (Turaco) echo through the canopy as we sway across the first of two beautifully constructed swing bridges.
The second of these swing bridges crosses the Mkuze River, which the recent drought has sadly reduced to mere ponds – one of which houses a pod of six grumpy Hippo. Known as Africa’s most dangerous animal, the Hippo is to be well respected. Our guide chaperones us past the pond in double quick time, as the Hippo flicker their ears at the sound of our footsteps.
The deeper we penetrate the forest, the deeper our respect for this precious environment becomes. The sheer size of these trees is beyond description, mentors of peace and serenity, these age-old and special beings demand our silent deference.
Along the way, our boots caked in mud, we come across huge Elephant spoor squelched deeply into the mud a mere hour or so earlier. All our senses are vibrantly alert to every sound and movement, the perfect adrenaline rush of Africa.
We also stop frequently and take in the small things around us, the texture of the Sycamores; the fascinating fungus growths on the bark and in the undergrowth; the non-stop cacophony of the birdlife in the canopy above; and the trail of army ants migrating to their new home.
Soon we arrive at a most impressive timber structure: an array of stairs, rope walkways and platforms set aesthetically amidst the magnificent Sycamore Fig trees rising up some three storeys into the cool canopy. This awe-inspiring sight and foray high up into the trees leaves us speechless. This is truly nature at her best.
Here, an ideal scenario would be to spend the day quietly up in the canopy with camera and tripod, photographing the birdlife in the busy silence of the forest. This is a special and unique aspect that we at 2BWild are looking into arranging for those of our guests keen on photography.
On our game drives we also spent time at the wetland pans (Nsumo Pan) and enjoyed the vista of this amazing array of birdlife on and around the water, including Flamingos and a huge number of Open-billed Storks. Then we head off to the recently upgraded hides, which were all very quiet, but nonetheless lovely to see.
All too soon it’s time for us to leave Mkuze and head off to Ndumo. Our route is an unusual and interesting gravel road drive on which I’d done extensive research, and which wends its way through spread out rural countryside, showing a different perspective on the country.
The little or no traffic encountered is a pleasure, and results in a pleasant outing.
On our arrival at Ndumo at midday we checked in to our lovely chalet – very comfortable, air-conditioned and well appointed, with mosquito nets and overlooking the beautiful lawns and tropical garden. We settled in quickly and enjoyed another first-class braai 2 with the most incredible and aromatic Leadwood fire, which produces long-lasting coals!
In the morning it was up at 5AM for our first walk – and what a terrific walk it was in the Fig Tree riverine forest at Shokwe Pan, this time in Ndumo. After a short walk from the vehicle our guide was soon pointing out an array of birds,
the elusive Purple Crested Lourie (Turaco); the Scaly Throated Honeyguide; the Crowned Hornbill, and more… and, as always, the sheer presence of the forest commanded our continued respect.
At Ndumo camp, the huge air-plants nestled in the trees around the camp are very impressive, and must have been entrenched there for decades.
Next day our second walk in the forests along the southern Pongola River starts off very well. We see Malachite King Fishers perched above the river, and our guide as always, shares his deep knowledge with us. But after the first leg we arrived back at the vehicle to find we had a flat tyre! And the spare was also flat! A short conference determined that the ‘youngsters’ in our group would make the short 1km walk back to camp, whilst Viv and I waited in the peace and quiet of the forest! Such bliss!
Just an hour or so later our guide team returned with a refreshed wheel and we were soon back at camp.
At midday we were on the road again, heading back to our second entrancing cottage at Wakkerstroom. This time round we spent an entire afternoon in the wetland bird-hide, soaking up the tranquillity and abundant array of birdlife. Such a wonderful spot. Our next day was spent strolling around this quaint little town, buying so many odds and ends and tasty things, followed by a really delicious lunch at the tiny Wakkerstroom Country Inn (hotel) – an experience not to be missed.
All too soon it was morning, and we were packing the car and heading back home to Johannesburg – with another exclusive 2BWild tour planned and ready for you – our valued visitors.