AT A GLANCE
The Republic of South Africa at the southern tip of the “Mother continent” is known throughout the world as the “rainbow nation”. This is not only true for its incredible multi-cultural diversity, but the term could also be applied to its superbly diverse landscapes and rich fauna and flora. From its crystal clear open oceans and lush, almost tropics-like forests to the dry desert areas in the western parts of the country, the savannahs and grasslands in the eastern areas and the high peaks of the mighty Drakensberg mountain range, it is indeed a special place.
Famed for its many national parks and big game,
• almost 300 species of mammal have been recorded in South Africa,
• as well as 858 species of birds,
• nearly 450 species of reptiles,
• 132 amphibian species,
• and over 20,000 species of vascular plants.
This Nature Travel Birding tour takes place in the Western Cape – a truly remarkable piece of land in the southwestern part of South Africa, surrounded by the Atlantic and southern Indian Oceans to the south and west and an intricate system of folded mountain ranges on the inland side. The winter rainfall system, strong summer winds and unique topography have contributed to an incredibly high degree of endemism and a singularly unique floral kingdom, described originally by the Dutch settlers as Fynbos, or ‘fine bush’, and now recognized as the Cape Floral Kingdom, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This region occupies less than 0.5% of the area of the African continent yet has almost 20% of its plant species, almost 70% of the 9,000 plant species being endemic to the region.
This floral uniqueness also results in a unique bird component and the Western Cape is the place for the endemics-seeker.
The province is well known among international and local birders alike for the remarkable array of birds that is found here and nowhere else in the world. A staggering 42 of South Africa’s 53 endemic bird species occur in the Western Cape. Throw in breathtaking scenery (including iconic Table Mountain), warm and welcoming people, a long and interesting history, excellent cuisine, and superb tourism infrastructure and the result is an unforgettable birding, wildlife and cultural experience.
Our itinerary has been honed over the years to include the top birding spots while keeping travel and in-car time to a minimum. Two nights per stop ensures an unhurried pace and lots of time to seek out the special and endemic species. Southern Right Whales are virtually guaranteed between September and November, while the onset of spring is the beginning of the famous Cape flower season. Indeed, once you’ve experienced it, you’ll understand just why it has long been dubbed as the fairest Cape of them all. Let’s go Cape birding!
Duration: 9 Days
DAY 1: Arrival in Cape Town
Our tour begins with your arrival at Cape Town International and we head straight to the famous Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, located on the slopes of Table Mountain with spectacular views over the Cape Flats and the Hottentots-Holland Mountains in the distance.
The gardens were created in 1913 and currently covers an area of 528 hectares (1,300 acres). The Kirsten part of the name is believed to be the surname of the manager of the land, J.F. Kirsten, in the 18th century. The bosch part of the name is a Dutch word for ‘forest’ or ‘bush’. The focus of the gardens is indigenous plant cultivation, and specifically the protection of plants native to the Cape region. This is highlighted by a superb collection of proteas.
Kirstenbosch is a popular tourist attraction and also a place to relax for locals. Many open air concerts are held here annually; a fantastic venue if ever there was one! We will walk along the many roads and footpaths, enjoying the incredible plant and flowers, beautiful setting as well as hoping to see some of the resident fauna.
Here we will search for birds such as Cape Sugarbird, Cape Spurfowl, Olive Thrush, Swee Waxbill, Spotted Eagle-Owl, Black Sparrowhawk, Malachite and Orange-breasted Sunbirds, Forest Canary and others. Mammals like Cape Grysbok, Caracal, Cape Fox and Cape Porcupine are also present although not often seen. We will definitely see the introduced Eastern Grey Squirrel and Cape Grey Mongoose. We will also search for butterflies like the brilliantly named Table Mountain Beauty and for reptiles like the Western Cape Crag Lizard, among many others.
After Kirstenbosch we will head to a charming guest house in Simon’s Town on the Cape Peninsula, where we spend the next three nights. We will have dinner at a local restaurant and head back to our guest house for a good night’s sleep.
DAY 2: The Cape Peninsula (Boulders Beach, Cape Point)
The Cape Peninsula is ours to explore over the next day and a half. We will have an early breakfast at our guest house and then head out to explore the wonders of the this remarkable piece of land.
The Cape has notoriously fickle weather and we will plan each day’s activities according to the weather at the time, as well as the participants’ birding expectations and species needed for their life lists.
This morning we will visit the African Penguin colony at Boulders Beach close to Simon’s Town, where there has been a colony of African Penguins since the 1980s. Boulders Beach is a small picture-perfect bay with white sands, turquoise waters and colossal granite boulders The beach forms part of the Table Mountain National Park. These penguins are only found on the coastlines of South African and Namibia, and are unfortunately on the verge of extinction. In November 2013 the African Penguin was officially listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species. These fascinating creatures with their distinct pink patch of facial skin and black mask can be observed from close quarters from viewing platforms and wooden walkways, and we will spend some time enjoying their hilarious antics. We will also look out for Cape Robin-Chat, Southern Boubou and Cape Grassbird in the dense coastal bushes, and should see several cormorant species, African Oystercatcher and Cape Gannet on the rocks in the bay.
Next up we head for the southern tip of the Cape Peninsula at Cape Point, specifically the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve, a jewel within the Cape Floral region. Part of the Table Mountain National Park that extends from Signal Hill in the north all the way to Cape Point in the south, the Cape of Good Hope is actually not the southern tip of Africa. The actual southernmost point is at Cape Agulhas, a few hundred kilometres further east.
At the breathtakingly beautiful Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve we will drive along the tourist roads and set out on some walks to explore the rugged shoreline, dotted with cliffs and crags, meandering through vast tracts of fragrant fynbos. We will search of a number of special fauna and flora species, many of which endemic to this diverse region, seen nowhere else on earth. This includes some special species of birds, including Black-rumped Buttonquail, Cape Bulbul, Cape Grassbird, Bokmakierie, African Oystercatcher, Grey-backed Cisticola, Cape Sugarbird, Orange-breasted Sunbird, Ground Woodpecker, Karoo Prinia, Sentinel Rock Thrush, Cape Longclaw and Cape Siskin.
Several antelope species (Common Eland, Common Duiker, Cape Grysbok, Steenbok and Klipspringer), the famous Chacma Baboon troops, Angulated Tortoise and the Cape subspecies of Mountain Zebra also occur here.
We will also head up to the lighthouse viewing point, perched high up on the cliffs to enjoy incredible views over the Atlantic Ocean and the possibility of spotting Southern Right Whales (Aug – Dec). The reserve also offers some of the best land-based seabird watching in the world, so keep your binoculars ready for Shy, Black-browed and Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross, White-chinned Petrel, Sooty Shearwater or anything else really!
We will enjoy lunch at the Two Oceans Restaurant at Cape Point somewhere in between our walks in the reserve. The restaurant is famous for its seafood and its sweeping views of the ocean far below.
In the late afternoon we will slowly make our way back to Simon’s Town for relaxation, dinner at a local restaurant and a good night’s rest.
DAY 3: The Cape Peninsula (Kommetjie, Strandfontein, Rondevlei)
Today is our second day in the fantastic Cape Peninsula. We have a full day to explore some key sites. We will have lunch somewhere in a nice restaurant during the day.
After breakfast we will head for Kommetjie on the Atlantic Seaboard. This small town is situated at the southern end of a spectacular beach that runs northwards toward Chapman’s Peak, and is famous as a popular surfing spot. The mass participation Argus Cycle Tour passes through this small town each year, and Kommetjie also boasts the 33 metre tall Slangkop Lighthouse.
For birders, Kommetjie is important as it is a reliable spot to find a variety of coastal species. “The Kom”, a rocky outcrop, usually has all four local cormorant species and a variety of terns. It is also a good spot to do some land-based pelagic birding. We will specifically look for Bank, Cape and Crowned Cormorant, Arctic, Antarctic (winter), Common and Sandwich Tern, African Oystercatcher and Hartlaub’s Gull. Other species we might see here include Ruddy Turnstone, Whimbrel, Grey, Three-ringed and Common Ringed Plover. If we arrive early enough we might even see African Clawless Otters!
After Kommetjie we will make the hour long drive to one of the birdwatching spots in the whole of the Western Cape, the 300 hectare Strandfontein Water Treatment Works. Only birders would understand why anyone would want to spend time at a waste treatment facility! Water levels, and with it bird numbers, vary widely during the year, but we should still add many species on our trip list today.
Strandfontein is the best place to see water-based birds close to Cape Town and, because many local and international birders visit it regularly, it has turned up some spectacular rarities over the years. These include Rufous-tailed Scrub-Robin, Temminck’s Stint, Red-necked Phalarope, American Golden Plover, Baillon’s and Spotted Crake, Franklin’s Gull and many more!
Apart from the possibility of seeing something rare, we will drive the extensive dirt road networks amongst the pans and flooded depressions, looking for Greater and Lesser Flamingo, Great White Pelican, Maccoa and Yellow-billed Duck, Southern Pochard, Cape and Hottentot Teal, South African Shelduck, African Swamphen, Red-knobbed Coot, Common Moorhen, Black-headed Heron, White-breasted and Reed Cormorant, Kelp and Hartlaub’s Gull, Swift Tern, Little and Black-necked Grebe, Pied Avocet, Black-winged Stilt, Spotted and Water Thick-knee, Little Stint, Sand and Brown-throated Martin, Little Rush, Lesser Swamp and African Reed Warbler, Cape Francolin, Zitting Cisticola, Cape Canary, Cape Weaver, Cape Wagtail, African Fish Eagle, African Marsh-Harrier and many more.
Our last stop before heading back for dinner will be Rondevlei Nature Reserve, located a short distance from Strandfontein. The 220 hectare reserve comprises a permanent wetland, albeit with varying water levels throughout the year.
We will walk along the pathways and visit some of the hides and observation towers. There is always a nice variety of ducks, terns, herons, egret and grebes here, along with African Spoonbill, African Darter, Great White Pelican, Little Bittern, African Snipe, Malachite Kingfisher and White-backed Mousebird. There are even some Hippopotamus around! We will enjoy dinner and our last night in the Cape Peninsula.
DAY 4: Cape Town to Swellendam (Bontebok National Park)
After an early breakfast we’ll drive around the edge of False Bay and on to Rooi-Els via one of the area’s most scenic drives to look for Cape Rockjumper near Hangklip on the eastern point. This is a tricky bird to find, but with a bit of luck and patience we should be rewarded with this gorgeous endemic. We could also pick up Ground Woodpecker, Cape Siskin, Orange-breasted Sunbird and Cape Rock Thrush.
On a fine day the views from here are spectacular, with the Atlantic ocean crashing against the rocks below us on one side and the Kogelberg mountains rising high above us on the other side. Recently birders have even been seeing Leopard in the craggy mountains above the usual birding spots!
Next stop, the coastal town of Betty’s Bay where we will be taking a short walk to see the African Penguin colony at Stony Point Nature Reserve. Apart from all the adorable penguins waddling around us, we will keep a sharp lookout for a few special birds along the shoreline such as the Crowned, Cape and Bank Cormorant, as well as chances of seeing the threatened African Oystercatcher.
Afterwards we’ll head inland and drive for about two to three hours, with the route taking us through the towns of Bot River and Caledon before reaching our destination of Swellendam, the main town in the Overberg region.
Swellendam is South Africa’s third oldest town, established in 1745. It has many stunning examples of Cape Dutch architecture and is an important farming area for wheat, canola, oats, sheep and dairy. We will have lunch at one of the many funky establishments in town and then check into our accommodation for the next two nights.
In the afternoon we will head for the nearby Bontebok National Park for an afternoon game drive. The park is sheltered by the Langeberg Mountains to the north and bordered to the south by the Breede river. The park provides a refuge for Bontebok, a subspecies of the Blesbok, but recognised by some authorities as a distinct species in its own right. By 1930 fewer than 30 Bontebok remained. To save the species from extinction, the 28 km2 (11 sq mi) Bontebok National Park was established and today it provides sanctuary for about 200 Bontebok. The total world population of Bontebok now stands somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000, all of them having come from the Bontebok National Park.
The habitat here consists mostly of South Coast Renosterveld, but there are some thick riverine vegetations along the Breede river. It may look like little more than dry bushveld to the untrained eye, but this small park boasts 250 indigenous plant species. Apart from the resident Bontebok and Mountain Zebra, there are also several special bird species to be seen here, including Denham’s Bustard, Secretarybird, Agulhas Long-billed Lark, Blue Crane, Olive Bushshrike, Southern and Greater Double-collared Sunbird, Grey-winged Francolin, Southern Tchagra, Black Harrier and Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawk.
We will make the short drive back to Swellendam for dinner in a local establishment and a good night’s rest.
DAY 5: De Hoop Nature Reserve
After an early breakfast this morning we will make the 50km (30 mi) journey south to the De Hoop Nature Reserve. This area is called the Agulhas plain, and a good number of special birds occur here. We will take our time, drive slowly and keep an eye out for as Agulhas Long-billed and Cape Clapper Lark, Red-capped Lark, Capped Wheatear, Southern Tchagra, Southern Black and Karoo Korhaan, Common Ostrich, Blue Crane, Denham’s Bustard, White Stork, Black Crow, Lesser Kestrel, Black Harrier and others.
De Hoop Nature Reserve protects about 36,000 hectares of rare lowland fynbos and coastal dunes, along with 24,000 hectares in the offshore marine area. De Hoop is haven for both terrestrial and marine animals. The reserve has a total of 86 mammal species, including the Bontebok, Cape Mountain Zebra, Common Eland, Grey Rhebok, Chacma Baboon, Yellow Mongoose, Caracal and the rarely seen Leopard. The waters within De Hoop support good populations of marine mammals such as dolphins and seals. The bays of De Hoop are the breeding grounds for Southern Right Whales. The marine protected area of the reserve has a total of 250 species of fish.
There are some very good accommodation options in De Hoop, and CapeNature (who manage the reserve) offer activities like whale watching, mountain biking and day hikes in the reserve. De Hoop also has one of the best hiking trails in South Africa: the spectacularly beautiful 5 day Whale Trail.
We will drive around the reserve and get out regularly while we look for birds. We will enjoy lunch at the De Hoop Restaurant, which is close to the De Hoop Vlei, a Ramsar wetland of importance.
De Hoop is home to the world’s smallest and most threatened plant kingdom – the Cape Floral Kingdom, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The reserve has the largest conserved area of lowland fynbos in the Western Cape. Of the 9 000 plant species found in the Cape floral region, the reserve and its surrounds have an estimated 1 500 species!
Of special interest to us, De Hoop supports a large number of resident and migratory bird species, with a total bird species count of 260. Several water birds breed in the reserve. One fynbos-clad mountain in the reserve, Potberg, is famous among birders as being one of the last remaining spots in the Western Cape where one can see Cape Vulture. Some of the other birds we will look for include Orange-breasted Sunbird, Cape Siskin, Cape Francolin, Bar-throated Apalis, Southern Boubou, Cape Bulbul, Sombre Greenbul, Pearl-breasted Swallow, Horus Swift, Swee Waxbill, Southern Tchagra, Cape Robin-Chat and Cape Grassbird. If there is enough water in the Vlei, there are large numbers of birds, including ducks, grebes, herons and other waders. After a wonderful day at De Hoop, we will return to Swellendam for dinner and our overnight stay.
DAY 6: Grootvadersbosch and drive to Ceres
After breakfast we will leave Swellendam and make our way to Grootvadersbosch, about 45 minutes in an easterly direction, for a birding walk.
Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve in the foothills of the Langeberg mountains is unique in that it incorporates 250 hectare of indigenous forest, the largest in the southwestern Cape. Some truly special species occur here at the western limit of their range. Some of the interesting birds we will look for on our walk here include Knysna and Olive Woodpecker, Knysna and Victorin’s Warbler, Forest Canary, Red-necked Francolin, Cape Siskin and Crowned Eagle.
Other birds on the way to and in the reserve include African Wood Owl, Giant Kingfisher, African Rail, White-backed Duck, Greater Double-collared and Amethyst Sunbird, African Stonechat, Cape Batis, Bar-throated Apalis, African Paradise Flycatcher, African Crested-Flycatcher, Terrestrial Bulbul, Swee Waxbill, Greater Honeyguide, Grey Cuckooshrike, Forest Buzzard, Black Sparrowhawk and African Goshawk. In summer there are usually good number of cuckoos present too, and with luck we might even see the gorgeous Narina Trogon.
Next we’ll head some distance (about 3 hours of driving) northwest to Ceres, an agricultural town in the fertile Ceres Valley. We will stop somewhere along the way for lunch in one of the beautiful towns we will travel through.
Ceres is a small town about 170 km (110 mi) northwest of Cape Town in the Warmbokkeveld Valley, named after the Roman goddess of agriculture. It is an apt name indeed, as the area surrounding the town is known for being South African major producer of deciduous fruit and the accompanying fruit juices. It also snows here in winter, a rare treat for Cape Townians who then flock to the town to play in the white powder! Chris Barnard, first surgeon to perform a successful human-to-human heart transplant operation, spent the early years of his medical practice in Ceres.
We will reach the beautiful town in the afternoon and check into our accommodation. We will have dinner somewhere in town and return to our guest house for a good night’s rest.
DAY 7: Tankwa Karoo National Park
This morning we depart early on an excursion into the desolate Tankwa Karoo National Park, which will take up most of the day. It is a 2 hour drive to the park and 2 hours back again, but it will be very much worth it.
The Tankwa Karoo National Park is situated within the Succulent Karoo biome (a Conservation International Biodiversity Hotspot), combining the unique features of this vegetation with the mind-blowing out-of-this-world landscapes. The park was proclaimed in 1986 and currently covers 1,436 km2 (554 sq mi), and is in SANParks’ “Arid Parks” portfolio of national parks. This area receives less than 100 mm of average annual precipitation! The true meaning of the word “Tankwa” is unknown, but it is said to be “turbid water”, “place of the San” or “thirsty land”, all of which fits this arid yet picturesque park so well.
The park allows for self-drive game viewing and birdwatching, along with two major 4×4 trails and maybe in future some mountain biking. Current accommodation options vary from campsites to self-catering cottages and wilderness camps.
This desolate region of sand, gravel plains and rocky outcrops holds a surprising number of endemic birds, especially the sought after Karoo endemics, and almost 200 species have been recorded in the park. We will be on the lookout for species such as Burchell’s and Double-banded Courser, Karoo Long-billed Lark, Verreaux’s Eagle, Black-eared Sparrow-Lark, Namaqua Sandgrouse, Black-headed Canary, Karoo Eremomela, Karoo Korhaan, Kori and Ludwig’s Bustard, Tractrac and Karoo Chat, Layard’s and Namaqua Warbler, Fairy Flycatcher and the highly sought-after Cinnamon-breasted Warbler.
Mammals in the park include Cape Mountain Zebra, Red Hartebeest, Gemsbok, Common Eland, Springbok, Greater Kudu, Common Duiker, Steenbok, Klipspringer, Cape Porcupine, Meerkat, Black-backed Jackal and even Leopard and Aardvark. Reintroductions of other species occurring historically within the area, such as Brown Hyaena, Black Rhinoceros and Cheetah, are also being investigated for the future.
Although we will not have the chance to see them, this remote park is the ideal destination for those seeking what many say are the brightest stars in Africa. The sunsets are also something to behold.
This trip will take up most of the day, and we’ll take packed meals and drinks with us. Also remember to bring sunscreen and a hat, as it can get boiling hot in the Tankwa Karoo. We’ll return to Ceres in the late afternoon/early evening for dinner and some well-earned rest.
DAY 8: West Coast National Park
In the morning, after breakfast we will do a quick trip up the impressive Gydo Pass to search for Protea Seedeater.
Then we’ll drive to the Langebaan Lagoon on the Atlantic Coast, where we will stay at a guest house in the town of Langebaan. The drive is about 2 hours long, passing through some spectacular scenery.
A paradise for hikers, cyclists, birders and nature lovers alike, the West Coast National Park is a gem in the Western Cape’s already studded crown. Against the backdrop of the azure blue Langebaan Lagoon, white dunes, rare fynbos, green wetlands and unbounded waves, there is much to experience in this beautiful park.
The 36,000 hectare (140,000 sq mi) park was proclaimed in 1985. It is known for its rich birdlife (it is an Important Bird Area as identified by BirdLife International and a Ramsar wetland of importance) and for the spring wild flowers which occur annually in August and September in the Postberg section of the park.
We will drive along the surfaced and gravel road network, looking for birds, mammals and other interesting species. We will stop at the three bird hides dotted around the lagoon, stretch our legs and try to spot some rare waders or anything cool! The park compromises large areas of coastal strandveld around the big tidal lagoon, along with mudflats, salty marshes and reedbeds. There are also rocky and sandy shorelines and a few offshore islands.
We will have lunch today at the Geelbek Restaurant in the park. Housed in a beautifully restored Cape Dutch homestead, the restaurant serves a range of delicious, traditional dishes which portray a rich local history enriched by Portuguese, Dutch, Norwegian, Italian and Malay influences. Their pumpkin pie is a must!
We can expect to see mammals like Steenbok, Common Duiker, Springbok, Common Wildebeest, Gemsbok, Greater Kudu, Mountain Zebra (Cape subspecies), Blesbok (Bontebok subspecies), Red Hartebeest and Common Eland. With some luck we could even see Bat-eared Fox, Caracal or Black-footed Cat. Smaller animals we could see include Four-striped Grass Mouse, Bush Vlei Rat and Scrub Hare. Snakes include Mole Snake, Cape Cobra and Puff Adder. If it is raining, listen out for the call of the Sand Rain Frogs.
Birdlife is prolific, especially in the summer when up to 50,000 Palearctic migrating waders descend on the lagoon. It is also famous because at least 45 of South Africa’s endemic or near-endemic species can be found within the park’s borders. We will search for South African Shelduck, Greater Flamingo, Great White Pelican, Red Knot, Sanderling, Ruff, Marsh, Terek and Curlew Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone, Whimbrel, Common Greenshank, Eurasian Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit, Chestnut-banded and Kittlitz’s Plover, cormorants, terns and gulls. In the coastal strandveld we will look for Southern Black Korhaan, Cape and Grey-winged Francolin, Cape Penduline Tit, Chestnut-vented and Layard’s Warbler, Bokmakierie, Karoo Scrub Robin, Karoo and Large-billed Lark, Cape Bunting and many others. Special raptors include African Fish Eagle, Western Osprey, Black Harrier, Booted Eagle and even Eurasian Hobby. Also remember to keep an eye out for rarities; there have been some incredible finds in the park in the past.
After lunch we will continue exploring the park until late afternoon, including the western side on the Atlantic coast (season dependent). Here we may see a selection of wildlife that is entirely different to their terrestrial counterparts. The most commonly spotted dolphin species here is the Heaviside’s Dolphin, and between August and January there are usually Southern Right Whales, but Humpback and Killer Whales may also skirt this coastline.
In the late afternoon we will go to our accommodation in nearby Langebaan. We will have our farewell dinner somewhere in the town of and enjoy a good night’s sleep.
DAY 9: Return to Cape Town (End of tour)
We start the day with breakfast and unfortunately then pack our bags and check out of our guest house in Langebaan.
On our final morning together we will again have some time in the West Coast National Park, looking for species we may have missed out on yesterday or earlier in the trip.
Depending on the participants’ onward journey plans, we will decide on how much time to spend in the park and when to leave for Cape Town.
The drive to the airport, for instance, is about 2 hours long, and to the V&A Waterfront about 90 minutes. All routes down to Cape Town are via the beautiful coastal R27 road that skirts the Atlantic ocean, going past Africa’s only nuclear power station at Koeberg. This road also offers some stunning views of iconic Table Mountain. What a way to end this fantastic Cape birding tour!
Do you have a quick question about this birding tour? Speak to a specialist at