Our decision to visit a number of South Africa’s small national parks was not a bad one. It was to be a birding trip and we would compile a list as we progressed through a number of different environments. The only drawback was that, being winter, all the migrant birds would be absent, but there would be plenty to keep us busy, nevertheless.
We started at Anysberg in the Karoo just south of Laingsburg. Our approach from Montagu led us through typical Karoo and into the park on a pretty basic track, not recommended for sedan cars, I’m sure. The reserve is very quiet and we had a peaceful stay of two nights before moving on to our next stop. As it was our first stop the bird list was able to progress well and we recorded 75 birds.
Mokala is situated some 85 km south of Kimberley and, despite its being a new game park, rates very highly in terms of the sheer volume of game available for viewing. The camp, Mosu Lodge, where we spent two nights, is also very comfortable and we can only recommend this destination, especially if one is keen on a good variety of antelope. We even saw a herd of thirty giraffe – certainly the largest I have ever seen! The bird list grew to 100.
Our next stop took us to the Waterberg region near Thabazimbi, where we spent two nights in the Tlopi tented camp at Marekele Reserve. Game viewing was poor compared to Mokala, and the gravel roads were often very bad and dusty. The high point, literally, was a drive up to the communication towers situated on top of one of the impressive mountains in the reserve. There we had great views and saw some good birds. The camp was comfortable, but we needed to be vigilant when the monkeys were around! We were now up to 136.
From Mokala we took the potholed road north to Mapungubwe, a fascinating area at the confluence of the Shashi and Limpopo rivers and at the intersection of the borders of Botswana, Zimbabwe and SA. We spent four nights there, two the Leokwe camp and two in the Limpopo River tented camp. Both were very comfortable. The reserve is rich in history and we really enjoyed visiting the museum and going on the guided heritage walk. It is a reserve well worth visiting and, in order to get the full experience, I would recommend staying in both camps, if possible. Our stay had pushed the list up to 190 birds, but it was getting more and more difficult to spot new species. A herd of around 60 elephants just outside the reserve on the road to Pontdrif made for impessive viewing.
Our next stop was for three nights at Mabalingwe, not really a national park, but a private reserve and bushveld housing estate. It offered comfortable accommodation and interesting game drives, but it all felt a bit abused, probably because there were so many people there and there were tracks everywhere. We passed the magic 200 number and got to 207. Our aim for the trip was 250 species and we wondered if we could get there.
The long drive from Bella Bella to Augrabies necessitated a stop in Vryburg, but the less said about that, the better. In the 1000 odd kilometres from Mabalingwe to Upington we did not see a single raptor, but were happy with literally scores of Northern Black Korhaans along the road into Vryburg. The list grew by 1 on this journey! At Augrabies we changed our plans and decided to stay an extra night and forego our trip to Pofadder. It was a wise decision as Augrabies proved to be very rewarding. For the first time we ventured into the park and were impressed with the scenery in what is, after all, more of a scenic than a game viewing experience. The camp was comfortable and adequately appointed. The list grew to 226.
A night in Kenhardt was uneventful, but we did get to search the Bushmanland veld for larks and pipits, a hard task at best. The following morning we set out for the Tankwa Karoo park. By the time we passed through Calvinia it was raining and the drive into the park and to the Guest House in the south was fraught, as the roads were very wet and slippery. We spent two nights there in great comfort, sharing the house with two other couples. It was a wonderful place to be and when the weather cleared, the flowers were magnificent and we even saw some new birds, bringing the list up to 240.
We left the Tankwa via the impressive Gannaga Pass, only to find that the road at the top was nothing but mud and water for around twenty kms, so we slithered and slipped through this, eventually getting onto dryer ground and on to Calvinia for a cold night, but not before we had made a quick trip into the Akerendam reserve, just outside the town. Next day saw us travelling the short distance to Nieuwoudtville, where we stayed at De Lande, in the delightful Jan Voorman Sinkhuisie. We visited our favourite farm, Papkuilsfontein, where we ran into the delightful Alri, before driving around the farm through one of the best displays of daisies we have ever seen.
Sunday saw us packing up and heading for home. We had had a wonderful trip, covering just on 6300 kilometres, through our favorite country, over a 23 day period. It was hard work at times, but well worth it and no, we didn’t reach the target of 250 birds, but had to settle for 244! Not bad going for the winter! Included were 3 lifers, so we were well satisfied.
I intend writing individual reports on each of the reserves we stayed at, so keep a lookout if you want to see the pictures and get the lowdown!