South Africa Sept 2017 – Rare mammals & Cape flowers
I am planning a trip to South Africa for my mum and I next year- September 2017. She would like to see the flower kingdom and we’d like to combine this with looking for rare mammals and Kgalagadi. By rare mammals, top of my list are, riverine rabbit, Aardvark, Aardwolf, Bat-eared Fox, Black-footed Cat, & Brown Hyena, plus sengis, red rock rabbit, oryx, zorilla, caracal, meerkats, big cats etc. we also keen on birds.
This will be my fifth trip to South Africa and I doubt it will be my last, but its my mum’s first and only African safari. She is not too fussed about not seeing elephants though as she;s seen them in India.
We’ve put together the below itinerary and plan to include plenty of nocturnal activities. But I wanted to ask your expertise, we haven’t included anywhere specifically to target pangolin – is there anywhere along this route that you can see where we should sacrifice a day or two somewhere to get a better chance of seeing a pangolin? The likes of Tswalu are well out of our budget. Are there also particular stops that we should include at any of the below to target specific species? We love birds as well as mammals:
Days 1 – 3: The Cape Peninsula.
Visiting some of the main botanical and natural history destinations such as Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, Cape Point and the south-western tip of the African Continent, Betty’s Bay, Stony Point, Boulder’s Beach and others. possibly Table Mountain, depending on weather. Staying in Simon’s Town.
Days 4 – 5: Swellendam and the Agulhas Plain.
Moving on from the Peninsula our next port-of-call is Swellendam, the third oldest town in the country, which will provide a base from which to explore Bontebok National Park (named after the endemic ‘Pied Buck’) and De Hoop Nature Reserve, another gem of a wildlife destination, and a good place to see Whales.- as well as whales we hope to have a chance to see zorilla and possibly caracal here.
Day 6: Karoo National Park.
From Swellendam we’ll begin our long northward journey, with a stopover at Karoo National Park, which can provide some great mammal watching and birding.
Days 7 – 9: Dunedin Farm.
Moving on, our next stop will be at Dunedin Farm, where we’ll spend three nights in total, with the extremely rare Riverine Rabbit at the top of our want list here. We’ll be staying in a self-catering farm house, and will stop in Beaufort West en-route to pick up the necessary supplies.- I have Paul Carter’s report for reference so we also hope to pick up a lot of the smaller mammals he saw here and bat eared foxes.
Days 10 – 12: Kimberley.
After Dunedin we’ll have a long drive to Kimberley, We’ll be staying at a guest house in town and will have two night drives at Marrick, where we hope to find species such as Black-footed Cat, Aardvark, Aardwolf, Southern African Hedgehog, Springhare and others . On one of our full days here we will have a day visit to Mokala National Park, where we may get lucky with mammals such as Black and White Rhinos, Sable and Roan Antelope, and perhaps a Sengi or two. Having read a report from Royle Safaris we should also look to cover Benfontein Game farm from this base to increase chances of black footed cat. Should we spend the second full day at Mokala as well or are there other options? Anyone know whether the flamingos at Kamfers dam will be present in September?
Days 13 – 14: Augrabies Falls National Park.
From Kimberley we’ll drive through to Upington and then Augrabies Falls National Park, our base for the next two nights. look out for birds such as Verreaux’s Eagle, Bradfield’s Swift and Short-toed Rock-Thrush, while drives in the park will give us a chance to see species such as Namaqua Warbler, Rosy-faced Lovebird and Sociable Weaver, among others. Mammals to be seen include the Springbok, South Africa’s national antelope, as well as Klipspringer in the rocky areas, Southern Giraffe, Hartman’s Mountain Zebra, Red Hartebeest, Cape Clawless Otter and others, while a night drive may produce a Leopard with some luck.
Days 15 – 19: The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.
After Augrabies we’ll stop off in Upington to pick up supplies before heading on to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. The exact camps we use will depend on availability, but we’ll perhaps aim for Kieliekrankie, Nossob, Kalahari Tented Camp and Twee Rivieren- are there particular camps that are more productive than others? Our routine will include morning and afternoon drives, and no doubt we’ll get to know the Kalahari very well indeed during our time spent here. Mammals to be seen include an exciting array of predators such as Lion, Leopard, Cheetah, African Wild Cat, Honey Badger, Spotted and Brown Hyenas. Raptors can be prolific as well, and there plenty of general game along the Auob and Nossob Riverbeds to keep you occupied between predator sightings.
Day 20: Departure.
Today we’ll have an early breakfast followed by departure for Upington, with the exact schedule dependent on flight times.
Other places I’ve seen come up in trip reports include, De Aar and Witsamd Kalahari reserve. But I don’t know if we have room in the itinerary for either of these sites and/or whether it is worth including them. Any thoughts?
Any advice welcome, I know we are packing a lot in this time 🙂
Sounds like a fun trip. To answer a couple of questions: a) I would be inclined to add a night-drive at Benfontein farm in addition to Marrick to see the Black footed cat if that’s a real target species for you. I suspect it will boost your chances, although they are seeing them quite regularly now at Marrick. b) we visited the Kgalagadi NP about 10 years ago, staying at Twee Rivieren for a couple of nights and Nossob for another couple of nights. Nossob has a hide overlooking a waterhole which you can visit at all hours which is a big plus; we had a great Brown hyaena sighting there in the early evening. Both sites were supposed to do night drives, but they only had their act together in Twee Rivieren, for reasons that I can’t now remember. As others have mentioned in their posts, these drives can be quite frustrating as they only stop for larger species; its worth getting there early in case they hand the spotlight to the nearest tourist.
On another note, you’re right that De Hoop is good for Zorilla – I saw several there over the course of a few night drives. However just be aware that the Steenbok in that area are very hairy and look very similar to Cape grysbok. Make sure you look carefully for the white flecking in the coat if the latter species is a target animal for you. Have fun!
All being well I will be visiting South Africa in a couple of weeks and I’m chasing some of your targets. I have two nights at De Hoop primarily for Zorilla and three nights booked at the Riverine Rabbit Retreat for the rabbit.
My other main target is Brown Hyena and for this I have set aside six nights in Kgalagadi split between Twee Rivieren (1 night), Mata Mata (3 nights) and Nossob (2 nights). From reading around Nossob does seem like the best area for Brown Hyena although they can turn up anywhere. Hopefully I’ll have lots more info when I return next month.
I have briefly visited Kgalagadi before but I booked our accommodation late and we were mostly restricted to TR camp which is not ideal for exploring the more distant reaches of the park. In three days we easily found Cheetah, Lion, Spotted Hyena and the ungulate species and we also saw one Leopard. I wasn’t particularly looking for Brown Hyena or the smaller carnivores back then as it was my first visit to an African park and everything was new. However, Meercat and Bat-eared Fox were easy enough to see.
A couple more points about Kgalagadi. Firstly consider staying at Twee Rivieren for your first night in the park. Assuming you’re driving up from Upington after stocking up on supplies, it might be quite late before you register at the visitor centre, deflate your tyres, fill-up with fuel etc, especially if there are others using the antiquated equipment. It may be pushing it driving on to another camp before the gates close. On the plus side TR has a mediocre restaurant and did have Egyptian Free-tailed Bats in the rooms! Unfortunately there isn’t access to a night time waterhole like at the other two main camps and I had a hard time trying to book a night drive (which was poor anyway).
For your other nights I would stay anywhere other than TR. As mentioned above Nossob is good for Brown Hyena. It will also be fun to spend at least one night in a wilderness camp although the fact you can’t walk around after sunset limits the appeal for me as I enjoy looking for nocturnal wildlife on foot.
Other than that your itinerary looks good. A minimum of two nights is a must for Marrick as I missed almost all the key species during a past visit (2 very cold night drives in May). A second visit (3 night drives in October) produced all the goods apart from the hedgehog but I had the bonus of seeing Caracals on two of the drives.
Hope this helps. I should have more up to date info in a month.
Kgalagadi only has two main roads with additional 4×4 tracks and sand dune roads so you could see all the park (at least the SA part) easily in several days. Mammal diversity in the park is low compared to Kruger so you should see most large species fairly easily in that time. Not knowing your Mum it’s difficult to comment, but I could imagine some people may become bored with the Kgalagadi landscape (especially if they like their luxury). Perhaps an extra day somewhere else may be better spent?
That said, many people can’t get enough of the place and that extra day might result in your only Brown Hyena or Honey Badger sighting!
I did RSA last July. Some comments about places I visited related with your intinerary. Cape Town we had bad weather. Not much seen of the Table Mountain as in complete fog. Boulder beach a real touristic stake out these days compared with my visit to the same area in 2002. Arrive there before real tourists arrive! Simons Town great place to stay – great sea food! White Sharks predating on Cape f seals an outstanding experience.
De Hoop. Whales from idyllic beach vantage point a very atmospheric experience. Felt privileged being all alone there. Just like in West Coast NP ; you are not permitted to drive in the park after dark. We were forced back by park rangers while we went spotlighting.Thought we were poachers . Cape Clawless Otters at first light near the boat house.
Dunedin Farm. A smashing place. Johan and Marietha very friendly hosts. Just too short here. Very, very cold. Twice a brief view of the Riverine Rabbit. No real striking night animals apart from several Bat-eared Foxes. Two, three nights must deliver a lot more in this great area. Suricate colony a nice bonus. Missed a Martial Eagle catching one of the Suricates just before we arrived. Great breeding pair of Verreaux’s Eagle too there.
Marrick. Be prepared for a real game park with electricity fences like at borders. But spotlighting sessions amazing. Very, very pro guys. They know perfectly all the eye shines of the animals within their bounderies as the same with where targets have their territories. Again a freezing experience. Apart from Aardwolves (probably deep down or not on the property) we saw all targets including Red Rock Rabbit, Zorilla, African Wild Cat. Black-footed Cats one of personal greatest obs during the trip.
Transfrontier Park we did not. Instead we did Pilanesberg where we added Brown Hyena and Serval too the list. All big cats and Wild Dogs we scored in Kruger.
Just booked my tickets for next year. Logisticly better planned now!
Yes, it is a bloody experience those White Sharks predating on the seals. But it takes just a few seconds. Saw 6 of the 8 during our trip. Monsters they are! Cage diving afterwards not my thing. People in there of course see them in full profile but they missed most of the predations; for me the real stuff.
Focused on Pilanesberg for Brown Hyena. In which we succeeded. Together with Kgalagadi the only reliable place I think for that species. But Kgalagadi too remote to add to our intinerary. Although the park is less visited by general safari people. Would like to go there. In Pilanes we had Leopard and Lions too. And a Serval too but there we were really lucky. Wild Dogs and Cheetah were seen there too but not by us.
About Brown Hyena in Kgalagadi. We had an amazing sighting of an individual at the Houmoed Waterhole near Twee Rivieren December 2014. We struggled for a few days to find one then we talked to the leopard researchers and they told us they saw a Brown Hyena at Houmoed each morning the past week. We went there the next morning and after a few minutes the Hyena came for a drink. According to me quite a reliable spot.
Charles Foley, do you have any info on how to contact the people at Benfontein farm? I would like to visit but I’m struggling to find info and contact details on the Internet.
My name is Natalia. I’m really interested in black footed cat and I have tried to contact with Marrick for several weeks but I haven’t received any answer. Can you please tell me how have you done it.
My e-mail is email@example.com
Hi Hamman, if I remember correctly, when I visited Benfontein the trip was actually organised by Marrick Farm itself. They contacted the researchers at Benfontein and took care of everything. That was a long time ago however, before Marrick was on the map, and, I suspect, before they knew that they had BF cats on their own farm. Whether they would organise such a trip for you today I don’t know – you could drop them a line to ask them. I don’t know if Beryl Wilson is still researching the cats at Benfontein, but you could try contacting her directly. I have her email and can send it to you if you contact me on cfoley at fastmail dot com. Mind you I went 9 years ago so I’m not sure what the situation is there at present.
Sorry for the late comment. With your mom’s interest in flowers, I would recommend a day with Dominic Chadbon, “The Fynbos Guy.” He is an excellent flora/hiking guide in the Cape Town area. He is an expert on all the flora and knows the best spots to see the best examples. He is also very flexible — my wife was 5 months pregnant (not something we were planning when we booked the trip) so we wanted a trip a bit less rigorous than originally planned. He took us to some fantastic reserves to see many different examples of flowering plants. My wife has a particular interest in plants and she loved this day. http://thefynbosguy.com/
If you go to Hermanus, Fernkloop Reserve has excellent flora as well (in addition to the whale watching nearby).
For the inquiry about Marrick, I found the best way to contact was by phone. I did not have much luck with email. We spent 4 nights there and did night safaris every night. Sightings: aardvarks (2 nights), black-footed cats (2 nights), aardwolf (3 nights), bat-eared fox (1 night), hedgehog (1 night), Smith’s red rock rabbit (2 nights), genet (1 night), long-eared mouse (1 night).
Just a quick update on Kgalagadi TP from my SA trip last month (it may be a while before I write a report). Nossob is still the place for Brown Hyena sightings and I was lucky enough to see one about an hour before sunset on the road north of the camp. Speaking to staff and other visitors confirmed that Nossob is still the area of the park were most sightings occur. Unfortunately the night drives were not running from the camp at the time I visited, but the new hide was open allowing visitors to view a waterhole throughout the night.
Brown Hyenas were not being seen from the other camps previous to my visit, however I saw one at sunset a couple of miles from the Mata Mata gate as we were heading back to camp.
Despite a drought Kgalagadi produced many other fantastic mammal sightings including Honey Badger, Leopard and several close encounters with a Cheetah family. Unfortunately the ungulates were struggling in the drought, especially the Eland which were migrating from Botswana in record numbers and dying along the riverbed near Mata Mata.
Hope this helps,
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Hi Jo. On the bird side you could stop at Harold Porter National Botanical Garden just east of Betty’s Bay to look for Victorin’s Warbler (at the back end of the gardens in the fynbos). Chance of some small mammals there as well. Paul Carter