A choice blend of cultural immersion and safari splendor enhanced by the invaluable knowledge of an African Sky guide.
Guests will be met upon arrival at O R Tambo International in Johannesburg from where the Wildlife and Culture Tour travels east through the coal-rich Highveld and the rolling hills of Mpumalanga to the Mpumalanga Panorama Route. Here visits are made to the Blyde River Gorge, dominated by the triplet peaks of the Three Rondavels and God's Window, a cleft in the edge of the escarpment from where magnificent views of the Lowveld can be enjoyed. God's Window is situated in a patch of indigenous forest where many flowering and aromatic plants flourish. A visit is also made to the historical mining village of Pilgrim's Rest. It is one of the most perfect examples of a mining town born during the excitement of an alluvial gold rush. Gold was discovered here in 1873 and the town was declared a national monument in 1986. Guests will have a gold digging and panning demonstration before traveling on to the overnight destination, which will be reached during the late afternoon. Mount Sheba is tucked away amongst the mountains above the historic mining town of Pilgrim's Rest. The forest surrounding Mount Sheba is home to a multitude of small creatures and birds, and has numerous carefully worn exquisite forest paths that reveal the quiet grace of the flora and the fauna. The late afternoon is devoted to rest and relaxation in these tranquil surroundings.
Splendid scenery abounds as the tour makes its way to the Shangana Cultural Village, where guests are led from the Marula Market by an experienced guide. The guide will explain how the Shangaan traditionally collect food from their environment and the way in which traditional farming is conducted. The route leads up to a traditional Shangaan village which is the residence of a headman, his wives and his children. In the village, some time is devoted to gaining some insight into the history and culture of the Shangaan. Upon completion of this tour, we travel to the Kruger National Park.
Kruger National Park is a short drive from the cultural village. The park is named after the then-sitting president of the old Transvaal republic, who proclaimed the Sabie Reserve in 1897. This reserve was the beginning of the Kruger National Park as it is known today. Approximately two million hectares in extent, the park is internationally renowned as one of the world's foremost conservation areas. The late afternoon is devoted to a first game drive in search of Africa's legendary Big Five in an area where many other mammal and bird species grace the African savanna and give meaning to the words "Spirit of Africa".
A morning safari is conducted by your experienced guide. They will check the sightings of the previous day that have been logged by various groups, as this will increase your chance of seeing a pride of lion on a recent kill, viewing the imposing white rhino or the elusive African wild dog in an area where it was recently spotted.
During the late afternoon, guests embark on a night safari with a Kruger Park ranger. The night safari makes possible sightings of creatures like the spotted genet, serval and aardvark, which are rarely seen during the day. The large predators are nocturnal hunters and are generally more active during this period of the day.
The area is a paradise for the wildlife enthusiast, with close to 150 different mammal species ranging from Brant's climbing mouse, weighing no more than a few grams, to the mighty African elephant, which can weigh up to 7 000kg. The identified bird species in the area number more than 500 and the area is blessed with an abundance of flora. An early morning and late afternoon game drive in the company of your experienced guide affords the opportunity to enjoy the natural treasures of this part of Africa. The unique insight and knowledge of the guide is sure to add to the enjoyment and understanding of the habits and behavior of the different species.
The tour makes its way south, passing through Nelspruit, the capital of the Mpumalanga province, en route to the South African border with Swaziland at Oshoek. The tiny Kingdom of Swaziland is one of the smallest self-contained sovereign states in the world. The Swazis are a friendly and colorful people who are renowned for their artistry. Before reaching the overnight destination set in the Ezulwini "Heaven Valley", we visit a local craft market and a Swazi candle maker.
The Kingdom of Swaziland gives way to the rolling hills of Zululand as the tour travels south and into the heart of the area which is home to the proud Zulu nation. It was once led by the legendary King Shaka, one of Africa's greatest kings who inspired fear and admiration in the hearts of his enemies and subjects alike. Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve, named after the river which flows through it, is set in the rolling hills of Zululand and has played a leading role in the recovery of the white rhino population from the brink of extinction.
The afternoon is devoted to a first game drive in this area where the elusive nyala and the splendid little red duiker are amongst the grandest antelope which are endemic to the region. Sightings of black rhinos and white rhinos are an almost certainty in this area which is home to the largest concentration of these imposing beasts. The bird species in the area number approximately 300 and the reserve is home to all of the Big Five.
A morning visit is made to the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, which has recently been declared a World Heritage Site. A boat trip on this lake, which is 40km wide with an average depth of less than 1m, brings us into contact with this complex ecosystem, which is home to no less than 350 species of birds and a population of more than 700 hippos. The tour then makes its way back to Hluhluwe-iMfolozi, where a late afternoon game drive is conducted after some time for rest and relaxation.
A last morning game drive in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi is followed by a journey to Shakaland, where the culture and traditions of the proud Zulu nation come under the spotlight. Shakaland is built on the site where the original Zulu clan settled in the 18th century. The village was used in the epic Shaka Zulu film. The cultural experience highlights the traditional accommodation, food preparation and social structures which are traditionally adhered to by the Zulu. It is also a showcase for the traditional dress, weapons and dance of South Africa's warrior nation.
Traversing the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, we make our way to the Drakensberg mountain range, named by the early Dutch settlers for its resemblance to the ridges of a dragon's back. The steep ridges of the mountains were formed by the headwater erosion of rivers which separate South Africa's Highveld plateau from the coastal lowlands. Cathedral Peak is situated in the central Drakensberg where two rivers, the Mlambonja and the Didima, have carved deep valleys across the surrounding area. After some time for lunch and relaxation at this mountain retreat, you embark on a guided walk to Doreen Falls, with fresh air and mountain scenery complementing the experience. In a cave not far from the falls, you can admire the art of San Bushmen, who graced the cave with their drawings in centuries past. The hike is a pleasant one and not too strenuous - the round trip only about 5km.
A morning spent at leisure in inspiring mountain scenery is followed by a return journey to Johannesburg where guests are then assisted with check-in at the airport or, alternatively, transferred to any location of their choice in either Johannesburg or Pretoria after a memorable tour of South Africa.
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