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8 Country Escapes for Birders and Fishermen

8 Country Escapes for Birders and Fishermen

And fishermen too. Pack up your hats, rods and binocs and make a great escape

1. Namibia
Kaza Safari Lodge Zambezi region

I was never a great birder. But a visit to Kaza Safari Lodge on the Zambezi River changed all that.

On our short boat transfer from the Namibian border post we spotted six African Fish Eagles, one swooping down to catch a fish, along with three African Skimmers nesting on a sandbank. With their long red beaks and elegant slow flight they were eye-catchingly graceful.

Squadrons of Squacco Herons from the nearby breeding colony cruised past and we ticked off another nine heron species on the sunset cruise, along with numerous egrets, lapwings and African Jacanas. Perhaps most enthralling were the Malachite Kingfishers, the little jewels of the river, and there were Pied- and Giant Kingfishers in abundance.

If you’re looking for an easy birding (or fishing) escape, Kaza Safari Lodge is hard to beat. The wood and thatch chalets are simply decorated, with raised decks overlooking the rapids, channels and reeds, where you can sit with your binos. Twice daily birding and fishing cruises are included in the price, as are guided birding walks and various other activities. – Fiona McIntosh

031 762 2424
[email protected], www.flameofafrica.com

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2. Mpumalanga
Linger Longer Dullstroom

Nothing could prepare us for Linger Longer, only 12 kilometres north of Dullstroom. The last six kilometres of a we-force-you-to-start-slowing-down-right-here gravel road took us to the heart of this flyfishing area in Mpumalanga.

The four-star, self-catering units have fireplaces and fully equipped kitchens, and each sleeps two to six people. Towels are provided and so are braai facilities but bring your own charcoal and wood. We stayed in Linger To, one of the three units with a moonlit shower. With no mist around, you are treated to spectacular views over dams and surrounding hills.

Adjacent to Linger Longer is Verloren Valei Nature Reserve, breeding ground of the Blue Crane, Crowned Crane and Wattled Crane. The Critically Endangered White-winged Flufftail has been spotted in these wetlands so you might get lucky and catch a glimpse of a rarely sighted bird. Rain and mist rolled in shortly after our arrival and remained with us for the weekend. It prevented us from wetting a line in the three dams stocked with catch-and-release trout for the experienced angler, or catch-and-buy for the inexperienced. There was bird chatter every time the rain lifted and the call of jackal at night completed the scenes.

We wish we could’ve lingered longer. – Riaan Hattingh
083 891 7360, [email protected], www.lingerlonger.co.za

country escapes birding

3. Northern Cape
Dronfield Nature Reserve

A mini Serengeti, this serene game reserve in the semi-arid thornveld of the Northern Cape has much to offer birders. Dronfield is easy to access off the N12, just six kilometres north of Kimberley, adjacent to Kamfers Dam that is famous for its flamingo breeding.

The six comfortable, fully-equipped, self-catering chalets sit in the shade of large camel thorn trees. Dronfield is home to one of the largest breeding colonies of the Critically Endangered White-backed Vulture.

I found the vulture restaurant with a small viewing hide a great spot for photographing White-backed, Cape and Lappet-faced Vultures. Other beautiful birds in this important biodiversity area are the Kalahari Scrub-Robin, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Scaly-feathered Finch, Violet-eared Waxbill, Secretarybird, Kori Bustard, Martial Eagle, Tawny Eagle, Stark’s Lark and other lark species.

For the non-birder family members or friends, there is a variety of game. Beautiful roan and sable antelope also roam the reserve, and giraffe are in their element feeding on the nutritious camel thorn trees. – Tania Anderson

053 839 4455, www.kimberley.co.za/city/dronfield-nature-reserve

country escapes birding

4. Eastern Cape
Pomeroy Lodges Kleinemonde

No need to set the alarm clock for early morning birding at Pomeroy Lodges. A Trumpeter Hornbill tapped sharply on my window as the sun peeped over the horizon, as if to say, ‘Come along, the show is starting’.

Pomeroy Lodges, on a private game and nature reserve on the Sunshine Coast near Port Alfred, opened its gates to guests recently and the variety of habitats makes it a great place for birders. The hornbills were loudest among the avian throng in the large fig trees, drowning out the Lesser Honey Guide.

We walked with local guide Anne Williams, whose passion for birds is infectious, and she had us scanning the forest for a Brown Scrub Robin, among others. Along the river, we saw a Paradise Flycatcher, Rameron Pigeons and three different kingfishers.

However, our luck ran out and the resident Black Harrier escaped our eagle eyes. We ended the outing with a skottelbraai breakfast under a fig tree, serenaded once again by the show-off Trumpeter Hornbills. Pomeroy’s birding weekends with Anne Williams are run on a regular basis. – Marion Whitehead

087 808 7046, www.pomeroylodges.com

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5. Eastern Cape
Lowestoffe Hogsback

The lodge is surrounded by a picturesque setting, with the Elandsberg mountains as backdrop.

We went out of season and had the choice of two of three lodges, each on a separate farm. We opted for Trout Lodge on Loweshoffe, a 5 500ha property of lush grassy areas, rocky ridges and the meandering Klipplaat River, ideal for the flyfisherman in our party, who boasted two catches in an hour. They could have been trout, bass or yellowfish – I didn’t ask because I was focused on spotting the Black Eagles, Fish Eagles, Crested Cranes, or any of the many other species found there.

Comfortable, well-appointed and tastefully decorated, the self-catering lodge easily accommodated our party in its four bedrooms. Well into autumn, the log fire ensured cosy evenings. Picnicking, horse riding, hiking and mountain biking are popular activities on this working farm. Mpofu, Tsolwana and Double Drift game reserves are an hour away. – Olivia Schaffer

083 654 5935, www.lowestoffecountrylodge.co.za

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6. Eastern Cape
Vrederus Highlands

If you really want to get away, I mean really get away, into the silence of mountains and into the scent of veld, to
a place where you can fish from your own front door, or drive to streams alive with rainbow trout that rise freely to eat dry flies all day, go to Vrederus. Sixty kilometres inland of Maclear, or on the eastern side of the Naudé’s Nek Pass, reached via the village of Rhodes (either route is spectacular), Vrederus is a remote, working farm with a cluster of stone cottages on the edge of a delightful lake, and is run by Juan-Marie Naudé and her husband Donie.

Vrederus is a venue for the family, not just a lovely place to go fishing, with hiking trails, Bushman art and vistas straight from heaven. You can just sit back and relax until your pulse-rate drops to 30-something, or you can fish yourself into a total trout trance. The choice is yours. – Tom Sutcliffe

045 932 1572, 083 465 6699, [email protected], www.vrederus.co.za

country escapes birding

7. Western Cape

Grootvadersbos Swellendam

Soon after dawn, in the Afromontane forest hidden in a valley at the foot of the majestic Langeberg mountains, I was walking silently towards one of the bird hides tucked into the canopy, and became aware of two birds racing up and down tree trunks, snacking furiously.

Obviously woodpeckers, I thought, noticing the sharp business-like beaks, but redheads I’d not seen before. Knysna Woodpeckers, my field guide confirmed. I was doubly chuffed with my lifers – Knysna Woodpeckers call infrequently and are not easy to spot, plus the species is one of Southern Africa’s top 150 to tick, according to SA Birdfinder.

The new eco-cottages at Grootvadersbos are an excellent excuse to revisit this wonderful World Heritage Site and birding destination. Environmentally-friendly tourist accommodation is found in 32 repurposed, timber bungalows in a gorgeous forest setting. The 11 modern cottages utilise green building technology and 85 per cent of the materials were reused, including the timber beams. Each cottage has a protected braai room, affectionately referred to as a kuierkamer.

There’s a good network of hikes and biking trails and, if you’ve got the legs for more, the Boosmansbos Wilderness Area adjoins Grootvadersbos.– Marion Whitehead

021 483 0190, www.capenature.co.za

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8. Mozambique
St Lazarus Quirimbas Archipelago

The best game fishing in Mozambique is touted to be at the St Lazarus banks in the idyllic Quirimbas Archipelago. These waters yield huge fish (up to 70kg). Dorado, queen mackerel, kingfish, queenfish, barracuda, yellow-fin tuna and more are here to be caught.

But first, an eight-hour, smooth sailing trip to reach this world-renowned fishing spot. En route, a school of flying fish clear the water on the port side of the boat like a spray of crystals. An hour later, friendly dolphins, or ‘suki’ in local lingo, frolic on the starboard side.

After lunch we arrive at St Lazarus, bait up and cast, hoping to hook a big one. Before very long, an 18kg kingfish is at the end of my line. We take photos and return the beauty to the ocean to live another day.

This deep-sea fishing experience is offered by Ibo Island Lodge, which supplies all the equipment needed. The trip is also fully catered and completely luxurious on an elegant catamaran, with a full crew attending to your every whim. Fishing for the big one couldn’t be easier. – Keri Harvey

021 785 2657, [email protected], www.iboisland.com

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