South Africa is richly blessed with some of the continent’s most spectacular scenery and diverse wildlife. From the albatrosses that glide around the storm-pounded Cape Peninsula, to the colourful floral displays of Namaqualand and the big game of Kruger National Park, the ‘Rainbow Nation’s is home to a wonderful array of exciting fauna and flora. With our tours to see the country’s birds, plants and mammals proving so very popular, we hope that this holiday, focusing on South Africa’s butterflies, will prove similarly successful. South Africa is, after all, home to over 800 species of butterfly, and amongst this plethora of species can be found the Emperor Swallowtail, the largest butterfly in southern Africa, and the diminutive Dwarf Blue, with a wingspan of only 12 millimetres, one of the smallest species in the world! Although butterflies will be our focus on this tour, the region’s birds, mammals, dragonflies and other wildlife will not be neglected, making this an ideal holiday for the true all-round naturalist.
Much of our time on this holiday will be spent exploring the tropical coastal forests and bushveld savannah of the Zululand region of KwaZulu-Natal, visiting at a time of the year when the summer rains have greened the landscape once again, encouraging the flowers to bloom and the butterflies to emerge. We must start, however, with a flight from London to Johannesburg, where we will meet our South African tour leader and drive up into the montane grasslands of Wakkerstroom for the first two nights of our tour.
Here we will receive an introduction to some of the common butterfly species such as African Monarch, Meadow White, African Clouded Yellow, Citrus Swallowtail, Common Diadem and Painted Lady. Bird species to look out for include Grey-crowned Crane, Southern Bald Ibis, Blue Korhaan, South African Shelduck and many more, and this is also the only place in which we are likely to see the Grey Rhebok antelope on this tour.
We next move to the Mkuze Game Reserve in the foothills of the Lebombo Mountains for a 2-night stay. This lovely reserve contains a wide range of habitats, including thornveld savannah, broadleaved woodland and riverine forest, and is home to a wealth of butterflies that includes the tiny Dwarf Blue, Blue Pansy and Yellow Pansy and Smoky Orange-tip. We will also look out for a butterfly known as the ‘African Leopard’s and, if fortunate, may also encounter the big cat itself! Although always elusive, Leopards are not uncommon in Mkuze and share the reserve with both Black and White Rhinoceros, Southern Giraffe and both the beautiful Nyala and the diminutive Suni antelopes. Birdlife is prolific here and includes such species as Narina Trogon, Pink-throated Twinspot and African Crowned Eagle. Adding yet more wildlife interest, the park is also home to a wide variety of dragonflies and damselflies including the Black Splash, Glistening Demoiselle and perhaps the enormous Black Emperor and endemic St. Lucia Basker.
Moving on, we reach the Indian Ocean coast and spend two nights at St. Lucia in order to explore the world famous St. Lucia Estuary, Lake St. Lucia and the coastal dune forest. Covering 325 square kilometres, this is the largest estuarine system in all of Africa and is of international importance for its wildlife. Here we will look for the localised Gold-banded Forester, together with Green-banded Swallowtail, Golden Piper, Small Orange Acraea, Red-line Sapphire and Two-pip Policeman. We will also try to attract in a variety of charaxes by tempting them down from the canopy with bait and head out after dinner in search of St. Lucia's Hippos and perhaps a nightjar or two.
We move inland for our final two nights at Eshowe where a unique aerial boardwalk has been constructed high in the canopy of the Dlinza scarp forest. From the elevated level of the boardwalk we can be eye-toeye with the high fliers of the butterfly world such as the charaxes and attractive Common Mother-of-Pearl. Adjoining the forest, the moist grassland could hold species such as Dusky Acraea, Gaudy Commodore and Polka Dot, plus Natal Acraea and Spotted Joker in the gardens of our lodge. Dlinza is also well known for birds such as Spotted Ground-thrush, Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon, Lemon Dove and Narina Trogon. Here, and at other sites on this tour, we will find time to trap and identify a small selection of the country’s numerous moth species. These may include Heady Maiden, Pleasant Hornet, Netted Slug, Florid Pearl, Victorian Emerald, Cabbage Tree Emperor, Oriental Bee Hawk and perhaps the large and impressive Lunar Moth.
Finally, after a last check of the moth-traps and walk around the lodge’s spacious grounds, we must sadly complete our butterfly and wildlife holiday by driving to Durban for our flight home.