Drakensberg in the New Year

18th Nov 2021

Nerine bowdenii © Paul Cardy

The start of 2022 promises a return to the stunning scenery and wealth of flora and fauna that the Drakensberg has to offer, in a variety of parks and protected areas, enjoying these wide open spaces to ourselves.

On our last tour we saw fifty species of orchid, including species of Disa, Disperis,Schizochilus, Satyrium, and Eulophia. Floral highlights include sheets of Rhodohypoxis baurii, cliffs of Galtonia regalis, grassy slopes full of Eucomis, and a fine selection of Gladiolus including approachable Gladiolus flanaganii (known as the Suicide Gladiolus, due to the usual difficulty of accessing its habitat). Stunning Hesperantha coccinea flowers red at streamsides. Beautiful Dierama, Moraea, Watsonia, Brunsvigia, Nerine, Kniphofia, Protea, and a superb selection of asclepiads, are just some of the floral wealth.

It’s excellent birding too, with local endemics Southern Bald Ibis, Drakensberg Rockjumper, Barratt’s Warbler, Bush Blackcap, Gurney’s Sugarbird, Yellow-breasted Pipit, and Drakensberg Siskin. Among the more widespread highlights are Lammergeier, Cape Vulture, Blue Crane, Grey-crowned Crane, Swamp Nightjar, Red-throated Wryneck, Ground Woodpecker, and fine displaying Long-tailed Widowbirds. Some great butterflies include the impressive Mountain Pride, other endemic satyrids, Riley’s Copper among the many lycaenids, and the fine Shaka’s Skipper.

After several years we have an extensive and growing plant list, including impressive parasitic plants such as Harveya, Sopubia cana, Sopubia simplex, and Cycnium racemosum. We’ll likely see four of the six species of the endemic genus Glumicalyx. Then there are Streptocarpus, Phygelius, Nemesia, and Jamesbrittenia. The variety continues and each site produces additions to the list.

Afromontane forest around the fine rooms at Giant Castle includes the Pompom Tree Dais cotonifolia, Tree Fuchsia Halleria lucida, and Greyia sutherlandia, representing an endemic family. The open grasslands of Golden Gate have grazing Blesbok, Burchell’s Zebra, and Black Wildebeest, and a further wealth of plants, in the Free State. Witsieshoek supports fine floral displays, the Sentinel above us. The superb Sani Pass takes us to the high altitude grasslands of Lesotho, where a night at Africa’s highest inn allows to appreciate this fine habitat. Contrasting with this is the Pondoland coast where we will see many endemics such as beautiful Knysna Turacos in the guest house garden.

All this with comfortable accommodation, and typically excellent South African cuisine and wine.

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