• Overview
  • Trip Outline
  • Trip Includes
  • Trip Excludes

Garden Route & Great Karoo

Mossel Bay, Wilderness, Knysna, Nature’s Valley & Swartberg Pass

10 Day trip : 5 to 14 October 2022

As one travels eastwards from Cape Town, the coast becomes progressively more wooded and subtropical, the ocean warms, the rains fall year-round, and the forests host an ever-greater diversity of birds. The region from Mossel Bay to the Tsitsikamma is known as the Garden Route for the amazing beauty of the area – it is a natural garden of mountains, forests, fynbos and water. The area has a Mediterranean climate, with moderately hot summers, and mild to chilly winters.


We fly to George for the start of what promises to be a memorable and rewarding trip.

Our first overnight destination is a charming country estate, set on 12 hectares at the heart of the Garden Route, just minutes from Plettenburg Bay and Knysna. We spend two nights in a beautiful 130-year-old traditional farmhouse.

During our stay here we explore some superb birding destinations. Harkerville Forest and the Kranshoek lookout point provide easy access to forest and fynbos species. Forest birding is excellent with Grey Cuckooshrike, Narina Trogon, Knysna Turaco, Lemon Dove, Yellow-throated Woodland-Warbler, Knysna Warbler and Chorister Robin-Chat often encountered. The view of the coastline from the lookout is stunning. Whales can be spotted between July and December and the surrounding fynbos vegetation contains Cape Grassbird, Cape Sugarbird, Cape Siskin, Orange-breasted Sunbird and Victorin’s Warbler. Peregrine Falcon, Forest Buzzard, Rock Kestrel and White-necked Raven sometimes glide by.


Harkerville Forest Trail
Harkerville Forest Trail


Nature’s Valley Rest Camp is situated on the banks of the Groot River, in the De Vasselot section of the Garden Route National Park. The surrounding area is a birding and hiking paradise and the variety of trails take one through dense indigenous forests, open grassy habitats or along the river and estuary.

Natures Valley
Nature’s Valley

African Finfoot and Half-collared Kingfisher are occasionally seen along the Groot River and there is a reasonable prospect of encountering African Crowned Eagle, Forest Buzzard, Black Sparrowhawk, African Goshawk and Little Sparrowhawk. African Emerald Cuckoo is a summer visitor and Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Brown-backed Honeybird, Lemon and Tambourine Doves, Knysna and Olive Woodpeckers, White-starred Robin, Cape Batis and Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher are forest regulars.

Robberg Nature Reserve offers excellent fynbos birding in pristine surroundings. The fynbos is easily accessible from the parking area and offers endemics such as Cape Grassbird, Cape Siskin, Orange-breasted Sunbird, Greater and Southern Double-collared Sunbirds, Southern Tchagra and Cape Rock-Thrush.

Situated 8km south of Plettenberg Bay, Robberg is not only a nature reserve but also a national monument and World Heritage Site. Rocks from this region date back 120 million years to the break-up of Gondwanaland and evidence of middle and later Stone Age inhabitation has been found in a few of the caves along the peninsula

An afternoon trip on the Keurbooms River Ferry may yield White-backed Night-Heron and Half-collared Kingfisher. Migrant waders at the estuary include Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew Sandpiper, Common Whimbrel, and Common Greenshank.

Keurbooms River
Keurbooms River

After two glorious days of birding and sightseeing we retrace our steps towards George and head for the picturesque and peaceful town of Wilderness which overlooks the Indian Ocean and Touw River estuary.

The Wilderness section of the Garden Route National Park includes 5 lakes, 5 rivers, 2 estuaries and 28 km of beach. It’s also a tapestry of forests, rivers, reed beds, lakes, fynbos, pastures and dams, and adjoins the Goukamma Nature Reserve.

Woodville Indigenous Forest
Woodville Indigenous Forest

Wilderness National Park protects some prime examples of Afromontane forest and Woodville Forest is the jewel in the crown. The forest here is classic Afromontane forest, distinguished by the presence of large yellowwoods (Podocarpus sp), the largest of which is the aptly named ‘Big Tree’. This enormous Outeniqua yellowwood has been estimated at 800 years old, and it is from this point that a gentle 2km circular trail meanders through the forest.

The Big Tree
The Big Tree

The four walking trails in the Park all begin from Ebb and Flow, the Park’s rest camp and are named after local kingfisher species. Birding along these trails is excellent and a walk could produce African Crowned Eagle, Forest Buzzard, Peregrine Falcon, Knysna Turaco, Olive Bush-Shrike, Knysna Warbler, Knysna and Olive Woodpeckers, Chorister Robin-Chat, White-starred Robin, Narina Trogon, Grey Cuckooshrike, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Yellow-throated Woodland-Warbler, Cape Batis, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, African Dusky Flycatcher and Half-collared Kingfisher.

Other attractions of Wilderness National Park are the hides overlooking the lake system from which numerous species of rallids and waterfowl may be spotted. Malachite Hide is situated on Langvlei and there is a further hide at Rondevlei. Both hides are accessed via short boardwalks. which provides probably one of the best areas to see Red-chested Flufftail which can be notoriously elusive.

Rondevlei Bird hide
Malachite Hide

The reeds and rushes fringing the lakes host Black Crake, Common Moorhen, African Rail, African Purple Swamphen, and Little Bittern. Both Lesser Swamp and Little Rush Warblers forage in the reeds. Waterfowl on the lakes include Cape, Red-billed & Hottentot Teals, Southern Pochard and Little, Black-necked & Great Crested Grebes. Caspian and Whiskered Terns are intermittent visitors depending on the levels of the lake.


Our home for three nights in Wilderness is a charming country house, situated at the edge of superb indigenous forest, in the heart of the National Park.

During our stay in Wilderness, we will pay a visit to Voëlvlei, a floodplain west of Mossel Bay, surrounded by farmed lands with small pockets of renosterveld. Voëlvlei is only fed by a small river and is a huge area of shallow water supporting many thousands of water birds if there has been enough rain to fill the pan. In early summer, with plenty of water in the vlei, Kittlitz’s Plover, Black-winged Stilt, Pied Avocet, Whiskered Tern, and a whole host of ducks breed here. Waders such as Ruff, Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, and Common Ringed Plover number in their thousands. African Fish-Eagle, Osprey, Lanner Falcon, African Spoonbill, Lesser Flamingo, Grey-headed Gull, and Caspian Tern also occur.

The surrounding area holds Blue Crane, Denham’s Bustard, Agulhas Long-billed, Large-billed and Cape Clapper Larks, Southern Tchagra, Southern Grey Tit, Acacia Pied Barbet, Grey-winged Francolin, Bokmakierie and Malachite Sunbird. Other karoo species such as Karoo Scrub-Robin, White-throated Canary, and Yellow Canary. occur. The skies above hold Jackal Buzzard, Black Harrier, Martial, and Booted Eagles, as well as many species of swift, swallow and martin. Pearl-breasted Swallows are common. This route is one of the most rewarding in the area and has the potential to deliver some real rarities.

We take our leave of Wilderness and travel via George, Oudtshoorn, and the Swartberg Pass to our last overnight destination in the Swartberg Private Nature Reserve. Our idyllic location in the valley of the beautiful Oukloof mountains is the perfect peaceful getaway in the foothills of the famous Swartberg Pass and a stone’s throw from the quaint Karoo town of Prince Albert.

The pass is not tarred and can be treacherous after rain but offers spectacular views over the Little Karoo and the Great Karoo to the north, as well as astounding geology. The Swartberg is regarded as one of the finest exposed fold mountain chains in the world, and the northern end of the pass shows this especially. The plant life along the pass is particularly interesting and vegetation is remarkably diverse, featuring renosterveld, mountain fynbos, Karoo-veld, spekboom veld, and numerous geophyte species.

Birding on the pass and around the area can be particularly rewarding with Ground Woodpecker, Cape Rockjumper, Cape Siskin, Cape Sugarbird, Sentinel and Cape Rock-Thrushes, Southern Tchagra, Pale-winged Starling, Protea Seedeater, Victorin’s and Namaqua Warblers, Fairy Flycatcher and Layard’s Tit-Babbler being some of the species that we will be hoping to encounter. Raptors include Verreaux’s and Booted Eagles, Jackal Buzzard and Rock Kestrel

A trip into the plains around Prince Albert could yield some interesting Karoo birds, including Karoo Korhaan, Karoo and Sickle-winged Chats, Karoo Eremomela, Namaqua and Rufous-eared Warblers, Black-headed Canary and Chat Flycatcher.


This 9-day tour leaves from Johannesburg. We travel in an air-conditioned VW  Microbus.


Day 1

Date : October 5, 2022


Depart on early morning flight to George airport.
Travel via Wilderness and Knysna to our overnight accommodation near Harkerville.
Afternoon visit to Robberg Nature Reserve.
Overnight at Masescha Country Estate.

Day 2

Date : October 6, 2022


Early morning birding in Harkerville Forest.
Rest of morning spent relaxing and birding on estate.
Afternoon ferry trip on Keurbooms River.
Overnight at Masescha Country Estate.

Day 3

Date : October 7, 2022

Harkerville-Nature’s Valley-Wilderness

Morning spent birding in Nature’s Valley.
Depart after lunch for Wilderness, via Bitou Pan and Woodbourne Lagoon.
Arrive in Wilderness in mid-afternoon.
Overnight at Ebb & Flow, Wilderness.

Day 4

Date : October 8, 2022


Early morning forest and lakeside birding around Wilderness.
Rest of morning spent relaxing.
Afternoon birding at Groot and Klein Brak River estuaries.
Overnight at Ebb & Flow

Day 5

Date : October 9, 2022

Wilderness-Mossel Bay-Wilderness

Early morning departure for Mossel Bay area.
Day spent birding in farmlands and vleis around Mossel Bay.
Overnight at Ebb & Flow

Day 6

Date : October 10, 2022

Wilderness-Prince Albert

Early morning forest birding.
Depart after brunch for Prince Albert via George, Oudtshoorn and Swartberg Pass.
Arrive at destination in mid-afternoon.
Late afternoon birding and overnight at Bushman Valley Resort.

Day 7

Date : October 23, 2020

Prince Albert-Swartberg Pass-Prince Albert

Morning birding on Swartberg Pass.
Afternoon birding on farmland routes around Prince Albert.
Overnight at Bushman Valley.

Day 8

Date : October 24, 2020

Prince Albert and surrounds

Day spent birding and sightseeing around Prince Albert.
Overnight at Bushman Valley.

Day 9

Date : October 25, 2020

Prince Albert-George-Johannesburg

Early morning birding around area.
Depart after brunch for George airport.
Mid-afternoon flight to Johannesburg.

Trip Includes

Johannesburg/George return flight, ground transport, all meals, accommodation, guiding, entrance fees and specified activities

Trip Excludes

Gratuities, alcoholic beverages, and items of a personal nature