Introduction to South Africa Safaris:
Officially listed as one of the most biologically diverse countries on earth, South Africa is made up of a staggering variety of landscapes and habitats. From near-desert on the west coast to sub-alpine scrub at the top of the Drakensberg at 3000 meters above sea-level, the unique Fynbos in the Cape and the savannah of the north-east, the visitor to South Africa will be enthralled by constantly changing landscapes. This diversity lends itself to an incredibly rich fauna and flora component, making South Africa a particularly exciting destination for the birder and natural history enthusiast.
Along its northern margin, South Africa shares borders with the other Southern African countries of Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, while the western, southern and eastern margins are made up of a 3000 kilometer long coastline. The general topography includes a large inland plateau which slopes gradually upwards from west to east to culminate in the Drakensberg Escarpment, which runs down the length if the eastern side of the country. To the south of the inland plateau lies the Cape Fold Mountain system, while to the east the land slopes down to the shores of the Indian Ocean.
The country dries out rapidly as one moves from east to west, due to the effects of the Drakensberg barrier and the cold Atlantic Ocean. Much of the interior of the country comprises the arid Karoo and Kalahari regions, while the perimeter along the eastern and southern sides is wet and well watered by rivers flowing off the Drakensberg. Most of the country receives rain during the summer months (November to April), while the Western Cape and parts of the Eastern Cape receive winter rains (May to September).
Historically the country was first occupied by the Khoi-San people, hunter gatherers and early pastoralists who were gradually displaced by people moving southwards from other parts of Africa, and the Dutch settlers who arrived in 1652. Today the country is home to a large group of different tribes, a large Indian population, people with East Asian origins, the Afrikaner people, people from various European countries and many smaller ethnic groups, making it a very cosmopolitan society indeed.
Johannesburg is the main travel hub of the country and the gateway to much of Southern Africa. Some international airlines also fly into Cape Town as an alternative arrival destination. There’s a very good internal flight network and good national highways, making it easy to travel within the country. The main tourist attractions are Cape Town and the Kruger National Park, but, especially where the keen nature enthusiast is concerned, there are multitude places to visit and explore. See more under Birding and Wildlife.
Summer: September to April
- Most of South Africa falls under a summer rainfall region (except for the Western Cape).
- It can get hot to very hot in the north and east, mild to warm on the interior plateau.
- Thunderstorms are common, though cool, overcast weather can also be expected. The rainy season coincides with the summer.
- Summers in the Western Cape are usually dry, hot and windy.
Winter: May to August
- Winters on the Highveld (interior plateau) can be cold to very cold overnight and in the early morning while days are usually cool to mild, though occasional cold fronts can make it cold all day. Minimal chances of rain.
- The eastern coastal regions and Lowveld (savannah) has cool to mild nights and warm to hot days. Minimal chances of rain.
- The Western Cape has cool wet winters in general.
South Africa lies right at the southern tip of the African continent and covers a total area of 471 445 square miles. Divide the area by the 800 or so recorded species and you come up with a very rich birding destination indeed, with no fewer than 45 endemic bird species. The key factor in both the number of species and the degree of endemism is the diversity of habitats. It’s literally a world in one country, divided into seven different biomes, namely: arid and moist savanna; desert; forest; grassland; Karoo (a semi-desert type biome); and Fynbos (chaparral-type vegetation). While the savanna occupies much of Africa south of the tropics, and desert comes into its own in neighbouring Namibia, the other biomes are fairly unique and as such hold much interest for the international birder. Read more under ‘ South African Birding‘…
Due to a wide altitudinal range and the resulting variety of habitats, South Africa holds a lot more than just the ‘typical’ African offering of Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Giraffe and other savanna species. Although these are usually the main draw card, a visit to South Africa will include more than just the ‘Big Five’. From the insects, reptiles and amphibians to the wonderful multitude of mammals, South Africa is the ideal destination for the natural history enthusiast. Read more under ‘ South African Wildlife‘…