Enigmatic Wildlife Small Group Tour - South Africa
Aardvark, Marrick (Keith Barnes)  
Springhare, Marrick (Keith Barnes)  
Black-footed cat, Marrick (Keith Barnes)  
Meerkats, Marrick (Keith Barnes)  
Large-eared Mouse, Marrick (Keith Barnes)  
Angulate tortoise (Keith Barnes)  
Parrot-beaked Padloper (Keith Barnes)  
Namaqualand floral spectacle (Keith Barnes)  
Cape Golden Mole (Keith Barnes)  
Armadillo girdled lizard (Keith Barnes)  
Augrabies Flat Lizards  
Cape Cobra (Bionerds)  
Cape Dwarf Chameleon (Bionerds)  
Horned adder (Bionerds)  
Aardwolf (Tropical Birding)  
Coral shield cobra, northern Cape  
Brown hyena  
Cape Porcupine (Keith Barnes)  
Family of Double-banded sandgrouse  
Trio of Blue crane, the South African national bird  
Springbok surveying the Namaqualand floral spectacle  
Kokerbooms or Quiver trees, Goegap Nature Reserve  
Lithops in Namaqualand  
Carpet of colour - the Namaqualand floral spectacle  
Two Oryx in sea of white flowers, Goegap Nature Reserve  
Orange-breasted sunbird, Cape Town  
16 day tour
Prices from

Tour Highlights

  • Namaqualand's incredible Floral Spectacle
  • Aardvark, Aardwolf, Springhare and other wonderful nocturnal mammals
  • Smorgasbord of 'herps' (Reptiles and Frogs)
  • Dramatic landscapes of some seldom-explored wilderness places
  • Diverse birdlife
  • Exceptional guiding and unparalleled expertise
I'm enquiring about: Enigmatic Wildlife Small Group Tour - South Africa

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I'm enquiring about: Enigmatic Wildlife Small Group Tour - South Africa

Enigmatic Wildlife Small Group Tour - South Africa

South Africa
Occasionally an exceptional wildlife discovery tour comes long which is just so startlingly unique and special, that we simply have to share it with our wildlife enthusiast clientele.  Our friend Keith Barnes (biologist, author, tourleader) of Tropical Birding developed this remarkable, once-in-a-lifetime departure focused on the drier western and southern regions of South Africa, where the emphasis is, as the title implies, the appreciation of Enigmatic Wildlife.
Aside from a gob-smacking list of critters, which should set the pulse of any wildlife travel enthusiasts racing; to make this trip even better you will be travelling through the Kalahari and Namaqualand during early September, which is the peak period for one of the worlds most spectacular floral spectacles - carpets of multi-colored wildflowers of both the daisy and bulb families will form the backdrop to settings in which you will be searching for some of most fascinating animals on Earth.
An alternative name for the trip is Wild Nights Out, because much of the wildlife watching will be conducted after sunset, when a cast of the incredible characters surfaces from their daytime hideouts. The icing on the cake will be that this small group will be accompanied by a superb resident naturalist and of the best naturalists in the country. The naturalists we work with on these departures are very knowledgeable botanists, herpetologists and have in- depth knowledge of where some of strangest and most endangered wildlife occurs, whether it be for example a Critically Endangered population of Speckled Moraea (a striking plant in the iris family), or a favorite haunt of an Arum Lily Frog... the list goes on and on and when going through the itinerary, you will no doubt feel its a crossover between a discovery road trip and a giant Easter egg hunt!
The trip will not only be spectacular, it will be meaningful because it actually doubles up as a biodiversity scouting survey, in that you will be supporting research activities making this a win-win for all.  With a leadership uniformly keen on photography, you should have phenomenal experience on this tour.
Your Tourleader Keith Barnes:
Keith grew up flipping rocks and looking for scorpions on the edge of the Magaliesberg mountains west of Johannesburg, South Africa. Although his first love was birds, his father sparking that interest with an epic trip to the Drakensberg mountains that culminated in a spiritual experience with a Bearded Vulture mere meters away, he is interested in all wildlife. Keith was initially educated at, and then worked as a biologist at the University of Cape Town, coordinating and publishing the Important Bird Areas of Southern Africa directory and the Eskom Red Data Book of Birds for South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. But he quickly realized that being in the wilderness and helping folks experience it was what he was truly passionate about. Having led groups around the world for 25 years, Keith conceptualized Enigmatic Wildlife tours, as a way to see some of the most interesting, but least understood wildlife on Earth. Keith is a co-author of several books including Animals of Kruger National Park (Princeton University Press, 2016), Birds of Kruger National Park and Wild Rwanda.
Read our Q&A with Keith Barnes here:
Group size: Minimum 6 - maximum 10 participants. 

Day 1
01 September 2023: Flight from UK (or other) to South Africa
Take an overnight flight from London (or selected other airports if coming from the UK) to Johannesburg.
> For the purposes of this itinerary we shall quote based on British Airways but do let us know if you'd prefer to utilise a different carrier, or if you don't require international flights with us.
Day 2
Day 2
02 September 2023: Johannesburg - Kimberley (flight) - Marrick Safari Lodge
Arrive into Johannesburg Oliver Tambo International Airport and connect with the flight to Kimberley.
Here you will be welcomed by your tour leader. Set off through to Marrick Safari Lodge, one of Africa’s very best places for nocturnal mammals.
Tonight, after dinner at the lodge, you will take the first of several dedicated night drives to look for the Kalahari’s most amazing mammals, including the bizarre Springhare, incredible Aardvark, Aardwolf, Bat-eared Fox, South African Porcupine and if we are very lucky the localized and rare Black-footed Cat or simply adorable Large-Eared Mouse. This location delivers these oddities more often that just about anywhere on Earth. You will also seek out the intriguing Elephant Shrew or Sengi at Marrick; it is still a bit of a taxonomic mystery.
Spend two nights at Marrick Safari Lodge, all meals included.
Day 3
Day 3
03 September 2023 - Marrick and Mokala National Park
After breakfast, head to the nearby Mokala National Park, one of the newest and most interesting parks in South Africa. It has several rare mammals, and you ought to find Sable, Roan and Tsessebe antelope, as well as the near-endemic Springbok, Gemsbok and White-tailed Wildebeest and maybe the most endearing small mammal on Earth, the Meerkat!
Other mammals occurring here that are rare and less frequently seen are White and Black Rhinoceros, Cape Buffalo, Mountain Reedbuck and Giraffe.
You ought to start picking up a few reptiles and birds, with Kalahari specialties like Kalahari Scrub-Robin, Scaly-feathered Finch, Crimson-breasted Boubou and Swallow-tailed Bee-eater all being front and centre.
Return to Marrick and enjoy another night-drive in this amazing place to target anything missed the night before.
Day 4
Day 4
04 September 2023: Marrick to Augrabies Falls National Park
Augrabies is where the Orange River cuts through granite to form a spectacular waterfall. Some of the original Khoi and San communities remain within the park which is dominated by the spectacular giant aloe trees or Kokerbooms.
The park has a diverse set of mammals and birds, including Eland, Giraffe, Klipspringer, Ground Squirrel, African Wild Cat, and if you are extremely lucky, maybe a Caracal.
On the bird front you can seek out the localized Orange River White-eye, Pririt Batis, Dusky Sunbird, and Double-banded Sandgrouse, while it is hard to miss the massive nests of Sociable Weavers, Pale-winged Starling, Red-eyed Bulbul and the minute Pygmy Falcons.
But this zone is one of the best for seeking reptiles and amphibians and we will hopefully locate the very localized and stunning Augrabies Flat-Lizard and Augrabies Gecko, bulbous Giant Ground, Namaqua Mountain, Rough and Quartz geckos, Common Ground Agama, Karoo Sand Snake, Guttural and Western Olive toads, Common River Frog and perhaps even a Marbled Rubber Frog or Giant Bull Frog!
Overnight in Augrabies Falls Chalets, all meals included
Day 5
Day 5
05 September 2023: Augrabies Falls National Park - Pofadder
After another stunning morning at Augrabies Falls National Park, your time at this stark but stunning park draws to a close and you venture farther west to the spaghetti-western-like town of Pofadder (or Puffadder in English).
This small one-horse settlement is a perfect base for our exploration of the northern Cape’s famed ‘Bushmanland’ area. Surrounded by open rangeland and farmland you will hope to find birds like Burchell’s Courser, Stark's Lark and Black-eared Sparrowlark, and turning your attentions to the ground, hopefully Bibron’s and Turner’s Geckos and with luck, Horned Adder or Beetz’s Tiger Snake.
Overnight at the simple Pofadder Hotel, all meals included..
Day 6
Day 6
06 September 2023: Pofadder - Port Nolloth
Depart predawn so that you can be at the fossil dune valley of the Koa River as the sun comes up. The red sand dunes here are home to the very localized Red Lark. They are fairly easily found at dawn, singing at this time of year. Namaqua Sandgrouse, Cape Penduline-Tit and Karoo Korhaan may be some of the other prizes. Keep your eyes peeled for rare Tented Tortoise.
It’s a long drive to Port Nolloth, during which you will pass through northern Namaqualand, so beginning to see some of the epic flowering displays of this phenomenal region. If you see any astonishing displays, stop for photos and also, to seek out some of the rarer ephemeral plants.
Complete the day on the coast, with the cool upwelling waters of the Benguela ocean creating a sea-mist here most nights that drives an ecosystem like few others on the planet.
Two nights are spent in Port Nolloth at Richtersveld Experience Lodge, all meals included.
Day 7
Day 7
07 September 2023: Port Nolloth & Environs - the Diamond Coast
With a full day to enjoy this part of Northern Namaqualand, and the very arid Namib-like environment along the coast to the north, you can expect a bumper day of enigmas.
Perhaps the most sought-after will be the Desert Rain Frog, one of the cutest animals on Earth. Watch this YouTube clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cBkWhkAZ9ds and tell us you don’t want to see that - and we’ll call you concrete-hearted!. However, they are tough to locate, and you would be exceptionally lucky to see them, but your leaders/guides will be trying their best.
You will also be seeking out Namaqua Banded, Namaqua Dwarf, Western Cape, Spotted Barking and Austen’s geckos, Giant Desert Lizard, Bug-eyed House Snake and if you are lucky, Namaqua Dwarf Chameleon, Namaqua Dwarf Adder and Namaqua Rain Frog, among others.
Then, head north of Port Nolloth in an attempt to locate the extremely local Barlow’s and Cape Long-billed Larks, as well as the very pale version of Tractrac Chat, and perhaps some Damara Terns. Offshore, you ought to see Cape Gannet, African Black Oystercatcher and Crowned, Cape and Bank cormorants, all local seabirds restricted to the cold rich waters of the Benguela-current of South Africa and Namibia.
A nocturnal excursion may reveal some seldom-seen mammals, and Brown Hyena is a possibility here on the Diamond Coast.
Day 8
Day 8
08 September 2023: Port Nolloth - Springbok via Goegap Nature Reserve
After another morning on the Namaqualand coast, head inland to the rocky granitic hinterland of Springbok. The second town on your stay named after an iconic South African animal, this is surely one of the ‘wildest’ parts of the country.
A visit to Goegap Nature Reserve will hopefully reveal the local Cape Mountain Zebra. A little snooping around the rocky crags may reveal Smith’s Red Rock Rabbit and Round-eared Sengi (or Elephant Shrew) amongst a host of interesting small mammals.
After dark, amongst the Black-backed Jackals you may get lucky and find Cape Fox. Rarer birds include Black-headed Canary, Cinnamon-breasted Warbler and Karoo Eremomela, while after dark you have a good shot at the scarce Cape Eagle-Owl.
Amongst the herps, you will hope to find Striped Pygmy Gecko, Knox’s Desert, Western Sandveld, and Namaqua Sand lizards, Western Three-striped, Variegated and Western Rock skinks, Many-horned Adder, Brown House Snake and a smorgasbord of less common critters that you would be fortunate to encounter.
Two nights in Springbok Inn, all meals included.
Day 9
Day 9
09 September 2023: Springbok & environs
Another day in the rockscapes of Springbok. You'll be heading to wherever there’s a good floral display nearby, and otherwise focus on the many tricky species that find a home in these crags.
Some rare but mouth-watering possible sightings include Speckled Padloper (a tiny tortoise), Namaqua Pygmy Gecko, Namaqua Flat and Dwarf Plated lizards, Schinz’s Beaked Blind, Namib Sand and Spotted Rock snakes, Coral Shield Cobra, Paradise Toad, Poynton’s River and Namaqua Stream frogs. If we even see some of these we would be doing well.
Day 10
Day 10
10 September 2023: Springbok to Niewoudtville
After a morning in Springbok you head to southern Namaqualand. There is of course a turnover of species, and although there are not many new birds and mammals, you can expect a whole new slew of herps and plants.
Calling the flowerline the day before to see if there are any spectacular flowering displays en route (or just off it), the day will be planned accordingly and make sure that you take in whatever spectacular annuals or bulbs are showing.
Arriving at your destination you will be struck by the awesome desolate nature of the open Knersvlakte ‘gnashing plains’, so named in Afrikaans for the sound the Boers’ wagon wheels used to make as they trekked across these hostile environments. Far from desolate, this is one of the hotbeds of small succulent diversity on Earth, and we can hope to encounter several species of Lithops, Mesembs and other stunning mini succulents.
The plains are home to Karoo, Spike-heeled and Thick-billed Larks, Rufous-eared Warbler and Karoo Korhaan. A massive escarpment at the edge of the plains takes us firmly onto the South African escarpment and a whole new world. It is up here that we will spend the next two nights, at Letsatsi Lodge in VanRhynsdorp.
Day 11
Day 11
11 September 2023 - Niewoudtville & surrounds - the Knersvlakte
With a full day to explore both the highlands and Knersvlakte, you are in for a treat.
Again, you'll be able to tap into local knowledge as to where the best flowering areas are and you will undoubtedly be treated to some of Namaqualand’s rarest plants today. In among those, you will be seeking out a new swathe of vertebrate enigmas including Weber’s Thick-toed Gecko, Southern Spiny Agama, Common Sand and the crazy Armadillo Girdled Lizards, Cross Marked Grass and Karoo Sand snakes, and Rhombic Skaapsteker.
With a little luck one can encounter the amazing Cape Cobra, and in the wetlands Cape River and Clicking Stream frogs. Mammals will include the odd Rock Hyrax, agile Klipspringer, and perhaps the localized deer-like Grey Rhebok. Birds such as Namaqua Warbler, Pririt Batis and Southern Grey Tit lurk in the riverine vegetation and you will be likely to find all of these.
Day 12
Day 12
12 September 2023: Niewoudtville to Grootwinterhoek to Langebaan
Today, leave Namaqualand and the Karoo and get the first glimpse of an entirely new ecosystem, the fynbos (an Afrikaans word meaning fine bush), the unique heathlands of the southern tip of Africa that simultaneously make up its oldest and most diverse floral kingdom.
As is to be expected the biodiversity does not end with the plants, and the day in the Grootwinterhoek might land the likes of Cederberg Pygmy and Southern Rough geckos, Southern Rock and Oelofsen’s Girdled, Cape Cliff and Cape Crag lizards. Considerable luck is needed to encounter some of the stunners of this area such as Berg or Red adders, or the incredible Cape Ghost Frog or Tradouw Mountain Toadlet.
On the bird front the rarest of the fynbos endemics, the Protea Canary is reasonably common here, and expect Cape Sugarbirds and stunning Orange-breasted Sunbirds. By this afternoon you will be seeing the scenic cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean as you approach Langebaan Lagoon within the West Coast NP, haven to tens of thousands of migratory shorebirds, in addition to the stunning and localised Black Harrier, which hopefully will be encountered.
Overnight stay at Langebaan Country Estate, all meals included.
Day 13
Day 13
13 September 2023: Langebaan - Cape Town
This area may yield Namaqua Rain Frog, or another of the set of herps that occupy the West Coast Zone. Grey-winged Francolin, or even maybe a Caracal (which is rare) would make the early morning rise worthwhile.
Later, head into Cape Town, the stunning city that surrounds a giant mountain and is encircled by spectacular seascapes at its core, and begin your exploration of another zone of biodiversity wonderment.
Stay for 2 nights at Harfield Cottages with all meals included.
Day 14
Day 14
14 September 2023: Cape Town & environs
Over the course of today, you'll be hoping to find Marbled Leaf-toed, Ocellated Thick-toed and Cape Dwarf geckos, Southern Rock Agama, Cape Girdled Lizard, Red-sided Skink, Common Slugeater, Mole Snake and maybe a Puffadder.
On the frog front the Critically Endangered Rose’s Mountain Toadlet, Raucous and Western Leopard toads are all possible, as is the spectacular Arum Lily Frog.
Attention will also be given to the endangered seabirds of the Benguela current, and of course there will be a stop at the famous Boulder’s Bay for the spectacular African Penguins.
Although there are not that many mammals about, you might find the endemic pied Bontebok (that almost slipped to extinction last century) and just offshore there will be Southern Right Whales and their calves: your guides will do their best to locate some.
Day 15
Day 15
15 September 2023 - Cape Town & Departure
After an absolute bumper fortnight featuring enigmas with hair, feathers, scales, and flowers, an amazing time in one of the most biodiverse areas on Earth, with some of the best people to show you these creatures draws to a close.
Those that need to head home will be dropped off at Cape Town International Airport for your international flights. (Participants flying back to London or other UK airports can take the BA flight departing 19h15 - we use its fare for this itinerary.)
For those that simply have to have more – and we could hardly blame you – there is a pre-trip extension to the exclusive Tswalu Reserve - please contact us for details.
*** If anyone would like an individual extension to anywhere else in Southern Africa, please do let us know.
Day 16
16 September 2023 : Arrival back home
Arrive back home into the UK (if you're flying back to London or selected other UK airports) after an absolutely wonderful trip!

Pricing Information & Dates

16 day tour, from £6250 per person
Price Includes
* International flights from London Heathrow to Johannesburg and from Cape Town to London Heathrow (economy class seating) and SA Airlink domestic flight from Johannesburg to Kimberley

* Airport taxes.

* All accommodation and meals

* Drinking water; some lodges include tea/coffee; when dining at a restaurant that doesn't include drinks, reasonable non-alcoholic drinks will be provided with that meal;

safe drinking water will be provided between meals (usually available at a designated spot in the lodge – if not it will be provided)

* Tips to drivers, local guides and lodge staff

* Experienced, wildlife expert tour leader Dr Keith Barnes with thermal scope and audio gear from the evening of day 1 to the morning of the last day.

* An excellent, experienced South Africa-based naturalist exceptionally skilled with herpetofauna and small mammals

* Arrival and departure airport transfers

* All ground transportation for the party to all places in the itinerary in a suitable vehicle

* All entrance fees to every site mentioned in the itinerary

* Printed and bound checklist to keep track of your sightings (given to you at the start of the tour – only electronic copies can be provided in advance).
Price Excludes
* Optional tips to your tour leader and tips for luggage porters in city hotels (if you require their services);
* Items of a personal nature (travel insurance, phone calls, visas if needed; laundry; minibar or room service; medical fees)
* additional drinks not mentioned; alcoholic beverages

Single Room Supplement: £665
Price Notes
* Please let us know if you do not require flights from the UK to South Africa, or, if you would like us to quote for flights based on another carrier.

* Call us for details and costings on the Tswalu pre-tour extension. (Highly recommended for those wishing to try for Ground pangolin sightings).

Tour Route Map

  1.   Cape Peninsula

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