This is the route's mountainous region and is made up of the Wolkberg and Northern Drakensberg mountain ranges, where the altitude reaches 2300masl. The high annual rainfall of the area results in lush Afromontane mistbelt forest and rolling montane grassland habitats. Unfortunately most of the grasslands have been lost to commercial plantations, but pristine patches of this habitat occur around the town of Haenertsburg and in the Wolkberg Wilderness Area. These grasslands support specials in the form of Striped Flufftail, Drakensberg Prinia, Wailing Cisticola, Cloud Cisticola and Broad-tailed Warbler while patches of Protea host Gurney's Sugarbird and Malachite Sunbird.
The mistbelt forests are amongst the most extensive in the country, with the Woodbush, Grootbosch and Magoebaskloof forests providing the finest Afromontane forest birding in South Africa. Many spectacular and sought-after species occur in these forests including Cape Parrot, Black-fronted Bush-Shrike, Buff-spotted Flufftail, Grey Cuckooshrike, White-starred Robin, Chorister Robin-Chat, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Orange Ground-Thrush, Yellow-streaked Greenbul, Crowned Eagle and many more.
From a birding point of view this 14km dirt road runs through what is arguably the finest Afromontane forest in the Limpopo Province, if not the country. The Woodbush Forest Drive passes through pristine mistbelt forests, down into semi-deciduous mixed forest and riverine thicket along the lower sections of the drive. Cape Parrot, Black-fronted Bush-Shrike, Orange Ground Thrush, Brown Scrub-Robin, Grey Cuckooshrike, Yellow-streaked Greenbul and Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher are simply a few of the specials to be seen along this road. Also look out for African Cuckoo Hawk, Crowned Eagle and African Goshawk. The beautiful Debengeni Waterfalls are also accessible from this road. A high clearance vehicle is recommended and a 4-wheel drive vehicle would be needed in wet weather.
Directions: To reach Woodbush Forest Drive, take the R71 from Polokwane towards Tzaneen. About 2km beyond the Magoebaskloof Hotel, turn to the left onto the gravel road to Houtbosdorp/Woodbush. After 2.5km take the right fork to the Woodbush Forest Reserve, which passes through stone gateposts. After another 2.1km see the hiking huts on your right, then 200m further turn right onto the Woodbush Forest Drive. This road can be birded for about 13km. There are two forks along this road: at the first, stay left and at the second, take the right fork.
This cascading waterfall is a popular picnic site for locals and visitors to the area. This has probably been the most reliable site in South Africa for vagrant Grey Wagtails (summer) over the past 15 years. Even if this special is not there, it is worth visiting the Debengeni Falls, to see Mountain Wagtail and other forest birds. After turning off onto the dirt road marked Debengeni from the R71, keep a lookout for Red-backed Mannikin, African Firefinch and Swee Waxbill on the road verges. After about 100m you will cross a small stream and when the water levels are high this is a good spot for Half-collared Kingfisher and African Finfoot. On the 3km drive up to the falls look out for Tambourine and Lemon Dove, Chorister Robin-Chat, Blue-mantled Crested-Flycatcher and Yellow-streaked Greenbul in the forests. Rufous-chested Sparrowhawk breed in the vicinity of the falls and Buff-spotted Flufftail and Scaly-throated Honeyguide are often heard calling in the area. There are picnic facilities and short walking trails along the river downstream of the falls. A note of caution: be aware that the large smooth rock surfaces below the falls can be dangerous to walk on, particularly when they are wet. A small entry fee is payable at the boom.
Directions: If travelling in an easterly direction on the R71, the turnoff to the falls and the lower Woodbush forest drive is on the left, 12km beyond the Magoebaskloof Hotel. The entrance point to the falls is a further 3 km up the dirt road.
This scenic trail starts in the village of Haenertsburg and winds through the largest remaining fragment of critically endangered Woodbush Granite Grassland and the associated forest patches. The whole trail is 10km in length but various sections can be done separately. Blue Swallow occurred here in the past and it is hoped that this species may one day return to the area. On the grasslands, you may find Wailing, Lazy, Croaking, Cloud and Wing-snapping Cisticola. Grass Owl, White-necked Raven, Red-winged Francolin, Yellow Bishop, Dark-capped Yellow and Broad-tailed Warbler and Drakensberg Prinia are present as well as Cape Grassbird. Jackal Buzzard and Long-crested Eagle often hunt over the grassland. Olive Bush-Shrike, African Olive-Pigeon, Cape Batis, Terrestrial Brownbul, Yellow-streaked Greenbul and Forest Canary occur in the forest patches.
Directions: The trail starts at the Haenertsburg Village Hall, Rissik Street. Follow the yellow markers, or the map that is available at the Red Plate restaurant and other establishments in the village. For the less energetic, a drive up to the village cemetery (surely the most scenic in the country) will take you to the edge of the grassland. Ask for directions at any of the businesses in the village.
This spectacular 30km dirt road between Houtbosdorp and Mooketsi drops down over the escarpment through rocky bushveld and riverine habitats. One descends about 1000 metres in the first 20km after which the terrain consists of undulating agricultural landscape. The exposed granite boulders along the slopes near the top of the route are home to Cape Rock Thrush, Mocking Cliff Chat and Lazy Cisticola. African Crowned and Verreaux’s Eagles are often spotted here as are Lanner and Peregrine Falcon. The high bridge that spans a broad cascading stream along the way is a good spot to look out for African Finfoot, African Black Duck and Mountain Wagtail. From here the vegetation consists mainly of riverine and sub-tropical thicket frequented by the likes of Orange-breasted Bush-Shrike, Purple-crested Turaco, Green-capped Eremomela and White-throated Robin-Chat. Around the irrigation dams lower down look out for African Fish Eagle, Great Egret, Purple Heron and various Indigobird and Firefinch species.
Directions: From Polokwane follow the R71 and after approximately 20km, take the slipway to the left to the University of Limpopo. Continue on this road passing Mankweng and the main entrance to the University. Where the tar road ends is the start of this route. Follow the dirt road down the escarpment to Mooketsi. If travelling from Polokwane on the R81 to Modjadjiskloof, continue past the prominent Mooketsi filling station and immediately after crossing the bridge, turn right to Houtbosdorp on the Kudu’s River Valley dirt road. If you are travelling from Modjadjiskloof towards Polokwane, turn left to Houtbosdorp just before Mooketsi and the bridge.
This reserve encompasses all the habitats that make up the great eastern escarpment of the Northern Drakensberg including superb mistbelt forest and montane grassland. This is a good site to see high-altitude grassland species such as Common Quail (summer), Wing-snapping, Croaking and Wailing Cisticola, Broad-tailed Warbler and Malachite Sunbird. There are historical records of Blue Swallows in the grasslands. The forested gorges hold Cape Parrot, Red-capped Robin-Chat, White-starred Robin, African Emerald Cuckoo, Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler and many other forest species. There is a good tar road from the gate leading up the scenic Orrie Baragwanath Pass to the grasslands at the Downs and forested patch known as Church Forest. The reserve has comfortable self-catering wood chalets at Makhutsi Camp along the river.
Directions: Travel on the R36 from Tzaneen towards Lydenburg for around 40km, just past Ofcolaco turn right and follow the signs to Lekgalameetse.