Going birding in Wakkerstroom is almost compulsory if you’re a birder. This is one of South Africa’s most rewarding Important Bird Areas with plenty of endemics and seldom-seen, high-altitude grassland species. Some people hardly notice the birds – they’re after the cheese, the peace and a feast of craft shops.

Did you know?

Wakkerstroom literally means 'lively stream'.

If you’re a birder and haven’t yet seen a red-chested flufftail, Rudd’s lark or a blue korhaan, you cannot miss birding in Wakkerstroom.

This bucolic little farming town in Mpumalanga is nestled in a valley, and is on the edge of a spectacular wetland. Even beginner birders will find the town rewarding – there are over 370 bird species here.

Non-birders also enjoy it, incidentally. There are plenty of things to do here: fly-fishing, drumming, golf, cooing over alpaca babies, wild flower walks, cheese tasting, bike riding on country roads, historical tours and plenty more.

But the town and its surrounds are designated an Important Bird Area in South Africa because the sheer variety of habitat provides an unprecedented opportunity to see endemics. South Africa has 13 such unique bird species, and you can see nine of them in and around Wakkerstroom.

This is mostly high-altitude grassland, but there are also gorges and cliffs, mistbelt forests, farm dams and of course, the magnificent wetland where the flufftail lurks.

Grassland birds are notoriously cryptic and hard to spot, but birders in and around town can give you tips on where to find the critically endangered Rudd’s lark, along with Botha’s lark, the bald ibis, eastern long-billed lark, white-bellied korhaan and the yellow-breasted pipit.

In fact, birders have made things very easy here. There are several bird hides (and information on what you might see) along with rewarding drives you can take into the surrounding areas.

To up your chances of seeing the specials in this area, hire one of the local bird guides (trained by BirdLife South Africa). They can guide you straight to all the right places. Your bird list is bound to look rather impressive by the end of a birding trip to Wakkerstroom.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Wakkerstroom Information Centre
Tel: +27 (0)17 730 0792
Email: info@wakkerstroomtourism.co.za

How to get here

Wakkerstroom is about 300km from Johannesburg, so calculate around 3 hours' driving time. Take the N3 towards Durban, and turn off onto the R23 at Heidelberg. Head towards Standerton and Volksrust. As you enter the town of Volksrust, take the first turn left on the R543 (which is also the road to Piet Retief) and travel around 28km to Wakkerstroom.

Best time to visit

The Wakkerstroom area has a glorious summer (October to March). The hills, grasslands and wetland are full of flowers and birds. Winter is also beautiful, but there are fewer birds and the high altitude means that temperatures can be icy.

Around the area

You can hike, play golf, visit art galleries, pat farmyard animals and go fly fishing, just to name a few of the activities. Also, the Opi Kopi Private Museum is free and is worth a visit.

Tours to do

You can choose an historical tour or take a tour to see San rock art paintings in the area.

Length of stay

Three days will give you plenty of time to explore the town and surrounding areas for cheeses, views, and, of course, elusive larks.

Where to stay

The town itself has a number of excellent guesthouses and B&Bs.

What to eat

Go to a little shop called Brie Street and acquire some cheese. You'll also find a few other specialities of the region, like paté and trout.