I decided to make a long overdue visit to Wakkerstroom on my way to a wedding in Sodwana Bay to visit friends and birders Sandy and Kevin. They escaped the bustle of the city in 2009 and bought a home a stones throw from the wetland. I can now understand why it’s is such a popular destination, especially for birders.
I only had half a day and a night at early Autumn (April) to explore, yet I had some good bird sightings (photographically though too far for any award winning bird shots). One needs a week or long weekend with the usual amounts of patience with a side order of…time. However scenery and travel style images also await your camera as you will see in the slide show.
Lying in a unique grassland Biome; the source of the Vaal, Usuthu, Phongolo and Thukela rivers and surrounded by the Versamel Mountains the valley village of Wakkerstroom is a must see destination when exploring South Africa. In isiZulu, the river that passes close to town is known as Uthaka (Utaga), which roughly translates into a wide-awake (Wakker) river (Stroom) or lively stream.
There are also numerous historical sites and as always in towns throughout South Africa a number of beautiful churches, the oldest, St Marks – Anglican dating back to 1880. There are also Catholic, Lutheran and an NG Kerk to explore or worship in on a Sunday. There is much to see and do; Arts and Crafts, biking, hiking, bushmen art, a 1938 SAR Class 19D No 2690 Borsig steam locomotive, Opikopi Museum. Ossewakop & Scotch Hill which may have inspired Sir Ryder Haggard who sometimes stayed in Wakkerstroom in the 1870’s to write about two enormous lava-covered volcanic mountains, called Sheba’s Breasts, in his novel, King Solomon’s Mines. A Roller mill, which dates back to 1904 is the only one of its kind still in operation.
Wakkerstroom is indeed a hidden gem and whilst this was a quick recce for future workshops, I immediately fell in love with it. The Wakkerstroom Country Inn serves a killer lunch / dinner and the numerous bistro’s, cheese factory and craft shops are also a must visit for their healthy fare, bric-a-brac, antiques and owners with heart warming stories and genuine love of the area. Townsfolk are friendly and real characters. There is also an annual classic music festival in March. A beautiful town steeped in history, period buildings, wetlands and the vistas of surrounding hills are to die for. If you have a few bob buy a hideout here and visit as often as you can.
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The area conjures up sightings of many of Southern Africa’s endemic birds as well as migrants, pristine wetlands, perfect hides, beautiful hikes, fishing and fine dining.
According to SA Birding:
The Wakkerstroom/Amersfoort area is famous among birders as the easiest area to find three highly endemic species restricted to South Africa’s high altitude grasslands – Rudd’s Lark, Botha’s Lark and Yellow-breasted Pipit. A total of 13 bird species are endemic or nearly so to South Africa’s Grassland Biome and nine of these, including Rudd’s Lark, Botha’s Lark and Yellow-breasted Pipit, plus Southern Bald Ibis, Blue Korhaan, Eastern Long-billed Lark, Sentinel Rock-Thrush, Buff-streaked Chat and Drakensberg Prinia can easily be found here during a full day’s birding in summer. A second day could yield forest endemics such as Bush Blackcap and Chorister Robin-Chat. Add to these another 33 southern African endemics or near-endemics and it is easy to see why the area is a magnet for foreign as well as South African birders. Habitats range from open grassland to mist belt forest, gorges and cliffs, with extensive wetland habitat in the form of vleis, pans and dams.
Thank you Sandy and Kevin for putting up with us Joburgers and making us feel at home. We’ll be back in the summer! Sandy is a keen birder and photographer. Her bird book collection could fill a library and her images not only of the birds but of the area are unhurried, natural and breathtakingly beautiful:
Autumn Sunrise Southern Hemisphere © Sandy McKenna 2012
Wakkerstroom – Official Web Site
Wakkerstroom Bird Club – Facebook Page
Wakkerstroom Ama Click Click Photo Club – Facebook Page
BirdLife South Africa Wakkerstroom Tourism and Education Centre – Facebook Page
Birdlife South Africa Wakkerstroom Tourism Centre – Web Site
Directions from Midrand, Gauteng about 3 hours.
View Midrand to Wakkerstroom Wetland NR, Wakkerstroom 2480, South Africa in a larger map
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