Lower Drakensburg Foothills – Franklin Vlei

About the Birding

Situated in the plains of East Griqualand in the extreme south-western corner of KwaZulu-Natal, Franklin Vlei covers an immense area of over 5244 hectares in the upper reaches of the Mzintlava catchment. The site is easily accessible via a network of district roads which cross the vlei at various points. The head of the vlei lies at an altitude of 1585 metres above sea-level and extends in a south-easterly direction towards its outlet at 1498 metres above sea-level.

The vlei is surrounded on all sides by highland sourveld and is dominated by reeds, robust sedges and bulrushes. Species to look for in the vlei include the Red-chested and Striped Flufftails, African Rail, and Baillon’s Crake; though viewing these species requires luck and patience. Other notable species include the African Swamphen, Black-crowned Night Heron, and both Grey-crowned and Wattled Cranes. Historical records of the Eurasian Bittern and White-winged Flufftail also exist from this location and visiting birders should remain mindful that these two rarities may still occur at this site. The surrounding grasslands support the Cape and Yellow-throated Longclaws, an assortment of Widowbirds, and the Black-rumped Buttonquail.

Key species:

Striped Flufftail, Black-rumped Buttonquail, Wattled Crane, and chances of both Eurasian Bittern and White-winged Flufftail

About the Birding Site

The Lower Drakensberg Foothills Birding Route lies inland and to the south-west of the Southern KwaZulu-Natal Birding Route and is easily accessible from both Durban and Pietermaritzburg, the two nearest points of entry. The source of this route is found in the Ukhahlamba Drakensberg World Heritage Site at the majestic Sani Pass where birders get the unique opportunity to view birds in a rugged and stunningly beautiful environment, consisting of five different habitats and ranging in height from 1600m to 3200m.

However, the heart of this route lies in the lowlands below the Sani Pass where numerous beautiful nature reserves and large tracts of pristine mist belt forest and grassland are to be found supporting a plethora of interesting species including several of South Africa’s most sought-after birds. Top specials within this birding route include the critically endangered Blue Swallow, Drakensburg Rockjumper, Cape Parrot, Drakensburg Siskin, Bearded and Cape Vultures, Orange Ground Thrush and Gurney’s Sugarbird among others. Several days are recommended in the area to do the route proper justice and summer visits (September-April) are optimal to ensure that all target species are present and that all sites will be accessible.

Key species:

Striped Flufftail, Black-rumped Buttonquail, Wattled Crane, and chances of both Eurasian Bittern and White-winged Flufftail

Other Related Information

From Kokstad travel North on R617 for 43km, turn right onto the P602/1 to Franklin village (1km). The wetland adjoins the village where the tar road crosses the wetland. Park at the bridge on the western edge of the wetland.

Notable points of interest include the:
Main access point to Franklin Vlei: -30.3203, 29.4575

The nearest towns to Franklin are:
Kokstad: 37km

Other related information:

Access and facilities:
Franklin Vlei is accessible via tar road at any time on a self-drive basis. No entrance fees are charged. There are no toilets. Cars can be parked safely on the bridge at the western end of the wetland. It is recommended that you lock your car and keep valuables out of sight while birding. Limited shopping facilities and a fuel station are available in the village of Franklin.

Recommended accommodation nearby:
Diverse accommodation options are available in the village of Kokstad, located roughly 40km to the south of Franklin. The nearest Birder Friendly Establishment is in the nearby village of Ixopo.

For more information, contact:

Local guide information:
No BirdLife community guides are currently available for this region of KwaZulu-Natal.

Text prepared by:
Daniel Keith Danckwerts (Rockjumper Worldwide Birding Tours)

Key species:

Striped Flufftail, Black-rumped Buttonquail, Wattled Crane, and chances of both Eurasian Bittern and White-winged Flufftail

Contact details: