The Lowveld – Mafefe 4×4 Trail / Orie Baragwanath Pass

About the Birding

This 45km route descends the Drakensberg Mountains following the Magabane River and starting at Mafefe about 60km south of Polokwane. The route ends at Ofcolaco after travelling through the Lekgalameetse Nature Reserve. The road is a 4×4 track for about 15km that takes you through riverine habitat offering a variety of bushveld birds, as well as chances for Cape Vulture, Verreaux’s Eagle and Rock Kestrel.

It then becomes a tar road that leads through the grasslands of the Downs, in the upper-most sections of the Lekgalameetse Nature Reserve. Look out for Cloud, Wing-snapping and Croaking Cisticola as well as Gurney’s Sugarbirds (attracted to flowering proteas), and Malachite Sunbirds in these areas. As you head down the escarpment, you will travel through forests that hold Cape Parrot, White-starred Robin, Black-fronted Bush Shrike, and Orange Ground Thrush. Once in the lowveld, look out for bushveld birds like Grey-headed Bush-Shrike, Emerald-spotted Wood-Dove and White-browed Scrub-Robin. The route takes a full day to complete if birded slowly and an entrance fee is required to be paid at the Lekgalameetse Nature Reserve.

Key species:

Cape Parrot, Cape Vulture, Black-fronted Bushshrike, Gurney’s Sugarbird, Orange Ground Thrush

About the Birding Site

The Capricorn-Letaba birding route stretches from the city of Polokwane in the west to the Great Letaba River beyond the Letsitele valley in the east. The route runs just a few degrees south of the Tropic of Capricorn, mainly along the R71 road which links the towns of Polokwane, Haenertsburg, Tzaneen and Gravelotte.

An interesting geographical feature of this route is its varying altitude. Polokwane lies on a plateau at approximately 1300 masl, further east lies the escarpment of the Northern Drakensberg and Wolkberg mountain ranges where the altitude reaches 2300 masl. The route then drops down into the Lowveld where the altitude is approximately 480 masl at the Letaba River. These extreme variations in altitude result in a great range of vegetation types within a relatively small area. Within these diverse habitats, over 500 bird species are to be found.

The open thornveld habitat of the Polokwane plateau supports a great variety of both Bushveld and Kalahari-type birds. Typical species here include Crimson-breasted Shrike, Barred Wren-Warbler, Short-clawed Lark and Black-faced Waxbill. Just before reaching the foothills of the Drakensberg and Wolkberg Mountains, one passes through the outcrop strewn Mamabolo Bushveld. These granite inselbergs hold many rock-dwelling species, including Southern Bald Ibis’s northern-most population. In the Northern Drakensberg and Wolkberg sections of the route, birders enjoy vast tracts of montane grassland, which is Blue Swallow territory and houses other sought after species such as Broad-tailed Warbler, Croaking Cisticola and Drakensberg Prinia. The afro-montane forests of Woodbush and Magoebaskloof offer amongst the best forest birding in the country with specials like Brown Scrub-Robin, Black-fronted Bush Shrike, Barratt’s Warbler, Yellow-streaked Greenbul, and Orange Ground Thrush. The eastern lower slopes and valleys of Magoebaskloof provide reliable sites for the elusive Bat Hawk and Green Twinspot. The Tzaneen area is well-known for its sub-tropical fruit industry and the interesting mix of lowland habitats here support a wide range of species including Gorgeous Bush Shrike, White-browed Robin-chat and Purple-crested Turaco. The Lowveld region around Letsitele and along the Letaba River is blanketed in extensive Mopane Woodland where Arnot’s Chat is resident. There are many Lowveld rivers with their associated riparian forest habitats where the likes of Greater Blue-eared Starling, Red-billed Buffalo-Weaver, Retz’s Helmet-Shrike and Thick-billed Cuckoo can be found. This is also one of the prime raptor areas in the region.

The Capricorn-Letaba Birding Route is further divided into four different birding areas, namely the Northern Escarpment, Polokwane, The Lowveld and Tzaneen. Each area has its unique character and a set of special bird species. The area is also well-supported by a variety of different accommodation options as well as several easily accessible birding sites.

The lowveld is the most easterly section of the Capricorn-Letaba Birding Route with an altitude of less than 650 masl. Blanketed in Mopane woodland and sour bushveld, there are a host of birds not found anywhere else on the route including the likes of Arnot’s Chat, White-breasted Cuckooshrike, Thick-billed Cuckoo and Stierling’s Wren-Warbler. More common species include the Greater Blue-eared Starling, Woodland Kingfisher and White-crested Helmet Shrike. The regions’ proximity to the larger conservation areas of the lowveld also makes this area good for the larger birds like raptors and storks. White-headed and Hooded Vulture and Bateleur Eagle are examples of the birds that you should continuously be scanning the sky for. The riverine areas along the Letaba River act as a conduit, drawing birds like White-backed Night-Heron, Saddle-billed Stork and African Openbill Stork into the area.

Key species:

Cape Parrot, Cape Vulture, Black-fronted Bushshrike, Gurney’s Sugarbird, Orange Ground Thrush

Other Related Information

From Polokwane take the R37 south, after about 67km turn left to Mafefe. Once in the village of Mafefe, after about 40km, follow the road straight and follow the river, this will take you onto the Orie Baragwanath pass. A high clearance vehicle is needed, but you are advised to enquire about the road conditions after heavy rain.

Other related information:

Recommended accommodation nearby:
A variety of accommodation options are available in the nearby areas of Magoebaskloof, Haenertsburg. The nearest BirdLife Recommended Accommodations include the Kurisa Moya Nature Lodge, Bramasole Guesthouse, and Magoebaskloof Birders’ Cottages for which additional contact details are provided below.

Kurisa Moya Nature Lodge
Physical address:
Sterkloop Farm, Houtbosdorp, Magoebaskloof
Tel: +27 (0)15 276 1131
Mobile: +27 (0)82 200 4596

Bramasole Guesthouse
Address: A37 Bramasole, off the R71 between Polokwane & Tzaneen, Magoeabskloof, Limpopo, 0731
Landline: +27 (0)15 007 0629 (weekdays 8am – 5pm)
Phone: +27 (0)72 062 8514
Instagram: @bramasole97

Magoebaskloof Birders’ Cottages
Address: Dragonwyck Farm, A 46.5 off R71, Magoebaskloof
Phone: +27 (0)844023709
Website: or

Local guide information:
Paul Nkhumane: +27 (0)73 670 5857
David Letsoalo: +27 (0)83 568 4678

Text prepared by:
Daniel Danckwerts (Rockjumper Birding Tours)

Key species:

Cape Parrot, Cape Vulture, Black-fronted Bushshrike, Gurney’s Sugarbird, Orange Ground Thrush

Contact details:

Lekgalameetse Resort
Tel: +27 (0)15 290 7355 / 7339 / 7336