Our favourite forests in southern Zululand

Posted on Posted in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, Tips and Tricks

Barely two hours’ drive north of Durban in the KwaZulu-Natal province lies a veritable Eden of pristine forest habitat. Despite the development that has taken place locally, these forest patches have remained largely untouched and are home to some special bird, mammal and reptile species that attract international visitors from far afield. The Umlalazi Reserve and Ongoye Forest close to Mtunzini, and the Entumeni and Dlinza Forests close to Eshowe are definitely well worth a visit if you want to be immersed in nature.

Jill in the Entumeni Nature Reserve
Jill in the Entumeni Forest

Zululand Forest Adventure Guides

Click on a forest below to checkout of full visitors’ guide and get started on your own forest adventure.

Hike through the Entumeni Nature Reserve

Hike through the Entumeni Nature Reserve
Hike through the Entumeni Nature Reserve

4×4 Adventure through the Ongoye Forest Reserve

4x4 Adventure through the Ongoye Forest Reserve
4×4 Adventure through the Ongoye Forest Reserve

Hike the Siyaya Trail in the Umlalazi Nature Reserve

Hike the Siyaya Trail in the Umlalazi Nature Reserve
Hike the Siyaya Trail in the Umlalazi Nature Reserve


The forest environment

The dunes of the Umlalazi Reserve are covered in beautiful coastal forest. Inland, the Ongoye, Entumeni and Dlinza Forests at higher altitude are all of the scarp forest type. Scarp forest is a very rare type of forest with high species diversity. The Ongoye Forest in particular is home to a number of rare and endemic species including the Green Barbet making it especially worth a visit.

It is quite a humbling experience walking the leaf-carpeted forest floor under the towering canopy of primary forest. Trees of the scarp forest include giant umzimbeet Millettia sutherlundii, forest mangosteen Garcinia gerrardii, forest water berry Syzygium gerrardii and pondoland fig Ficus bizanae. The cycads Encephalartos ngoyanus and Encephalartos villosus are also found in the Ongoye Forest.

These forests are well-known for their birding opportunities, and are frequented by international visitors hoping to tick some rare species off their lists. These reserves are also on the Zululand Birding Route, and local guides are available to take you through the forests. Special birds in these areas include Delegorgues Pigeon, Brown Robin, Yellowstreaked Bulbul, Olive Woodpecker, Grey Cuckoo shrike and Black Cuckoo. The Millers Tiger moth, a rare species previously thought to be extinct, has been recorded from the grasslands of the Entumeni Forest reserve.

The Entumeni Nature Reserve
The Entumeni Forest

Visitor facilities

Dlinza Forest is situated in close proximity to the town of Eshowe, and the Umlalazi Reserve is a stone’s throw from the town of Mtunzini. Probably because of their accessibility, they are the best set up of all of these reserves for visitors. Dlinza Forest has an aerial boardwalk as well as a bird hide, picnic site and guest centre for visitors, and is an easy excursion from Eshowe. The Umlalazi Reserve also has a number of marked trails including the Siyaya Trail through the coastal forest and a boardwalk through the mangroves along the banks of the Mlalazi estuary. There are designated picnic areas and camping facilities in this reserve too.

Exploring the mangrove forest on the banks of the Umlalazi River
Exploring the mangrove forest on the banks of the Umlalazi River

The Entumeni Forest has two fairly strenuous hiking trails but no visitor facilities other than a picnic site that is accessible by road.

There are no visitor facilities at the Ongoye Forest, although you may hike or camp with permission from the Officer in Charge. A 4×4 vehicle is required for Ongoye Forest due to the poor condition of the roads.

Visiting these forests is best in the early morning or late afternoon, outside of the midday heat. The summer months are always best for birding for the chance to spot many of our summer visitors.

Explore these forests for yourself

If you are close to Durban and stuck for ideas this weekend, why not visit one of these beautiful reserves? They are so accessible that there really is no excuse. To get you started, why not hike the Siyaya Trail in the Umlalazi Nature Reserve? For those with a 4×4 vehicle, how about a drive through the beautiful Ongoye Forest? Remember to keep a sharp lookout for the Green Barbet which is only found in this area. If you would prefer to explore the forest on foot, hike the uKhozi Trail in the Entumeni Forest. We know that you won’t be disappointed with what you find!

Don’t forget to follow us as we prepare for our coming adventures.

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See you on the road.

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