Hike a 900-year-old Fig forest: Mkhuze Game Reserve

Posted on Posted in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

When last did you come across a living organism that is over 900-years old? We were amazed to discover that Africa’s last ancient, indigenous fig forest can be found in Mkhuze Game Reserve right on Durban’s doorstep.

Bevan crossing the Mkhuze river into the Fig Forest
Bevan crossing the uMkhuze river into the Sycamore Fig Forest.

Highlights

  • Discover a wild Sycamore Fig forest that is over 900-years old.
  • Explore Big 5 territory on foot.
  • Spot some of South Africa’s most sought after birds.
  • View the forest canopy from an elevated boardwalk.

 

The Sycamore Fig forest in Mkhuze Game Reserve

Hiking in the Mkhuze Fig Forest was one of the most amazing experiences we had on our Ultimate South African Road Trip.

The iSimangaliso Wetland Park has many special wild areas, including Lake St Lucia, South Africa’s largest estuary, and Kosi Bay, home to the Tsonga people and their 700 year old fishing technique. Not least of iSimangaliso’s jewels is Mkhuze Game Reserve, a Big 5 park that was established in 1912.

Mkhuze Game Reserve is characterised by acacia savannah, rivers, pans and riverine forest. It is well-known for its rich bird life and is home to at least 420 avian species as well as the Big 5 and rare animals like the cheetah and wild dog.  The Mkhuze River winds along the reserve’s northern and eastern borders. It fills Nsumo Pan which is a haven for aquatic bird species as well as hippos and crocodiles. Fringed by yellow fever trees, this beautiful pan is the quintessential Zululand wilderness.

Possibly less well-known, Mkhuze Game Reserve is home to another unique habitat. The Sycamore Fig Forest grows along the banks of the Mkhuze River and, the only unspoiled, indigenous fig forest of its kind in Africa, is made up of Sycamore Fig trees well over 400 years old. Some individual trees in the forest are estimated to be close to 900 years old and have a circumference of 12m! The trees provide fruit year-round and the forest is a ready feeding ground for birds and animals.

 

A nine hundred year old Sycamore Fig Tree in the Mkhuze Game Reserve
A nine hundred year old Sycamore Fig Tree in the Mkhuze Game Reserve.
Bevan in the Sycamore Fig Forest Mkhuze Game Reserve
Bevan taking it all in.

 

The Fig Forest Hike

Visitors to Mkhuze Game Reserve have the unique opportunity to spend time on foot in the Sycamore Fig Forest. Accompanied by one of the reserve’s game guards, guests are taken on a trail through the ancient forest. On foot, the Sycamore Figs tower overhead and the cool stillness is broken only by the call of a foraging troop of baboons or birds in the canopy above. To be part of such an ancient and enduring landscape is very humbling and you cannot help but be awed by the experience.

We were priviledged to have been able to join a walking trail in the Sycamore Fig Forest during a recent visit to Mkhuze Game Reserve. Our group was transported between Mantuma Camp and the Sycamore Fig Forest on an open-back game drive vehicle with the chance of a game sighting along the way. Whilst in the forest, hikers have the chance to view birds and big game on foot. The fig trees’ fruit attracts a host of birds including some rarities like the African Broadbill, and many animals including baboons, small buck and even elephants feast on the ripe fruit. There is always something to learn from the bush and although our group was not lucky enough to come across big game in the forest, our knowledgeable game guard pointed out spoor and finer, less obvious details as we walked. One of my favourite discoveries was a terrapin that was waiting out the dry season by being buried in a shallow hole.

An extensive canopy boardwalk has been constructed in a section of the forest. This affords visitors a great chance to get an elevated view of the forest as well as a vantage point from which to look for birds. Hikers can move from one section of the boardwalk to another or merely rest quietly for a few moments to properly take in the scene. We loved getting a closer look into the canopy and fruit-laden branches. The boardwalk offered some incredible photo opportunities as well as a comfortable space for a breather and moment of reflection.

 

Hiking through the Fig Forest.
Hiking through the Sycamore Fig Forest.
Sycamore Fig tree in uMkhuze
Jill sizing up an enormous Sycamore Fig Tree.

Important information

Gate entry times:
Summer (1 October – 31 March) 05:00 – 19:00, Winter (1 April – 30 September) 06:00 – 18:00.

Park entrance fees:
Hikers will need to pay a park entrance fee at the gate, as well as a fee for the hike. Updated prices can be found from the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife website.

Walk departure times vary seasonally. Guests wishing to do the Sycamore Fig Forest walk must book at Mantuma Camp’s Reception the day before departure to confirm times and availability.

Basic food stuffs and a variety of curio items are on sale at the curio shop. Unleaded petrol and diesel are on sale at the Camp.

Visitors are urged to take precautions against malaria before, during and after a visit to the reserve.

 

Map

 

Caution

Because of the presence of dangerous game, hiking in the Mkhuze Game Reserve is not permitted unless you are accompanied by an armed game guide, so there are no options to do this trip on your own. It is also not recommended for young children. Mantuma Camp’s Reception will be able to provide you with up to date information on trail restrictions and seasonal departure times.

 

What to Pack

  • Water, hat and suncream
  • Camera
  • Binoculars
  • Good walking shoes
  • Warm jacket/jersey for the open-back game drive to and from the hiking point (it gets cold in the back 🙂 )

 

When to go

The Mkhuze Fig Forest walk is available all year round. Walks start and end at the Mantuma Park Office and all bookings will need to be made no later than the day before you plan to hike.

 

Getting there

  • From the south, the turn-off to the Mkhuze Game Reserve is signposted 35 km north of Hluhluwe.
  • From this point, the road is gravel.
  • Approximately 15 km further turn right onto another signposted road through the Lebombo mountains.
  • The entrance is 10 km along this road and the route is clearly signposted.
  • Visitors from the north should take the road through Mkuze Village, which is 18 km from the entrance gate and 28 km from Mantuma camp.
  • This road is well signposted.

 

Details to keep on hand

Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife
Ezemvelo Central Reservations: 033 845 1000
Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife Website
Office hours are from 08:00 – 16:30 daily. Sundays and Public Holidays are 08:00 – 16:00 daily.

iSimangaliso Wetland Park
e-mail: info@isimangaliso.com
iSimangaliso Wetland Park Website

The Mkhuze Sycamore Fig Forest from the canopy boardwalk.
The Mkhuze Sycamore Fig Forest from the canopy boardwalk.
Jill taking in the magnitude of this incredible environment.
Jill taking in the magnitude of this incredible environment.
There's no better way to experience the bush than on foot.
There’s no better way to experience the bush than on foot.

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