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Ndumo Game Reserve

Ndumo Game Reserve is a small, green dot on the map between the uSuthu and Pongola rivers that is home to some incredible surprises.

At only 10,117 ha, the Ndumo Game Reserve is one of the smallest of the game reserves in KwaZulu-Natal, and South Africa. However, this is by no means an indication of significance.

While it may not encompass large tracts of land, what can be found within it’s fenced limits is truly incredible.

A huge diversity of plant, animal and bird life flourish within the reserve and visitors are treated to some truly unique sightings.

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Ndumo Game Reserve Highlights

  • Guided bush walks.
  • 430 bird species (the highest count in South Africa).
  • Beautiful pans.
  • Lovely hides and picnic sites.
  • Viewing towers overlooking the reserve.
  • Close to the Tembe Elephant Park.

What to expect from Ndumo Game Reserve

Ndumo Game Reserve is tucked away in the farthest region of northern KwaZulu-Natal. As such it tends to be very a lot more quiet than the bigger, more famous reserves in Zululand as well as the ever-popular Kruger National Park.

For such a tiny reserve, Ndumo Game Reserve boasts a surprisingly large variety of natural habitats including extensive wetlands, acacia savannah and sand forest.

Nyamiti Pan in Ndumo Game Reserve
Nyamiti Pan in Ndumo Game Reserve.
A majestic sycamore fig tree towers over the Ndumo Game Reserve.

As with almost all of the public game reserves in South Africa, visitors can explore the park in their own vehicles. While the roads aren’t tarred, they are still suitable for most road cars, although you might want to stay away from the wetland areas in the rain.

As Ndumo Game Reserve is so small, you could easily cover its entirety in a day, which means you can afford to take things slowly and stop a lot without feeling like you’re missing out on something.

There are also several hides dotted throughout the reserve which are great viewing platforms for watching birds and animals at the water’s edge. If things are a bit slow on the game viewing side, be sure to check out the area around the hide for funnel-web spiders and other little critters that poke their heads out every now and then.

female nyala in ndumo game reserve
A beautiful female nyala just as curious about us as we are of her.
Impala making the most of the evening light at Ndumo Game Resere.
Impala making the most of the evening light at Ndumo Game Reserve.

In addition to the hides, there are also several excellently-located picnic sites to take a rest from driving and stretch those legs. While visitors are allowed to exit their vehicles in these areas, it’s still strongly advised to be vigilant, and not leave food lying around to attract monkeys and other animals into the picnic site.

Red Cliffs on the South African border.
Red Cliffs picnic site on the South Africa-Mozambique border.

Driving through the reserve you’ll come across the iconic Yellow Fever and Sycamore fig trees. The reed beds and swampy flood plains around the pans and on the banks of the river are also worth checking out to find some buffalo.

sycamore fig tree lane
The ancient fig trees have stood in this area for many years, before there was even a game reserve here.
ndumo game reserve sycamore trees
Lanes of Sycamore and Yellow Fever trees are icons of the Ndumo Game Reserve.
textures of a yellow fever tree
The intricate details of a Yellow Fever Tree – one of the instantly-recognisable symbols of this region.

While Ndumo Game Reserve is not a Big 5 park, visitors can still expect to see large mammals such as giraffe, hippos, buffalo, rhino, as well as some smaller animals like impala, nyala, suni, duiker and bushbuck. There is a large population of crocodiles in the reserve, and there’s always the chance of an elusive leopard making an appearance.

There is a small rest stop with a decently stocked trading store at the park reception area, however, it’s probably best to come prepared with all the amenities you need for your stay. If you do run short of supplies, then the nearby town of Ndumo has a number of grocery and trading stores.

Birding in Ndumo Game Reserve

One of the biggest draw-cards for the Ndumo Game Reserve is the abundance of bird life. Birding enthusiasts from around the world come to this park for a chance to spot rare sightings such as the Pel’s Fishing Owl, Narina Trogon, Southern Banded Snake Eagle and African Broadbill.

One of the best ways to do some birding is on a guided bush walk. The Ezemvelo guides who lead the walks are excellent birders with keen eyes and a wealth of knowledge. These walks are not exclusive to birders though. Most of the trails meander around pans filled with hippos and other animals coming to drink from the edge of the water.

These walks can only be done with a guide, so if you want to take part in a birding walk, be sure to make arrangements at the park office the day before to avoid disappointment.

bird walks nyamiti pan
Early morning bird walks around the Nyamiti Pan.

If walking isn’t your thing, then you’ll be pleased to know that the campsite is an excellent place to view birds as well. You can spot a wide array of feathered visitors from the comfort of your camp chair.

The reception area is also a great place to find swallows’ nests, in season. These birds build their mud homes in the rafters of the reception building, and we’ve even sighted an African Eagle Owl hatchling in one of the large trees outside the main door.

Our visit to Ndumo Game Reserve

It took a long time of exploring KwaZulu-Natal before we finally made our way to Ndumo Game Reserve. I think this has a lot to do with its location on the South Africa-Mozambique border; if we were that far north in KwaZulu-Natal, it would usually be because we were en route to Mozambique’s beaches. But once we finally made the journey into the park, we were completely blown away.

Birding at Nyamiti Pan in Ndumo Game Reserve
Birding at Nyamiti Pan in Ndumo Game Reserve.

Our experiences at Ndumo Game Reserve were definitely unlike those we’ve had in the larger KwaZulu-Natal parks like Hluhluwe-iMfolozi. Here, we found that we spent way less time in the car than we would have at the bigger reserves, and as such, we felt a lot more connected to the environment around us.

We made a lot of use of the Red Cliffs Picnic Site where we would stop to make our lunches and gaze over the uSuthu River to watch various birds and animals cruise along the river banks below.

We also relished the opportunity to get out on a guided birding walk. Being out in the bush on foot is always a lovely experience that more than makes up for the early start! Aside from the plethora of birds and animals to see, just the sounds and the smells of the bush were enough to make the 3 hour round trip fly by.

birding guide in ndumo game reserve
Our birding guide – an absolute legend!

One of our personal highlights from our time in Ndumo Game Reserve was our daily nyala camp visitors. We’re firm believers that wild animals should not be allowed to become habituated to humans – somehow the animals ultimately always come out on the losing end of that relationship. That aside though, there is something so wonderful about the trust that a wary animal places in you when they decide to take those few tentative steps closer, despite their natural instincts. This interaction had nothing to do with our animal whispering abilities, though. Every day flowers dropped from the tree that we were camping under and these proved to be delectable to the antelope! Every day a small herd of nyala would visit our camp to feed on these flowers, passing close by us as we sat quietly observing.

Thomas and nyala at Ndumo
One of our regular visitors at the campsite.

Map of Ndumo Game Reserve

Places to stay at Ndumo Game Reserve

Ndumo Game Reserve has a small resort at the main rest stop area with a quaint little campsite as well as several self-catering units for overnight accommodation. The units are equipped with hand basins, hot and cold water, as well as a refrigerator. Bedding and cutlery are also provided. Guests can make use of a communal kitchen and ablution block with hot and cold water.

The campsite is basic, with an electrical power point and braai (barbecue) stand. The site accommodates both caravans and tents and is situated close to the main reception area which houses a small supply store.

There is also a swimming pool for visitors to use which is especially handy in the hotter summer months.

The resort is very neat and tidy, however, it is a rustic setting, so don’t expect luxury.

Bookings can be made via the Ezemvelo website, or by contacting their booking office.

Important information

  • Ndumo Game Reserve is situated in a low-risk malaria region so special precautions should be taken and you should definitely consult your doctor before visiting.
  • The speed limit throughout the reserve is 40 km/h.
  • Littering is an offence and offenders will be prosecuted.
  • It is an offence to pick or damage any plant or disturb or kill any animal.
  • Keep all music and general noise down to a minimum, especially at an animal sighting.
  • Pets are not allowed into the reserve.
  • Do not enter roads marked with a “No Entry” sign – tempting though it may be.
  • You may leave your vehicle in the precincts of the rest camp, at game viewing hides, designated picnic areas, or in the event of mechanical breakdown.
  • The lighting of fires is only permitted in proper fireplaces. Please also extinguish cigarettes properly and place them in the proper receptacles. Do not throw them out of windows.
  • Firearms must be declared on arrival.

Gate Opening and Closing Times:

Summer (October to March) 05:00 to 19:00.
Winter (April to September) 06:00 to 18:00.

What to bring with you

  • Camping gear.
  • Bush-friendly shoes (especially if you’ll be doing any of the bush walks).
  • Sun cream (even if you’re in the car)
  • Hat
  • Camera.
  • Binoculars.
  • A good bird guide (book or app).
  • Snacks for the car.
  • Picnic bag for lunches in the park.

Directions to Ndumo Game Reserve (from Durban):

Get onto the N2 heading north out of Durban and follow the freeway for roughly 300km until you pass the town of Mkhuze. There are a number of toll booths on this stretch so be sure to have cash on hand to pay at each stop. About 2.5km outside of Mkhuze, turn right onto the P522 (heading towards Jozini). Keep with the P522 for roughly 56km. At the T-Junction, turn right to stay with the P522 and follow the road for another 11km. Keep to the left to join the P435 and continue straight for another 5km. Turn left at the T-junction to stay with the P435 and follow the road for 11km. Once you get to the small town of Ndumo, keep a look out for the Ndumo Game Reserve signs to the left. Follow this road for a short while to get to the main gate.

Click here for a link to these directions on Google Maps.

Contact information for Ndumo Game Reserve

Ezemvelo website: http://www.kznwildlife.com/Ndumo.html

Ndumo Reception Phone: +27 (0) 35 591 0058

Booking E-mail: bookings@kznwildlife.com

Central Reservations: +27 (0)33 845 1000