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Barely two hours’ drive north of Durban in the KwaZulu-Natal province lies Zululand and a veritable Eden of pristine forest habitats. 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. Here's our pick of 3 of our favourite forests to explore in this beautiful region.
1. The Entumeni Nature Reserve
The Entumeni Nature reserve is a small patch of forest just outside Eshowe. This reserve doesn't get as much mention as its famous big brother the Dlinza forest, but we really liked it and feel it's worthy of the list.
Check out how you can hike the Entumeni Nature Reserve.
2. The Ongoye Forest Reserve
This is one of the first forests we explored in southern Zululand and boy did it leave an impression! Not only is the forest incredibly beautiful, but it's unique on a number of levels. The reserve an example of a rare coastal scarp forest and is also home to some endemic birds and animals such as the Green Barbet and the oNgoye Red Squirrel.
This is the best way to adventure through the Ongoye Forest Reserve.
3. The Umlalazi Nature Reserve
The wide variety of forest habitats in and around the Umlalazi Nature Reserve makes it our next pick on the list. From the typical coastal milkwoods to magroves and even raffia palms, there is plenty to explore in this small coastal reserve.
Check out how you can 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.
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.
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 4x4 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 4x4 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!
Find places to stay in Mtunzini
Mtunzini is an awesome little coastal town in the south of Zululand. It's a great place to base yourself for day trips to the various forests in Zululand. Use the Booking.com tool below to find available accommodation in Mtunzini.