The Umlalazi Nature Reserve in Mtunzini is a pristine stretch of coastline known for its rich biodiversity, history and natural beauty. It’s situated at the mouth of the Mlalazi River which bends its way through the reserve and creates a beautiful centrepiece for this stunning region. The thickly vegetated dunes, mangrove forests, and Raffia palms make this a nature lover’s paradise, and at just 140 km outside Durban, it’s a convenient option for city-dwellers wanting to get away for a while.
- Enjoy a pristine coastal forest habitat.
- Cross the footbridge over the Siyaya River for an aerial perspective of the reed beds and mangroves lining its banks.
- Spend some time on the expansive, unspoiled beaches of Mtunzini.
- Take in the white and black mangroves and their unique fauna along the Mlalazi Estuary.
- Look out for some of the incredible bird life in this region.
- Check out one of South Africa’s few natural monuments.
Mtunzini and the Umlalazi Nature Reserve
The coastal town of Mtunzini is just a short drive north out of Durban, in southern Zululand. Bordering the Umlalazi Nature Reserve, the town is rich in unique natural treasures. The Raffia Palm Monument, with its wheelchair friendly boardwalk, is one of the few natural monuments in South Africa. It’s well worth a visit to marvel at the cathedral-like grove of trees and possibly spot the rare Palm-nut vulture in the wild. Mtunzini is also very close to spectacular natural forest areas that include the Ongoye, Dlinza and Entumeni Nature Reserves, and is on the Zululand Birding Route.
Mtunzini also has a rich history, taking its name from the Zulu word “emthunzini” which means “place in the shade” in reference to the Milkwood trees along the Mlalazi Estuary, where the white Zulu chief John Dunn would meet with the area’s tribal elders in the late 1800s. Dunn was a hunter/trader of Scottish descent who became the foreign advisor to the Zulu king Cetshwayo, and over his time in Zululand accumulated vast wealth and land, and took on 48 Zulu wives. Within the Umlalazi Nature Reserve, a short boardwalk through the stands of black and white mangroves takes you past John Dunn’s bath, built to provide his wives a bathing area protected from hippos and crocodiles.
The Mlalazi River that runs through the Umlalazi Nature Reserve enters the sea at Port Durnford, which is where Cetshwayo departed for his exile in the Cape in 1879 following his defeat in the Anglo-Zulu War. Concrete blocks are still visible at the river’s mouth from the time when it served as an active port.
The Umlalazi Nature Reserve was established in 1948 and is 1028 ha in extent. Within the Umlalazi Nature Reserve, the Mlalazi and Siyaya estuaries and their associated swamp, mangrove and dune areas provide varied habitats for a range of bird and animal life including the endangered Pickersgill’s reed frog (Hyperolius pickersgilli) which is endemic to this area. This area is also habitat for a number of special birds that include the African finfoot, Bat hawk, Palm-nut vulture and Grey sunbird. Larger animals including zebra, red, grey and blue duiker, bushbuck or otters and water mongoose can also be sighted.
The Umlalazi Nature Reserve has picnic facilities with serviced ablutions. Visitors to the park can enjoy a vast range of activities including paddling or fishing in the Mlalazi Estuary or the nearby beach, as well as hiking, mountain biking and birding along the well-marked trails through the forested dunes of this beautiful reserve.
The Siyaya Trail
The Siyaya Trail is a circular trail in the Umlalazi Nature Reserve that starts and ends at the well-signposted markers off the lower beach road. The path is well maintained and clearly marked, so navigating the route is very easy.
The first part of the loop takes you through the forested dunes from the car park towards the Siyaya River. This section is gently undulating and relatively easy. Once at the end of this path the route splits in a number of directions for you to choose as your return path. The beach route crosses a footbridge over the Siyaya River and onto the coast where one can then walk back along the sand. Alternatively, rejoin the return loop back through the forest toward the car park. This route is a bit more strenuous than the first, with some steep up- and down-sections.
A printed map is available from the reserve reception, and is also posted on a sign-board at the beginning of the hike so finding your way around should be no problem at all.
The Umlalazi Nature Reserve is accessible from Mtunzini town, and is managed by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife. There is a small entrance fee, payable at the gate.
Map of the Umlalazi Nature Reserve
What to Pack
- The Siyaya Trail is not very strenuous, but comfortable clothes and shoes are recommended for hiking. (These are the ones Bevan uses and these are the ones Jill uses).
- The hike is relatively short but there are no water points along the way so make sure you take sufficient water with you.
- Remember to pack your swimming things if you choose to go down to the beach.
- Sunblock, a hat and sunglasses.
- Binoculars for bird-watching.
Check out our full post on all the day hike essentials we pack.
When to go
The Umlalazi Nature Reserve is open from 05h00 to 22h00 year-round. The summer months (November to February) in KwaZulu-Natal can be very hot and humid while the winter is mild and dry.
Mtunzini is 140 km north of Durban, on the N2 highway. There is ample signage pointing the way. It’s worth noting that there are toll stops along this route.
The Umlalazi Nature Reserve is accessed from Mtunzini town and is well sign boarded from the time you enter the town.
If you have food, beware of the brazen monkeys that hang around the picnic sites in Umlalazi Nature Reserve, especially if you have children with you.
The beach has no shark nets or lifeguards so exercise caution if you choose to swim.
Umlalazi Nature Reserve
Phone: +27 (0)35 340 1836
Zululand Birding Route (local bird guides)
Phone: +27 (0)35 753 5644
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Find a place to stay near the Umlalazi Nature Reserve
The Umlalazi Nature Reserve is the main attraction in Mtunzini which is a beautiful town in its own right. Check out booking.com to find available accommodation in Mtunzini.