This KZN Wildlife reserve is an ideal weekend getaway or just for a day visit from Durban, Eshowe, Mtunzini or Richards Bay. An entrance fee is payable with gates opening at 07h00 and closing at 17h00.
This reserve is small (2100 ha) and situated about 100km north of Durban. It is one of the few places in southern Africa where wildlife can be viewed feeding on forested dunes overlooking the sea. It occupies a narrow strip along the coast, reaching a maximum width of 3km and a length of 20km. Despite its size, the reserve contains many different habitats (including coastal, riparian and dune forest, grassland, lala palm bushveld, an estuary and a freshwater pan) the variety of which has resulted in a checklist of over 300 birds. The reserve lies at the confluence of the Amatikulu and Nyoni rivers, the latter running uniquely parallel to the Indian Ocean for about 8km. Infrastructure within the reserve consists of two roads, a 4×4 trail and a few walking trails.
The most productive section of Amatikulu is the 4×4 trail. The first portion of the trail can be covered in a normal car with average ground clearance. This stretch is pretty good for grassland birds such as various widows, Croaking Cisticola, Rufousnaped Lark and Plainbacked Pipits, the latter occurring when the grass has been burnt or is short. Cuckoo Finch has been seen in the lower marshy areas and Black Coucal has been heard there in summer. Natal Nightjar can be heard calling from this area at night and may even be flushed during the day from grassland surrounding the marsh if one is very lucky. Listen up for Lesser Honeyguide, Redthroated Wryneck and other woodland birds in the wooded clumps scattered about the grassland.
After 1,7km, the road follows the fence closely just before disappearing down a rather steep and sandy slope, which is best left to four-wheel drive vehicles. This spot might yield European Roller during summer and Whitefronted Bee-eaters, which are also common throughout the reserve. If one is not in a 4×4, I would suggest leaving one’s car here and walking the rest of the track. The walk is long (3km one way) and mostly unshaded and can get very hot and humid, but the consolation is that one will probably pick up far more birds than if one were in a vehicle. The trail first wanders through the edge of some coastal forest before becoming lala palm bushveld. Gorgeous Bush-shrikes can be heard calling constantly from the forest-edge and thickets, and, with a little luck, may show themselves. Olive and Orangebreasted Bush-shrikes are also common, the former in winter. Listen out for the high-pitched call of Green Twinspots, which may make a brief overhead appearance, and the drawn-out trill of the Scalythroated Honeyguide. This is also a good area for Green Coucal
Whitebrowed Robin, Greenspotted Dove, Yellowthroated Longclaw and Rattling Cisticola all become quite conspicuous as the forest opens into the bushveld. This area can provide some good birding, with a few forest species mingling with more open-habitat birds in early morning bird-parties. The lala palm bushveld is a very open, grassy habitat, which contains many of the species found in the bushveld areas. Blackbellied Korhaan has been recorded in winter and Redbilled Oxpeckers have been seen on the giraffe and zebra. The occasional thickets attract a few different birds like Scarletchested, Black and Purplebanded Sunbirds, Longbilled Crombecs and Bluebilled Firefinches. Heuglin’s Robin has been seen in such a thicket – one of the southern-most records of this bird. The damp grassland areas can be very exciting, having produced Black Coucal (drier parts) and Dwarf Bittern (very wet areas), both far south of their usual ranges, as well as Marsh Owl (damp spots).
The pan is one of the highlights of the reserve, always yielding something interesting, depending on the water level. The pan is sometimes dry during winter. If the water level is high and inundates the edges of reeds, sedges and grass, it is good for rallids such as Black Crake, Purple Gallinule and Common Moorhen. Low water levels expose the shoreline, making it more preferable for waders like Wood Sandpiper and African Jacana. Dabchick, African Spoonbill and various ducks, geese, herons, cormorants and kingfishers can be found at any time, although not in large numbers. Painted Snipe, Lesser Jacana, Baillon’s Crake, Little Bittern and Common Tern are just some of the specials that have turned up at the pan. The best thing to do is walk around the edge of the pan, but always be aware of crocodiles that may be in the water.
The road does not continue much further past the pan, although this area is always worth a look as there are some more damp grassland patches. Green Coucal is often heard from the forest near the empty household where the road turns to the left before heading up to a tall dune. Although 25 species of raptor, including Crowned Eagle, Cuckoo Hawk and Jackal Buzzard, have been recorded, they are surprisingly scarce – aside from African Fish Eagle, Black Sparrowhawk or Yellowbilled Kite, the bird one is most likely to see soaring high on thermals is Woollynecked Stork.
The forest trail is excellent, but quite long and best done during the early morning, thus conflicting with the 4×4 trail, which is also best early in the day. Some of the highlights of the forest include very southerly Yellowspotted Nicator, Bluemantled Flycatcher, Emerald Cuckoo and Tambourine and Cinnamon Doves along with Green Coucal, which is not uncommon. The trail opens up on top of a tall dune where there is situated a whale watchtower. The views from this watch point are superb and aside from the occasional whale, one might spy an Osprey over the Nyoni River.
The picnic site, which is located along the Amatikulu River, is a great lunch site. African Cuckoo has been seen in the tall trees and forest edge here is the most reliable place in the reserve to look for Wattle-eyed Flycatcher and Pygmy Kingfisher. Eastern White and Pinkbacked Pelicans are sometimes present on the sandbanks in middle of the river, as are waders such as Sanderling, Greenshank and Ringed Plover during summer. Giant and Pied Kingfishers are common and there is almost always a solitary Goliath Heron hunting in the middle of the channel. The river walk often yields Yellow Weaver, Purplebanded Sunbird, Gorgeous Bush-shrike and Olive Bush-shrike (winter) and eventually reaches the confluence of the Nyoni and Amatikulu Rivers. The Nyoni River is lined with dense hibiscus trees and a canoe-trip up the river may yield African Finfoot and Half-collared Kingfisher.
The rocky hillside to the left of the entrance gate, which can be reached via the education camp road or walking trail, can yield Striped Pipit.
From Eshowe travel along the R66 towards Durban. Go through the Dokodweni Toll Plaza and onto the N2 South towards Durban for another 7 km. From Mtunzini take the N2 South towards Durban. From the Mtunzini Toll Plaza travel for another 25 km. From both Eshowe and Mtunzini continue along the N2 Southwards. After bridge No 11, take the next turnoff to the left to Nyoni & the Amatikulu Nature Reserve, which is well sign-posted. At the top of the glide off, turn left and follow the signs.
From Durban take the N2 Northwards. After crossing the Tugela River, continue for another 16 km. After bridge 13, take the next turnoff to the left to Nyoni & the Amatikulu Nature Reserve, which is well sign-posted. At the top of the glide off, turn right and follow the signs.The Reserve’s entrance gate is 3km further down on a gravel road.
Accommodation is available in the form of self-catering bush camp at the Zangozolo Tented Camp. Zangozolo Tented Camp is built on wooded platforms overlooking the Amatikulu River and has a panoramic view of the sea. There are six tents, each fitted with two beds. There is a communal ablution block connected to the units by a boardwalk, and has hot and cold water with showers, toilets and hand basins. The Camp’s kitchen is equipped with a gas stove, fridge and freezer as well as a good supply of crockery and cutlery. Visitors can prepare their food in the kitchen or they may cook it at the specially provided barbecue area. The dining area is furnished with tables and benches.
There is also an education camp that comprises two park homes that have basic facilities but no equipment or electricity.
Book through KZN Wildlife Central Reservations: +27 (0)33 845 1000 or www.kznwildlife.com