The forest lies about 150km north of Durban, between Mtunzini, Eshowe and Empangeni. It is a large remnant patch of coastal forest, 3903 ha in extent and lies along a ridge of hills overlooking the Indian Ocean. This beautiful forest is interspersed with patches of rolling grasslands between granite outcrops. Ongoye Forest is the only place to see Woodwards’ Barbet in southern Africa.
Ongoye is a coastal scarp forest where the base rocks comprise two main types, biotite gneiss and hornblende biotite schist; the former, very resistant rock is overlain by the latter which is more easily weathered. Most of the forest is on the gneiss at an altitude of 300 to 500 m a.s.l. The range is drained by the Umhlatuzana River and it tributaries to the north, and the tributaries of the Umlalazi River to the south. Where the streams cut gneiss, the underlying schist is quickly weathered, resulting in deeply incised forest streams.
The open wind-exposed areas of the reserve hold extensive patches of grassland. The forb component of the grassland is extremely diverse and includes Alepidea gracilis, Cassia mimosoides, Dierama elatum, Eriosema cordatum, Helichrysum adscendens and Indigofera eriocarpa. Local patches of Encephalartos ngoyanus, Kniphofia spp. Miscanthidium capense, Stangeria eriopus and Watsonia densiflorus occur in the grasslands.
Rocky granite outcrops, with lichen-covered rock domes in the grassland often have bush clumps including Canthium inerme, Ficus glumosa and Ficus ingens with some valleys holding open Syzygium cordatum woodland. Streambank woodland develops into hygrophilous forest in which Croton sylvaticus and Macaranga capensis dominate. The forest margin is dominated by trees like Burchellia bubalina, Cussonia spicata, Rapanea melanophloes, Trema orientalis, and many liana species which make the forest edge almost impenetrable. The climax forest is characterised by its continuous canopy, large trees (25 – 30 m in height) and poorly developed shrub layers. Dominant trees include Chrysophyllum viridifolium, Milletia sutherlandii and Margaritaria discoidea. Epiphytic ferns and orchids are common. The area receives an average of 1 391 mm of rainfall p.a.
Ongoye is one of the few forests that has its own endemic mammal, the Ngoye Red Squirrel. Samango monkeys, baboon, mongooses, thick-tailed bushbaby and the secretive blue duiker can be seen. The Zululand dwarf chameleon, a localised KwaZulu Natal endemic, is abundant at Ongoye and the forest green butterfly Euryphene achlys is unique to this forest
Good birding can be enjoyed by walking along the track. There is a lot of activity in the first 2km. Apart from the Woodwards’ (Green) Barbet, the other “green” specials include Green Twinspot, Green Malkoha, Olive Woodpecker, Olive Bush-Shrike and Emerald Cuckoo. Keep a look out for Lemon Dove, Narina Trogon, Grey Cuckooshrike, Grey Sunbird, Yellow-streaked Greenbul, the globally threatened Spotted Ground-Thrush, Brown Scrub-Robin, Blue-mantled Crested-Flycatcher, Forest Canary, Natal Francolin, Chorister Robin-chat, and Mountain Wagtail, (there is a small weir on a stream about 2km into the forest, so watch out for those secretive birds found in drainage lines).
At various lookout points (at the top of open hillsides) look for Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeons in the forest canopy and soaring raptors – African Crowned Eagle, Black-breasted Snake-Eagle, Yellow-billed Kites, Jackal, Steppe and Forest Buzzards, African Goshawk and Black Sparrowhawk.
On the many rocky outcrops at the entrance, look for Striped Pipit and Plain-backed Pipit. In the grasslands, Orange-throated and Yellow-throated Longclaws, Black-rumped Buttonquail, Secretarybird, Southern Ground-Hornbill and Fan-tailed Cisticola can be seen, while in the road cuttings Pygmy Kingfisher nest holes are found.
At Mtunzini, turn off the N2 freeway and head inland (west). At a T-junction turn right (north) and take the old road north to Empangeni (R102). About 4km north of the Forest Inn, turn left onto a dirt road, just before what was an old Shell Service station. Follow this road for 4.5km and turn right onto D1554. Continue on this road to just past the Manzamnyama School on your left (after 5Km’s)turn right onto a small track The gate into the forest is 3Km’s further on with the camp on your left
The road is well signposted but badly potholed in some areas. Although the camp is accessible by sedan, a high clearance vehicle is advised.
The Ongoye Forest Birders Camp is the joint project between a wide group of stakeholders including The Mzimela Tribal Authority, Uthungulu District Municipality, BirdLife South Africa, The SAPPI WWF Tree Routes Partnership, The Mtunzini Conservancy and Umalazi Municipality. The area is undoubtedly one of the provinces most precious bio diversity areas – this project is intended to make a positive difference to the long term conservation of this asset and directly involve the forests neighbouring communities, the Mzimela Tribal Authority in the area’s management.
3 bedrooms, each with twin beds. 1 x bathroom with bath, shower and toilet. Linen and towels are provided.
Gas stove and fridge, cutlery and crockery all provided for up to 6 people. (camping for extra people is allowed by prior arrangement) The camp is NOT electrified but gas is provided for the stove and geyser, and paraffin lamps for lighting. Cell phone coverage is limited. Open plan lounge, dining room and kitchen. Outside veranda and braai area.
A permit is not required to visit the forest, however on arrival report to the office where a minimal gate fee and community levy can be paid.