North-East Zululand

We have divided the North-East Zululand Birding Route into five different birding areas. Each birding area has its own unique character and set of special bird species. Within each area there is also a variety of accommodation options and birding sites to visit.

1. Hluhluwe

Hluhluwe derives its name from a river named after the thorny monkey rope called umHluhluwe. The area is probably best known for the Hluhulwe-Umfolozi Park which is internationally acclaimed for its conservation efforts and is home to the big five: lions, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo. Hluhluwe Game Reserve is also renowned for its abundance of raptors. In addition to this several top-rated birding spots are also along the Hluhluwe route, amongst them, Bonamanzi which is arguably one of South Africa's top birding spots with a huge variety of birding habitats and over 350 species recorded on the property. The reserves on the western shores of Lake St Lucia, part of a world heritage site, offer abundant water and forest birding with great walking trails and breathtaking scenery.

The Hluhluwe area must be one of KwaZulu-Natal's busiest tourism areas and has an abundance of top quality accommodation facilities, from peaceful campsites to five-star game lodges. The roads are all in good condition and all birding spots can be accessed with a sedan car. Hluhluwe town has all the supplies that one may need when travelling including banking facilities.

The variety of bushveld and woodland birding found in Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Park, combined with the natural wonders of the Lake St Lucia system and its central position to the rest of the Zululand Birding Route make this an excellent area for the keen birder to spend time.

Birder Friendly Establishments in this area:
2. iSimangaliso(St Lucia)

St Lucia offers birders some of Zululand's best birdwatching. With over 420 Species recorded in the area, one can be assured of some great birding in one of South Africa's most bio-diverse areas. One of the great things about birding around St Lucia is the series of self-guided trails and hides. Birding on foot with waterbuck and reedbuck grazing in the background and hippos snorting from the pans makes for an extra special birding experience. The greater St Lucia Wetlands Reserve is a recently proclaimed World Heritage Site and one of South Africa's oldest reserves established back in 1895. It includes the conservation areas of the Eastern Shores, Cape Vidal, Sodwana Bay, Charters Creek, Fanies Island, False Bay, Phinda Resource Centre and Mkhuze Game Reserve (dealt with separately). The lake itself covers an area of about 38 000ha and is one of South Africa's most important waterbird breeding areas.

The Habitats are extremely varied from the Estuary and its Floodplains and Pans to Dune Forest, Sand Forest, Coastal thickets, Mangroves and Grassland (with flooded areas in the summer). There is also a group of excellent local guides based in St Lucia town, which if used will make finding all those specials and great trails that much easier!

Birder Friendly Establishments in this area:
3. Mkhuzesbr-home3

The Mkhuze area is a place of great beauty and high contrasts. World-renowned as a mecca for bird lovers (more than 400 species have been recorded here) the junction of the moderate and tropical climate zones creates a habitat suitable for an extraordinary variety of plants and animals. The Mkhuze area is renowned for a variety of localised birds including Pink-throated Twinspot, Eastern Nicators, Pel's Fishing Owls and Neergaard's Sunbird.

The Mkhuze route also offers visitors a wide choice of accommodation with many private game farms and lodges in the area. The roads are all in a decent condition and can be negotiated with a sedan. Another drawcard for the Mkhuze area is its close proximity to the other large Zululand reserves. Also home to black and white rhino, elephant, giraffe, hippo and crocodile, this area is predominantly flat and dry, with sandy red ridges which are ancient dunes. An astonishing diversity of natural habitats occur here, ranging from the eastern slopes of the Lebombo mountain range to the broad stretches of gently rolling acacia savannah, swamps and a variety of woodlands, sand forest and riverine forest. Mkhuze is also renowned for its seasonal and permanent pans with their attendant hippo, crocodiles and abundant birdlife.

The Birding spots along the Mkhuze Route Include Mkhuze Game Reserve, Leopard Mountain Game Lodge and Lebombo Game Reserve. Phinda is renowned for the game (Big Five) and bird viewing opportunities. With a bird list exceeding 300, who would argue?

Birder Friendly Establishments in this area:
4. Sodwanasbr-home5

Situated between St. Lucia in the south and Kosi Bay in the north, the Sodwana route encompasses a wide range of habitats. From the Sand Forest and thornveld of Phinda to the lush, subtropical forests of Lake Sibaya; from the wetlands of Muzi to the palm savannah of Ozabeni, this region has a large number of Zululand specials on offer.

The Muzi Swamps area is a birders' paradise, with large numbers of waterbirds. It is here that many, herons, waders and ducks are recorded. Ozabeni's Palm Savannah offers some exciting birding in unusual habitat. Mbazwana and Sibaya offer coastal forest and grassland birding, and Sibaya have the addition of having open water, being South Africa's largest freshwater lake.

Specials recorded in the Sodwana Route include East Coast endemics such as Neergard's Sunbird, Rudd's Apalis, Pink-throated Twinspot and Lemon-breasted Canary. Also found are African Broadbill, Swamp Nightjar, Pel's Fishing Owl, Collared Pratincole, Black Coucal and Saddle-billed Stork.

Birder Friendly Establishments in this area:
5. Tongalandsbr-home6

Tongaland is the name of the north-eastern corner of Zululand, flanked by the Lebombo Mountains on the west, the Indian Ocean on the east and the Mozambique border in the north. Most of the region is drained by the Phongolo and Mkhuze Rivers, and is characteristically flat. The Phongolo floodplain runs from Jozini to the confluence with the Usutu River, and is dominated by pans, Lala palm savannah and bush clumps. Riverine forest lines some pans and streams. Coastal dune forest hugs the Indian Ocean, and numerous pans and lakes are scattered along the coast.

Tongaland is situated on the southern end of the sub-tropical coastal plain of the east coast of Africa, and therefore provides habitat for many species not found anywhere else in South Africa. Tropical stragglers, both marine and inland, are found every year, and include specials such as Crab Plover, Plain-backed Sunbird, Rosy-throated Longclaw and Livingstone's Turaco.

Ndumo and Tembe are world renowned birding destinations and are among the better places to view the shy Sand Forest specials such as Pink-throated Twinspot, African Broadbill, Neergaard's Sunbird and Rudd's Apalis. Tembe is the only place in South Africa where Plain-backed Sunbird is seen regularly. Waterbirds such as Pygmy Goose and Lesser Jacana abound in the floodplain pans.

Kosi Bay, and the road to there, is an off-the-beaten-track spot with lots to offer. Mangroves, lala palm savannah, coastal dune forest and wetlands are the major habitats here, and birds such as Pel's Fishing Owl, Lemon-breasted Canary, Rosy-throated Longclaw and Black-throated Wattle-eye can be viewed.

Birder Friendly Establishments in this area: