Lower Drakensburg Foothills – Gqumeni Forest

About the Birding

Located only 2km west of Donnybrook, the Gqumeni Forest is a spectacular and easily accessible mistbelt forest hosting a wealth of interesting birds including several of the region’s top specials. Unlike many of the other mist-belt forests in southern KwaZulu-Natal, this forest has survived the ravages of Yellowwood exploitation and has successfully thwarted invading exotics including Spruce and Pine. As such, it is without a doubt one of the better sites to search for the endangered Cape Parrot and flocks of several hundred of these iconic birds regularly visit the forest to feed.

From the bisecting contoured road through the forest, it is possible to access vast areas of the forest where one should appreciate the magnificent Yellowwood and White Stinkwood Trees. Species to search for in the forest interior include the Bush Blackcap, Chorister Robin-chat, White Starred Robin, Green Twinspot, Grey Cuckooshrike, Narina Trogon, Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler and Knysna Turaco. The beautiful Orange Ground Thrush is also possible, and this shy species is usually seen feeding on the main road through the forest in the early morning. Barratt’s Warbler is common at forest edge and is best detected by its high-pitched trilling call, though it takes luck to see this reclusive species.

Key species:

Cape Parrot, Orange Ground Thrush, Bush Blackcap, Barratt’s Warbler, Green Twinspot

About the Birding Site

The Lower Drakensberg Foothills Birding Route lies inland and to the south-west of the Southern KwaZulu-Natal Birding Route and is easily accessible from both Durban and Pietermaritzburg, the two nearest points of entry. The source of this route is found in the Ukhahlamba Drakensberg World Heritage Site at the majestic Sani Pass where birders get the unique opportunity to view birds in a rugged and stunningly beautiful environment, consisting of five different habitats and ranging in height from 1600m to 3200m.

However, the heart of this route lies in the lowlands below the Sani Pass where numerous beautiful nature reserves and large tracts of pristine mist belt forest and grassland are to be found supporting a plethora of interesting species including several of South Africa’s most sought-after birds. Top specials within this birding route include the critically endangered Blue Swallow, Drakensburg Rockjumper, Cape Parrot, Drakensburg Siskin, Bearded and Cape Vultures, Orange Ground Thrush and Gurney’s Sugarbird among others. Several days are recommended in the area to do the route proper justice and summer visits (September-April) are optimal to ensure that all target species are present and that all sites will be accessible.

Key species:

Cape Parrot, Orange Ground Thrush, Bush Blackcap, Barratt’s Warbler, Green Twinspot

Other Related Information

To reach Gqumeni Forest, turn off the Underberg/ Howick R617 at Bulwer. Travel 15km towards Donnybrook. From Ixopo on the R56, turn Westwards up the R612 for 37km. There is only one bridge over the road, 1km North of Donnybrook village. Turn left 50m North of this bridge, when traveling from Ixopo, or right, 50m before the bridge, if traveling from Bulwer. Cross a railway line and turn right immediately…

Other related information:

… Follow the gravel road and the contour, through commercial timber for 2km, to the start of the Xumeni forest, indicated by a signboard on the right-hand side. The forests extend for 1.5km.

Notable points of interest include the:
Turn off the R612: -29.9151, 29.8696
Entrance to the forest: -29.9233, 29.8586
The nearest towns to Gqumeni Forest include:
Donnybrook: 1.7km
Bulwer: 20km
Creighton: 23km

Access and facilities:
This is a state forest and permission to enter should be obtained from the State Forester, or one should obtain the services of a guide, or at least a local citizen, who can ascertain if the all-important road, is being used for logging purposes in which case, this venue should be avoided.

Recommended accommodation nearby:
Diverse accommodation options are available in the nearby towns of Creighton, Bulwer and Underberg. The nearest Birder Friendly Establishments are in the towns of Himeville, Dargle Valley, Pietermaritzburg, and Balgowan.

For more information, visit:

Local guide information:
For guided excursions to Gqumeni Forest, contact:
Button Birding
Tel: +27 (0)39 833 1029
E-mail: buttonbirding@futurenet.co.za

Text prepared by:
Daniel Keith Danckwerts (Rockjumper Worldwide Birding Tours)

Key species:

Cape Parrot, Orange Ground Thrush, Bush Blackcap, Barratt’s Warbler, Green Twinspot

Contact details:

For more information contact:

Sibusiso Zama (state forested): +27 (0)82 804 6811
Craig Archibald: +27 (0)84 504 4876
Malcolm Gemmel: +27 (0)82 789 5000