North Coast – Harold Johnson Nature Reserve

About the Birding

Under the administration of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, the Harold Johnson Nature Reserve is a rare example of climax coastal lowland forest. Proclaimed in 1967 and covering more than 100 hectares, the reserve is situated on the south bank of the Tugela estuary 6km from the river mouth. Well over 114 bird species are known to occur, along with the highest diversity of butterflies anywhere in South Africa. The reserve is traversable using two trails, the Remedies & Rituals and Bushbuck trails, offering access to vast areas of coastal grassland and the forest itself.

In the grasslands look for Yellow-throated Longclaw, Croaking Cisticola, African Yellow Warbler, Fan-tailed and White-winged Widowbirds, and Burchell’s Coucal. The Striped Pipit prefers rocky areas and is best detected by its sweet song. Within the forest – look for the Gorgeous, Grey-headed, and Olive Bush-shrikes, Red-fronted and Yellow-rumped Tinkerbirds, White-eared Barbet, Purple-crested Turaco, Green Malkoha, Common Square-tailed Drongo, Olive Woodpecker, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Dark-backed Weaver, and Terrestrial Brownbul. The endangered Spotted Ground Thrush is a winter visitor to these forests, and a pair of Black-chested Snake-eagles nest here annually.

Key species:

Spotted Ground Thrush, Black-chested Snake-eagle, Striped Pipit, Green Malkoha, Gorgeous Bush-shrike

About the Birding Site

The North Coast – frequently also referred to as the Dolphin Coast – extends from the city of Durban to the Tugela River mouth, located immediately to the south of Richard’s Bay. With its distinct subtropical climate, pristine and extensive beaches, and the warm waters of the Indian Ocean – the region is extremely popular among holiday makers. In addition to the rich beaches, the area offers diverse cultural attractions, magnificent golf courses, and extensive nature reserves.

Further afield, the north coast (particularly Durban) is the gateway to the rest of KwaZulu-Natal offering easy access to the Drakensberg mountains, temperate midlands, and Zululand. While much of the region has been transformed into extensive sugarcane fields, the route offers several key sites of interest to birders visiting the area and an impressive checklist of birds including several of South Africa’s most sought-after specials. Among these species are the globally threatened Spotted Ground Thrush, Gorgeous Bush-shrike, Buff-spotted Flufftail, African Finfoot, Red-headed Quelea, and Southern Bald Ibis. Wetland sites on the route also play host to rarities on an annual basis, offering exciting prospects for birders. Key sites along the route include the Dlokwane Forest, SAPPI Tranquila, Otimati, and the St. Kitts Wetlands.

Key species:

Spotted Ground Thrush, Black-chested Snake-eagle, Striped Pipit, Green Malkoha, Gorgeous Bush-shrike

Other Related Information

Harold Johnson Nature Reserve is located on the southern bank of the Tugela River, immediately north of the N2 freeway. When approaching from Durban, exit the N2 Freeway towards Nkwazi and travel north (inland) for roughly 1km. Turn right onto the R102 and drive in the direction of the Tugela River. Shortly before the Tugela River, turn to the right and follow the signs to Harold Johnson Nature Reserve.

Notable points of interest include the:
Harold Johnson Camp site: -29.2068, 31.4209

The nearest towns to Harold Johnson Nature Reserve are:
Stanger: 18km

Other related information:

Access and facilities:
Roughly 7kms of well-marked walking trails lead through Harold Johnson Nature Reserve providing access to most areas of the reserve. A picnic site is provided with commanding views over the Tugela River, and a cultural museum is on offer with interesting displays.
Entrance gates are open between 06:00 and 18:00 daily, while office hours are between 07:00 and 16:00.

Recommended accommodation nearby:
Harold Johnson Nature Reserve features a small non-electrified campsite, which is managed by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife. The campsite includes cold water taps and barbeque facilities. A communal ablution block has both hot water and cold water facilities. For more information or to make a reservation, please use the contact details listed above.

Basic accommodation is available in the Seula Conservancy in forest cottages (refer to Dlokwane Forest). Accommodation is only for 5 people requiring a minimum of 2-nights stay. For more information, or to make a reservation, please use the contact details listed above.
A number of Birder Friendly Establishments are available within the wider eThekwini Metropolitan Area including Camperdown/Kloof/Pietermaritzburg. Moreover, a number of Birder Friendly Establishments can be found within the nearby towns of Eshowe and Mtunzini.

For more information, view:
Diverse accommodation options are also available in nearby coastal towns including Shaka’s Rock, Umhlanga, Ballito and within Durban itself.

Local guide information:
The nearest BirdLife Community Guides operate out of Mtunzini and Eshowe. For more information, please visit:

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

Key species:

Spotted Ground Thrush, Black-chested Snake-eagle, Striped Pipit, Green Malkoha, Gorgeous Bush-shrike

Contact details:

Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife

Tel: +27 (0)33 845 1999