North-west Zululand – Louwsberg Thangami Safari Spa

About the Birding

The Thangami Safari Spa lies within the private ThakaZulu Game Reserve in western Zululand, in an area dominated by thick valley bushveld with areas of lush riverine bush, dense thornveld and forest patches. Open grasslands occur in the hills with wetlands being found on the floodplains.

The camp itself is rich in species, typical of forest-type habitats. A short walk through the grounds should yield the African Green Pigeon, Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Purple-crested Turaco and Scarlet-chested Sunbird

The water-outlet from the mineral baths has created a small area of rich artificial forest where Red-capped Robin-chat, Terrestrial Brownbul, African Pygmy Kingfisher and Olive Bush-shrike can all be seen. The short path that leads towards the forest and onto the floodplain should deliver the White-throated Robin-chat, Burchell’s Coucal, White-fronted Bee-eater and Tambourine Dove. On the floodplain, look for Red-chested Flufftail, Thick-billed Weaver, Southern Red Bishop, and White-winged Widowbird. Drier sections of the floodplain and grassland support the scarce White-bellied Bustard, Southern Ground Hornbill, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Orange-breasted Waxbill, Secretarybird and Red-breasted Swallow.

Thornveld areas below the main camp are home to a variety of savannah-type birds. Search these areas for Emerald-spotted Wood Dove, Grey Go-away-bird, Levaillant’s and Jacobin Cuckoos, Lilac-breasted Roller, Arrow-marked Babbler, Sabota Lark, Grey Penduline-tit, Burnt-necked Eremomela, Bushveld Pipit, Gorgeous Bush-shrike, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Green-winged Pytilia, Long-tailed Paradise Whydah, and Red-billed Firefinch. Areas blanketed in mixed woodland support the Crowned Hornbill, Red-fronted Tinkerbird, Brimstone Canary, and Violet-backed Starling (mainly in summer). The easiest approach to birding these areas is to follow mixed-species foraging flocks.

Key species:

White-bellied Bustard, Gorgeous Bush-shrike, Red-chested Flufftail, Bushveld Pipit

About the Birding Site

North-west Zululand is one of the most varied of the birding routes in KwaZulu-Natal ranging in habitat from high altitude temperate grasslands in the west, to low lying subtropical thickets in the east including several large wetlands. Given this incredibly high habitat diversity, it is no surprise that the route also boasts an impressive checklist of birds including 58 of Southern Africa’s endemic and near-endemic species, many of which are confined to the extensive grasslands and wetlands.

Birding is generally best in the warmer summer months (September-April) when the resident species are supplemented by the influx of migrants, though the dry winter months often facilitate large congregations of birds around several nationally important wetlands. Many sites on the route are easy to access on fair roads though drivers are cautioned that gravel roads may become impassable during the wet season limiting access to a few sites. Moreover, given the size of the sub-route in general, the region is further divided into five distinct birding areas each treated individually. These include the Louwsberg, Pongola, Ulundi, Umfolozi, and Vryheid areas.

The Louwsberg sub-route is situated in an area of medium to high altitude (300-100m above sea level) in far northern KwaZulu-Natal. Three important rivers transect this route including the Bivane, Phongola and the Mkuze – all of which are flanked by rich sub-tropical vegetation and have cut impressive valleys through the predominantly dolerite and granite rock. These rivers act as corridors, facilitating the movement of species further inland. Among these are the White-backed Night Heron, Mountain Wagtail, Half-collared Kingfisher, Jameson’s Firefinch, Red-headed Weaver, Grey Penduline-tit and Short-tailed Pipit. Given the altitudinal range, the region is also known for its diversity in plants – which far exceeds any other areas in Zululand. Near the top of the Louwsberg rub-route is Bivane Dam – one of the most floristically diverse areas in South Africa. Ithala Game Reserve is then one of the flagship reserves of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, while other sites on the sub-route include the iGwala gwala Nature Reserve, Ngome Forest and the Thangami Safari Spa.

Key species:

White-bellied Bustard, Gorgeous Bush-shrike, Red-chested Flufftail, Bushveld Pipit

Other Related Information

Travelling from Vryheid, proceed along the R34 towards Melmoth. Turn left about 35km south of Vryheid at the sign “Gluckstadt”. Continue along this dirt road for approximately 24km and turn right at the Swart Umfolozi shop. Proceed for another 17km to the gate. Coming from Melmoth in the south, turn right at Gluckstadt (about 90km from Melmoth) and follow above directions.

Notable points of interest include the:
Thangami Safari Spa: -28.0107, 31.3058

Other related information:

The nearest towns to the main rest camp at Addo Elephant National Park are:
Vryheid: 76km
Pongola: 133km

Access and facilities:
Thangami Safari Spa is accessible to day visitors only between Sunday and Thursday, and not on weekends and public holidays. A nominal fee of R130 per adult and R100 per child are charged for day visitors. Facilities available to day visitors include a picnic site with braai places. Gate times are between 08:00 and 17:00 daily. Office hours are between 08:00 and 13:00 daily. The reserve is traversable through a network of 4×4 trails and foot paths. A map of the property can be downloaded from
Activates on offer include a spa, animal encounter, zip lining, and team building activities (e.g. abseiling).

Recommended accommodation nearby:
Thangami Safari Spa has various accommodation options including a 2-sleeper, 4-sleeper, 5-sleeper, 6-sleeper and 10-sleeper self-catering chalets at extremely affordable prices. A restaurant and bar are included on the property serving breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.

For more information, or to make a reservation, please contact:
Cell: +27 (0)83 256 6036/7
Satellite phone: +27 (0)87 808 6577

The nearest Birder Friendly Establishments are in the towns of Pongola and Jozini. For more information, please visit:

Local guide information:
No BirdLife Community Guides are currently available for the Louwsberg area.

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

Key species:

White-bellied Bustard, Gorgeous Bush-shrike, Red-chested Flufftail, Bushveld Pipit

Contact details:

For more information, please contact:

Thangami Safari Spa
Cell: +27 (0)83 256 6036/7
Satellite phone: +27 (0)87 808 6577