North-west Zululand – Pongola Hlatikhulu Forest

About the Birding

Hlatikhulu Forest is situated atop the Lebombo Mountains, north-west of the town of Jozini. The forest combines features of the high-altitude mist-belt and low-altitude forests and is thus unique in structure featuring a fairly low canopy and an extremely thick understory. A pleasant mix of low and high-altitude forest species occur, as well as more widespread forest species. High altitude species include the Bar-throated Apalis, Olive Woodpecker, White-starred Robin, Cape Batis and Olive Bush-shrike.

Species typical of lower altitude forests include the African Broadbill, Crested Guineafowl, Lemon and Tambourine Doves, Eastern Nicator, Green Malkoha, Red-capped Robin-chat, Green-backed Camaropeta, and Terrestrial Brownbul. Other notable species include the Buff-spotted Flufftail, Yellow-rumped and Red-fronted Tinkerbirds, Dusky Indigobird, Gorgeous Bush-shrike, White-eared Barbet, both Yellow-streaked and Yellow-bellied Greenbuls, Black-bellied Starling, Dark-backed Weaver, Grey Sunbird, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, and up to five species of cuckoo (African Emerald, Red-chested, Klaas’s, Diederik, and Black). Both the Purple-crested and Livingstone’s Turacos occur, the latter at its upper altitudinal limit. Seeding grasses attract both the Pink-throated and Green Twinspots, and African Firefinch.

Key species:

Pink-throated Twinspot, African Broadbill, Eastern Nicator, Livingstone’s Turaco, White-starred Robin, Chorister Robin-chat

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 Pongola sub-route covers much of the eastern coastal plain including the immense Jozini Dam and several areas bordering the Lebombo Mountains. These regions feature the only examples of Sweet Lowveld Bushveld, supporting a vast array of species including several species that are rare in other parts of KwaZulu-Natal. Among these are the Burchell’s Starling, Bennett’s Woodpecker, Levaillant’s Cuckoo, Purple Roller, Magpie Shrike and Red-headed Weaver. The route includes small areas of habitat which are more characteristic of eastern Zululand, in which several of the coastal plain endemics may be seen including the Rudd’s Apalis, Pink-throated Twinspot, Lemon-breasted Canary and Neergaard’s Sunbird. Notable sites along this sub-route include the Hlatikhulu Forest, Lebombo Cliffs, Pongola Game and Nature Reserves and the Mkuze Falls Game Reserve.

Key species:

Pink-throated Twinspot, African Broadbill, Eastern Nicator, Livingstone’s Turaco, White-starred Robin, Chorister Robin-chat

Other Related Information

Take the Jozini turn-off from the N2 highway 10km north of the town of Mkuze and proceed straight through the town. You will cross over the Pongolapoort Dam wall, and as you get to the other side, zero your clock in your vehicle. Travel north along the tar road for 3.4km, and turn left onto a gravel road. There is a signpost here “Msiyane High School”…

Other related information:

… Proceed for 1km and then turn left at the Sizihandi Tea Room. This road takes one up onto the Lebombos. Proceed along this road for 20km, after which you will see the Hlatikhulu Forest signboard on the right-hand side of the road.

Notable points of interest include the:
Access points to the Hlatikhulu Forest: -27.3400, 31.9950; -27.3336, 31.9954
The nearest towns to the Hlatikhulu Forest are:
Jozini: 20km
Mkuze: 51km
Pongola: 93km

Recommended accommodation nearby:
White Elephant Safari Lodge and Bush Camp is the only listed Birder Friendly Establishment in the Pongola area, situated within Pongola Game Reserve. White Elephant features 12 ‘glamping’ units, and self-catering accommodation for up to 17 people split across seven 6-sleeper chalets or the Umkhaya Cottage.

For more information or to make a booking please visit.
Tel: +27 (0)34 413 2489

Diverse accommodation options are also available within the town of Pongola itself including caravan and camping, self-catering, B&B and more luxurious options.

Local guide information:
The nearest BirdLife Community Guides operate out of Mkuze and Lower Mkuze, to the south of Pongola. For more information, please visit:

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

Key species:

Pink-throated Twinspot, African Broadbill, Eastern Nicator, Livingstone’s Turaco, White-starred Robin, Chorister Robin-chat

Contact details: