North-west Zululand – Ulundi Ondini Cultural Site

About the Birding

Located immediately outside the town of Ulundi, the Ondini Historic Reserve and Cultural Site were the site of King Cetshwayo’s royal homestead and today serve as the headquarters of the provincial heritage conservation body, the Amafa AkwaZulu Natali. The reserve comprises more than 300 hectares of rich Zululand thornveld and is bisected by a permanent river. While bushveld is the predominant habitat type, pockets of densely wooded vegetation and grassland are distributed through the reserve.

Ondini was King Cetshwayo’s capital and was torched by the British in 1879, after the Zulu were defeated at the Battle of Ulundi. The Royal Enclosure of Ondini has been reconstructed. A nearby Site Museum interprets the life of King Cetshwayo and provides visitors with an insight into the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879. KwaZulu Cultural Museum is located on the reserve. It exhibits examples of the rich cultural heritage of KwaZulu Natal: from the earliest inhabitants to the great Zulu Nation. The museum focuses on the Nguni speaking peoples of South-eastern Africa, and houses one of the most representative collections of Zulu material culture in the country. Of note is the famous collection of beadwork.

A diversity of bird species survive in this island of habitat, surrounded on all sides by degraded areas. A total of 135 species are known to occur including the Orange-breasted and Grey-headed Bush-shrikes, Violet-backed Starling, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Crested Francolin, Bearded Woodpecker, Acacia Pied Barbet, Emerald-spotted Wood Dove, and various seedeaters and waxbills.

Key species:

Grey-headed and Orange-breasted Bush-shrikes, Violet-backed Starling, Scarlet-chested Sunbird

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 town of Ulundi is situated at the very centre of Zululand, between Melmoth and Vryheid, and boasts some of the richest cultural history anywhere in South Africa. Several notable battlefields, royal residences and provincial government buildings are distributed throughout the region. Ulundi itself is located within the White Umfolozi Valley and is bordered by rolling hills and thorn-tree plains. The region is not that well explored – in a birding sense – but boasts some of the richest habitats where a diverse array of thornveld and grassland species may be found. Sites of potential interest include the Ondini Cultural Site, Opathe Game Reserve, Emakhosini Heritage Site, Zulu Rock Safaris and Mangeni Falls.

Key species:

Grey-headed and Orange-breasted Bush-shrikes, Violet-backed Starling, Scarlet-chested Sunbird

Other Related Information

From the R34 (Melmoth-Vryheid road) take the Ulundi turn-off. After crossing the Umfolozi River, take the second turn to the right (signposted as Umfolozi Game Reserve). You will pass the Ulundi Battlefield on your left. Continue on the dirt road. The Ondini complex is signposted 5km further along the road.

Notable points of interest include the:
Main entrance: -28.3212, 31.4591

Other related information:

The nearest towns to Ondini are:
Melmoth: 48km
Eshowe: 98km

Access and facilities:
Gate times are between 09:00 and 16:00 daily, except on Good Friday and Christmas Day when the site is closed. A nominal entrance fee is charged.

Recommended accommodation nearby:
The nearest Birder Friendly Establishments are in the village of Eshowe. For more information, please visit:

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

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

Key species:

Grey-headed and Orange-breasted Bush-shrikes, Violet-backed Starling, Scarlet-chested Sunbird

Contact details:

For more information, please contact:

Ondini Cultural Museum
Tel: +27 (0)35 780 2050