North-west Zululand – Ulundi Opathe Game Reserve

About the Birding

Opathe Game Reserve is a spectacular rugged reserve, comprising over 8 800 hectares of lush bushveld, mistbelt forests, and highveld grassland. The reserve is rich in Zulu history, at the north-eastern end of the Valley of the Kings (eMakhosini). Ophathe falls within the immediate catchment of the White Umfolozi River, with diverse topography varying from 987m above sea level in the south-west sector of the reserve to 270m above sea level in the eastern sector.

A wide variety of bushveld species may be seen. Search the areas around the reception for both the Kurrichane and Groundscraper Thrushes, Black-crowned and Brown-crowned Tchagras, Orange-breasted and Grey-headed Bush-shrikes, Black-backed Puffback, Crested Francolin, Emerald-spotted Wood Dove, and White-crested Helmetshrike. Riverine bush along the White Umfolozi is lush and provides habitat for the Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Crowned Hornbill, White-throated Robin-chat and Yellow-breasted Apalis. Raptors abound including the Verreaux’s, Martial, Wahlberg’s and Tawny Eagles, and the White-backed and Lappet-faced Vultures.

Key species:

Orange-breasted and Grey-headed Bush-shrikes, White-throated Robin-chat, Martial Eagle, Black-crowned Tchagra

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:

Orange-breasted and Grey-headed Bush-shrikes, White-throated Robin-chat, Martial Eagle, Black-crowned Tchagra

Other Related Information

Off the main tar road linking Melmoth and Vryheid (the R68 which becomes the R34), take the R66 to Ulundi. The main entrance to the reserve is on the right-hand side of the road approximately 1 km before crossing the White Umfolozi River to Ulundi.

Notable points of interest include the:
Main entrance: -28.3760, 31.3703
Mars cottage: -28.3931, 31.4511

Other related information:

The nearest towns to Opathe Game Reserve are:
Melmoth: 33km
Eshowe: 84km

Access and facilities:
There are plans to develop visitor facilities within the reserve which will be accessible from the R66 to Ulundi. Bird and game viewing opportunities by two-wheel drive vehicle from the main entrance to the reserve is good.

Recommended accommodation nearby:
Accommodation at Mars cottage, located on an isolated peninsula of the White Umfolozi River is only accessible to 4X4 enthusiasts. For more information or to make a reservation, please contact Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife using the contact details listed above.
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:

Orange-breasted and Grey-headed Bush-shrikes, White-throated Robin-chat, Martial Eagle, Black-crowned Tchagra

Contact details:

Opathe Game Reserve is under the management of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife. For more information, or to book the Mars Cottage, please contact:

Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife
Tel: +27 (0)33 845 1999
Fax: +27 (0)86 505 889