Southern Zululand – Melmoth Nkandla Forest

About the Birding

Nkandla Forest is situated about 30km south-west of Qudeni Forest, as the crow flies, and about 56km north-west of the town of Eshowe and 68km from Melmoth. The Nkandla Forest comprises 1600 hectares of climax mistbelt forest and is one of the most outstanding examples of this habitat type anywhere in South Africa. The forest covers the crown and south-western slopes of the ridge, which lie above the Umhlathuze and Tugela rivers at a height of between 1100m and 1300m above sea level.

Streams rising in the forest form deep gorges that ultimately lead into the Nsuze River (500m), which runs southeast along the base of the ridge. Visitors to the Nkandla Forest area strongly advised to take a guide, as some paths are inconspicuous.

Throughout Zulu history, the Nkandla forest has been a place of mystery, the home of supernatural beings, and a formidable stronghold and place of retreat. The Chube are the ironworkers associated with the Nkandla area and Shaka never conquered them. It has always been the last retreat of the Zulu from Shaka’s time to that of Bhambatha. Apart from being an area of great, often pristine, natural beauty, the Nkandla Forest represents a rare relict type of high wet mistbelt forest, of which very few examples survive across South Africa. They are relics of times in the distant past when the climate was wetter, and even colder. The forest has exceptionally high species diversity with many species that are associated with scarp forest occurring. This indicates that Nkandla may be positioned in a transitional zone between mist and scarp forest. The many rare plants, and the rarity of the habitat type, are in themselves sufficient reasons for conserving this rare forest type.

The Nkandla Forest area is home to some 147 species of bird. Species more typical of cooler forests include the Knysna Turaco, Orange Ground Thrush, White-starred Robin, Bush Blackcap, Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler, Grey Cuckooshrike and Forest Canary. These birds are present throughout the forest, although the thrush is best seen along “Thrush Alley” and other deeply incised gorges featuring a small stream. Birds more typical of warmer forests include Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon (often seen along the main road in the early mornings and late afternoons), Purple-crested Turaco, Red-capped Robin-chat and Grey Sunbird.

Other forest specials that can be seen include Olive Bush-shrike, Collared and Olive Sunbirds, Swee Waxbill, African Emerald and Black Cuckoos (mainly in summer), Crowned Eagle, Black Sparrowhawk, Buff-spotted Flufftail, Chorister Robin-chat, Trumpeter Hornbill and Dark-backed Weaver. The open grassland patches above the forest are not as productive as those above Qudeni or Ngome Forests, but Buff-streaked Chat, Wing-snapping and Wailing Cisticolas, Common Quail and Fan-tailed Grassbird can be seen.

Key species:

Red-capped and Chorister Robin-chats, Crowned Eagle, Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon, Orange Ground Thrush

About the Birding Site

Southern Zululand is perhaps the premier forest birding route in all of KwaZulu-Natal, home to a rich diversity of species in a mix of different habitats. Starting on the warm coast of Zululand, between Mtunzini and Richard’s Bay, the route offers many estuarine swamp forests supporting impressive numbers of threatened species including the Mangrove Kingfisher and Black-throated Wattle-eye. Coastal forests here are equally rich in species and are perhaps the best areas anywhere in South Africa to search for the Spotted Ground Thrush (mainly a winter visitor) and Palm-nut Vulture.

Further inland near the towns of Eshowe, Melmoth, and Nkandla are several Afromontane mistbelt and scarp forests where a number of incredibly range-restricted species may be found including the highly localized endemic race of the Green Barbet, as well as Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon. These areas descend sharply down to dry thornveld habitats in a region that is rich in both Zulu history and culture.

The town of Melmoth, located at the gateway into the picturesque Zulu highlands, was founded in 1888 as a ‘gold rush’ town on a portion of the farm Golden Reef. The town itself is situated at roughly 800m above sea level and is surrounded by areas of good forest, riverine thickets, thornveld and grassland. These areas altogether support in excess of 300 species of bird. Top among these are the Southern Bald Ibis, Orange Ground Thrush, Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon, Yellow-streaked Greenbul, and Buff-streaked Chat. Notable sites along this sub-route include Weni Farm, Sappi – Mooiplaas, Wintershoek Farm and the famed Nkandla Forest.

Key species:

Red-capped and Chorister Robin-chats, Crowned Eagle, Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon, Orange Ground Thrush

Other Related Information

Directions:
Directions from Melmoth or Vryheid:
At the Melmoth Total garage on the R66/R34 through town, zero your trip meter. Proceed north on the R66/R34 to Vryheid/Ulundi. At 4.5km turn left onto the R68 signposted Babanango and Nkandla.

Some features to note along the way:
At 17km you will see on the left a gravel road to KwaMagwaza Mission Hospital at 26.5km a gravel road to your right going to Mtonjaneni the Babanango turn off is at 28.3km on your right at 32km you will pass a signpost for Fort Prospect the bridge over the Umhlathuze is at 40km …

Other related information:

Directions:
… After 50km you will reach the Nkandla/Vryheid T-junction. Turn left and proceed into the village of Nkandla.
Look out for the “No-entry” sign on your right at about 69km. Proceed down to the grassland and park there.

Directions from Empangeni, Gingindlovu or Eshowe:
From the R66 traveling up from Gingindlovu or Empangeni, turn west at the traffic lights into Kangela Street (which takes you into the town of Eshowe). The traffic lights on the R66 are about 70km from Empangeni or 26km north of Gingindlovu.
Proceed down Kangella Street and at the Dlinza Forest turn-off on your left, zero your trip meter. Continue west towards Entumeni (still Kangela Street).
At 10.4km you will see the Entumeni Forest Reserve turn-off on your left.
At 24.7km take the right-hand fork in the road to Nkandla.
At 27km the tar road ends and the gravel road starts.
At 38.5km there is a left hand turn-off to Kranskop. PROCEED STRAIGHT.
At 55.6km you arrive at the turn-off to the Nkandla Forest Reserve offices, on your left.
“Thrush Alley” pathway is at 57.7km, 150m after the “Nkandla 20km” sign on the right hand side of the road. (north)
At 59.3km you will see a “No Entry” sign on the left. Turn in here and park your vehicle in the grassland at the end of the road.

Notable points of interest include the:
Entrance to the forest, when approaching from Eshowe: -28.7517, 31.1645

The nearest towns to the Nkandla Forest are:
Eshowe: 50km
Melmoth: 74km

Access and facilities:
This beautiful Nkandla Forest is run by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, and no permit is required to visit it.

Recommended accommodation nearby:
Numerous Birder Friendly Establishments are available in the town of Eshowe. For more information, please view Birder Friendly Establishments using the following link:
http://www.birdlife.org.za/go-birding/bird-friendly-establishments/kwazulu-natal/

Local guide information:
Several community guides operate within the wider Dlinza/Melmoth/Mtunizini areas. For more information, please use the following link:
https://www.birdlife.org.za/go-birding/community-bird-guides/

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

Key species:

Red-capped and Chorister Robin-chats, Crowned Eagle, Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon, Orange Ground Thrush

Contact details:

For more information, contact:

Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife
Tel: +27 (0)33 845 1999
Fax: +27 (0 086 505 889
Email: bookings@kznwildlife.com
Website: www.kznwildlife.com

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