Southern Zululand – Mtunzini Amatikulu Nature Reserve

About the Birding

Amatikulu Nature Reserve – under the custodianship of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife – is an ideal weekend getaway. Although small (2100 hectares in size), it is one of the few places in southern Africa where wildlife can be viewed feeding on forested dunes overlooking the Indian ocean. The reserve itself occupies a narrow strip along the coast, reaching a maximum of 3km from the coast, and is roughly 20km in length.

It protects an interesting diversity of habitats including coastal, riparian and dune forests as well as grassland, Lala palm savannah, an estuary, as well as several small freshwater pans. Given this high habitat diversity, an impressive list of well over 300 bird species may be seen within the reserve. Access is via two roads, a 4×4 trail and several hiking trails which cover all areas of the reserve.

The most productive area to explore is the Amatikulu 4×4 trail, the first portion of which may be covered in a normal car with average ground clearance. The first stretch meanders through grassland habitats where Croaking Cisticola, Rufous-naped Lark, and Plain-backed Pipit may all be seen. Cuckoo-finch is an irregular visitor when grasses come to abundant seed and is best detected in the summer months when the males attain their brilliant golden plumage. Black Coucal has also been reported in the wetter years, when the grasses grow taller. Near the edges of marshy pans, look for the Swamp Nightjar, which is regularly heard calling at night. Other notable species in this marshy habitat include the Black Crake, African Swamphen, Common Moorhen, Dwarf Bitten (in wet years), and Marsh Owl. The pans with standing water attract African Spoonbill, African Jacana, and various ducks and geese, herons and cormorants.

As one approaches the open savannah and woodland, listen for the loud advertising calls of the Lesser Honeyguide and Red-throated Wryneck. After 1.7km, the road then follows the fence closely before dropping down a rather steep and sandy slope (where 4×4 is required). Search this area for both the White-fronted Bee-eater and European Roller (summer). As one drops into the coastal forests, listen for the ringing calls of the aptly-named Gorgeous Bush-shrike. This species occurs commonly alongside the Olive and Orange-breasted Bush-shrikes, though perseverance is required to see these skulking species. Other species to look for in the coastal thickets include the Green Twinspot, Green Malkoha, White-browed and Red-capped Robin-chats, Spotted Ground Thrush (winter), and Scaly-throated Honeyguide.

Once the forested sections open into bushveld, look for the White-browed Scrub-robin, Emerald-spotted Wood Dove, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Long-billed Crombec, African Firefinch, Purple-banded Sunbird, and Rattling Cisticola. This area of the reserve is usually extremely rewarding and may deliver forest species mingling among the savannah species. Areas with Lala palms may produce the Black-bellied Korhaan. Attempt to find the giraffe and zebra in this area as they are usually accompanied by Red-billed Oxpeckers. Although 25 species of raptor, including Crowned Eagle, African Cuckoo Hawk and Jackal Buzzard, have been recorded, they are surprisingly scarce. Aside from African Fish Eagle, Black Sparrowhawk or Yellow-billed Kite, the bird one is most likely to see soaring high on thermals is Woolly-necked Stork.

The forest trail is similarly excellent, but quite long and is therefore best done during the early morning, thus conflicting with the 4×4 trail, which is also best early in the day. Some of the highlights of the forest include very southerly Eastern Nicator, Blue-mantled Crested-Flycatcher, African Emerald Cuckoo (summer), Green Malkoha and Tambourine and Lemon Doves. The trail opens up on top of a tall dune where a whale watchtower is provided. The views from this watch point are superb and aside from the occasional whale, one might spy a Western Osprey quartering over the Nyoni River.

The picnic site, which is located along the Amatikulu River, is a great lunch site. African Cuckoo has been seen in the tall trees and forest edge here in the summer months. This is also the most reliable place in the reserve to look for Black-throated Wattle-eye and African Pygmy Kingfisher. Great White and Pink-backed Pelicans are sometimes present on the sandbanks in the middle of the river, as are waders such as Sanderling, Common Greenshank and Common Ringed Plover during summer. Giant and Pied Kingfishers are common and there is almost always a solitary Goliath Heron hunting in the middle of the channel. The riverwalk often yields Eastern Golden Weaver, Purple-banded Sunbird, Gorgeous Bush-shrike and Olive Bush-shrike (winter) and eventually reaches the confluence of the Nyoni and Amatikulu Rivers. The Nyoni River is lined with dense hibiscus trees and a canoe-trip up the river may yield African Finfoot and Half-collared Kingfisher.

The rocky hillside to the left of the entrance gate, which can be reached via the education camp road or walking trail, can yield Striped Pipit.

Key species:

Gorgeous Bush-shrike, Black Coucal, Goliath Heron, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Green Malkoha, Green Twinspot

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 coastal town of Mtunzini – referred to as ‘the place of shade’ – hosts a wealth of treasures for birding and wildlife enthusiasts. The town, situated on a hill overlooking the coastline, is surrounded by pristine dune and swamp forests near the Umlalazi Estuary, which is one of the most lush and complete mangrove ecosystems anywhere in South Africa. Avenues of indigenous trees line the streets of the village and provide corridors for the movement of forest-restricted species through the town itself. A striking feature of the area are the impressive stands of Raphia palm (Raphia australis), which are a primary attractant for the Palm-nut Vulture – perhaps the major drawcard for birders visiting the Mtunzini area. A walk along the estuary also provides excellent chances at finding sought-after species such as the Mangrove Kingfisher, African Finfoot and Spotted Ground Thrush. Within an hour’s drive from Mtunzini are a number of other sites worth visiting including the Ongoye Forest (the only site at which to see the endemic race of Green Barbet), Theunissen’s Dam and the Amatikulu Nature Reserve.

Key species:

Gorgeous Bush-shrike, Black Coucal, Goliath Heron, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Green Malkoha, Green Twinspot

Other Related Information

From Eshowe travel along the R66 towards Durban. Go through the Dokodweni Toll Plaza and onto the N2 South towards Durban for another 7 km. From Mtunzini take the N2 South towards Durban. From the Mtunzini Toll Plaza travel for another 25 km. From both Eshowe and Mtunzini continue along the N2 Southwards. After bridge No 11, take the next turnoff to the left to Nyoni & the Amatikulu Nature Reserve, which is well sign-posted. At the top of the glide off, turn left and follow the signs.

Other related information:

From Durban take the N2 Northwards. After crossing the Tugela River, continue for another 16 km. After bridge 13, take the next turnoff to the left to Nyoni & the Amatikulu Nature Reserve, which is well sign-posted. At the top of the glide off, turn right and follow the signs. The Reserve’s entrance gate is 3km further down on a gravel road.

Notable points of interest include the:
Amatikulu Nature Reserve entrance: -29.1136, 31.5850
The nearest towns to Amatikulu Nature Reserve are:
Mtunzini: 25km
Eshowe: 34km

Access and facilities:
The reserve features a picnic site with braai facilities, a campsite with ablutions, and a small educational centre. Gate times are between 06:00-20:00 year-round.

Recommended accommodation nearby:
Accommodation is available in the form of self-catering bush camp at the Zangozolo Tented Camp. Zangozolo Tented Camp is built on wooden platforms overlooking the Amatikulu River and has a panoramic view of the sea. There are six tents, each fitted with two beds. There is a communal ablution block connected to the units by a boardwalk, and has hot and cold water with showers, toilets and hand basins. The Camp’s kitchen is equipped with a gas stove, communal fridge and freezer as well as a good supply of crockery and cutlery. Visitors can prepare their food in the kitchen or they may cook it at the specially provided barbecue area. The dining area is furnished with tables and benches.

There is also an education camp that comprises two park homes that have basic facilities but no equipment or electricity.
Book through KZN Wildlife Central Reservations: +27 (0)33 845 1000 or

Numerous Birder Friendly Establishments are also available in the towns of Eshowe and Mtunzini. For more information, please view Birder Friendly Establishments using the following link:

Local guide information:
Several community guides operate within the wider Dlinza/Melmoth/Mtunizini areas. For more information, please use the following link:

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

Key species:

Gorgeous Bush-shrike, Black Coucal, Goliath Heron, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Green Malkoha, Green Twinspot

Contact details:

For more information, contact:

Ezemvelo KZN Widlife
Tel: +27 (0)33 845 1999
Tel: +27 (0)32 453 0155
Fax: +27 (0)86 505 889