Southern Zululand – Mtunzini Theunissen’s Dam

About the Birding

Theunissen’s Dam is located on private property and, although access can be challenging at times, some 85 bird species have so far been recorded. Visitors should be cautioned that there are several crocodiles present in this dam and that visits here are entirely at one’s own risk. At the top end of Theunissen’s dam, look for Great Painted Snipe at well-vegetated muddy fringes.

Also to be seen here are Black- crowned Night Heron (scan the forested slope on the western side of the dam for them), both the Goliath and Squacco Herons, Black Crake, African Jacana, Little Grebe and all the white Egrets, both Spurwing and Egyptian Geese, Wire-tailed and Lesser-striped Swallows, White-winged Terns, Blue-billed Teal (where there is emergent vegetation), White-faced Whistling Duck, Wood Sandpiper and African Fish Eagle.

In the shorter damp sugarcane fields around the dam – scan for the Collared Pratincole along with both Grey and Kittlitz’s Plovers, Woolly-necked Stork, Common Quail, Rufous-winged Cisticola and Fan-tailed Widowbird. At the far end of the dam there is a breeding colony of White-breasted Cormorants. Near the spillway, Water Thick-knee, African Fish Eagle, and assortment of waders and Grey Crowned Crane may be seen.

Key species:

Grey Crowned Crane, Collared Pratincole, Greater Painted Snipe, Goliath Heron

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 a number of 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:

Grey Crowned Crane, Collared Pratincole, Greater Painted Snipe, Goliath Heron

Other Related Information

From Mtunzini take the N2 South towards Durban for 18 km. After bridge No 8, turn left, following the Gingindlovu, Eshowe, Ulundi signs. At the bottom of the glide off, turn right and continue for 4.7 km along the R 66. Pass under the Eskom power lines over the main road and turn right at the “Highrain Farm, Craig Theunissen” signboard …

Other related information:

… The alternative route from Mtunzini is to head out of town, crossing over the N2 and continuing down the road until you meet the R102 at the BP Road Island Service station (which is on the right-hand side). Turn left and continue for 18.5 km at which point you meet the R 66. Turn left (turning right here will take you to Eshowe) and continue for 2.2 km, passing the Fairbreeze / Gingindlovu intersection. This time the “Highrain Farm, Craig Theunissen” sign will be on the left.
From Durban take the N2 North. After crossing the Tugela River the bridges will be numbered. After bridge No 9 and 23.5 km from the Tugela River, turn left following the Gingindlovu, Eshowe, Ulundi signs. At the bottom of the glide off, turn left and continue along this road, being the R 66 and follow the same directions as are mentioned for those from Mtunzini, via the N2.

Having turned into the entrance over the cattle grid, continue along the farm road for another 500 meters. At this point there will be a small dam on the left-hand side. Look for African Yellow and Thick-billed Weavers, Red Bishop and Dabchick. Directly after this dam turn left between the dam and the sugar cane. This will bring you to the main dam after some 500 meters.

Access and facilities:
Permission to visit the dam must be obtained from Craig Theunissen prior to your visit (see contact details below).

Recommended accommodation nearby:
Numerous Birder Friendly Establishments are 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/Mtunzini areas. For more information, please use the following link:

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

Key species:

Grey Crowned Crane, Collared Pratincole, Greater Painted Snipe, Goliath Heron

Contact details:

For more information or to arrange your visit, contact:

Craig Theunissen
Tel: +27 (0)35 337 1504
Cell: +27 (0)83 452 3299