Southern Zululand – Mtunzini

About the Birding

The town of Mtunzini is surrounded by a number of key sites, which provide easy access to several of South Africa’s most sought-after bird species. Begin your exploration in the area by checking the Raphia Palm Monument on the edge of town for Palm-nut Vulture, as several pairs of these regal birds are known to nest in the area.

The fruits of the palms and an important food source for the vultures but, should you luck out, try the Raphias in the cane field as you approach the town of Mtunzini from the national highway N2 on your right (see notable points below). The birds are conspicuous given their largely white plumage. The vulture may also be seen on the beach near the Umlalazi Estuary in the late afternoon. The Raphia Palm Monument is also the premier site in the area for the endearing Black-throated Wattle-eye, which keeps to the forest interior and is best detected by its scratchy call given in duet.

The Umlalazi Nature Reserve to the south of the town, bordering the Umlalazi Lagoon, is the premier site for Mangrove Kingfisher in South Africa. The best approach to finding this species is to visit the lagoon in the early morning and late afternoon when the birds are most vocal. Follow the boardwalk from the main parking area for about 300m and watch for the birds in the midstrata of the mangroves. The estuary and mangroves may also yield the African Finfoot, Woolly-necked Stork, Western Osprey, and African Fish Eagle. Higher reaches of the river (accessible by canoe) could deliver the sought-after White-backed Night Heron. Near the entrance to the Umlalazi Nature Reserve, check the marshy grassland for Black Coucal (summer), African Yellow Warbler and both the Red-faced and Rufous-winged Cisticolas.

The forested habitats in the area support an impressive diversity of species. The best areas to explore are immediately to the south of the Umlalazi Lagoon and are accessed along a network of short trails that lead from the forest lodge and campsite (see notable locations below). In the winter months, this is perhaps one of the better areas to search for the threatened Spotted Ground Thrush. Listen for its rich calls in the early mornings, and follow the sounds of rustling leaf litter on the forest floor. Other notable forest interior species include the Green Malkoha, Green Twinspot, Red-capped Robin-chat, Olive Sunbird, Black-bellied Starling, Common Square-tailed Drongo, Narina Trogon, Green Malkoha, Brown-scrub Robin and Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird.

Key species:

Palm-nut Vulture, Mangrove Kingfisher, African Finfoot, Spotted 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 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:

Palm-nut Vulture, Mangrove Kingfisher, African Finfoot, Spotted Ground Thrush

Other Related Information

From Durban take the N2 Toll Road North. Mtunzini is approximately 132 km from Durban. At the Mtunzini Toll Plaza take the left-hand Toll Gate. Having exited the Toll Gate, glide off left onto the Mtunzini off-ramp. At the top of the off-ramp turn right and another 700 meters further will bring you to the entrance to the town of Mtunzini.

Other related information:

From Empangeni & Richards Bay take the N2 Toll Road South towards Durban. After joining the N2, travel for approximately 30 km and then turn left at the Mtunzini off-ramp. N.B. This is prior to the Mtunzini Main Toll Plaza (Do not pass through the Main Toll Plaza). Pass through the Toll Gate and then at the top of the off-ramp turn left. 500 meters further on will bring you to the entrance to the Town of Mtunzini.

From Eshowe take the R66 towards Gingindlovu, after approximately 22km, turn left on the R102 towards Mtunzini, continue for approximately another 18.5 km until you see the BP Road Island Service Station. At this point turn right and continue for another 1.6 km to the entrance to the town of Mtunzini (This road crosses over the top of the N2 Toll Road).

Notable points of interest include the:
Palmnut Vulture viewpoint: -28.9534, 31.7448
Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife offices: -28.9542, 31.7666
Boardwalk through the mangroves: -28.9549, 31.7751
Umlalazi campsite: -28.9562, 31.7733
Raphia palm monument: -28.9577, 31.7611

Access and facilities:
Boardwalks are provided at both the Raphia Palm monument and through the mangroves at the Umlalazi lagoon. The Umlalazi Nature Reserve is under the administration of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and a nominal entrance fee is payable by day visitors. Gates open at sunrise and sunset daily.

Recommended accommodation nearby:
The Inkwazi campsite and log cabins besides the Umlalazi Lagoon are controlled by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife. The 12 log cabins are all equipped with open plan kitchen and lounge areas, two bedrooms and a bathroom with running hot water. The campsite consists of 36 individual stands which all are capable of accommodating caravans. There is a communal ablution block with running hot and cold water.

Numerous Birder Friendly Establishments are available in the town of 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:

Palm-nut Vulture, Mangrove Kingfisher, African Finfoot, Spotted Ground Thrush

Contact details:

For more information, contact:

Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife
Tel: +27 (0)33 845 1999
Fax: +27 (0 086 505 889