Southern Zululand – Richard’s Bay Harbour

About the Birding

The commercial part of the harbour, as a distinct site from the Southern Sanctuary (treated separately), includes several areas of interest for birders visiting Richard’s Bay. Areas currently accessible to the public include the Bay Hall, Pelican Island and “Casuarinas” areas. These areas attract waders and terns but in much lower numbers than the before probably due to more intensive recreational use.

The Northern Breakwaters provide capability for seabird watching but are not as good as the, currently inaccessible, South Breakwater. The most productive areas currently open to the public are the Casuarinas/Sand Flats areas.

The breakwaters produce regular sightings of seabirds (especially after storms and strong offshore winds) such as White-chinned Petrel, Sooty Shearwater, Subantarctic Skua, Parasitic Jaeger and the odd Albatross (mainly Indian Yellow-nosed, Shy and Black-browed). In winter, Cape Gannet and Cape Cormorant can also be seen. The Casuarinas/Sand Flats regularly play host to a large tern roost including the Swift (Greater Crested), Sandwich, Lesser Crested and Little Terns. Eurasian Curlew is also recorded regularly, and, in the past, the area has produced Brown Noddy, Broad-billed Sandpiper and Common Redshank. The latter two have not been seen for several years in the area but do turn up regularly in the Southern Sanctuary.

Of the areas under direct Portnet control (i.e. permit needed), pride of place goes to the Sand Spit which attracts a large number of waders and terns with regular rarities turning up. Access to this area is only by boat and requires special permission, over and above a harbour entry permit. Adjacent to the sand spit are the sand/mud flats to the north of the harbour berm wall. This area is known as the Berm Mangroves / Sand Flats. At low tide, the area attracts a large number of shorebirds and the sand spit here is a prime spot for Crab-plover in the summer months. This is also a prime site to view the Greater and Lesser Sand Plovers – often side-by-side – as well as marine terns with this particular site playing host to South Africa’s first ever White-cheeked Tern.

Within the Portnet controlled area there are two shallow, reed-lined pans, which attract substantial numbers of breeding birds. The T-Junction Pan lies close to the east harbour gate adjacent to the SAFCOL timber operation and, though it is in a seriously disrupted area, is still very attractive to water birds such as White-backed Duck, African Pygmy Goose, Lesser Jacana and most of the herons and egrets. Southern Brown-throated Weavers and Black-crowned Night-Herons nest here.

Key species:

Crab-plover, Greater and Lesser Sand Plovers, chances for seabirds and out-of-range vagrant species

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 city of Richard’s Bay is so often overlooked by tourists heading into Zululand, given that the city and its surrounding areas are largely industrial in nature featuring several immense mines, vast areas of forestry plantations and a large port. While this description is not totally inaccurate, the area also boasts some of the best birding sites in KwaZulu-natal with well over 350 having been recorded in the immediate area including over 24 National Rarities! Richard’s Bay is also one of the premier shorebird watching sites in South Africa given the diverse freshwater and marine wetlands including open lakes, mangrove forests, and extensive mudflats. Other notable habitats include open dune and riverine forests where several species (e.g. Eastern Nicator) reach their southern distribution limits. Top sites within the wider Richard’s Bay area include the Mzingazi/Sharks Board Area, Richard’s Bay Harbour, Southern Sanctuary, Empangeni, Thulasihleka Pan, and Enseleni Nature Reserve.

Key species:

Crab-plover, Greater and Lesser Sand Plovers, chances for seabirds and out-of-range vagrant species

Other Related Information

To access the “Casuarinas” area – coming from Empangeni / N2 direction. Turn Right at Medway/ Harbour Coast. After 0.9 km’s turn left towards Tuzi Gazi Waterfront. After 1.4 KM’s turn right onto a small dirt road, cross railway and continue for about 4km’s. Follow road through area of casuarina trees to sandflats.

To access Bay Hall and Pelican island – Turn Right off the R34 just before Meerensee towards Tuzi Gazi. Follow this road and turn right at the signpost “Pelican Island.”

Other related information:

Access and facilities:
Note that large portions of the Richard’s Bay harbour are off limits to the general public and birders should remain mindful that it is illegal to enter these areas without first notifying Portnet Control and arranging a permit.

Recommended accommodation nearby:
Numerous Birder Friendly Establishments are available in the nearby towns of St Lucia and Mtunzini. For more information, please view Birder Friendly Establishments using the following link:

Diverse accommodation options are also available in Richard’s Bay including numerous campsites and caravan parks, self-catering, B&Bs and more luxurious options.

Local guide information:
Several community guides operate within the wider St Lucia/Mtunzini areas. For more information, please use the following link:

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

Key species:

Crab-plover, Greater and Lesser Sand Plovers, chances for seabirds and out-of-range vagrant species

Contact details:

For more information, contact Portnet Control at the Richard’s Bay harbour using the following details:

Portnet Control
Tel: +27 (0)35 905 3440
Fax: +27 (0)35 905 3333