Southern Zululand – Richard’s Bay Southern Sanctuary

About the Birding

Southern Sanctuary is listed as an Important Bird Area by BirdLife South Africa and is comprised of the Umhlatuze Lagoon and sand banks to the south of the harbour berm wall and extending east to the new mouth. It encompasses estuarine mud flats, sand banks and mangroves; the latter encroaching on the sand banks. These areas are among some of the richest shorebird watching sites in South Africa.

Waders regularly encountered include the Terek and Curlew Sandpipers, Common Whimbrel, Bar-tailed Godwit, Greater Sand Plover, Red Knot, Sanderling, White-fronted and Grey Plovers, and Common Greenshank. Eurasian Curlew and Lesser Sand Plover are less regular but are annual visitors to the site. Large tern roosts form in the summer months including the Swift (Greater Crested), Caspian, Lesser Crested (mainly late summer), Common, Sandwich and Little Terns. Other regular species include the Collared Pratincole, Pink-backed and Great White Pelicans, Greater Flamingo, Yellow-billed Stork, and Peregrine Falcon. Mangrove Kingfisher occasionally visits the mangroves in the winter months, though is not common at this site.

Southern Sanctuary is well-known for rarities and birders should always remain mindful that this is one of the top sites in South Africa for vagrant species. Previous records have included such exciting species as the Gull-billed and White-cheeked Terns, Lesser Noddy, Common Redshank, Pacific Golden Plover, Crab-plover, and Broad-billed Sandpiper.

Key species:

Terek Sandpiper, Greater Sand Plover, chances for Crab-plover, Bar-tailed Godwit, Lesser Crested Tern

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:

Terek Sandpiper, Greater Sand Plover, chances for Crab-plover, Bar-tailed Godwit, Lesser Crested Tern

Other Related Information

To reach the mudflats at Southern Sanctuary, enter the harbour area at the Portnet customs gate and continue for 6km crossing a central canal on a long bridge that sweeps left onto the berm wall. Park near the green roofed warehouse and walk across the main road and down to the mudflats.

Notable points of interest include the:
Portnet customs gate: -28.788660, 32.026305

Other related information:

Access and facilities:
One must arrange a permit to visit Southern Sanctuary, at least 3 days prior to your intended visit. South African ID number and vehicle registration details are required.

Contact Nokuthula Mcinga at

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:

Terek Sandpiper, Greater Sand Plover, chances for Crab-plover, Bar-tailed Godwit, Lesser Crested Tern

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