Drive for about an hour and a half north from Durban up the N2 and you will come to a small seaside village called Mtunzini. This little town is full of delightful surprises, and some vegetation that is unique to the area. The coastal forest and mangrove swamps that separate the village from the beach assure one of excellent birding activity and some really nice walks along shady paths. In fact, the African name for the town is Emthunzini, which means “a place in the shade.” The summers here are uncomfortably hot and humid so shade is always most welcome.
We stayed at the Mtunzini Forest Lodge, a timeshare resort nestling in the coastal forest just meters away from a long and deserted stretch of beach. Our log chalet had a small balcony that overlooked the tree tops, allowing us to watch the numerous Turaco’s, Hornbills and Palmnut Vultures that flew over the forest every day. It was a magical spot for us and Rob spent many happy hours with his camera at the ready.
It is here that the Mlalazi River winds its way down to the sea, lined on either side by mangrove swamps. These swamps are alive with thousands of Fiddler craps that scurry to and fro. During the mating season the males attract the females with their enlarged red claws.
The river mouth forms a lagoon that falls under the management of the Umlalazi Nature Reserve. The Reserve has amazing hiking trails and is the centre for fishing and other outdoor activities. Zebra, red and grey duikers and bushbuck can often be seen grazing in the undergrowth.
A grove of Raphia Palms has been declared a national monument and if you’re lucky you could see rare Palmnut Vultures nesting in these unique trees. Raphia Palms were successfully introduced to the area about a century ago from the Kosi Bay Raphia forests. Their leaves are amongst the largest to be found in the plant kingdom and in the Kosi Bay area are used to build boats. Unfortunately we didn’t manage to get any photos of the Palmnut Vultures, but, as I said earlier, we did see them flying over the forest.
At the lodge where we were staying we could walk through the forest on a wooden boardwalk. Below us the swamp was home to abundant foliage decorated with beautiful orange flowers. Rob spent time photographing a family of White-eared barbets that were nesting in one of the trees. If you can fight off the mosquitoes for the duration of your stay there, it is pleasant to sit at a table in the forest and just watch the birds flitting about in the trees. After a week our bird list was quite impressive.
You know it’s a laid-back coastal town when you see zebras casually grazing on the sidewalks. We were so impressed with this lovely little place that we considering living there permanently. That is until we discovered that some greedy mining company has interests in the vicinity and has plans to pursue a mining agenda that will destroy the forests and interrupt the water supplies in the area. What an absolute tragedy that will be for an area that is so unique and pristine at present. One can only hope that sanity will prevail and that the protestations of the locals will be heard before greed once more takes precedence over conserving a beautiful and abundant natural area.
From Mtunzini we took a day trip into the Umfolozi/Hluhluwe Game Reserve. More about that another time.