Mkhuze Game Reserve
Mkhuze Game Reserve was proclaimed in 1912 and covers some 40 000 ha. This reserve rates as one of South Africa's favourite birding destinations and is one of Zululand's top 3 birding spots. Mkhuze also boasts one of South Africa's highest checklists for a protected area with over 400 species being recorded here. The main reason for this is the diversity of habitats included in the protected area. These include pans, swamps, acacia thornveld, sand forest, riverine forest and open woodland. There are even mountainous areas with cliffs as well as open grassland in places.
From Hluhluwe town, take the N2 north. Signposted approximately 50km's north, is the town of Mkhuze. Follow the road through town to the T-junction, (avoiding the left hand fork to the business centre). Here take a right turn and follow the fairly good gravel road, (suitable for sedan cars), for about 10km. Look out for the signboard which indicates the left turn leading into Mkhuze Game Reserve. If coming from the north, Mkhuze village is about 60km from Phongola Town.
New Entrance Gate to Mkhuze Game Reserve
A new bridge and all-weather road is now linking the Sodwana Bay and Mkhuze sections of the Isimangaliso Wetland Park Wetland Park. The Ophansi Bridge, built over the Mkhuze River, provides an eastern access to Mkhuze for the first time. This new route allows visitors to the Wetland Park to enjoy diving activities, birding and canoeing on the Muzi Pan, which is situated between Sodwana Bay and Mkhuze, and excellent game viewing - all within a 70 kilometer radius.
The D820 access road on which the bridge is built, can be reached via the Lubombo Road which connects Hluhluwe with Sodwana Bay and Kosi Bay further to the north. The traveling time from Sodwana Bay to the new entrance is a comfortable 40 minutes.
Previously Mkhuze only had one entrance on its western border near the town of Mkhuze, making it virtually impossible to visit Sodwana Bay and this section of the Wetland Park in one day. The new bridge now makes a quality beach and bush experience possible, and also gives an opportunity for members of the kwaJobe community, who live on the eastern border of Mkhuze, to develop and benefit directly from tourism opportunities.
Over the last few years, a number of significant infrastructure upgrades to Mkhuze have enhanced its appeal to visitors. These developments have included the upgrading of roads and game viewing hides, as well as the introduction of 140 buffalos, two packs of wild dogs and most recently two male and two female cheetah.
Local Bird Guides can meet birders at the new gate to explore the lower Mkhuze and Muzi Pans areas.
Accommodation in Mkhuze Game Reserve is mainly situated at Mantuma Camp (about 10km's from gate) and consists of very comfortable self-catering chalets, rest husts and safari camps. There is also a campsite at the entrance gate. In Mkhuze Village and surrounding areas there are a variety of private lodges, including Ghost Mountain Inn and Leopard Mountain Game Lodge. Both of thelatter establishments are in fairly close proximity to the reserve, and offer birder-orientated tours into Mkhuze. Leopard Mountain Game Lodge also offers birding tours on its own premises (see Leopard Mountain birding spot).
SPECIALS FOR THE AREA
Birding in Mkhuze is excellent all year round, but is boosted in summer by migrant birds such as Broadbilled Rollers, Emerald Cuckoos and Woodland Kingfishers.
The camp site near the entrance of the reserve is good for Jameson's Firefinch, Green-winged Pytilia, Marico Sunbird and Black Stork is often seen flying overhead. African Wood-Owl can often be heard at night. The road between the campsite and the main camp can produce Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill, Stierling's Wren-Warbler, Striped Kingfisher, Brown-crowned Tchagra and Orange-breasted Bush-Shrike. The skies at the picnic site near the Kwamalibali hide should be scanned for Bateleur and Lappet-faced Vulture.
The Sand Forest around Kubube and Kumasinga hides is the best place to find Pink-throated Twinspot, African Broadbill, Gorgeous Bush-Shrike, African Barred Owlet and Yellow-bellied Greenbul. If you are lucky you might also spot a Redbilled Helmetshrike. In late winter and early spring, flowers ofthe Weeping Boer Bean tree (Schotia brachypetla) act as powerful magnets to Neergard's, Purple-banded, Collared, Eastern Olive, Grey, Scarlet-chested and White-bellied Sunbirds. Purple-crested Turaco, White-crested Helmet-Shrike, Woolly-necked Stork, Comb Duck, Lesser Moorhen, Dwarf Bittern, Stierling's Wren-Warbler, Red-backed Mannikin, Grey Waxbill and Crested Guineafowl can all be recorded from the two hides, which must rate as some of the best in the country. The grassy verges along 'waterholes' at these hides are renowned for harbouring Dwarf Bittern and Greater Painted Snipe in the wetter summer months.
Mantuma camp is a great place to observe Bearded Robin at close quarters, as well as Grey Tit-Flycatcher, Lesser Masked-Weaver, Collared Sunbird and in summer, Violet-backed Starling. A small hide next to a waterhole in the camp can provide close-up views of birds, including Purple-crested Turaco. The Riverview Walk, (which leaves from opposite the camp office), offers a good opportunity to look out for Pinkthroated Twinspots and Grey Waxbills, especially in the early mornings and evenings. Yellowspotted Nicator frequently haunts the tangles around the safari camp.
The Loop Road area consists of open thornveld, and the birder could see Burnt-necked Eremomela, Grey Penduline Tit, Bushveld Pipit, Flappet Lark, Grey Go-away Bird, Brownheaded Parrot and a number of raptors including Tawny, Steppe and Lesser Spotted Eagles. The raptors are especially prominent after heavy rains when they prey on emerging termite alates (flying ants).
Nsumo Pan is a wonderland for waterbirds, an extensive wetland fed by the Mkhuze and Umsunduze Rivers. This pan is home to South Africa's only breeding colony of Pink-backed Pelicans. Yellow-billed Stork, African Spoonbill and various egret species also breed in the fever trees (Acacia xanthophloea) on the southern side of the pan. Interesting birds found around the picnic spot at the pan include Red-capped and White-browed Robin-Chat, Green-capped Eremomela, Woodland Kingfisher, African Broadbill and Tambourine Dove. Waterbird numbers are dependant on the water level of the pan. In early spring when fairly dry, many waders are present. In late summer when fairly full, many duck and geese are present, (Spurwing Geese and Whitefaced Ducks often occurring in very big flocks). Goliath Heron, Openbilled Stork, Pygmy Goose and Lesser Jacana are also found at the pan.
The Fig Forest, situated adjacent to the pan, is a magical, enchanting place filled with birds, but do enquire about accessibility before going there. Species to be found in this forest include Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, Narina Trogon, Broad-billed Roller, Green Malkoha, Southern-banded Snake Eagle, Blue-mantled Crested-Flycatcher, Black-throated Wattle-eye, Black-bellied Starling, Green Twinspot.... the list just goes on and on. Trumpeter Hornbills are constantly calling in the forest, their eerie wails echoing amongst the tall trees and Pels Fishing Owl is resident, but not often seen.
The thornveld around the airstrip is famous as the region's "hot spot" for Olive-tree Warbler, but other species to look out for include Senegal Lapwing, African Pipit, Icterine Warbler, Lizard Buzzard and Desert Cisticola.
The area around Ediza Pan is also great for birds, especially in summer. Greater Painted-snipe, Pygmy Goose, African Hawk-Eagle, Dwarf Bittern, Allen's Gallinule, White-browed Robin-Chat, Squacco Heron and Green-backed Heron are all recorded around the pan and the small dam next to the road just north of Ediza.
Rudd's Apalis is seen all over the reserve.
OTHER POINTS OF INTEREST
Mkhuze Game Reserve boasts a very healthy population of white and black rhino. Hippopotami and crocodiles are very prolific around Nsumo and Ediza Pans. A variety of antelope species including nyala and impala are abundant, however mammals such as elephant, leopard, suni and hyaena are less commonly seen.
Situated just east of KuMahala hide is a sacred burial ground of the Jobe Clan whose members have lived in the region for hundreds of years. Close by is a cultural village where members of the community make and sell their handcrafts.
Mkhuze also has large areas of the now rare Sand Forest, a habitat that is noted for it's dark leafed, wide spreading sherbet tree (Dialium schlechteri), and the red-heart tree (Hymenocardia ulmoides) which creates a lovely sight in autumn with its pink, winged seeds