Almost 180 years ago, the Voortrekkers on their Great Trek northwards (away from the British colony in the Cape), reached what they thought was the source of the River Nile in what is today South Africa’s Limpopo Province. Of course they were still thousands of miles away from the real Nile, but the name stuck.
Our Nyl River is a minor tributary of the Limpopo, but forms one of South Africa’s largest and most pristine wetland areas – an area 70km long and 7km wide at its widest point. In years of exceptional rainfall (normally about once in ten years) the total inundated area covers as much as 160km². In 1974 the provincial government established the Nylsvley Nature Reserve (39km² in size) to protect a portion of this delicate ecosystem, which was recognised as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar convention in 1998.
Joubert and I decided to pay the reserve a quick one night visit this past weekend.
Nylsvley’s motto reads “Nylsvley is for the birds” and considering that this relatively small reserve has an impressive list of over 380 recorded bird species, it is certainly most fitting. Nylsvley is an important breeding habitat for over 100 kinds of waterbirds (more than any other wetland in the country), many of which is considered rare or range restricted in South Africa. While the rainy season hasn’t yet started and most summer migrants are yet to arrive, we still managed to identify 79 species of birds in the little over 24 hours we spent at Nylsvley. We’d dearly want to return in late summer, once the wetland has been flooded, in anticipation of the spectacle of a reported 80,000 waterbirds congregating at Nylsvley.
And while pride of place at Nylsvley really does go to the birdlife, the reserve is also home to thousands of invertebrate species (including 55 kinds of dragonflies and 194 kinds of butterflies), 13 kinds of fish, 23 kinds of amphibians, 58 reptile species (including many venomous snakes, so wear sensible shoes when hiking!) and 77 species of mammals (among which sizable populations of rare roan antelope and tsessebe). Vegetation comprises broad-leaved woodlands, thornveld, grassland and of course the floodplains, and over 600 species of plant have been recorded in the reserve.
Nylsvley Nature Reserve falls under the jurisdiction of the Limpopo Department of Economic Development, Environment and Tourism, with the NGO Friends of Nylsvley playing an active role in the protection of the reserve and extended floodplain. Visitors to the reserve can overnight in the rustic camping area (6 shady sites), a dormitory with space for 36 people, or in one of the 5 chalets (4×2 bed, 1×6 bed). Other facilities in the reserve include a picnic area for day visitors, a restaurant, three bird-viewing hides, a limited road network (which can be carefully negotiated in a sedan), and an extensive network of hiking trails. The services of expert guides can be arranged through the reserve’s reception office. Most other services and shops are available in the nearby towns of Modimolle (formerly Nylstroom) and Mookgopong (Naboomspruit).
Nylsvley is an easy 170km away from us in Pretoria, along the N1 and R101 highways to the north.