Tag Archives: Mtunzini

Kosi Raphia Palm

Raphia australis

The Kosi Raphia Palm is an enormous tree, growing up to 25m tall with leaves up to 18m long – among the largest leaves of any plant on earth. They grow in swamp forests, often forming dense stands. Around the age of 20-30 years the Kosi Palm flowers only once , producing an immense 3m high brown inflorescence at the top of the plant and then, after bearing thousands of fruit that takes two years to mature, dies. The Raphia Palm family is a main food source for the Palmnut Vulture. Humans use the leaves as thatching material and the petioles to construct huts and fences.

The Kosi Raphia Palm has an extremely limited distribution, occurring only in a few locations in southern Mozambique and around Kosi Bay in the extreme north-eastern corner of Kwazulu-Natal Province in South Africa. The total population of mature individuals number probably around 7,000 only, with the IUCN listing the species as vulnerable, and noting a continuous decline in their numbers due to habitat loss. In 1916 a grove of Kosi Palms were established in the town of Mtunzini, some distance south of their natural range, by the local magistrate. After becoming established and multiplying, Mtunzini’s Raphia Palm Forest was declared a National Monument in 1942. (You may want to click on the image below for an easier read)

Mtunzini’s Raphia Palm Monument


Returning to Umlalazi Nature Reserve

Our December holidays kicked off with a five night stay at Umlalazi Nature Reserve on the north coast of Kwazulu-Natal Province and conveniently right on the outskirts of the small holiday town of Mtunzini. It is quite a drive from Pretoria, and by the time we arrived in stifling heat and humidity we were thankful for being allowed to check in a bit earlier than the “official” 14:00 time.

Umlalazi Log Cabin #1, December 2018

Of course we can’t sit still for long and with the relative coolness of the evening setting in we decided to go for a walk through the mangrove swamp and then through the forest to the beach before returning to our cottage.

After the previous day’s long drive Marilize and Joubert were a little late to wake for my liking, so I set off on a hike while they lay in. Upon returning to the cottage they were thankfully already up and ready, so we could set about exploring Umlalazi and surrounds as a family for the remainder of the day.

Early on Sunday morning we set off inland to Eshowe and the Dlinza Forest – we’ll tell you more about Dlinza in our next post. Just after returning to Umlalazi and a quick lunch, I set off on the longest trail in the reserve – the one leading to the mouth of the Mlalazi River where it meets the Indian Ocean. In retrospect starting the trail in the heat of the day was probably not the best idea, but the further I walked the more intrigued I became by what scenes were still waiting around the next corner, and by the time I started questioning my sanity it was too late to turn around anyway. This particular trail leads through the forested dunes and along the river course to the mouth and one can then choose to return to the camp along the same way or along the beach – all in all a round trip of around 9km or so. I chose to return along the flat beach with the cool waves lapping my overheated feet… 😀

With Monday the 17th of December being a public holiday, we expected that the beach would soon be packed with throngs of sun-seekers, and with sunrise coming so early in summer, we were out the door by 04:20 to first enjoy the emergence of the sun over the horizon of the Indian Ocean and then have a bit of beach fun-and-games. By the time the day started heating up around 08:00, with a steady stream of people heading for the beach, we had our fill of seaside-fun and headed back to the cottage. In the afternoon the mangrove swamp and Mlalazi river begged further exploration.

Joubert and I got an early start to our final full day at Umlalazi to go looking for interesting birds, and we were certainly not disappointed. A rain shower in the afternoon cancelled any plans we had of spending more time in Umlalazi’s forests, but brought welcome respite from the oppressive heat and humidity. The next morning we were moving to Mpila in the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park and of course we’re going to tell you about that part of our trip soon!

This was our second visit to the Umlalazi Nature Reserve. After our first visit in 2016, we blogged about the reserve, the mangrove swamps, the beach, the forests and the Mlalazi River – follow the links if you’d like to learn more about this beautiful and underrated destination.

How to reach Umlalazi

Introduction to Umlalazi Nature Reserve

We found a treasure along the Kwazulu-Natal Coast!

We had looked forward to our first visit to Umlalazi Nature Reserve in March with great excitement, but what we found at this little jewel exceeded our expectations many times over.

Compared to many other South African conservation areas, Umlalazi is tiny. The reserve may cover only a little over 1000ha, but it is the amazing diversity of ecosystems it protects that make it such a valuable piece of land. The estuary of the Mlalazi River is considered among the top 20 most important to conserve of more than 250 South African estuaries. Another watercourse, the Siyayi, runs parallel to the sea for a distance of about 8km through the reserve, though only reaches the ocean after episodes of extreme rainfall as its mouth has been blocked by the dunes at Umlalazi’s main beach. The reserve is well known for the excellent examples of mangrove forests it protects, but you’ll also find swamp forests dominated by Swamp Fig trees (Ficus trichopoda), climax dune forests, Acacia thickets, tidal salt marshes, freshwater wetlands, coastal grasslands, seashore dune vegetation as well as miles of unspoiled beaches. A grove of Kosi Palms (Raphia australis), one of the largest species of palm in the world, was planted in 1903 by a magistrate C.C. Foxon and is today regarded a national monument.

Of course, with such a huge diversity of habitats it should come as no surprise that Umlalazi is home to an equally impressive variety of animal life. The abundance of invertebrate species of all descriptions is simply astounding. Thirteen mammal species have been recorded, with plains zebra, red duiker and vervet monkey being the most easily seen. The critically endangered Pickersgill’s Reed Frog is among 15 species of amphibians found in the reserve, while nile crocodile, python and gaboon adder feature in the list of 16 reptile species – 9 of which snakes – you might encounter. With a list of 327 bird species identified, the reserve is a prime destination for birdwatchers – pride of place of course going to the southern most breeding population of Palmnut Vultures that feed and nest in the Kosi Palms. These small vultures (wingspan of 1.5m, weight up to 1.8kg) is one of South Africa’s rarest birds, but regularly encountered here at Umlalazi, and apart from the fruit of the palms will also feed on carrion and small animals.

These three zebras seemed to act as our hosts while we were visiting Umlalazi and regularly passed by. They even formed a guard of honour at the gate when we departed 😀

In upcoming posts, we’ll focus some more attention on Umlalazi’s mangroves, the estuary, the forests and the beach.

The focus for Umlalazi’s human visitors is on outdoor recreation, with fishing, boating, canoeing (can be hired at reception), hiking, birding, swimming, surfing and picnicking being popular pursuits. Excellent information displays at the trail heads and other public areas give visitors an insight into the world they are exploring.

The reserve is managed by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, through whom overnight visitors can also book the twelve fully self-contained 4-sleeper log cabins, the 14 camping sites at Indaba Camp or the 36 camping sites at Inkwazi Camp available inside the reserve. The town of Mtunzini, just outside the reserve gates, also offers several alternative accommodation options, as well as a variety of other services you’d expect in a small holiday town. The area’s modern history dates back to the 1850’s when the colourful character John Robert Dunn settled here. Dunn  befriended Zulu King Cetshwayo who appointed him Chieftain over the area that Umlalazi and Mtunzini lies in today. He held his court and celebrations under a large red milkwood tree (known as the Indaba Tree) in what is now the Indaba campsite at Umlalazi. Dunn died in 1895, having married 49 wives (48 of which according to traditional Zulu custom) and fathering over a hundred children (various sources give differing numbers about exactly how many – ranging from 116 to 163!). That same year, a magistrate was appointed at Mtunzini, marking the official birth of the town. Umlalazi Nature Reserve itself was proclaimed in 1948 and today forms the northernmost section of the Siyaya Coastal Park which stretches for 37km along the coastline and also incorporates the Redhill and Amatigulu Nature Reserves.

Umlalazi Nature Reserve is located on the Indian Ocean, along Kwazulu-Natal’s North Coast about 140km from Durban (or 700km from Pretoria), and easily accessed from the Mtunzini off-ramp from the N2-highway.

How to reach Umlalazi

How to reach Umlalazi