Tag Archives: Umlalazi Nature Reserve

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… ūüėÄ

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


Our 2018 in pictures

Taking a look back at all the wonderful places we stayed at while exploring South Africa’s wild destinations in 2018.

We hope that 2019 will be kind to all our friends here at de Wets Wild, and that we’ll continue to share in each others adventures!


Umlalazi Airshow

While exploring the mangrove swamps here at Umlalazi Nature Reserve this morning, this Pink-backed Pelican treated us to a low-level flypast.

Today was our last day here at Umlalazi. Tomorrow, we head for the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park. If we have a good enough connection well try to post a daily update from there as well.


Early to rise…

We were out the door at 04:20 this morning to take in this spectacular sunrise over the Indian Ocean. We then spent a couple of hours playing on the beach before going back to our cabin for a delicious brunch. Wish every day could start this way…


In a forest of giants

Today we spent some time exploring the Raphia Palm National Monument, quite literally one of the biggest attractions here at Umlalazi Nature Reserve. See if you can make out Joubert standing next to two of the towering giants.


Our 2016 in pictures

Looking back on another year of¬†enjoying¬†South Africa’s beautiful wild places!

The fascinating world of Umlalazi’s Mangroves

No other kinds of tree¬†are¬†as well adapted to an existence in salty, tidal estuaries as the mangroves. Their roots are specifically adapted to not only anchor them in the muddy substrate but also allow them to “breathe” by sticking up above the mud and prevents the tree from drowning. Known as “pneumatophores”, these roots look different in the various genera of mangroves – those of the¬†white mangrove (Avicennia marina)¬†look like pencils sticking straight up out of the mud,¬†the¬†black mangrove (Bruguiera gymnorrhiza)¬†has knee-like structures protruding before going back into the mud, and the red mangrove (Rhizophora mucronata)¬†grow “struts” straight from the trunk. They have to contend with excessive salt in their tissues, and concentrates this in old leaves that are continuously shed and replaced.¬†Mangrove fruit are also very interesting; seeds germinate while still attached to the flower, and some, like the black and red mangroves, even grow a cigar-shaped “root”, or “hypocotyl”, that is designed to anchor the seed in the muddy substrate when it drops from the tree.

These adaptations of the mangroves benefit the entire ecosystem by trapping silt, stabilising the substrate, and feeding the food chain. Mangrove snails (Cerithidea decollata) cling to the trunks of the trees during high tide, safely out of reach of estuarine fish that move in with the tide. At low tide, they then descend to feed on the muddy surface. Crabs abound in the mangroves.¬†Sesarma is a genus of land-based crab that digs holes up to 2m deep into the mud and avidly collects fallen leaves into their burrows. Fiddler crabs (Uca-species), known for the males having one enormous pincer which which they display to one another and to interested females, feed by rolling scoops¬†of mud into balls in their mouths, with the discarded balls leaving tell-tale trails where the crab has moved. Mudskippers, those uniquely adapted amphibious fish that seem to be as at home out of the water¬†as in it, must be among the most curious of the mangrove swamps’ denizens.¬†Estuaries in general and mangrove stands in particular are extremely important refuges and nurseries for several kinds of fish and crustaceans, making their protection an economic imperative¬†if fisheries are to be sustained into the future and highlighting the value of conserved areas like Umlalazi.

Many kinds of wading birds feed on the rich invertebrate fauna in a mangrove swamp, with the woolly-necked stork being the most obvious at Umlalazi. The reserve’s¬†mangroves also forms an important winter habitat for the mangrove kingfisher. Mangrove swamps, with their dense stands¬†of¬†trees and muddy terrain, are difficult areas for large mammals, with the exception of monkeys, to utilise.

At Umlalazi, a boardwalk constructed through a mangrove swamp allows easy access to this fascinating world Рif you have only a little bit of time to explore Umlalazi, this is undoubtedly where you should spend it!

On the banks of the lazy Mlalazi

The Mlalazi River is an excellent¬†example of an estuary in good natural condition, and considered among the twenty most important in conservation terms in South Africa. It is also a focal point for many visitors to Umlalazi Nature Reserve, who come here to enjoy a variety of watersports, or just picnic on the banks (to the delight of the clever vervet monkeys who’ll quickly raid unprotected baskets!)

One of Umlalazi’s trails leads all the way from the parking area at the lagoon to the mouth of the Mlalazi River where it empties into the Indian Ocean. Hikers can then return along the same route, or along the beach – a total distance of 8 or so kilometers. Unfortunately when I attempted the trail on our recent stay about half-way to the mouth I encountered a washed-away stream crossing, probably following the good rainfall the week before we arrived. After the¬†thought of hungry crocodiles eyeing¬†me from somewhere unseen crossed my mind, there was no way I was going to try and wade through a muddy backwater, and unfortunately had to turn around. Oh well, next time we’re at Umlalazi I will give it another go (the trail I mean, I’ll still refuse to wade through a muddy backwater if the bridge isnt fixed by then…)

Wandering around Umlalazi’s forests

A visit to Umlalazi Nature Reserve would not be complete without exploring the extensive tracts of pristine forests protected in the reserve.

Umlalazi’s¬†Siyaya Trail snakes through the forest, up and down over the densely vegetated dunes, for a distance of 3km. Enormous red and smaller white milkwoods (Mimusops obovata and Sideroxylon inerme¬†respectively) predominate in the species-rich climax dune forests.¬†The Siyaya Trail starts at the beach parking area and makes a large circle through the forest to end at the parking area again, but about half-way through a side-trail¬†leads to a footbridge over the Siyayi stream and to the beach.

At the grove of Kosi palms (Raphia australis) a boardwalk has been constructed just above the level of the waterlogged forest floor, allowing easy access to these magnificent trees and the palm-nut vultures that feed and breed in them. Interestingly, the Kosi palms flower and fruit only once in their lifetime, when the tree is around 30 years old. Elsewhere in the swamp forests, a little further inland than the dune forest, ferns and the swamp fig (Ficus trichopoda) are the most noticeable species.

Umlalazi’s¬†forests abound with insects¬†and other invertebrates, numerous insectivorous and frugivorous forest birds, as well as forest dwelling mammals, of which the red duikers and vervet monkeys are the easiest to see.