Bordering tropical Mozambique, in a low-risk malaria area in Kwazulu-Natal, the diverse Ndumo Game Reserve is a renowned destination for birding. The contrasting landscape of swampy wetlands, extensive pans, forests and savannah support a variety of forest birds, waders and lifers. A popular lifer to spot is the shy Pel’s fishing-owl, often seen in the riverfront forests.
Ndumo reserve is bounded by the Usuthu River and houses the Pongola River, making it a spectacular aquatic wonderland flourishing with activity. Pans flanked by yellow fever trees dot the landscape, giving rise to exceptional tropical scenes. Visitors to this small but significant reserve can enjoy activities such as game drives, birding, and guided walks. There are plenty of other aquatic animals to spot, apart from birds. In particular, there are dense populations of hippos and crocodile.
The reserve is tricky to navigate, so visitors would need a 4WD to explore. Alternatively, a guided tour or stay inside the reserve is recommended. The closest international airport is King Shaka International Airport in Durban or Richard’s Bay Domestic Airport.
Ndumo Game Reserve consists of swampy wetlands and extensive pans and can be tricky to navigate. Visitors to the area are advised to explore the reserve in a 4WD vehicle.
Ndumo Game Reserve is a birder’s paradise with more than 430 different species to observe. These include special sightings of Pel’s fishing owl, Eastern nicator and Narina trojan.
The reserve has the highest bird count in the country and supports over 430 species. Ndumo Game Reserve is rich with birdlife, and budding twitchers can spot Narina Trojan, Pel’s fishing owl, Eastern nicator and African cuckoo-hawk. Also, there are summer migrants and birds endemic to the area.
Other species to spot in the area include a wealth of plains game and small mammals. Visitors should keep their eyes open for larger mammals such as hippos, rhino, duikers and Cape buffalo. Nile crocodiles are particularly prevalent in the reserve, with dense populations occurring in the deep pans. There is also an array of amphibians and reptiles to spot.
The reserve is characterised by wetlands and swampy landscapes, which means the area receives high annual rainfall. Birding is always good during the rainy season, but it does make roads hard to navigate and can get unpleasant. Overall, the best time for a safari is during the drier season which is from June to August. The wet season is from October to April, and the bridge seasons are April and September, which is also a good time to visit.
The reserve is small but boasts contrasting landscapes jam-packed with game viewing opportunities. Many of the pans dotted throughout have well-constructed hides and viewing platforms for birding. There is a mosaic of paths around most of the pans where guided walking trails take place. Trails guides lead visitors along these paths, teaching them about the incredible tropical biome of the area.
Game drives provide the perfect way to cover plenty of ground, and guests can spot abundant hippos and crocs in the pans. Game drives are conducted by lodges within the reserve and can also be arranged by external day tour guides. High-rise viewing towers offer a bird’s-eye view of the landscape below, making it ideal for budding photographers.
Accommodation wise, the reserve caters to a range of budgets. There are self-catering units at the main rest stop area and a campsite. Basic amenities are provided. There are a communal swimming pool and a small shop for supplies on-site. There is also simple, thatched lodge accommodation within the reserve for more comfortable accommodation options.