Ndumo – A small reserve with a big heart

Ndumo – A small reserve with a big heart
Ndumo from the lookout tower.

In the far north of Natal, right on the Mozambican border and miles away from, well, anything really, lies one of Africa’s oldest parks. Spanning just a little over 10 000ha, this tiny reserve boasts the highest number of bird species in all of South Africa – a staggering 430+ species and counting. Not only does Ndumo encompass the confluence of the Usutu and Pongola rivers with it’s floodplains and reed beds, but broadleaved and acacia woodland, swamp forest, fig forest, grasslands, riverines, pans and sand forest and thickets all contribute to a highly diverse range of habitats, most of which are accessible to visitors in some form or another.

The walk to the second bird hide at Nyamithi pan.
The walk to the second bird hide at Nyamithi pan.

Both black- and white rhino, buffalo, giraffe, crocodile, hippo, nyala, zebra, wildebeest, leopard, hyena (only realised this when we came across their spoor on the last day, thank goodness, or I would’ve been lying in my tent holding in a pee every night) and other antelope species including red duiker and suni occur in the reserve. But the reason people flock (ho ho ho!) to Ndumo is for the avifauna. Many tropical East African bird species are found here at the Southern limit of their range. There are few places where you can chalk up Pink-throated Twinspot and Palmnut Vultures within half an hour of arriving and without even leaving the comfort of your car. Specials abound. African  Broadbill, Pel’s FIshing Owl, Neergaard’s Sunbird, African Pygmy Goose, Southern Banded Snake Eagle and Rudd’s Apalis can all be found if you time your visit right.

Sunset at Ndumo.
Sunset over Nyamithi.
The Pongola flood plain walk.


Guests can go on guided walks with extraordinarily knowledgeable rangers who will identify the plainest LBJ at a glance or mimic the call of just about any bird. Of the four full time rangers at Ndumo, two have been there for over twenty years and the third for over thirty! Gold watches all around I say! Morning and evening game drives are also available and are highly recommended. The sunset over Nyamithi pan with the Fever Trees bathed in rosy fire and the Fish Eagles calling was one of the most magical experiences of my life. Two bird hides situated on opposite sides of the Nyamithi pan provide a bird’s eye view (I’m just churning them out here!) of the cornucopia of waterfowl to be found in and around the water. Storks, pelicans, herons, duck, geese, warblers, swallows, jacana and more can be seen whilst you sip a cuppa, finish off last night’s cold braai broodtjies and just sit, look and listen. The first hide is a 450m walk through the bush and leads to a breathtaking view of the pan, the stork and pelican colony on the opposite side and the towering yellow Fever Trees lining the water. The second is an easy, but hair raising (if you’re a wuss) 650m walk through the reed beds to the other side of the pan. (You will cross hippo spoor here, but don’t panic. Unless you are the slowest person in the group. But seriously, be aware of what’s going on around you and never, ever, ever get between a hippo and its water). This hide is situated above a reed bed with water lilies floating about, so it’s a good spot for crakes and the smaller, reed dwelling herons. The lookout tower near the main gate affords a 180 degree panoramic view of the entire reserve, all the way to Moz. Guests may drive through large parts of the reserve on their own. Roads are all gravel, but passable by normal car.

Ezulweni hide on Nyamithi pan.

Ndumo is not fancy. There are no restaurants with buffet breakfasts, flood-lit lookouts or cocktail bars with blue drinks. It is a place for old school nature lovers that don’t mind sharing the bathroom with a moth the size of their hand. The camp is small, with only 7 chalets. Each chalet has a kitchenette, aircon and a lovely, big wooden deck for sipping G&T’s on. Ablutions are communal and, although old, are very clean. There is a sparkling pool with loungers to while away the hot afternoons. The camp sites are shaded by large trees. A communal kitchen with everything you need is available for campers. Each camp site is equipped with a power point and a braai with a grid.

The camp site.
The chalets.

What To Bring

Guests need to supply their own food and beverages. There is a small shop selling drinks and snacks, but no other food. NB! The tap water at Ndumo is not suitable for drinking. Ensure you take your own supply of drinking water and ice trays to make your own ice, because it’s a bit of a hit and a miss whether the reserve has in stock. There is a Spar located 2km from the reserve in the town where you can get petrol, cash and groceries. Stock up on wood while you’re at it, as the only wood available is at the gate and in short supply. Ndumo is in a malaria area, so take precautions.

Shokwe pan walk under the sycamore figs. Broadbills be here.
Golden orb web spider

Ndumo Game Reserve

[email protected] / +27 33 845 1000

Open Summer (October to March) from 05:00 – 19:00 and Winter (April to September) from 06:00 – 18:00.

Getting there: From the north or south, follow the N2 and turn off at Jozini. Go through the town, across the dam wall and follow the road until you see the Ndumo sign posts. The last 12 or so kilometers is dirt road. It’s a little like cars on ice after rain, but otherwise passable with a normal vehicle. When we were there it looked like they were in the process of tarring the road, but it’s anyone’s guess when this will be completed.

GPS co-ordinates: 32d18’48.85″E 26d54’32.48″S

* Apologies for the poor quality photos. Suggestions on improving my landscaping shots are welcomed!*

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