The Zululand birding route has been divided into three sub-routes:
North-east Zululand | North-west Zululand | Southern Zululand
Zululand Birding Route is the first BirdLife South Africa avitourism project, it has been running for more than a decade focused on conserving our birds and their habitats by developing and promoting birding tourism (avitourism) in the Northern Kwazulu-Natal region; which is helping conserve birds in Zululand by giving them direct financial value and is able to carry out this role of socio economic development and conservation work in Zululand through generous sponsorship from many bodies.
To date the Zululand birding route has trained and mentored over 35 community bird guides for the route resulting in ten fulltime tourism/nature related jobs and eighteen SMME; marketed the area exhibiting in trade shows nationally and internationally, finalist for the Smithsonian Institute sustainable tourism awards in 2003 and made considerable progress developing birding infrastructure in the Northern Kwazulu-Natal region.
With more than 600 species recorded, the Zululand Birding Route is southern Africa's birding diversity hotspot! A network of 16 self-drive routes offers a range of great birding localities that will thrill the most seasoned birder. For convenience these are grouped into four regions – North East Zululand (Elephant Coast), North West Zululand , Southern Zululand and North Coast Route (Zulu Root).
World-famous birding venues provide forest, grassland, wetland, bushveld, mountains, estuarine, coastline and open ocean habitats, making this southern Africa's most diverse area for birding. 63 southern African endemic or near-endemic species are present, making this region a must on any birders' wish list.
Home to about 500 species, North West Zululand provides the visitor with a wide variety of birds. From the low altitude, subtropical thickets in the east to the high altitude temperate grasslands in the west, this region covers many habitats and their accompanying birds.
The North West Zululand is well known for its large wetlands, rolling hills and wide variety of big game, including the big five. 58 of Southern Africa's endemic and near endemic birds are found here too, many of them confined to the extensive grasslands and wetlands.
Birding is best in the warmer summer months, but winter provides large congregations of water birds around nationally important wetlands.
Rainfall varies from 500mm to well over 1500mm per annum. The hot, wet season - best for birding - starts in September and ends in March. The cool, dry season runs from April to August. Average maximum summer temperatures are around 30 degrees, with winter temperatures dropping to around 20 degrees. Frost occurs at altitudes above 900m above sea level for the two coldest months (June and July). Snowfalls are irregular at altitudes above 1300m above sea level, and never last longer than two days.
Excellent to fair roads link all birding spots mentioned, but drivers are cautioned on gravel roads when they are wet as they can become impassable to normal vehicles.
Accommodation ranges from ultra luxury to basic camping sites - the choice is yours!
North West Zululand was also the venue for at least six Anglo Zulu and Anglo Boer War battles including the battle of Kambula where 1000+ Zulus lost their lives.
Southern Zululand, a premier forest birding route, is home to a great diversity of bird species. Starting on the warm coast of Zululand between Mtunzini, "place of shade," and Richards Bay, the route moves inland through estuarine swamp forest up to coastal scarp forest in the foothills of Eshowe.
Surrounding Eshowe are a number of forested regions where the endemic Green Barbet of Ngoye Forest is just one of many forest specials which inhabit this region. Further inland are the towns of Melmoth and Nkandla, which, although are in the mistbelt, drop sharply down to dry thornveld habitat providing a range of cliff faces where Lanner Falcons, Rock Kestrels and Bald Ibis breed annually.
This area is also rich in Zulu history and culture. Along with the birding routes are self-guided hiking trails and many historical monuments. For the wildlife enthusiast, this region doesn't host the big five, but on foot, encounters with the diminutive Blue Duiker on the forest floor, and in the canopy, Samango and Vervet Monkeys sharing their meal with Delegorgue's Pigeons and Trumpeter Hornbills, are not uncommon.
This region, which includes swamp forest, dune forest, coastal scarp forest, and the mistbelt forests of Nkandla (at 1200m), are joined by a network of river valleys and rolling grasslands which make for some breathtaking scenery. Whether you're a birding enthusiast or simply enjoy the outdoors, the Southern Zululand birding route is a gold mine of diversity. There are deserted gold mines too, so whatever your quest, prospect here and you're bound to be rewarded!
by Gareth Chittenden