The Umlalazi Nature reserve is situated about a kilometer from Mtunzini on
the KwaZulu Natal North Coast. The reserve was established in 1948 and covers an
area of one thousand and twenty eight hectares. The reserve consists of a
lagoon, tidal mud flats and thick coastal dune forests, and is also the home of
one of the rarest birds in South Africa, The Palm Vulture.
This coastal reserve offer a range of activities which include boating, water skiing and canoeing on the Umlalazi River. Fishing on the lagoon is excellent, and the long stretches of unspoilt, and uncrowded beaches allow for good swimming, windsurfing and pleasant walks. Umlalazi also serves as an excellent bird watching destination, and feature three well established self guided trails which lead through mangrove swamps, dune forests and along the edge of the river. The first of the three trails, takes visitors on a comfortable walk through one of South Africa's best examples of mangrove swamp forest, where numerous species of mangrove can be seen. The area around the lagoon provides decent sightings of Grey Sunbird, and in winter, the Mangrove Kingfisher, as well as a few of the slightly more rare species which include African Finfoot and Half collared Kingfisher. The second trail makes its way through coastal dune forest where bushbuck, bushpig and three species of duiker can be found, as well as spotted Ground Thrush in the winter months, Green Coucal, African Crested Flycatcher, Lemon Dove, Scaly throated Honeyguide, Gorgeous Bush Shrike and hard to spot Red-capped Robin chat and Wattle Eyed Flycatcher. A third trail passes through coastal dune forest and mangrove swamp forest, running alongside the Umlalazi river. Wildflowers and a great variety of bird life can be seen. Visitors may also come across colonies of fiddler crabs and fascinating mud skippers, which are often hunted by the Palm Vultures.
Umlalazi nature reserve also features a number of campsites, which provide visitors with the choice of either log cabins or traditional open sites, and a variety of attractions which include a swimming pool, and a well stocked curio shop which sells interesting local crafts and curios, books, beer, wine, cool drinks, light snacks and ice creams. Another attraction which is reached by one of the reserve's paths is the Raffia Palm grove, which was declared a National Monument in 1942. The palms usually grow to a height of about twenty five meters with eighteen meter long leaves, and have a reasonably short life span of between twenty and thirty years. They die after flowering once and produce eight to ten thousand fruits on a massive bunch. The seeds which are rich in protein, form an essential part of the diet of the Palmnut Vulture, which nests only near these palms. The are features a lovely Boardwalk trail which leads visitors through the palm grove, from which the Palmnut Vulture may be viewed.
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