The Nkandla Forest is located roughly seventy kilometers from Melmoth in
KwaZulu Natal, and is the largest remaining indigenous forest in Zululand. The
name Nkandla comes from the Zulu verb "khandla", which means "to be tired". The
forest was named by King Shaka, when he reached the area, exhausted from his
journey and decided to rest there a while. Throughout Zulu history the Nkandla
Forest has been a place of mystery, and was regarded as a dwelling place for
supernatural beings. The Chube people who were ironworkers associated with the
Nkandla area, also used the forest as a stronghold, preventing themselves from
being conquered by Shaka.
The Nkandla Forest is one of the most rare and outstanding examples of surviving mist belt forest in South Africa. The forest covers the crest and south-western slopes of the ridge lying above the Mhlatuze and Tugela rivers at an altitude of between 1100 and 1300 meters above sea level. Streams rising in the forest form deep gorges leading into the Nsuze river which runs along the base of the ridge.
Apart from being an area of immense natural beauty, the Nkandla forest also represents a rare type of high wet rain forest, of which very few examples survive. This type of forest is a remnant of a habitat from many years ago, which would have otherwise been extinct, but managed to survive. They are left surviving from times in the distant past when the climate was wetter, and even colder. The forest has an impressively high species diversity, and is home to many species that are associated with scarp forest habitats, indicating that Nkandla may be positioned in a transitional zone between mist and scarp forest. More than one hundred and fifty different bird species have been observed in the area and wildlife such as Bushbuck, Samango Monkey, Bushpig, Blue Duiker and Leopard can been seen occasionally in the forest.
There is also a massive variety of rare plants growing in the Nkandla forest, and this, combined with the rarity of the habitat type as a whole, provides enough reasons for conserving this rare forest type. There are currently no visitor facilities at Nkandla, though people who wish to hike or camp may do so with the prior permission of the Officer in Charge.
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