If you’re a nature lover and seeker of birds, you simply must visit Ndumo Game Reserve in Maputaland on the border between South Africa and Mozambique. Find out everything you need to know about things to do in Ndumo, its roads, landscapes, animals, trees and conservation challenges, as well as its accommodation and campsite.
For a small reserve of just over 10 000 hectares, Ndumo Game Reserve has one of the highest numbers of bird species in South Africa – a healthy 430. This is thanks to its variety of habitats from acacia savannah and sand forest to wetlands, reedbeds and beautiful pans fringed with yellow fever trees.
Hidden away in the far north-western reaches of KwaZulu-Natal, the reserve was originally proclaimed way back in 1924. In 1997 it was declared a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance. Part of its charm is its remoteness and quietness, a welcome reprieve from the tourist bustle of parks like the Kruger National Park or even Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve.
Best things to do at Ndumo Game Reserve
1. Go birding
If you’re really keen, go for a guided walk (see point 4). The guides here are superb at spotting birds and identifying bird calls. A guided drive along the northern edge of Nyamithi Pan (this road is closed to the public) can also be a feast of birds.
2. Take a game drive in your own vehicle
3. Enjoy a guided game drive
Apart from bateleur, brownhooded kingfisher, blue waxbill, crombec, trumpeter hornbill and many other birds, we also spotted giraffe (including one so tiny it still had its umbilical cord attached), nyala, impala, and a tiny suni skulking in the bushes. We enjoyed driving through pretty forested areas and taking a walk through a copse of sycamore fig and Natal mahogany trees near Shokwe Pan. Shokwe Pan is much deeper than Nyamithi so there were fewer wading birds but we did see hippos and hear two fish eagles calling to each other.
Arrange your guided drive at reception when you book in, or at least the day before.
4. Don’t miss a guided walk
5. Have a picnic at Red Cliffs
6. Spend time in a bird hide
7. Learn about the trees
8. See the reserve from the viewing tower
9. Cool off in the pool
10. Visit Tembe Elephant Park nearby
For more information on Tembe and what to see and do there, see my post Tembe Elephant Park – a Big Five reserve in KwaZulu-Natal.
Much as I love Ndumo Game Reserve for its tranquility, birding, beautiful pans, soaring fever trees and sycamores, it does have its problems. For instance, our guide told us that rangers couldn’t cut and remove a tree we saw down across the road near Shokwe Pan because they didn’t have a chainsaw in working order. So lack of resources is one issue.
Snaring for bushmeat is another, and one that has been exacerbated by poverty during the pandemic. On our way back to camp from our guided drive, we saw a giraffe with a snare around its very swollen ankle. I asked if there was a vet who could dart it to remove the tightened snare but the guide said no, not for a giraffe, maybe only for a rhino.
But although Ndumo used have a fair-sized population of both black and white rhino, there are none left. Poaching for rhino horn reduced the numbers to a measly six individuals, which were removed in 2017 in an effort to save them from what seemed would be certain death at the hands of poachers.
All this is of great concern (you can read more about it in this Daily Maverick article) and solutions are urgently needed. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t visit Ndumo to enjoy what it still has to offer. We loved our time here, both at the rest camp and in the reserve itself, with highlights definitely being the birding, guided drives and walks.
Ndumo Game Reserve accommodation
There are two options for your stay at Ndumo, both of which can be booked via Ezemvelo’s website.
1. Self-catering chalets
There are built-in braais on the grass in front, a fridge and microwave in the kitchen, and crockery and cutlery is provided. Just bring your own cooking pots if you want to make use of the communal kitchen for more elaborate meals than you can whip up on the braai or in the microwave.
The rest camp is a restful place with a lovely shaded area thanks to black monkeythorn and marula trees. There’s also a big swimming pool for cooling off on a hot day.
2. Ndumo Game Reserve camping
There’s a rustic little campsite on your left just before you get to the reception office. It’s not luxury camping, but you get a power point, a braai and communal ablutions. The sites are big enough for anything from a rooftop tent to a ground tent or caravan. Some are more shady than others so choose your site carefully. When we visited in May, no more than five or six of the 14 sites were occupied at any one time. Campers are also welcome to use the swimming pool in front of the chalets.
At both the chalets and the campsite you may get a visit from some of the reserve’s wild inhabitants, especially birds but also nyala. We even had a visit from a few inquisitive giraffes. Give the animals their space and they won’t worry about you. Just never feed them – there are enough fruits, flowers and foliage for them to eat and all you’ll do by feeding them is increase the chance of them becoming habituated to humans. However cool you think that might be, it never turns out well for them in the long run.
Where is Ndumo Game Reserve?
Ndumo is in the far north-west of KwaZulu-Natal, with Mozambique on its northern boundary. It is about 410km (5 hours) from Durban, and about 560km (7 hours and 20 minutes) from Johannesburg, skirting the southern boundary of eSwatini.
Click here to find Ndumo Game Reserve on Google Maps
Best time to visit Ndumo
Although autumn and winter temperatures are most pleasant for those who hate heat and humidity, not all of the migrant birds are present in these seasons. Spring and summer (September to March) would be best to see the widest variety of bird species.
Mid-summer can be very hot, usually in the high 20s or low 30s Celsius, but occasionally peaking in the high 30s. Winters are mild, with average day-time temperatures of a pleasant 20-22 degrees, but dipping to around 9 degrees in the evenings and early mornings.
Rain falls mostly from December to March, making summers green and lush, with humidity levels in the 80s. Summer rains also heighten the risk for malaria compared to winter (see point 7 below).
Need to know
- Gate times in April to September are from 6:00 to 18:00 and in October to March from 5:00 to 19:00. Being in the reserve outside these times is an offence.
- Reception hours are 8:00 to 12:00 and 13:00 to 16:00 daily.
- You will need to pay an entrance/conservation levy (in addition to the cost of your accommodation) when you book in, unless you have a Wild Card or a Rhino Card. Click on the links to see more about the costs and how these cards work.
- The reserve has only the most basic shop selling cold drinks, so make sure you bring all your food and drink with you for your self-catering stay.
- There’s no fuel stop for guests at the reserve, so fill up your tank before you arrive.
- The small town of Ndumu some 15km from the rest camp and camp site (9km from the reserve entrance) has a Spar supermarket for groceries and a fuel station for any last-minute needs.
- Ndumo Game Reserve lies in a malaria area so consult your doctor or travel clinic about malaria prophylaxis before your visit. Also, be sure to bring lots of mozzie repellant and to apply it to any exposed areas, especially at dawn and dusk. It’s a good idea to wear long pants, socks and long-sleeved shirts at these times when mozzies are most active. Bare ankles are a mozzie’s delight.
- Bilharzia is also present in the reserve.
- For the safety of both you and the animals, the speed limit in the reserve is 40km/h.
- Don’t pick or damage any flowers or other plants, or disturb any animals. All are offences and if you’re caught you may be fined.
- In keeping with the natural environment, try to keep noise levels down at all times.
- What to bring? Apart from your camera, binos and your favourite bird guide book, don’t forget to bring a sun hat and good walking shoes if you plan to go on a guided walk. Apply sunscreen and carry water. It’s also a good idea to carry water in your vehicle at all times in case of an emergency.
Contact info for queries and bookings
Ndumo reception +27 (0)35 591-0058
Duty phone number +27 (0)60 878-5014
Central Reservations +27 (0)33 845-1000
Book online https://bookings.kznwildlife.com/MakeABooking.aspx
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