Exploring KZN’s green spaces: the secret life of Beachwood Mangroves Nature Reserve

Posted by Jo Sobey on 18 November 2013 Tags:,

Durban is nurturing a “secret” green space. It’s so clandestine, it’s closed to the public on a permanent basis… other than a brief window of opportunity on the third Saturday of every month. During those few morning hours it’s overseen by the most enthusiastic and dedicated group of guardians you’re likely to meet: the North Durban Ezemvelo Honorary Officers. From 8am to 1pm they welcome the public with open arms into a captivating world of mangroves, mudskippers and tidal landscapes.

More green spaces in Kwa-Zulu Natal: read about responsible travel in Kosi Bay and Umlalazi Nature Reserve.

River in Beachwood Mangroves Nature Reserve

About Beachwood Mangroves Nature Reserve

Beachwood Mangroves Nature Reserve is located on the northern side of the Umgeni River Mouth as it completes its terrestrial course and drains into the Indian Ocean. The river is the divider between Durban, with its impressively revamped beachfront (on the southern bank) and Durban North, a large residential area.

Google map of Beachwood Mangroves Nature Reserve and Umgeni River

The reserve is small (only 76 hectares) but filled with endemic treasures. It’s one of the last remaining fragments of protected mangrove habitat on KZN’s coast, on one of the most polluted rivers in the country. Mostly used by researchers and school groups for educational purposes, it’s a relief that this under-the-radar reserve is protected as a National Monument rather than being exploited.

A trail through the mangroves

An elevated boardwalk has been laid out as a trail around Beachwood, so even when the tide is in it’s still possible to explore the reserve. Although you’re free to take the self-guided option, we chose to join a group tour led by one of the knowledgeable officers.

Flora and fauna at Beachwood

Most of the Beachwood Mangrove residents are invisible during the winter months, so we missed a lot of the fauna – although the fiddler crabs and climbing whelks were out in full force. The flora, however, in true KZN form, was flourishing in a riot of green.

The way mangroves work is fascinating. At Beachwood you’ll find three types: red, black and white. Each one has a distinct role to play in the mangrove ecosystem. Together they protect land masses against extreme weather (especially hurricanes and tropical storms), stabilise the shoreline and provide a living, breeding and feeding habitat for birds, fish and other creatures.

The boardwalk winds along next to a distributary of the Umgeni, through a cool Black Mangrove forest and out into the mudflats. The mudflats are punctuated with sparse tufts of Ncema Grass, a popular hideout of the spotted bush snake. If you look carefully, you might see a threatened KZN dwarf chameleon hanging off a grass blade.

A view of Durban from Beachwood Mangroves Nature Reserve Boardwalk through the mangroves at Beachwood Mangroves Nature Reserve Black mangroves at Beachwood Mangroves Nature Reserve Boardwalk at Beachwood Mangroves Nature Reserve

Views from Umhlanga to Durban

A path off the trail leads over the stream and onto the beach with panoramic views from Umhlanga on the left horizon to the Durban cityscape on the right. Under the right weather conditions, these scenes are travel magazine feature material!

Walking through the mangrove forest at Beachwood Mangroves Nature Reserve Beach path at Beachwood Mangroves Nature Reserve View of Umhlanga from Beachwood Mangroves Nature Reserve Durban cityscape from Beachwood Mangroves Nature Reserve Highrise flats overlooking Beachwood Mangroves Nature Reserve

Beachwood Mangroves and sustainable leisure

What does a morning at Beachwood Mangroves Nature Reserve have to do with sustainable leisure? When faced with an empty Saturday morning, a number of entertainment options present themselves. For most of us it’s a toss-up between shopping, a coffee date, perhaps movies or a trip to the beach. Every weekend, green spaces full of fresh air and natural beauty across South Africa are waiting to be visited. Visiting these spaces renews our minds, creates/retains employment, and communicates that our parks, reserves and conservancies are valued. The (usually minimal) entrance fees are vital for our green spaces to survive and flourish.

Travel notes for Beachwood Mangroves Nature Reserve

Location: entrance off Riverside Road, Durban North, just before the M4 highway
Open hours: third Saturday of the month, 8am-1pm
Entrance fee: free (there is a donations box)
Picnic area: yes