Discovering Zululand: Dlinza Forest in Eshowe

Posted by Stuart Parker on 24 January 2013

As African travel enthusiasts, we all have a travel wish list or a bucket list of places we plan to see in our lifetime. Mine is an ever-growing list of unique destinations throughout Africa. In the coming years I want to return to Mozambique to explore its southern coast, explore the natural beauty of Zambia’s national parks in my Suzuki Jimny and take my wife to see the desert landscapes of Namibia. With a bit of luck I may even get up into East Africa to see the great migration and photograph the gorillas in Uganda and Rwanda.

But like so many other avid travellers, I tend to spend my time planning these far off adventures and neglect to explore what’s in my own backyard. In October last year my wife and I moved to the small town of Mtunzini on the KwaZulu Natal North Coast. Since I am starting my New Year in a new home, I’ve decided to set a New Year’s resolution: I am going to dedicate my available weekends to discovering my new back garden – the Zululand and KZN North Coast areas – and I am dubbing it Discovering Zululand.

 

Dlinza Forest, Eshowe

 

With my sister and her fiancé visiting from Johannesburg, we decided our first discovering Zululand adventure would be the Dlinza Forest & Boardwalk in Eshowe. We are all keen, amateur birders and I’d heard that the forest is home to several unique birds, some of which are only found along the KZN North Coast. The Eastern-Bronze Naped Pigeon is probably top of the list for most birders visiting the forest but other notable species include the Spotted Ground Thrush, Green Coucal and Scaly-Throated Honeyguide.

After speaking to the local Mtunzini residents I decided to hire a birding guide to take us through the forest. Finding birds in a massive forest like Dlinza can be a challenge, but having a professional guide take your through the forest greatly improves your chances of finding the birds you’re after.

The alarm rang at the ridiculous time of 5am on Saturday morning. Our guide, Spho, insisted we met as early as possible to enjoy the forest before it got too hot. It get’s warm and humid under the forests canopy as the day heats up, so getting an early start gave us ample time to enjoy the forest before the temperatures become uncomfortable.

Spho was eagerly waiting for us as we arrived at the Dlinza Forest gate. After a brief introduction Spho questioned us on our birding knowledge and asked what we hoped to experience while out on the walk. I ambitiously told him wanted to see as many lifers as possible, but really we just wanted to enjoy the walk through the forest.

Armed with binoculars, iphone’s (Sasol birds app) and cameras, we left the information centre and followed Spho into the forest. We started our walk on the Dlinza aerial boardwalk, an impressive 125m raised walkway that extends deep into the forest.  As we ventured further along the boardwalk the forest floor gradually disappeared into the valley below. It was not long before we found ourselves walking high amongst the massive tree’s canopies.

At the end of the boardwalk we climbed the 20m high lookout tower to one of the best forest views I’ve ever seen. Towering over the tallest tree we could see the entire forest stretching far into the valley below. While we stood mesmerised by the view, Spho was on a mission. “This is the best place in the forest to spot the Eastern-Bronze Naped Pigeon,” he said with his binoculars pressed hard against his face. “They prefer the top of the trees so it’s difficult to see them from the ground”.

He pulled out an old, tattered bird book and briskly paged to the pigeon’s picture and corresponding description. I could see by the state of his book and the ease in which he navigated its pages that Spho and his book had been trusted partners for many years now. Now eager to find this elusive pigeon we abandoned the cameras and forgot about the view to scan the treetops with our binoculars. We found nothing! Still hopeful, Spho told us we’d return to the lookout tower at the end of the walk.

We left the boardwalk for the small dirt trail that lead us further into the forest. Now walking on the ground I was in awe of the massive trees that towered over us. I found myself completely absorbed by forest and its unmistakable charm. I wanted to ask Spho so many questions about the forest. But on the other hand, I was completely contempt to simply walk in silence and enjoy it for what it is.

Then a call rang out through the forest and Spho froze mid stride… “You hear that?” he asked. That’s a Scaly-Throated Honeyguide,” he added with ever increasing excitement. Carefully we surveyed the treetops, following the call as the bird flew from tree to tree. Finally his call gave him away. Spho could barely contain himself, “We always hear it calling around this area but hardly see it”. This was the first time he’d seen the honeyguide in months, for us it was the first ever and definitely a sighting to remember.

We spent the next three hours exploring the trails through the Dlinza Forest, stopping every so often to add another spectacular bird sighting to our growing list. By the end of the day we had notched up several lifers, including:

Scaly-Throated Honeyguide

Olive Sunbird

Collared Sunbird

Green Coucal

Trumpeter Hornbill

Cinnamon Dove

Square Tailed Dronga

Black Bellied Starling

Purple Crested Turaco

Spotted Ground Thrush

Olive Thrush

At the end of the walk we once again climbed the lookout tower in hope of spotting that Pigeon but it wasn’t to be. Happy with what we’d seen, we decided to give up the search and settled on one of the viewing deck to enjoy our coffee and breakfast. The perfect end to a peaceful mornings walk.

The Dlinza Forest is located in the town of Eshowe and is easily accessible if you living in the Durban and KZN North Coast areas. Most people only walk the Boardwalk to the lookout tower but there is so much more to experience than that. Take your walking shoes and follow one of the well-marked trails through the forest. If you are a keen birder then you musty consider booking a birding guide, you wont regret it. You can book the guides by calling the Dlinza Boardwalk information centre.

Next on the Discover Zululand list for is the Ongoye Forest. I’ve heard it’s equally impressive as Dlinza and has a small 4×4 trail, which I’m going to explore with my little Suzuki Jimny.

 

If you a regular traveller to the KZN North Coast or know of any unique destinations in the area I’d love to hear about them. My backyard travel list is growing!






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