With soaring mountain cliffs and deep twisting valleys, Ithala Game Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal is a must-visit safari park for avid bird watchers. Home to four of the Big Five of the African animal kingdom visitors can enjoy guided and self-drive game viewing excursions.
Due to its rich and diverse landscape, Ithala Game Reserve is home to a wide and diverse array of birdlife and animal life. In the dense bush along the river one might see Savanna Elephant, Buffalo and both Black and White Rhino.
On the plains visitors will frequently have sightings of Blue Wildebeest, Common Waterbuck, Red Haartebeest and Plains Zebra. As the reserve has regular water in the form of the Pongola River, sightings of game at the water are more unpredictable than they would be in parks where water is solely found at waterholes.
The Dakaneni Loop and the Ngubhu Loop roads are known to be good game viewing areas and Black Rhino are regularly seen along the Dakaneni Loop in the early mornings and late afternoons. Within the camps, visitors may see Common large-spotted Genet at night and Slender Mongoose during the day. Rock Hyrax regularly spend the night on the windowsills of the chalets and Thick-tailed Galagos and Common Duikers are also regularly visitors. Vervet Monkeys are known to become nuisances within the camps, stealing fruit and nuts off of tables and making a mess in the thatch. Nile Crocodiles and Monitor Lizards can be seen along the riverbanks and there are at least 41 species of Snake in the area including the large Southern African Python.
The biggest highlight of the game reserve is bird watching. Home to over 318 bird species, avid bird watchers are in for a treat with a number of locations in the park offering excellent bird watching experiences. Head out to the Ntshondwe Camp for sightings of mocking Cliff Chat and Buff-Streaked Chat.
Head down to the picnic site on the Dakaneni Loop overlooking the Pongola River, and spend some time listening to calls and spotting various species of birds, including Brown-headed Parrots, Broad-billed Rollers and Bearded Scrub Robins. Crowned Eagles are often seen in the riverine forest and the cliffs should be scanned for secretary birds and Verreaux's eagles.
Ithala Game Reserve has beautiful and diverse geological features, including rocks of the Mozaan Group of the Karoo Sequence that are known to be over 3 000 million years old. Proclaimed in 1972, Ithala incorporates 30 000 hectares of land from the high hills of Nkwambase, Nkangala and Madibe in the west to the Pongola River to the north. The highest hills in the reserve soar to 1 400 metres while others drop to just 400 metres above sea-level. Fenced in on the southern, eastern and western boundaries, the Pongola River acts as the northern border and has no fences.
A majority of the landscape is covered in Ithala quartzite sourveld, which is a mixture of tall grassland including spear grass and yellow thatching grass, woody shrubs and small trees. On the steep slopes near to the entrance of the park one will find short mountain grassland, while the woodlands are dominated by various thorny acacia species. Sycamore figs line the banks of the Pongola River and several species of proteas can be found growing on the slopes.
The reserve has been inhabited for many years and there are a number of examples of stone tools and rock paintings in the region, testifying to the presence of people in the Middle and Later Stone Ages. There are also a number of sites were where iron ore was excavated for smelting during the Iron Age.
Once part of a vast tract of land that was granted to the Boers in 1884 by Zulu king Dinizulu, the land, which had abundant game, was over hunted and depleted badly by over grazing, over hunting and consequently erosion. Since becoming a reserve in 1972, Ithala has been restocked with larger mammals and has shown remarkable signs of recovery.
See the Ithala Game Reserve Travel Guide for more info and accommodation options.