Nestled in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, 56 kilometres north-west of the historic town of Eshowe, lies the stunning Nkandla Forest. This magnificent forest is considered to be one of the most beautiful in the region, and is a rare example of a high wet rain forest, of which there are few left in the world.
Nkandla Forest is thought to be located in a transition zone between mist and scarp forest, which makes it a unique and important habitat for many rare plant species. The forest covers the ridge between the Thukela and Mhlatuze rivers, at an altitude of between 1100 to 1300 metres above sea level. The constant moisture and mist in the area provide the perfect conditions for a lush world of trees, tree ferns, and cycads to thrive.
Beneath the ridge runs the Nsuze River, and the forest is known to be home to wild horses, eagles, and a diverse range of bird species. Visitors are advised to take a guide with them when exploring the forest, as some of the paths can be difficult to navigate due to the thick vegetation. With over 147 bird species found in the forest, it is a popular destination for birdwatchers, and is included on the Zululand Birding Route.
If you’re a bird lover, be sure to visit the part of the forest known as “thrush alley” to see the orange ground thrush, forest canaries, grey cuckoo-shrikes, white-starred robins, and the impressive Knysna turaco. The forest is managed by KZN Wildlife and no permit is required to visit, but it is recommended to contact the birding route for a guide to accompany you on your hike or walk.
Popular Activities and Tourist Destinations at Nkandla Forest
Nkandla Forest is not only a haven for nature lovers, but also offers a variety of activities and nearby destinations for tourists to enjoy.
Hiking and walking trails
The forest provides several well-marked trails for visitors to explore and enjoy the beauty of the lush vegetation, diverse birdlife, and unique flora and fauna. Guided hikes are available for a more immersive experience.
In addition to the numerous bird species, visitors may also have the opportunity to see wild horses, eagles, and other wildlife that call the forest home.
With over 147 bird species found in the forest, it’s no wonder that Nkandla Forest is a popular destination for birdwatchers. Birding enthusiasts can look out for the impressive Knysna turaco, forest canaries, grey cuckoo-shrikes, and more.
The Zululand Birding Route
Nkandla Forest is included in the Zululand Birding Route, a collection of birding hotspots in the region that provide birders with a chance to see a wide variety of bird species.
The historic town of Eshowe, which was once the capital of Zululand, is just 56 kilometres from Nkandla Forest. Visitors can learn about the rich cultural heritage of the area and visit historic sites such as the Dlinza Forest Aerial Boardwalk, the Eshowe Museum, and Fort Nongqayi.
Dlinza Forest Aerial Boardwalk
This popular attraction is located just outside of Eshowe and provides visitors with a unique bird’s-eye view of the forest canopy. The boardwalk is surrounded by the lush Dlinza Forest, and is a great place to see a variety of bird species.
Made At Home
If you’re looking for a fun and unique shopping experience during your visit to the Nkandla Forest area, be sure to check out the Made at Home Market in Eshowe. This market is like no other, with a simple rule that nothing is allowed from factories or shops. Instead, you’ll find fresh, homemade, and handcrafted goods that are sure to delight your senses.
At Made at Home, you’ll find a wide variety of local produce, including ripe tomatoes, colorful peppers, crunchy lettuce, home-grown beans, cabbage, and rhubarb. These fresh ingredients are the perfect addition to any salad and are sourced from the surrounding rural areas.
In addition to fresh produce, the market is also known for its baked goods. You’ll find a variety of mouth-watering treats, including koeksisters, muffins in a range of flavors, and homemade bread. With so much to see and taste, a visit to Made at Home Market is a must on any Saturday during your stay in the area.
Whether you’re a foodie or simply enjoy trying new things, the Made at Home Market is a great place to sample the local flavors and pick up some unique, handcrafted goods to take home as a souvenir. So be sure to add it to your itinerary when visiting Nkandla Forest.
The Rainbow Route
The Rainbow Route is a scenic road trip that links the provinces of Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal, starting in Carolina. The route takes you through charming, largely undiscovered towns such as Kriel, Bethal, Ermelo, Chrissiesmeer, Amsterdam, and Piet Retief before reaching the border town of Paulpietersburg. From there, the route continues through Vryheid, Melmoth, Ulundi, Eshowe and Mtunzini.
The Rainbow Route offers a unique experience, showcasing the beautiful scenery of Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal, while also taking visitors through the rich history of both the Voortrekker and the Zulu nations. The towns along the route each offer something special, from historical architecture, to scenic landscapes and vibrant bird life.
Carolina is a stunning town with original sandstone architecture, including the gorgeous Komati Gorge and the Nooitgedacht Nature Reserve. Kriel is the heart of the country’s largest coalfields and is known for its power production. Bethal is a farming community that boasts a museum, memorial square and dam. Near Ermelo, visitors can admire the stone huts built by the Leghoya Tloka tribe and San paintings on Welgelegen farm. Chrissiesmeer is a beautiful area with lakes, wetlands, and grasslands, rich in Anglo-Boer War history. Amsterdam is a popular destination for hiking and offers numerous trails, while Piet Retief is a quaint town surrounded by forests, often used by local road-trippers as an overnight stop.
Across the KwaZulu-Natal border, the route continues along the eastern edge of the Battlefields Route. Paulpietersburg is rich in historical relevance from both the Anglo-Zulu and Anglo-Boer Wars, while Vryheid was once the capital of the Nieuwe Republiek and offers three museums and nearby battlefields to explore. Melmoth is a former gold rush town surrounded by timber plantations, a bird sanctuary, and the Nkandla forest. Ulundi is the former heart of Zululand, and visitors can visit the Valley of the Kings, the kraal of Cetshwayo, and the grave of Piet Retief. Eshowe is the birthplace of Cetshwayo and offers attractions such as the Dlinza forest, Entumi Nature Reserve, Mpushini Falls and Vukani Museum. Mtunzini is known for the Raphia palm and the rare palmnut vulture bird of prey.
To follow the Rainbow Route, take Route 38 until just after crossing the N11, then take the R542, R544, and R545 through Kriel to Bethal. From Bethal, the N17 will take you to Ermelo and Chrissiesmeer, and the R33 will take you into KwaZulu-Natal until reaching Vryheid, where you can take the R34 to just beyond Melmoth, then join the R66 via Eshowe to KwaGingindlovu, and the R102 to Mtunzini. You can find a brochure and map at tourist information centers in KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga. The entire route takes over 8 hours, so it is recommended to break up the journey and stay in Chrissiesmeer, Piet Retief, Melmoth, and Umtinzini.
Adams Outpost Restaurant
Adams Outpost Restaurant and Tea Garden is an ideal destination for travelers looking to satisfy their hunger while immersing themselves in the local culture and scenic beauty. Located in Eshowe, the oldest European settlement in Zululand, the restaurant offers a unique blend of history, culture, and delicious cuisine.
The restaurant is situated in the historic Fort Nongqayi Museum Village, within a homestead that dates back to 1887. Constructed by Alfred Adams, the first trader and military purveyor in Eshowe, the homestead was once home to many prominent figures and was host to many dignitaries over the years. In fact, the famous story of Prince Edward dancing on the dining room table in 1925 is a testament to the building’s rich history.
Visitors can also enjoy exploring the surrounding museum village and the Vukani Zulu Cultural Museum, which offer a glimpse into South Africa’s fascinating past and the role it has played in shaping the country today.
In addition to a range of hot drinks, the menu at Adams Outpost Restaurant offers a variety of dishes, including stuffed brown mushrooms, smoked salmon salad with wasabi soy dressing, a range of breakfast options, Thai chicken breast, beef fillet, spare ribs, curry of the day, calamari, and fish. The portions are generous and the sweets and freshly baked goods are sure to leave a lasting impression.
Nkandla Forest provides a unique and unforgettable experience for nature lovers, birdwatchers, and anyone looking for a peaceful escape into the great outdoors. Whether you’re hiking the trails, watching the birds, or exploring nearby attractions, you’re sure to leave with lasting memories of this magnificent forest.
So, if you’re looking for a chance to immerse yourself in a rare and breathtakingly beautiful forest, make sure to add Nkandla Forest to your South African itinerary.