A mere hours’ drive on the N2 from Ballito, Mtunzini is a lush coastal hideaway, with secluded Raphia Palm walkways and quaint lunch spots. You may even catch a glimpse of their most famous resident, the Palmnut Vulture.
In Zulu, emthunzini refers to ‘a place in the shade’, and in the height of summer, that’s exactly where one heads when visiting this small town. Luckily, there’s plenty of it, since Mtunzini falls within the uMlalazi Nature Reserve. The streets are lined with enormous boughs, which play host to cackling Trumpeter hornbills.
The place is highly evocative, and one is reminded of the William Plomer poem, The Wild Doves at Louis Trichardt, where the poet describes “where the sun’s gong beats, and the sweat runs down”, and “midday is mad cicada time, sizzling from every open valve.”
The shade referenced in its name is actually quite specific, and reportedly refers to the place under the milkwood trees where John Dunne would meet with the Zulu elders during the late 19th Century.
Be sure to pack your walking shoes, as there is no shortage of trails both inside and outside the reserve gates. First, follow the signs just outside the reserve gates to the Raphia Palm Monument, where you’ll find wooden walkways ambling through the majestic Raphia plantation all the way to the railway line. This is where you’re most likely to see the elusive Palmnut Vulture, one of South Africa’s rarest raptors, who feast on the fruits from the Raphia.
If it’s serious birding you’re after, you can also head to Ongoye Forest just outside of town, where you can search for the green barbet, which supposedly has only ever been spotted here.
Inside uMlalazi, (there is an entrance fee, so have cash handy) you’ll find lush coastal forest trails, pristine stretches of sandy beach, and muddy mangroves teeming with life. Look out for the abundant amphibious mudskippers as they hop across the mud, and the comical fiddler crabs, which are sure to keep both children and adults amused as they raise their one enlarged claw threateningly at you!
If exploring isn’t your thing, pack your golf clubs and enjoy the beautiful 9-hole course which borders the reserve, with views of both the uMlalazi lagoon and the Indian Ocean. Book for the first tee-time so you can enjoy the cooler respite of the morning.
For lunch, head to the new-look Clay Oven restaurant, where locals and tourists alike gather for relaxed pizzas and grills, and children can play in the raised play area, or The Fat Cat for lighter lunch options.
The lagoon is best enjoyed by boat, so book a cruise with Mtunzini River Cruises and be sure to look toward the sky to spot the fish eagles in flight.
Mtunzini Country Club – mtunzinigolfclub.co.za, 035 340 1779
The Fat Cat – 035 340 2897
The Clay Oven – 035 340 1262
Mtunzini River Cruise – Facebook @zinitown