Although forests make up one of the smallest ecosystems in the country, South Africa’s forests take many forms, not all forests are alike. And there are few cities in South Africa (if any) where you can enjoy such a diversity of easily accessible and different forest types as you can in Durban.
There are few places where one can feel totally at ease and at one with nature than wondering through a forest, listening to the bird calls, appreciating the cool, damp air and marveling at the growth all around you. Forests are special places and all very unique in their own special way, some forests have thick undergrowth and a thick dense canopy, some have tall towering trees and open park like state below them, others are short and survive off moisture from the ocean, others have adapted and survive off the mist in the higher altitudes …. and taking some time out to explore the variety of forests we have right here in Durban, you'll see just how different and uniquely adapted each one is. Here are a few of our favorites.
The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness. John Muir
Pigeon Valley Forest
Probably one of the most accessible forests from Durban City. Pigeon Valley is what is known as Coastal Climax Forest, is an important forest reserve as it has very high levels of biodiversity for an area of only 11ha. It was established specifically to provide protection for the Natal elm (Celtis mildbraedii) and other rare forest trees touch as Natal loquat (Oxyanthus pyriformis) which is endemic to the Durban area
The forest is situated on the Berea, overlooking Durban and Its unusual north-south orientation may be the reason for its high variety of plant and animal life. There are many trails through the forest and a great place for seeing Red and Blue Duiker as well as three different species of Mongoose, loads of interesting birds. For birders, the Buffspotted Flufftail, Narina Trogon, Spotted Ground Thrush and Green Twinspots seem to be firm favorites. For more information on the forest, visit the Friends of Pigeon Valley Facebook Page here
Mangroves are forests too and probably one of the rarest and most threatened ecosystems in the world. Mangroves are specialized types of trees that can live in very salty water, they protect the coastline and prevent erosion by collecting sediment from the rivers and streams and slowing down the flow of water. One of the most biologically diverse forests, mangrove forests are known as the "rainforests by the sea". These forests are the breeding grounds for fish, shrimp, prawns, crabs, shellfish and snails….and the good news is that we have a very accessible, beautiful mangrove forest right here, just 5 minutes from the city centre.
The 76ha Beachwood Mangrove Nature Reserve at the mouth of the Umgeni River preserves a natural estuarine ecosystem, the only one of its kind in Durban and a sheer joy to explore, especially for kids who can marvel at the Fiddler Crabs and Mudskippers along the wooden boardwalk through the forest. The mangrove forest is also home to some pretty special birds including the Mangrove Kingfisher (in winter) and a range of other waterbirds. Durban Green Corridor arranges excellent, educational walks through the Mangroves from the GreenHub at uMngeni Estuary - a must for school groups and a perfect place to learn about the amazing way animals and plants can adapt to tough environments.
Kraanzkloof Nature Reserve and Molweni Valley
The 584 ha, Kraanzkloof Nature Reserve is covered by dense forest and on coastal escarpment between Pinetown and Hillcrest, this slightly higher altitude forest includes great examples of coastal forest and also riparian forest in the deep valleys and gorges. Situated at the confluence of the Molweni and Nqutu Rivers (both of which feed into the uMngeni system), which have cut deeply into the sandstone, forming a spectacular gorge system. It is an impressive sight ….and did we mention just 30Km's from the city centre?
The reserve is home to a number of rare plants and a great variety of animals including servals, porcupines, otters and all three Grey, Red and Blue Duiker. It's also a birders dream and one of your best spots in Durban to find Crowned Eagles in amongst over 200 other species. The reserve has a couple of beautiful picnic sites at Kloof Waterfall and Nkutu Falls.
Just outside of the reserve itself, in the Molweni Valley are some great examples of riparian forests, these are forests that grow alongside rivers, often forming thick bush along the river banks and in home to some spectacular twisted fig trees growing up the steep cliffs and bubbling streams. This section heading up towards Inanda Dam is what we call the Finfoot Loop and possibly one of the prettiest scenic drives in KwaZulu-Natal and of course home to a good population of the shy African Finfoot. In 2013 Kloof Conservancy initiated a project to construct a community park in Lower Molweni area and promote tourism in the area in partnership with Durban Green Corridor….an area well worth visiting! Contact us for details of guides and trips to this area.
Other Forests worth mentioning and exploring
If were going to make this article comprehensive it could take months to cover all the forest patches in Durban, but a few others that are worthwhile mentioning include Hawaan Forest, Near uMhlanga, this is a great example of Dune Forest, a forest and restricted to coastal sand dunes where the trees are distinctly shorter than the taller coastal forests. In the south of Durban, you can also find an interesting forest area called Kenneth Stainbank Nature Reserve, this is home to some impressive Yellowwood Trees and Durban's very own Welsh Castle, Codemore Castle (yes, a castle right here in Durban)
It's spring, the prefect time for getting out and enjoying some nature. Give us a shout here if you need any further information or guides that can accompany you to these areas and share some of Durban's natural wonders with you!