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Ndumo Game Reserve & Tembe Elephant Reserve 4x4 Trails

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65km from Jozini

-26.9119, 32.2636

100km, 2-4hrs, Grade 1-3

+27 35 591 0058

Configuration: Various options.

Terrain: Sand, mud, flood plains and corrugations on the access roads.

These are self-drive routes; no guiding is needed. This is a year-round destination although summer can get very hot. Self-catering chalets and camping are available in Ndumo and a tented camp offers full board accommodation. Both reserves have a swimming pool and restaurant. You're in an area that begs exploration. The Lubombo Transfrontier Park includes Usuthu Gorge - Game drives, birdwatching, guided day walks and swimming are on your activity list here.


If you want to experience Africa, the real Africa that inspired the creation of characters like Allan Quatermain, you have to come to this piece of paradise where wild elephants still roam. This is a perfect destination for nature and 4x4 enthusiasts looking for peace and space. There are kilometres of empty tracks through sand forests, savannah grasslands, palm savannah, swamps and seasonal pans.

The Ndumo Game Reserve is one of Africa's oldest and most scenic parks and together with the Tembe Elephant Reserve probably two of South Africa's best kept secrets.

Ndumo is situated at the northern end of the Pongola floodplain, bounded by the Usuthu River in the north and the confluence of the Usuthu and Pongola rivers in the east. The Nyamithi and Banzi Pans on the Pongola and Usutu flood plains are surrounded by fever trees, giving them a surreal yellow-green tint. They also provide habitats for crocodiles (one of Africa’s largest populations), hippo, fish and a large bird population (more than half of the country’s known species).

The 4x4 route is an extremely scenic and wild drive. It is not very challenging, but a lot of fun. The sycamore fig forests and fever tree forests are simply beautiful, and the lookout point and picnic site at Red Cliffs makes for a good resting place.

Tembe Elephant Reserve is only 20km from Ndumo but, depending on road conditions, you may travel for an hour. Of course 30 000ha of untamed and untainted wide open space is worth every minute of it. You'll need a 4x4 to explore the sandy tracks through this tapestry of rare sand forest and lush African bush. The terrain in both reserves is fairly flat, though the sand and the muddy flood plain can be challenging.

Ndumo Camp offers self-catering chalets, a campsite and a swimming pool under spreading marula trees. There are ablutions with hot and cold running water and flush toilets, and a shop selling firewood, charcoal and basic provisions. Opt for Tembe if you want to relax in a luxury tent with en suite bathroom and all meals included.

Follow the N2 and turn off to Jozini. Go through the town and cross the dam wall. The parks are well signposted from here.

Elephant Coast

KwaZulu Natal


On the eastern seaboard of South Africa, the wild country of the Elephant Coast presses up against the Indian Ocean in the east, Mozambique in the north and Zululand to the south and west. Here, the bright lights of the city are nowhere to be seen, replaced by night skies as unpolluted as nature created them.

The area was named for the elephants that once roamed here in great numbers, hunted for their tusks until they had all but disappeared. Luckily this has been turned around and elephants can once again be seen in many of the region’s game reserves, along with the rest of the Big 5.

Made up of extensive commercial farms, private game farms and government game reserves, the Elephant Coast is still relatively untouched by modernity. It incorporates vast expanses of wilderness, including an internationally renowned World Heritage Site, the 328000ha Isimangaliso Wetland Park. It is also home to Africa’s oldest game reserve, the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve, founded in 1895.

The area is a must-visit for ecologically minded tourists; there is far more to see than just the two flagship reserves. Fortunate tourists can see the Big 5, scuba dive with whale sharks or manta rays, watch turtles laying their eggs, fish for tigerfish, and ride horses on the beach or through the bush. It’s a region that is rich in diversity.

Ndumo Game Reserve and Tembe Elephant Reserve are both on the border with Mozambique and offer unique experiences for twitchers and pachyderm fans.

Tembe now boasts herds of elephants that are noted for their impressive tusks, and it’s one of the better places in South Africa to get good sightings and photographs of these animals.

Ndumo is best known for its birding. Species such as the narina trogon, palm-nut vulture and green twinspot can be seen in the forests of figs and other beautiful trees. Healthy populations of hippo and crocodile lurk in the pans and rivers.

KosiBay, a reserve protecting a series of shallow coastal lakes and all that lives in and around them, offers excellent fishing. There are also fascinating cultural and wildlife walks and birding opportunities. In season, one can watch turtles as they lay eggs or hatch from them.

Also on the coast is Sodwana Bay, yet another conservation area run by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife. It’s a mecca for scuba divers and snorkelers from all over the world.

Sodwana holds beneath its waters coral reefs that are home to an estimated 1 200 fish species. These include the prehistoric coelacanth, as well as sharks and other fish.

Lake Sibaya is another attraction, although one that has failed to attain the popularity it deserves. The largest fresh-water lake in South Africa, Sibaya is home to thousands of waterbirds. Game is plentiful along its shores and crocodiles stalk its clear water.

The Jozini, or Pongolapoort, Dam offers a wonderful blend of sport fishing with game viewing. The river itself is also home to healthy populations of tigerfish.

Look out for

Isimangaliso Wetland Park – this World Heritage Site is amazingly diverse and deserves at least a few days of your time. Go for a boat cruise on the estuary, a game drive through the bush, and a hike along the shores of Lake St Lucia.

Sodwana Bay – take advantage of one of the world’s top scuba diving spots. Beginners can go on courses or snorkel; while more experienced divers have a number of reefs to choose from.

Birdwatching – the entire Elephant Coast is home to bountiful birdlife, although there are a few hot spots. The pans of Mkhuze Game Reserve play host to pelicans and all sorts of other birdlife. Over 420 bird species have been recorded in the riverine forest, woodland and savannahs of the park. Ndumo Game Reserve has an even better record, with more than 430 species recorded, the most for anywhere in South Africa. Beautiful, fever tree-lined pans are home to specials such as Pel’s fishing owl, broadbill and black egret.

Fishing – the Elephant Coast’s Jozini Dam is one of the few places in South Africa where anglers can try their luck at landing the tigerfish, one of the most ferocious, toothy fish in the world. If salt-water fishing is preferred, Kosi Bay is a popular and exceptional fishery, while deep-sea charters also operate from St Lucia.

Turtle tours – St Lucia is probably the best place in the country to go on an organised turtle watching tour. While sightings can’t be guaranteed, you have a good chance of seeing leatherback and loggerhead turtles laying eggs or hatching. Community guides at Kosi Bay also offer turtle watching tours that are very worthwhile.

Game view – the Elephant Coast is still home to a healthy population of big tuskers, especially in Tembe Elephant Park. A good sighting of these animals will stay with you for the rest of your life. The Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve is internationally famous for saving the white rhino from extinction, and it remains one of the best places in the world to view this docile behemoth. The rest of the Big 5 can also be seen here, along with many other interesting animals.

Hike – while some areas require a guide (especially the Big 5 parks), there are some exceptional walking trails on the Elephant Coast. Almost all game reserves will offer day trails, while a trail with a difference can be enjoyed at Kosi bay. Here you can wander around the Kosi Mouth estuary, inspecting the primitive fish traps and watching locals at work spearing their catch. 

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