In the history of Zululand, a number of characters pop up repeatedly, and not all of them are Zulu. Born in Port Elizabeth to Scottish parents, John Dunn would later become a Zulu chief and establish his own clan, taking 49 wives and fathering about 117 children.
Dunn, hunter, trader and adviser to King Cetshwayo, made his home under a milkwood tree at the mouth of Umlalazi River. It was named eMthunzini (place in the shade), and while the milkwood tree that created the shade has passed into history, the village established in this place still bears the name.
Mtunzini is a green village, both in position and in mindset, and was the first urban area in South Africa to be granted conservancy status. Situated on the banks of the Umlalazi lagoon and intertwined with the Umlalazi Nature Reserve, Mtunzini manages to retain an almost overwhelming sense of nature and serenity, with red and blue duiker making occasional appearances.
As you’d expect, Mtunzini is a place to relax and unwind far from the bright lights. Activities are gentle and simple, from walks in the nature reserve or along the beach to pointing binoculars towards the canopies of trees, chasing a dimpled ball around a lawn, watching the tip of a fishing rod or browsing for trees and shrubs to take back home. And then there’s the history to be traced, including the enigmatic Dunn and his unlikely place in Zulu culture.
Look out for
Ongoye Forest, just down the drag from Mtunzini on the way to Empangeni, is one of Zululand’s exceptional forest reserves and a noteworthy spot on the Zululand Birding Route. Specials include the green barbet, yellow-streaked greenbul and eastern bronze-naped pigeon.
The Raffia Palm Monument, just outside the nature reserve, is a natural heritage site and one of the only places in the country where palm-nut vultures can regularly be seen. The palms themselves are an interesting sight, and at certain times of the year you might be able to see the vultures in their nests.
Umlalazi Nature Reserve has stands of both white and black mangroves, where mangrove crabs, mangrove kingfishers and the odd, boggle-eyed little mudskipper fish can be seen.
The Twinstreams Nursery was started as a rehabilitation project, reintroducing indigenous plants to the area. Now it is a spectacular, serene spot, where you can get good advice on what will make it back in your own garden.
Ferry trips in the lagoon are a great way to relax while bird-watching or just getting a lift to the lagoon mouth.