Mtunzini - Indaba Camp, 5 - 7 May 2021

Report courtesy of Debbie Giles, photos by various group participants

[CLICK ON PHOTOS TO VIEW FULLSIZE - or view pics in accompanying SIMPLEVIEWER Presentation]

Just outside the lovely town of Mtunzini is the Umlalazi Nature Reserve. These 9 square kilometers of dune forests, lake and lagoon falls under the protection of Ezemvelu KZN Wildlife. Umlalazi is the home of the Palmnut vulture, one of the rarest birds of prey in South Africa. There are three trails within the Reserve:
- Mangrove Swamps - The Mangrove Trail
- Dune Forest - The Dune Forest Trail.
- Dune Forest and Swamps along the edge of the Umlalazi River/Lagoon - The River Mouth Trail.

The Parks Board maintains two campsites within the area - Inkwazi Campsite (Fish Eagle - iNkwazi in Zulu) and the Indaba campsite nestled in the forest and dunes. A place of great historical interest, Indaba Camp is the area where John Dunn 1834-1895 set up his judicial headquarters under the Red Milkwood trees (Indaba in Zulu is an important conference held by the principal men of the Zulu tribe - meaning "business" or "matter".) John Dunn was one of the first white pioneers in the District, a hunter/trader/farmer, he was given chieftain status by the Zulu king Cetshwayo. Dunn had a coloured wife and 49 Zulu wives with whom he had 163 children, so forming the basis of the present Dunn clan.

Chris Dobson organized a 3 night camp at Indaba for Club members from the Wednesday 5th- Friday 7th May 2021. Chris arrived on the 4th and the remainder of the group Libby, Merle, Grethe, Mary, Nelly and Rob, Lynda and Don, Linda and Eric, Charlie, Katy and Mayalee, Kostya and Patricia and myself arrived on the Wednesday afternoon and set up their tents. The campsite is well maintained and the ablutions block though old, is clean and functional.

After settling in and getting reacquainted with friends and fellow hikers we took a path that leads from the camp through forest and up a steep sand dune and on to the beach. We enjoyed the remains of a sunset and a few brave people went for a quick dip in the Ocean and then back to camp before dark via the Boardwalk to the carpark.

At 9am the next morning 12 hikers met up at Chris campsite and set off on the 4km River Mouth Trail which leads along the lagoon and through the dune forest and then down into the mangrove swamps. In the mangrove swamps there are fine examples of the White Mangrove tree and the Black Mangrove tree. The ground below the mangroves is covered with the burrows of the Red Mangrove Crab. And this ground is completely clear of any leaves - when a leaf - yellow and covered in salt - falls onto the mud, these crabs, alerted by the vibrations caused by the fallen leaves, rush out of their burrows and take these leaves deep into their burrows to be eaten. Nutrients contained in these leaves are thus recycled rather than be washed away in the tide. We tried to lure crabs out of their burrows by throwing leaves onto the mud, but no luck! Another curious inhabitant of the swamp is the Climbing Whelk - to avoid predators 1- 2 hours before high tide the whelk move up the tree trunks to avoid predators. If Climbing Whelks are taken out of their environment they will continue to climb any vertical surface in time to the tides of their original home. A large population of Whelks indicates a healthy environment. We clambered over a fallen tree and crossed a swampy stream and had a group photograph taken by Kostya at a fallen tree with the hikers posed amongst the branches. Eventually we emerged at the mouth of the Lagoon and stopped for a break - have a sandwich, some to have a swim, Chris to have a snooze, some to have a dance and generally relax. We then walked along the beach to get back to camp. Finding a break in the dunes to get to the path was difficult with hikers strung out along the wide breadth of the beach and dunes but eventually we found the path and finally got back to camp with all 12 hikers accounted for, so Chris maintains his enviable record of no losses!

The next morning, after breakfast we all assembled including our youngest hiker Mayalee, hitching a walk on Katy's back, to hike the Dune Forest Trail. A well maintained path took us through a forest of tall trees, the hush of the forest and the shade of the trees provided a welcome relief from the muggy heat of the day. We made a diversion across the wooden bridge over the Siyaya River that led to the beach we stopped for an early break. Some people had a quick dip in the Ocean before getting back on the trail and after a few wrong turns, we found the Raffia Palm Monument and stopped for another break. We then walked through the Raffia Palm Forest. These magnificent palms average a height of 15 meters but can grow to 25 meters, the lengths of the leaves more than 10 meters. After 20-30 years a towering brown inflorescence emerges to extend about 3 meters above the leaf crown and the fruits take 2 years to mature. The Palmnut Vulture (Vulturine Fish Eagle) is always associated with Raffia Palms and the adult bird is highly sedentary spending most of the day near these palms and builds its' nests among the palm fronds. We weren't fortunate enough to spot any of these rare birds and we were told by Park's board staff that the best time to spot them is either early morning or late afternoon. The mature palms tower over the tree canopy and the undergrowth is lush with a variety of ferns and swamp loving vegetation and the thick mulch supports a variety of toadstools and fungus. The bird calls - always heard but seldom spotted- and the butterflies drifting among the shafts of sunlight all make this a very unique environment ...with very little imagination one can picture a Sauropod emerging from the swamps!

We got back to camp later than expected. Chris had organised a communal braai for the last evening and he got the fires going at about 16:30. We set up our chairs and were enjoying the evening when we heard the ominous rumble of thunder in the distance. We didn’t have a chance to do the braai justice before the first drops fell and then the heavens opened and we had to scramble to get under cover. The rain stopped late evening and Chris estimated that at least 60mm fell in a matter of 3 hours. Most of us spent a very soggy night and Saturday morning dawned bright and clear on a very disheveled camp site. We all eventually broke camp and we bid farewell to Indaba - and the monkeys, the sound of Chris's paintball gun and my loud " f@&k offs" to chase them away, Katies green snake, Grethe's black snake, and the Trumpeter Hornbill Mary's "crying baby" - and headed back to our respective homes and dry beds and washing machines but with lots of special memories to tuck into our backpacks!

We are very grateful to Chris for all the planning and organising that he put in to making this 3 night stay truly memorable ...and we are all looking forward to our next camping adventure with the Club. Thank you to everyone for allowing me to use their photographs...any errors and omissions are mine and I've used references in good faith.