Mkhambathi Nature Reserve (sometimes spelled Mkambati) is an exceptional nature reserve along the Wild Coast. It falls within the Pondoland Centre of Endemism, a botanically biodiverse hotspot. But that hardly conveys its wonders, including antelope-dappled grasslands, a waterfall into the sea, Cape vultures, and a beautiful coastline.

Did you know?

The Grosvenor was shipwrecked near Mkhambathi Nature Reserve in 1782, allegedly with vast treasures.

Mkhambathi Nature Reserve is a place of waterfalls – quite apart from its other wonders. Treat yourself to a solitary half-hour at one.

You’ll inhale the cool, minty smell arising from the tea-coloured water as it plummets into a cream froth below. Around you, quite likely, will be the pointed ovate leaves of a wild frangipani, milkplum, and tiny natural rock gardens adorned with ferns, mosses and mysterious miniature succulents.

The air will fill with tumbling cool water vapour and you’ll see the moving turquoise sea through the trees.

There are at least six of these beautiful places, with one that falls directly into the sea.

Does this give enough of a hint that Mkhambathi (also sometimes spelled Mkambati) is a special place? Here on the Wild Coast you might see a herd of eland ambling on the beach. Blue wildebeest roam through the wild banana palms. There are blue duiker in the indigenous forests, and vervet monkeys in the trees. A colony of Cape vultures soar over the dizzying cliff-faces of the Msikaba River gorge.

And then there’s that irresistible long beach. In the winter months of June and July you might be there when great shoals of sardines migrate northwards, followed by whales, sharks, dolphins, clouds of Cape gannets and other birds.

You could also canoe up the Mtentu River, admiring the vegetation and the birdlife. This is the only place in the world where you’ll find the Mkambati (or Mkomba) Palm, after which the reserve was named.

And the birdlife is an attraction of its own. The combination of coastline, open grasslands, wetlands and indigenous forest combine for a finger-itching tick-list. Look out for yellow-throated and orange-throated long-claws, croaking cisticolas, Gurney’s sugarbird and red-shouldered widows, to mention a few. Plus, of course, the Cape vultures.

But what will steal your heart (and eat up your camera’s memory card) will be the clear rivers and tumbling waterfalls.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Eastern Cape Parks Reservations
Tel: +27 (0) 43 701 9600
Fax: +27 (0) 86 611 1623/4

How to get here

The easiest route to Mkhambathi is via Durban (the closest airport), though this trip will take about 4 hours by car. Take the N2 south to Port Edward, an easy two-hour drive of about 200km. From there, take the R61 to Flagstaff, less than an hour's drive. Here you'll turn left to Mkhambathi (signposted). It's little more than 60km, but set aside an hour or more, because the road isn't good. Don't drive at night (there are often cows on the road) and ask local advice if it's raining.

Best time to visit

Mkhambathi has a sub-tropical climate, and summers can be rainy (between October and March).

Winters are dry and the weather is exceedingly pleasant then (although the waterfalls are more spectacular in summer).

Get around

You can drive yourself within the reserve, but there are large swathes of wilderness that can only be navigated on foot.

What will it cost

This is a medium-budget destination, and accommodation is all self-catering. Expect to pay in the region of approximately R300 per person per night or less, depending on whether you go in peak season or not.

Length of stay

Stay at least 2 nights, though 3 or more would be ideal. Some people come here for weeks.

What to pack

If enjoy fishing, you'll kick yourself if you don't bring your gear. For the rest, bring binoculars, books and swimming costume.

Where to stay

All accommodation is self-catering.