The Ntiskeni Nature Reserve is situated near the source of the Lubhukwini River in the Umzimkulu catchment roughly 50 km north of Kokstad, and is now managed by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife. From its establishment as a provincial reserve in 1978, the Ntiskeni Nature Reserve has remained a relatively unknown and unspoilt area until recently when a new road and lodge were completed, resulting in an increase of visitors to the reserve. The reserve covers 9200 ha and features a number of unique and interesting habitats which include magnificent wetlands, rolling grasslands, majestic mountains and cliffs, rocky slopes and a small indigenous forest also in the region.
The Ntsikeni Nature Reserve is surrounded by a series of aw- inspiring rock formations and buttresses which include Mangeni, Tsawule,and Elephant Hill. A constant and visible feature which towers in the background is the massive conical Ntsikeni Mountain after which the reserve is named. The Ntsikeni Wetlands are the largest inland wetland in South Africa, and cover a large portion of the reserve (1070 hectares). Due its importance as a natural habitat for a wide variety of bird species, and the fact that it is regarded as one of the KwaZulu Natal's 23 priority wetlands, the Ntsikeni Vlei has achieved status as a RAMSAR conservation site.
Over 120 bird species have been sighted at the reserve, with an average of 60 species recorded on a typical visit. Special species at Ntsikeni include the rarely seen Eurasian Bittern, the endangered Wattled Crane, Striped Flufftail, and an assortment of raptors and other predatory birds which include African Marsh Harrier, Montague's Harrier, Bearded Vulture, Cape Vulture, Cape Eagle Owl. Other species include amongst others, Denham's Bustard, Secretary Bird, Eastern Long-billed Lark, Plain-backed Pipit,and the endemic Yellow-breasted Pipit.
Aside from the striking natural beauty of the region, visitors are provided with excellent opportunities for hiking and horse riding with a number of tracks and trails running throughout the reserve. Mountain biking is also encouraged at Ntsikeni, with the Freedom Trail spanning a distance of 2,200 km, running from Pietermaritzburg via Ntsikeni Nature Reserve, Matatiele and Rhodes, until eventually reaching Cape Town. For visitors interested in local history and culture, a number of Khoisan Paintings can also be found within the Ntsikeni Nature Reserve, and visitors can embark on scenic hikes into the hills accompanied by experienced tour guides who provide interesting and informative insights into the daily lifestyle and culture of the San people who inhabited the region.
For more information regarding Ntsikeni Nature Reserve contact Park Warden Mbuyeselo Gxashe at 082 4322611.