Updated: Oct 1, 2020
Last year July I had a wonderful midweek holiday at Sunset Lodge situated in the 170-hectare Kuleni Game Park. The private reserve is situated in Northern Zululand and consists primarily of pristine sand forest.
The reserve is unique in that you are only allowed to drive to and from your lodge. Otherwise, you are only allowed to walk on the impressive sand roads and well-marked trail networks. There are no Big Five animals to worry about, but plenty of other wonderful game to see including Giraffe, Blue Wildebeest, Nyala, and Red Duiker. When I read about this before my holiday, I thought this would be perfect for me as a birder, and perfect turned out to be an understatement.
I stayed at Sunset Lodge, and by the looks of it seemed practically brand new. The lodge was small, private, and luxurious. My chalet was named “Red Admiral” and there were only two other chalets, the larger “Purple Emperor” and another two-sleeper named “Holy Blue”. My chalet had top class finishes including an enormous king-sized bed (more than big enough for myself, my wife and my toddler daughter to sleep on), a huge free standing bath, an outdoor rain head shower, and a beautiful patio area. The lodge is self-catering, so it was affordable for my budget, whilst at the same time being luxurious. The manager of the lodge was also very accommodating by informing me that since the “Purple Emperor” unit was unoccupied during my stay, that we could use their chalets private swimming pool, which was a hit with my wife and daughter. The units were connected by wooden boardwalks and there were a few man-made water holes where the birds would come to bath and drink.
Accommodation Rating: 8.5/10
As I entered the reserve and drove the short distance to my lodge, the first bird I saw was a small group of Crested Guineafowl, an absolute iconic bird of Northern Zululand. I could see the sand forest habitat was going to result in a good weeks’ birding. Whist I was unpacking the car I saw my second bird a Rudd’s Apalis, another Zululand Special and even though I have seen it a few times they are still beautiful and fascinating to watch.
The bird I most wanted to see on my holiday, is one that has a small range in South Africa and is quite uncommon. It is small, shy and a pink jewel of the forest. I am of course talking about the Pink-throated Twinspot, a highly sought-after species among birders, and one that many birders can struggle to find even in iconic reserves such as uMkhuze. Well, I was in for a treat. I saw them multiple times each day, and even more exciting was that they seemed to love the area around my chalet. At one stage I was showering in the outdoor shower and noticed them a few meters away from me on the ground. I shouted to my wife to come to the shower and bring my binoculars. She obliged and we both marveled at them for a while, whilst in the shower.