This beautiful nature reserve is a little gem with a wide variety of wildlife, wonderful hiking and biking trails, picnic spots and a bird hide.
Vernon Crookes Nature Reserve is a secluded, safe 2 189ha natural treasure trove. Set high upon a plateau, 610 m above sea level, overlooking picturesque rondavel-dotted hillsides of the nearby Zulu villages, clear views of the ocean to the east, rolling grasslands and lush indigenous forest makes an ideal setting for bird watching and game drives. The terrain is primarily grassland with forested ravines. A network dirt roads cross the park, which make for pleasant game drives. In the cool river glades you are surrounded by ancient trees, fern and orchids at 150 meters above sea level. Crested Cranes nest on the vleis.
This is a birding destination of note. More than 300 species of birds have been confirmed, including African Crowned Eagle and Martial Eagle and as they are nesting within the Reserve, there is a good chance to see them. There is also a nesting colony of one hundred Cape Vultures. 100 species can easily be recorded in a summer morning’s birding. These include a number of forest and grassland specials including emerald cuckoos, three species of honey guide, pygmy kingfisher, narina trogon and crested flycatchers, among a myriad LBJs.
The interesting variety wild flowers are stunning in spring, as the reserve comes alive with shades of pinks, magentas, lilacs, blues and yellow everlastings. Rare and exquisite butterflies can been seen during spring and early summer as well as iridescent dragon- and damselflies which buzz over over the purple water lilies on the dams. In the forested ravines there are ancient trees, ferns, tree orchids and the sounds of water flowing and birdsong.
There are 56 animals species including eland, zebra, blue wildebeest, caracal, blesbok, oribi, reedbuck, grey and blue duiker, nyala, impala, black-backed jackal, bushbuck, as well as many smaller mammals such as porcupine and mongoose.
There’s a picnic site for day visitors among coral trees near the entrance. Braai areas, complete with tables and benches, are deeper in the reserve. These are discreetly tucked into a copse of trees, each with its own path to a central ablution block. A 12km gravel road criss-crosses the reserve, a few for 4x4s only.
The world’s largest earthworm, Microchaetus vernoni, can be found only at Vernon Crookes. Adults can grow up to 2.6m and about 10mm in diameter. Don’t confused their mud-hills with mammal dung heaps and be careful around them as they are among the growing list of endangered species on our diminishing grasslands.
Hiking trails. A large selection of trails, from a gentle one-hour stroll through to more advanced six-hour hikes meander through fields of flowers and varied habitat. One 14km trail leads to the site of an old abandoned gold mine from 1889, called Happy Thoughts Gold Mine. We are unsure if it produced more than just happy thoughts…
The KZN Coastal Branch of the Botanical Society of South Africa can provide grass, flower and tree lists and they also arrange informative guided walks intermittently.
The reserve is a secure, rare piece of coastal mountain biking paradise, with two routes available, the Kwamzukwa Gate Ride, a 10km scenic single track circuit, that will not only test you but your bike too, crossing streams and leg-crunching climbs. The Viewpoints and 4 x 4 Track, a 20km circuit (out and back track) offers the most outstanding panoramic views over the Mzinto River, Indian Ocean and the heart of Zululand
Take insect repellent as horse flies and ticks can be a problem when you’re hiking near the river. Take sunscreen, binoculars and your wildflower & birding handbooks too.
Gate Opening and Closing Times: Summer (October to March 06h00 to 18h00, Winter (April to September) 06h00 to 17h00.
Directions: Please note, you take the Southern Freeway past Scottburgh and take the Umzinto turn off, turn R. and follow the road past Umzinto until you see the signs indicating Vernon Crookes Nature Reserve. Turn R. and follow the gravel road through the Sugar Cane farm for 6k until you get to the Main Entrance. DO NOT FOLLOW GOOGLE