Nylsvley Nature Reserve: A Birdwatcher’s Paradise | iinfo TZANEEN

At first glance the Nylsvley Nature Reserve seems modest. It’s a small, provincial reserve — without the Big-5 flashiness of the massive Kruger Park to east, or the plush luxury of the private lodges in the Waterberg to the west. And yet Nylsvley possesses a sense of peace and quiet unlike anywhere else in South Africa. On top of that, it’s a paradise for birdwatchers and nature-lovers more generally.
 
The 4000-hectare reserve is populated by a diverse range of plants, birds, and mammals but none of the Big Five, which means visitors can get out of their cars and walk around without fear of encountering menacing lions or elephants. It’s enthralling to round a curve in the road on foot and encounter a warthog, calmly gazing at you eye to eye. Along with the usual waterbuck, zebra, and impala, Nylsvley also has healthy populations of tsessebe and roan antelope — buck species rarely seen in other South African game parks.
 
Nylsvley’s real magic lies in its immaculate bird hides, built and maintained by the Friends of Nylsvley, which smell like freshly cut timber and provide the perfect environment for spotting some of the reserve’s nearly 400 bird species. Nylsvley is particularly attractive to waterbirds due to its location on the Nyl River floodplain — one of the largest and least impacted flood plains in South Africa — and is a designated Ramsar site. 
 
I’m not an expert birdwatcher and I visited Nylsvley during the winter season, when the floodplain was virtually dry. And yet I quickly spotted a lilac-breasted roller, a pair of kingfishers, a spoonbill, and several other majestic waterbirds while taking the short walk to the Crake hide in the reserve’s Vogelfontein section. (Note the Vogelfontein section offers the best birdwatching in the reserve but is only accessible via a separate entrance, about 15 minutes’ drive from the main gate.) Nylsvley is also home to the world’s largest bird, the ostrich, and you’re likely to spot a few of them racing across the plain.
 
Service at Nylsvley is excellent. Reception staff are welcoming and informative and provide visitors with a brochure (created by Friends of Nylsvley) containing a map of the reserve and a birdwatching checklist. Accommodation at Nylsvley is clean, neat, comfortable, and affordable: Two-bed chalets in the “Duck’s Den” site near the entrance cost R630 per night. Nylsvley also offers good camping facilities. 
  
The Spoonbill Restaurant, also just inside the reserve entrance, serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner with prior arrangement. Food options in the restaurant may be limited, especially during low season, but the friendly service makes up for that. 
 
Note there is minimal cell signal in Nylsvley. Prepare to switch off your phone and enjoy the silence, punctuated by periodic birds calls and the sound of scampering monkeys. 
 
Nylsvley Nature Reserve is off the R101 highway, about 20 minutes south of Mookgophong. The reserve is open September to April from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and May to August from 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Entrance is R30 for adults, R20 for children and pensioners, and R30 per vehicle. For information call 014-743-6925 or 071-057-0828, and to book accommodation call 015-293-3612 or email rathlanes@gmail.com. Find exact directions, accommodation details, and extensive information about the reserve at www.nylsvley.co.za. 

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