Get in touch with nature for free

Inside the Sand River bird hide.

There is a natural treasure, mostly forgotten by the people of the far south. It is free to visit, has a 1.5km circular nature trail to walk, three bird hides, picnic tables and some well placed benches from which to watch the flourishing bird life.

This is the Greater Zandvlei Estuary Nature Reserve.

An astonishing 173 different species of birds have made the surrounding wetlands their home.

And it is not just welcoming to winged wildlife: the reserve is also a vital habitat for amphibians and about 20 species of reptile; including the angulate tortoise and some snakes.

Be quiet, and patient, and if your timing is right, you may see porcupines, otter, mongoose and grysbok. Very rarely, a caracal could even be seen.

The plant life is typical of Cape Flats Dune Strandveld and the reserve is home to some endangered species.

In short, it’s a marvel.

The 249ha reserve is a wetland, river system and estuary near Muizenberg.

First proclaimed in 2006, it is in the process of being re-proclaimed in terms of the National Environmental Management Protection Act, which will afford it more protection.

This is the last functional estuary on the False Bay coastline, and an important one for recruitment of fish such as garrick, steenbras and two species of stumpnose.

Sharon McCallum of the Zandvlei nature reserve Trust, puts it simply: “From a personal perspective, it is one of Cape Town’s best kept secrets – a beautiful wetland and Nature Reserve on the coast which has many changing moods and views to gladden our troubled hearts. It offers recreation and quiet, secret places – and yet is easily accessible to the busy trendy Muizenberg beachfront. Something for everyone.”

There are information posters at the entrance to the site which help with identification and will help to broaden the knowledge of endemic birds and animals seen.

Beyond offering a fun outing for children and nature lovers, there is also an environmental education centre in the reserve.

The reserve is managed by Joshua Gericke who also manages the adjacent Muizenberg East section.

There is a broad range of environmental education involvement with local schools which is initiated by Mark Arendse – and up to 5 000 pupils a year visit the reserve for environmental education.

“With rapid urbanisation and development happening all over the city, and particularly in the far south, it is vitally important that Zandvlei is protected and maintained for a number of reasons,” Ms McCallum said.

It provides an integral corridor from the mountain fynbos to the coastal fynbos and False Bay Nature Reserve for movement of animals, insects and seeds of plants. It is also a green lung; providing a healthier environment in a city, and a natural area for residents and visitors to recreate and relax.

“It is well known that spending time in natural areas promotes a sense of well-being and relieves tension. This is particularly important for our less affluent neighbours who have very little in the way of natural growth in the communities,” Ms McCallum said.

“While there are many positives, such as improvements in management of the estuary mouth as well as terrestrial alien clearing; significant improvements in pond weed harvesting planning and collaboration, and use of the programme as a nutrient sink in a nutrient enriched system, there are also problems,” she said.

“These include silting (causing the water to become shallower) and coral worm invasion; weed harvester issues; inadequate office facilities and lack of funding.”

A dredging programme was implemented last year to lessen the impact of silting.

However, the Zandvlei Trust works closely with the stretched reserve staff to establish their most pressing needs, and then fundraises to help with environmental education and other resources, as well as lobbying for more support.

The reserve is a joy to visit, and being there in person is the best way to understand its true value. It’s here you smell the earth, hear the birdsong. It’s here you feel the silence, warm on your skin, like the sun. It’s here you find the space to restore.

Call 021 701 7542 for opening times.