"Ducks have never fascinated me before until I read about the Mandarin duck in Central Park. I shouldn’t be surprised though at their presence in Zululand. The area is a haven for birdlife."
In November, something strange happened in New York City’s Central Park. It had everyone snapping and Instagramming. Articles were written. Twitter threads were popping up.

You would think it was a major celebrity deciding to pitch a tent in protest against President Donald Trump and all he represents.

But no. It was a duck. A Mandarin duck. With its bold colours and clean white lines, a Mandarin duck in Central Park was a big deal. No one had seen this type of duck before.

Soon a media frenzy began - its bold colours and being too vain to interact with other ducks made it a major attraction, garnering unending think-pieces about why it was there and how it had ended up there.

Colour me surprised when I arrived at Gooderson DumaZulu Lodge and Traditional Village in Hluhluwe, on KwaZulu-Natal’s north coast, and found more than four of the ducks in the pond.

Think Mean Girls: Regina George and her squad. Or Gossip Girl’s Blair Waldorf and her minions. The ducks held court and knew they were the prettiest in the pond. Fascinated, I chose to spend more time looking for the birds, rather than the snakes we had a chance of bonding with.

The Gooderson DumaZulu Walk Thru Bird and Reptile Park is the largest free-flight aviary in KwaZulu-Natal. The 3000m2 park has an elevated walkway and waterfall features. The birds are in cages, the pond or allowed to roam freely.

Growing up in nearby Richards Bay, I would spot the various species of birds and listen as people made a fuss. I never understood it. I do, however, now appreciate how rich in birdlife the region is and understand why so many tourists come not only for the Big Five, but for the birdlife.

THUNDERING ZULU

DumaZulu is taken from LaDuma iZulu which can either mean “There is thunder and lightning” or “Be famous, Zulu tribe”. I found it fitting because inside the lodge is a functioning, authentic Zulu homestead, one that has been authenticated by King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu.

It’s part of the tourist attraction, so for those who love learning more about Zulu culture and the way the tribes lived in the olden days, it’s a plus.

From traditional dancing and bead making, to spear welding and stick fighting, the community put on a show, depicting the way life was previously.

There’s a sangoma on site, so if you want to consult your ancestors, you could. I asked one of them if they lived there with their families. It turned out they all did. There’s a school nearby and children use communal transport to get there and back.

Arriving at the lodge, I was struck by how the accommodation also mirrored a traditional Zulu homestead but instead of simple huts, they painted them to represent the various cultures and tribes of southern Africa. From the colourful Ndebele painted hut to the more muted Zulu huts, it celebrated the different tribes of southern Africa which I’m certain is a big deal for foreign visitors who have never been exposed to rondavels.

It was an Instagrammable background and I regret not taking a picture with all the rondavels. The accommodation is simple and has basic amenities. Guests have the option of a standard or twin room and also a self-catering hut that sleeps four.

THE BIRDS - AGAIN

I spent most of my time outdoors and in the bird enclosure - probably more than I thought I would.

Ducks have never fascinated me before until I read about the Mandarin duck in Central Park. I shouldn’t be surprised though at their presence in Zululand. The area is a haven for birdlife.

I had friends who were in the bird-watching club (which induced eye-rolls from most of our friendship group). It didn’t dawn on me how fortunate I was to live in an area with a thriving and healthy bird life.

I’ve never realised just how vain birds are. Besides the ducks, I spotted parrots, swans and an emu. I spent 15 minutes waiting for a duck to stop peck-cleaning itself. Was it dirty or didn’t it want attention? I realised that many of the ducks kept their beaks under their wings, pecking.

As I walked through the park, I could see the different cliques. The swans preferred to chill together, taking pride of place as the most beautiful (and vain) birds in the enclosure. The parrots kept shrieking and the ducks clustered together.

If you love birds and are looking for something different, then you should enjoy this.

FAMILY

It’s an ideal spot for a family break from the city. It’s close enough to Durban, while also far away from the rat race. With the network coverage only great in certain places, it allows you to have your digital detox and a proper break from the outside world.

I get why New Yorkers were losing their minds over a duck.

It’s a pity they kept scurrying away before I could snap a selfie.