Tala Game Reserve

There are a number of different game reserves across KwaZulu-Natal where you can go get a healthy dose of wildlife-spotting, but none so close as Tala Game Reserve, 45 min west of Durban. And it’s a cracker.

As a tour guide in Durban, I’ve been to Tala Game Reserve more times than I can count (well, not literally but you get what I mean). I know the roads like I was driving through my own neighborhood. I know some of the animals so well, I’ve given them names and backstories. And in spite of familiarity breeding contempt – I love spending time at the reserve.

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Like most game reserves, Tala Game Reserve allows visitors to self-drive around the park. There’s a restaurant that’s open all day for coffees, tea and lunches, a picnic area with swimming pool, and accommodation dotted about. Fishing and mountain biking is allowed though only on certain days and with many, many conditions attached such as tough luck if one of the resident hippo takes an instant dislike to you fishing his waters.

You could easily plan a full day inside Tala Game Reserve even though it’s not the biggest out there. This is because Tala has become so much more than just a game reserve, they now offer mountain-biking, fishing, archery and a whole lot more. So in order to help you plan a day in Tala, here’s a (rather) detailed description of what you can find and do in Tala Game Reserve.

Self Guided Game Drives

The whole point of a game reserve is to drive about looking at wildlife and you can do exactly that, in the comfort of your own vehicle. The roads are for the most part perfectly accessible to all vehicles and the roads that are 4×4 only, are usually well marked.

One caveat though is; be wary if there has been lots of rain. One more than a few occasions I’ve inadvertently thrilled my guests my slipping down muddy roads, or gotten stuck in muddy potholes. On a few occasions Tala Game Reserve has even closed their park to visitors because of heavy rains making the roads inaccessible. And beware, to get towed out is going to set you back R500 (at the time of writing).

But when all is well, enjoying a game drive around Tala is fantastic. Within the first 10 minutes you’ll spot loads of antelope and what’s even more lekker, you can pull over and animal watch since most of the animals seem to tolerate vehicles without running for the hills.

In terms of what you can see, there’s quite a lot (this is by no means an exhaustive list);

  • Hippo
  • Rhino
  • Blue Wildebeest
  • Eland
  • Giraffe
  • Impala
  • Kudu
  • Ostrich
  • Black Backed Jackal
  • Nyala
  • Waterbuck
  • Bushbuck
  • Warthog

You may have noticed from the list that there are no predators at Tala; no Lion, Cheetah, Leopard, Caracal etc. There are also no Elephant or Buffalo. There’s a number of reasons for this that have to do with both conservation, the size of the park, as well as safety of visitors and the local residents.

On arrival at the park you will be handed a map of the park that details the speed limit, where you can and can’t go, where reception is and other pertinent info.

Please note that you cannot pay cash – you have to use a credit / debit card to pay – again, no cash accepted!

Here’s a bit of friendly advice; turn your vehicle off when spotting animals. This will A) prevent the animals from moving away from you and B) prevent a fellow safari goer from calling you names for chasing the animals away.

Guided Game Drives

Driving your family about the reserve is great fun, but you can easily miss a great deal because of being unfamiliar with the park and perhaps not as knowledgeable as the resident game guides are. So consider booking yourself a seat on one of the open vehicles.

The vehicles are 4×4 capable and will go onto tracks that most vehicles can’t or dare not. The guides are fantastic at spotting animals of all types, fur, feather or scale and can pretty much answer almost any question about the wildlife you would care to ask!

It is always best to call ahead to Tala and book a game drive – often they are full but since they leave a number of times throughout the day, you should be able to get a seat at some point. Over the January to March period they do get really busy since many cruise ships visit Durban for the day and Tala Game Reserve is a huge draw card, so seats get booked way in advance.

Birding in Tala Game Reserve

I’m told that over 360 different species of bird can be found at Tala Game Reserve but I certainly haven’t come close to that total. That said, I have ticked off some fantastic sightings at Tala, from glorious African Fish Eagles to Darters, Cormorants, Kingfishers and so many more than is possible to list here.

One of my favorites has to be the Southern Red Bishop, always stunning against the greenery of reeds and grasses. I enjoy the little Blue Waxbills flitting about and the Grey Crowned Cranes have to be seen to be believed – they are magnificent! Of course no game reserve in South Africa would be complete with some squabbling Weavers making their presence known and throughout the park their nesting sites can be spotted.

The Restaurant

The restaurant at Tala Game Reserve (La Tala Restaurant) is usually quiet enough to get a table when just pitching up, but maybe don’t count on it. In the past I have walked in to find it full, usually over weekends as Tala does offer accommodation.

The food is excellent. From the salads to the burgers, I’ve heard no complaints about the portion sizes or the quality of the food, all equally delicious. There is however, one little issue that has reared it’s head no and again, the kitchen is slow. So don’t be sitting down to order lunch if you’re in a hurry, to re-emphasize, the kitchen is slow!

There is indoor seating available right next to a working fireplace (perfect for late afternoon chilling) and the do serve alcohol. The seating outside is perfectly fine and there’s a play area for the kids, so you can eat and watch that the little buggers don’t decide to go exploring into the bush by themselves.

The Picnic Area

You don’t have to eat at the restaurant though, you can pack a picnic basket and head down to the picnic area. There’s plenty of braai stands available as well as benches and tables, all under the cover of acacias. You can also arrange for Tala to pack you a picnic basket which makes life even easier.

The picnic area is not fenced which makes for a great picnic spot as you get to eat while animals stroll past; I’m sure every South African knows how fast a properly motivated (by food) Vervet Monkey can be, so do keep an eye out on your food.

It probably doesn’t get much use during winter, but in the summer time the pool at the picnic site definitely gets a work out – just think of it, a pool, in a picnic site, in a game reserve!

There are bathroom facilities at the picnic site along with a small shop that sells cold drinks and sweets (kind of like the old school tuck shops) though I’m not sure the shop will be open until covid19 is a thing of the past.

Weddings At Tala Game Reserve

Is there anything more popular than a wedding at a game reserve -I think not. Tala Game Reserve has to be one of the best wedding destinations in KwaZulu-Natal, especially if you’re keen to include the local wildlife in your wedding photo’s.

Tala has been hosting weddings for some time now (think in terms of years) and so their team have become pretty expert on ensuring your happy day is stress free and memorable. There are a number of different locations on the property where you can get married, and most of them offer space for up to 120 guests.

For family members traveling some distance to attend your wedding, Tala Game Reserve has many different accommodation options where guests can stay and if Tala does happen to be fully booked, there are other options in the area.

Accommodation at Tala Game Reserve

Tala Game Reserve offers a number of accommodation options (click here for the accommodation guide on the Tala website), from tented camping (still to be launched) through to the luxurious Manor House. Most of the accommodation options are not self-catering though there are braai (barbecue) options. Of course you can book at the restaurant for dinner, lunch and breakfast.

There are basically 4 options for accommodation at Tala Game Reserve. But, of the 4, two of the sites have cottages attached – so more options. And, when the camping sites are finished (TBC) then naturally there will be more to choose from. So currently, there are;

  • Aloe Lodge
  • The Fisherman Cottages
  • Paperbark Lodge, House and Rondavel
  • Figtree House and Tented Camp
  • Leadwood Manor House and Cottages
Aloe Lodge

Aloe Lodge is situated at the main camp where the reception area is. Beautiful manicured lawns and lovely indigenous gardens are a sight for sore eyes while the view over the rest of the game reserve is something to be sen. Staying here means you would be within 10 steps of the restaurant which is a bonus if, like me, you live to eat. The rooms are as tastefully decorated and there are options for double or twin beds. All have en suite bathrooms. Note: no self-catering options, fridges or TV’s are available.

There are 4 bedrooms with twin beds, each with a bath. There are also 3 rooms with double beds, each with a shower and a bath.

The Fisherman Cottages

There are two (2) Fisherman cottages available that are located around 3 min away from the main reception and restaurant area. They both face onto an open wetlands area with a body of water (hence the “fisherman” part of the title. These little 2 x person cottages are catering, so they have a microwave, two-plate stove, fridge and so on. Each also has a private little boma in the case the desire to braai (barbecue) under the stars strikes.

Often I’ll see game hovering around the cottages, most recently Nyala, but I’ve seen everything from Giraffe to Kudu and Waterbuck browsing peacefully nearby. Personally I think these are my favorites.

Paperbark Lodge, House and Rondavel

Paperbark House is situated in Paperbark Lodge (I find that a little confusing myself) and is the original farmhouse in the area! There are 6 x rooms with en suite bathrooms, all of which lead onto a typical lounge and veranda areas. The house has been decorated with it’s history in mind and is lovely and peaceful.

Nearby is the Paperbark Rondavel which shares a pool.

Figtree House and Tented Camp

Figtree House is what I consider to be lodge. Suitable for large families or even groups of friends happy to hang out together. There are five (5) rooms, each of which have access to the surrounding gardens and the veranda has beautiful views of the surrounding country side. There are four (4) rooms with twin beds and one (1) room that has a double deb – all rooms have bath and showers.

The Figtree Tented Camp is suitable for larger groups – there are twelve (12) canvas tents but a minimum of six (6) must be booked. I’m guessing it’s best for school groups, maybe friends looking to rough it – that kinda thing.

Leadwood Manor House and Cottages

Leadwood Manor House is a luxurious four (4) bedroom lodge that offers luxury and intimacy. There is a pool, a lodge manager on duty, an exclusive restaurant and no children are allowed! Makes for a perfect adult getaway, or perhaps even a intimate wedding service, something along those lines.

The Leadwood Cottages are intimate lovely. There are six (6) of them, one of which is located near the dam, the others surrounded by bushveld. The cottages were built by local artisans using local materials and there is beauty in their rugged simplicity. Each has it’s own private deck where champagne can be enjoyed under the stars – these are perfect for wedding parties. It must be mentioned that these are not self-catering though they do have mini-fridges.

Even More Activities at Tala Game Reserve

Over the last two years or so, Tala Game Reserve have increased the number of activities you can enjoy as both a day visitor if you’re spending a weekend or if you’re enjoying a mid-week break. And it’s not only the family that can enjoy firing off arrows down a range, or mountain-biking or fishing – this about corporate team building or even activities for conference delegates to blow off steam.

Some of the activities can be a little on the risky side, so naturally there are rules to follow and indemnities to sign. Not all the activities are available al the time so please, please, please contact Tala to check before rocking up at reception.

Mountain Bike Trails

I tried this one out when Tala first started allowing mountain biking in the park and it was fantastic. Tala’s landscape is hilly (obvious) so be prepared to grind your way up short but steep hills, but the single track downhill makes up for it. But what makes Tala’s mountain biking a memorable experience is the animals – that’s right, you get to cycle around the reserves wildlife! I recall on my ride through Tala looking up and seeing a gang of Wildebeest watching from just a few meters away, like spectators on a tour-de-something. It does go without saying that animals have right away and the animals are to be respected (we’re playing in their home after all) and you have to take care and sign indemnities, but what a way to spend a Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning!

Archery

Now I haven’t done this one before but I have looked longingly at the equipment in the little curio shop next to reception, I so want to have a bash at it. What a great way to let off some steam I would think!

Paintball

How cool is this; you can visit Tala Game Reserve, enjoy a game drive and look at animals, and then shoot someone with a paintball gun! I mean, does it get any better than this (I think not)? Again, this is not one of the activities that I have tried here, but based on how much fun playing paintball used to be, I think this is an awesome way to spend time. Think about the morning before a wedding, or perhaps even a spot of team building while on a company retreat / team building exercise.

Fishing

Though not necessarily a team exercise, Tala Game Reserve does allow fishing at their dams. My fellow guide Paul took his kids fishing here before lock-down and they caught some fantastic bass in one of the dams. I’m a huge fly-fishing fan so casting a fly here is definitely on my to-do list.

Segway Game Drives

A new activity that has been cropping up here and there is enjoying Segway game tours. Essentially you and your companions hop onto the Segways designed for off-road and then you putt around looking at animals with a guide. This is such an awesome idea and I’ve added it to my personal “to-do” list that has grown into unmanageable proportions.

Good To Know

If think we’ve covered almost everything you need to know about Tala Game Reserve except for how to contact reception or how to get there. Remember to contact Tala Game Reserve before you decide to go just to ensure the activity you want to experience is still on offer – things do change after all.

Getting to Tala Game Reserve from Durban

The easiest is to take the N3 from Durban headed to Pietermaritzberg. You’ll want to take the Camperdown turnoff (roughly 55km from Durban) and then turn left and head onward until you get to the R603. At the T-junction make another left onto the R603 and follow it for about 20km – you’ll see the signboard advertising Tala on the left hand side of the road and may even see a few Impala chilling out along the fence line.

Other Places of Interest nearby

Make a day out of your trip to Tala Game Reserve and considering visiting some of the other sites listed below.

  • PheZulu Safari Park
  • The African Bird of Prey Sanctuary
  • EmboCraft
  • The 1000 Hills Village
  • The Mushroom Farm

About This Post

I’ve done my best to ensure that info about Tala Game Reserve is accurate and up to date. It goes without saying though, that things change – so please email or call Tala Game Reserve to ensure that that they are open and offer the activities you want to experience. If there is something that is wrong or inaccurate, simply send me an email and I’ll update the post.

About Shelldon

Hi, my name is Shelldon and I'm a tour guide based in the city of Durban, South Africa. For years I've been taking visitors from around the world on trips throughout South Africa. I write about the places I've visited and things I've done.

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