The site is located in Eshowe, falling within the town’s south-western boundary and within the uMlalazi Local Municipality. It lies on gentle terrain at an altitude of 530 m a.s.l. The climate is warm-temperate and frost is unknown. Most rain falls in summer, amounting to 800–1 160 mm p.a. Dlinza is classified as Eastern Coastal Scarp Forest, which is a transition between temperate and subtropical forest and occurs from the Eastern Cape to southern Mpumalanga. In the south, such forests are found close to the coast, as in the case of Dlinza Forest, which is approximately 25 km from the coast. The forests are multi-layered, 15–25 m tall and species-rich, with a poorly developed herb layer. They are often associated with steep topography and occur on shallow, nutrient-poor soils. From a biodiversity perspective, this is probably the most important forest type in South Africa.
Dlinza Forest is a regular breeding site of the globally threatened Spotted Ground Thrush Zoothera guttata and Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon Columba delegorguei. It holds Chorister Robin-Chat Cossypha dichroa and Black-bellied Starling Notopholia corrusca. Brown Scrub Robin Erythropygia signata is a rare transient and Grey Sunbird Cyanomitra veroxii more regularly so. The forest also supports Olive Bush-Shrike Chlorophoneus olivaceus and Crowned Eagle Stephanoaetus coronatus, which breed in it.
The reserve is most notable for its population of the globally threatened Spotted Ground Thrush, with 20–25 breeding pairs and 50–70 individuals. Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon is regionally threatened. A number of restricted-range and biome-restricted species occur, including Chorister Robin-Chat, Grey Cuckooshrike Coracina caesia and Black-bellied Starling.
Blue duiker Philantomba monticola is common. The forest is noted for its plant diversity and the presence of many rare species, among them the cycads Encephalartos villosus and Stangeria eriopus, an orchid Bolusiella maudiae, the spectacular epiphyte Dermatobotrys saundersii and the trees Oxyanthus speciosus subsp. gerrardii and Philenoptera sutherlandii. The latter is known from very few other localities. The only cactus native to South Africa, Rhipsalis baccifera, is a common epiphyte here and is an important food plant for Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon.
Dlinza Forest is an important part of Eshowe’s identity, but its close proximity to the town brings a number of threats. Several public roads run through it. An artificial clearing, the Bishop’s Seat, was created in the forest years ago, before it was declared a nature reserve. Both this and the roads are occasionally used for low-impact public occasions. Invasive alien plants escape from gardens in the town and establish themselves in the forest, and clearing them remains a constant task. Feral cats roam the forest and are a threat to breeding birds, especially ground-nesting species such as Spotted Ground Thrush. The reserve lies in a landscape that is almost completely transformed and the once extensive grasslands that would have surrounded the scarp forests are now more or less entirely lost.
The reserve is formally conserved and managed by EKZNW. The recent (August 2012) acquisition and proclamation of approximately 71 ha of indigenous forest, as well as 16 ha of sugarcane land that will be rehabilitated to grassland, will increase its extent to 319 ha. Invasive alien plants are actively controlled and efforts are made to discourage residents from planting declared alien weeds.
The Dlinza Forest aerial boardwalk is the first of its kind in southern Africa. It takes visitors 125 m through the indigenous forest at a height of 10 m above the forest floor, just below the canopy. At one point it is possible to climb to a 20-m-high observation platform from which there are panoramic views across the forest. The boardwalk plays a vital ecotourism role, helping to spread awareness of this important forest in South Africa while promoting its conservation. School groups from the district often visit and are taken on tours through the forest by guides trained by BirdLife South Africa.