“South Africa – A World in One Country” was a slogan used by South African Tourism a few years back to market our country as a leading tourism destination. I couldn’t help but remember the phrase as it so aptly describes the South Coast of Kwazulu Natal, near Port Edward. Within minutes you can experience desert, beach, forests, African bush, tranquil walks and adrenaline filled sports. There are the added benefits of the region’s pleasant weather, warm waters, varied attractions, and value for money accommodation. Not to mention the dining options which range from no frills fish n chip takeaways to posh places. A recent long weekend Sho't Left with my family (South African slang for a nearby getaway) made it clear that to experience the new and wonderful one does not need to look overseas.
The Hibiscus Coast which stretches from Port Edward to Hibberdene, takes its name from the colourful flowering plant which grows there with wild abandon. Nature reserves, beaches, lush hills, several world class golfing venues and an endless supply of sunshine, defines this stretch of coast line.
Our self-catering accommodation overlooked Palm Beach which borders the Mpenjati Nature Reserve. A short walk through a green forested curtain of coastal fauna and flora took us to the beach. The beach features a natural tidal pool and an estuary. The sea was somewhat rough, with strong currents, so we didn’t swim much. Instead we took long, lazy walks with the only distractions being those of lapping waves and birds. It was on one of these walks, that I was surprised to find naked bathers. Isn’t it grand that this little town is not as conservative as it seems, or as typical! The nearby Mpenjati Beach is South Africa’s first legal nudist beach. It can be a tad awkward when you come across some of the bathers when they are at the water’s edge, but generally the patrons are pretty discreet. This area does seem to have a Garden of Eden vibe, so I get why people would want to go nude.
Speaking of gardens, on most days, this stretch of beach was dotted with kelp and other ocean flora, in various shades of pretty pink. They appeared as an offering of wild undersea bouquets sent ashore by mother nature. As the day drew to an end, the nearby estuary was the perfect backdrop to watch the sun set in shades of burnt orange.
Taking a break from the ocean view, a short drive and we found ourselves at a desert, the Red Desert – claimed to be the world’s smallest. Why is there a desert in this sub-tropical area, I hear you ask? Well, there are a host of reasons offered for the desertification, including one that suggests it was created by aliens. A nondescript sign marks the entrance at a conversation area with no sand in sight. A narrow path cuts through the veld which is filled with a variety of plants including grass, trees and other pretty flowers. Popping over a little hill and there it was: a red patch of land – quite surreal! I assume this is kind of how Elon Musk’s first passengers to Mars might feel, when they land. Hills and dips, crevices and craters, all made up of layers of soil, coloured in a mesmerising red. The contrast is incredible between the red barren earth, set against the green of the forest and the blue of the sea and sky. It’s certainly a place you want to experience for yourself.
And this ‘world in one country’ experience was only getting started. Presented with a windless, cloudless day with the temperature in the high 20’s, we opted to explore the Umtamvuna River by boat. The river is part of the province’s southernmost nature reserve and is one of the places to go for birding and hiking. River based activities are offered just outside the entrance to the reserve, at the Pont. I very rarely quote Wikipedia but the story associated with the river, as quoted below, resonated with me. “Legend says that any person failing to confess his sins before fording the river will be carried away by the water spirits. It is also supposed to be the home of mermaids, who have often been reported playing in the water on moonlit nights.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mtamvuna_River
I could easily believe the myth that these waters are home to mermaids and water spirits as we floated along the river, surrounded by rocky cliffs and forests. One of the highlights of the river cruise were the views of the beautiful Umtamvuna Bridge. The suspension bridge, is the largest in the country. Cruising below the bridge, you see how the steel structure rises from the banks of the river, connecting the right to the left, joining together the provinces of Kwazulu Natal and the Eastern Cape.
And just when you think, OMG, we are so relaxed can anything get our hearts racing? Just a short drive inland takes you to the beautiful and dramatic Oribi Gorge which has become the-go-to-place for adrenaline junkies. The braves in my family fancied a 160 kilometre an hour zipline slide across the Gorge, which is situated in the privately owned Lake Eland Game Reserve. It proudly offers the ‘longest zip line tour in Africa’, with 14 zip lines, spanning 4, 5 kilometres. The reserve is owned by brother’s Eric and Trevor Dunstone. They have sunk a lot of development into the reserve over the last few years, including self-catering accommodation, zip lines, a suspension bridge and restaurant. They offer game viewing, mountain biking, walking, fishing and a whole host of other activities. The set-up is professional and very impressive.
In the end we skipped the zip line, the queues were ridiculously long on the long weekend! Instead we decided to give the 80 meter suspension bridge a go. It was an absolute thrill and scary as hell for those with height issues. The viewing deck at the end of the bridge, perched above the Gorge, puts things into a very broad perspective with stunning views unfolding along the gorge: rocky walls stretch up toward the sky; below the river meanders through a green belt which covers the valley. There is no denying the scenic splendour before you.
And when we had our fill of adventure, we retreated to the comfort of the beach house and the soothing sounds of the sea. You really don’t need to leave South Africa to have magnificent experiences!
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