Hlathikulu TrailEnquire Now
15km from Umzinto
+27 73 216 3713, +27 73 911 8200 www.kznwildlife.com
Moderate difficulty; Suitable for children
The extensive Vernon Crookes Nature Reserve is set among hills ranging in altitude from 150 metres to 610 metres above sea level. The reserve is known for its coastal forests and is home to 56 mammal species and 350 bird species, including a number of spectacular raptors such as the crowned and Marshall eagles that nest in the reserve.
The Hlathikulu Trail is a circular route that takes about an hour and a half to walk. Apart from the forest sections, most of the route has clear views of the ocean in the distance.
Start at the office and follow the yellow markers downhill for 500 metres before turning left towards Nyengelezi camp. About 200 metres later, the trail cuts through a small section of coastal forest and then links in with the path coming down from the camp. Continue downhill back into a small patch of coastal forest and then out into a section of grassland that takes you to a bigger and thicker section of forest. Emerging on the other side, keep right and follow a ridge above the valley.
The trail eventually zigzags up to the picnic site and on to a somewhat non-informative information kiosk before continuing all the way to the road. A variety of antelope are commonly seen grazing in this section, so keep your eyes peeled.
Go straight across the road and follow the trail on the right side of the dam to a fabulous flat rock with views across the water that makes a great picnic spot. From here, the path goes around the dam and then once again crosses over the road to the office. Follow the track for 500 metres before it curls left. About 500 metres later it meets the Mtakhathi trail, with its blue markers, coming in from the right. Keep going straight, cross a small stream then climb the short distance back up to the office.
Decades ago, beach holidays were simple. They were holidays of buckets and spades, sunburn, ice-creams melting on your fingers, brollies and swimming. Somehow, the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast has managed to retain this relaxed, old-school charm and escaped the ruthless modernisation of other parts of the world.
The South Coast stretches from the outskirts of Durban to the Eastern Cape border just south of Port Edward, with countless small towns dotted in between.
Some are prime holiday destinations that attract crowds by offering busy nightlife and organised activities. Others are gentler and more relaxed, relying on the natural charm of the ocean and the beach to attract a less frenetic class of people.
Whatever your preference, you will be sure to find some place that fits the bill on the South Coast.
Running down almost the length of the South Coast is the N2 highway, passing through grasslands, hills, sugar cane and over bridges that span a multitude of wide rivers bringing water from the inland mountains. It is an area of great natural beauty and the sandy beaches are numerous and beautiful, perfect for long walks in the afternoon.
Obviously the Indian Ocean is the prime reason for most tourism and it is easy to understand why. Even in winter, the water is warm and swimmable, but in spring, summer and even autumn the water hovers around 25 degrees Celsius, making it perfect for long days in the water.
Six beaches on the South Coast have been awarded the coveted Blue Flag status, which means they satisfy 32 criteria, including service, safety, water quality and even environmental management. While these six beaches obviously have something to crow about, there are dozens of other beaches that are as beautiful, safe and worth visiting. In fact, in summer, when the crowds are out, many of these beaches might prove more enjoyable than those with the coveted Blue Flag status.
Beneath the warm waters of the Indian Ocean are further attractions, and the scuba-diving spots of Aliwal Shoal and Protea Banks are some of the best in the country, with Aliwal often rated as one of the top-10 dive sites in the world.
The South Coast offers far more than just its top-class beaches, though, with a number of small game reserves, excellent golf courses and more.
Oribi Gorge is piece of rugged wilderness just a short drive from Port Shepstone beach. Nature is the attraction here, and all sorts of birds and animals thrive in the gorges and forests along the river banks. It has also become something of an adventure destination, so prepare yourself for adrenalin highs.
Wherever you choose to stay, and whatever you choose to do, make a point not to drift too far away from the simplicity and relaxation of a holiday on a beautiful beach.
Look out for
The Sardine Run is one of the world’s great migrations and sights of the natural world. Unfortunately, the timing is a bit hard to pinpoint, much like the Namaqualand daisies, but it generally occurs in the middle of winter. Tens of millions of sardines make their way up the coast, followed by thousands of sharks, dolphins, game fish and whales, as well as flocks of predating birds. Scuba-divers can dive alongside this natural phenomenon.
Oribi Gorge, a short drive inland from Port Shepstone, is a spectacular natural attraction formed by the Mzimkhulu and Mzimkulwana rivers. A nature reserve offers birding, game-viewing and walks, while operators in the area offer white-water rafting, mountain-biking, a gorge swing, abseiling, horse-riding, fishing and more. It is also a wonderful spot for landscape photography, or relaxing at one of the lodges or spas.
Scuba-diving is a major attraction on the South Coast, which is lucky enough to boast two world-class dive destinations in Aliwal Shoal and Protea Banks.
If scuba-diving is too tame for you, or if you want to up the stakes a little, try shark-diving on for size. Specialist dive operators give you the opportunity to swim with all sorts of shark species, including the fearsome bull shark, tiger shark, hammerhead shark and ragged-tooth shark.
The coast’s Blue Flag beaches (Trafalgar beach and Marina beach near San Lameer, Ramsgate beach, Margate beach, Lucien beach near Margate and Umzumbe beach) rank amongst the best in the world and spending the day on them is a privilege that should be savoured.
The South Coast boasts some wonderful golf courses, including San Lameer, Selbourne and the Wild Coast Sun (just across the provincial border in the Eastern Cape), while almost every small town also offers a very good local course.
For something a little different, pop into the Beaver Creek Coffee Farm outside Port Edward. Here you can watch the entire process that the coffee bean makes on its way to becoming that hot cup of brew on your breakfast table. There is also a restaurant and a shop selling Beaver Creek’s excellent coffee.
The South Coast offers very good birding along most of its length, and birders can enjoy sightings of interesting birds without leaving the towns they are staying in. That said, there are a few spots that are particularly good, such as the Mtamvuna Nature Reserve and Oribi Gorge.