Stretching some 110km from Umhlanga to the Amatikulu River, the North Coast is as diverse as it is spectacular. The old North Coast Road is the best way to access the region. It follows the edge of the Indian Ocean, crossing the lagoons and estuaries of the Umhlanga, Umdloti, Mvoti and Tugela Rivers. It then weaves through fields of sugar cane and patches of indigenous forest.
Over the years, the North Coast has changed from a few sleepy little towns of local farmers’ beach cottages to a hugely popular tourism centre. It draws hundreds of thousands of annual visitors and offers something for just about everyone.
The towns range from Zinkwazi, as relaxed and serene as anywhere on the entire South African coast, to the bustling Umhlanga with its big-town feel. In-between is Ballito, a holiday destination par excellence where tourists are welcomed and entertained. A host of other towns each have their own attractions.
As you’d expect, it is the beaches that are the biggest drawcard to the area and around which most of the action is centred.
Ballito in particular is a surfing mecca and hosts regular surfing competitions.
Other beaches all along the coast offer surfing, swimming and angling. Scuba diving, deep-sea fishing and boat trips can also be organised at most popular tourism towns, as can microlight flights.
Don’t for a second think that the North Coast is simply a beach and party destination. Nature is ever-present and many of the towns are surrounded by beautiful coastal bush or are close to nature reserves. Birdwatching is excellent and diverse, while blue duiker can even be spotted from the Umhlanga promenade.
Fascinating history also pops up when you delve a little deeper. King Shaka, that South African Napoleon, once ruled from a kraal in the area of KwaDukuza. A visitor’s centre, memorial and museum all celebrate and explain his life and reign. Another great Zulu man, this time a man of peace, grew up down the road in Groutville. Albert John Luthuli would later play a major part in the struggle against apartheid and would become the first African to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
The North Coast has always been the trendier part of KwaZulu-Natal’s long and spectacular coastline. It’s more developed, the hotels are bigger and it just feels like there is more on the go. There is an incredible amount to do, things to see and places to stay.
Look out for
Mount Moreland – every year an estimated three million barn swallows spend the South African summer at a wetland on Mount Moreland, not far from the coastal town of Umdloti. From around October to April, this huge concentration of tiny birds can be viewed coming in to roost en masse. Take a few drinks or a picnic and your deckchairs and have a sundowner while this immense flock fills the sky.
King Shaka Heritage Route – King Shaka forged the Zulu nation and ultimately shaped the future of South Africa. On this route you can find out a bit more about this fascinating character. You can visit spots such as Observation Rock, from where he watched his impis train. You can also see the pool where he bathed, the site of his burial, and the tree under which he is reputed to have been assassinated.
The Gateway Shopping Centre - on the other side of the scale is Gateway, a huge shopping centre in Umhlanga that caters for absolutely everyone. Rainy days can be spent watching movies, rock-climbing, bowling, driving go-karts and much, much more. There are obviously also plenty of shops and restaurants.
The KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board – offers interesting insights into these denizens of the deep. Educational tours are held, as are regular shark dissections.
Birding – the North Coast is home to an estimated 460 bird species, including rarities such as finfoot, green twinspot, bat hawk and black coucal. It’s not necessary to visit nature reserves to spot them either, although you will have better luck at places like the Zinkwazi lagoon or the Harold Johnson Nature Reserve.
Adventure – scuba diving (or learning to scuba dive) is great for family bonding. The North Coast has a number of operators who offer this. Other chances for adventure include excellent mountain biking, quadbiking, paintball and horse riding.
Microlight flights – and helicopter flips give wonderful perspectives of this long and beautiful coastline. You’ll see how urban spread has affected the cane and bush, as well as just how much remains intact. Whales and dolphins are often spotted on such flights.
Dining decadence- be it high tea or a curry buffet at the sensational Oysterbox, a prawn feast at the Amatikulu Prawn Shack, or the Ballito Prawn and Jazz Festival.