A 120-kilometre drive from Durban, Port Shepstone is the administrative and commercial hub of the South Coast, surrounded by farm land, industrial areas and tourist attractions.
Like many South African towns, Port Shepstone was founded on the banks of a river, in this case at the mouth of the Mzimkhulu River, the same river that created the beautiful Oribi Gorge a short distance inland.
Named after Sir Theophilus Shepstone, secretary of native affairs in Natal, the town was solidified by the discovery of marble in the mid-1800s. The mouth of the river was then opened, leading to the regular shipping out of marble blocks and sugar, while most supplies for the town entered this way. Once the second-largest port in Natal, it fell into disuse after the railway system reached the town.
Tourism revolves around the many beaches and the warm ocean, which is good for swimming and angling, while the broad river adds another dimension to this pretty town, with its bustling little waterfront and an annual raft race that attracts crews from all over the country.
Port Shepstone also has a strong link with Norway, with 246 Norwegians arriving on a single ship in 1882, apparently greeted by the town’s residents as well as a troop of Zulu warriors in full regalia. A strong Norwegian community remains to this day.
Look out for
A cultural village in the area welcomes tourists, giving them a glimpse into traditional Zulu life. Watch traditional dancing, sip Zulu beer and consult a sangoma for a reading of the bones.
The annual tube race takes place every summer at the height of January’s tourism season. More than a thousand people take part, floating down the river in their home-made rafts or car inner tubes.
An annual show is held in winter by the local Lion’s club, offering entertainment for the whole family during the day and into the night.
Oribi Gorge, 20 kilometres inland from town, is an exciting and busy adventure destination. Mountain biking, abseiling, gorge swings and horse-riding are all on offer, while the less adventurous can admire the landscape, make use of their cameras or do a spot of bird-watching.
The black-and-white checked Port Shepstone Lighthouse now serves as the local tourism information office and tours are available. Back in the day it was a crucial part of the local shipping industry, its 27 000-candlepower lamp warning ships away from the rocky coast. The lighthouse was cast out of iron in Britain and shipped to South Africa, where it was erected in Port Shepstone in 1905.
A small museum in Port Shepstone chronicles the town’s maritime history and is worth a visit.