north coast

North Coast

The North Coast is a subtropical delight of sugarcane-covered hillsides, golden beaches, unspoilt lagoons and exclusive beach resorts, wilderness treasures and sacred temples, encompassing the northern coastal area from Zimbali to the mighty Thukela River and beyond. This area has been fancifully named ‘The Dolphin Coast’ after the large schools of dolphin which entertain visitors to the area by their frequent appearances among the waves offshore.

On the Dolphin Coast, the kiss of the warm and friendly Indian Ocean ensures that the beaches are a welcome destination, with amazing waves and pleasant swimming set against a backdrop of vivid green sugarcane plantations mild weather conditions throughout the year. Engaging seaside resorts such as Ballito, Salt Rock, Umhlali and Zinkwazi are laid-back and offer days of sun, sea and sand with surfing, tidal pools and wonderful fishing sites. At Zimbali, a constellation of residential sites plus an upmarket hotel resort lie amidst coastal forest.

Coastal walks at low tide, crocodile and animal farms, nature reserves and top golf courses are available for those who seek more adventure than the beaches alone can supply. The Zulu Roots birding tour covers the Umvoti, Zinkwazi, Otimati, Thukela and Amatikulu areas where visitors can observe over 450 bird species in such diverse ecospheres as coastal, forest and wetlands.

BALLITO is cupped by the green hills of Kwazulu-Natal’s ‘Green Gold’ (sugarcane) and is fronted by the warm, rolling waves of the Indian Ocean. Home to Bottlenose dolphins, these friendly creatures gambol in the blue waves close to the shore enjoying the clear and shallow waters of this coastline which allow them to feed close to the shore. Research indicates that a school of around 200 dolphins inhabits these waters, while lucky observers can also spot whales on their migration path to Mozambique.

Ballito’s main swimming beach is Willard Beach, with the favourite surfing and body-boarding venues of ‘Sunrise’ to the north and ‘Surfers’ and ‘Bog’ on the south side. The beach provides safe swimming areas due to shark nets and the permanent presence of lifeguards. Clarke Bay, a short walk to the south of Willard’s offers rocky pools and is also shark-netted, with bathers watched over by lifeguards. Just past this point one can find the Ballito Tidal Pool into which fresh seawater flows with every high tide. Surfers find a great left break at Salmon Bay.

Microlight flights, river, quad and sky trails are available in Ballito, which also has a surf school. Visitors can learn all about reptiles at the Ndlondlo Reptile Park, home to a range of indigenous reptiles as well as two paintball arenas and a tea garden. Morewood Memorial Gardens just outside Ballito at Compensation is the site of South Africa’s first sugar mill.

BLYTHEDALE BEACH can be located to the north of Tinley Manor and offers kilometres of unspoiled beach, warm seas and sub-tropical vegetation. A small conservancy which borders on Blythedale is a draw-card for birding enthusiasts, since it supports many bird species including the African spoonbill, chestnut-branded plover, lesser sand plover, white-eared barbet, scaly-throated honeyguide and blue-mantled crested flycatcher.

DARNALL, just inland of Zinkwazi Beach, between Blythedale Beach and the Thukela River Mouth, is a quiet village which derived its name from a prospector named David Brown who settled in the area, purchasing a farm and calling it Darnall in memory of his hometown in the UK. An hour’s drive from Durban, it is a great location for those wishing to find less populous sites to visit for a holiday getaway. There’s a golf course at the Darnall Country.

THE HAROLD JOHNSON NATURE RESERVE encompasses 104 hectares of pristine coastal bush, precipitous cliffs and deep gullies, which are home to red, blue and grey duiker, antelope, bushpig, impala, zebra and a large range of butterfly and birdlife. The reserve, which was once the location of a British military camp, today has amenities such as picnic and braai sites, camping facilities and a cultural museum showcasing Zulu beadwork and aspects of Zulu society. Self-guided trails include the nine-kilometre Bushbuck Trail as well as an intriguing two-kilometre ‘Remedies and Rituals’ trail, focusing on plants that have an important medical or spiritual significance to the Zulu people.

The reserve also has two National Monuments, including Fort Pearson, which sits perched on a bluff above the pont-crossing on the Thukela River. The fort is one in a series of seven forts built along the Thukela in the latter part of the 19th century by the Natal government to safeguard the province’s northern border. It gets its name from Colonel Pearson, who was responsible for its construction on the site overlooking the original wagon drift used by settlers, and later by British soldiers during the Anglo-Zulu War. The fort is also the point from which the British army entered Zululand at the beginning of the Anglo-Zulu War. Visitors can still see the earthworks which surrounded the tented camp and view a memorial to those who died at the fort.

The pont which operated below the fort used a steel cable attached to the famed ‘Ultimatum Tree’ on the south bank of the Thukela and a ship’s anchor (now in the Eshowe Museum) on the northern bank. The sycamore fig provided shade for Cetshwayo when on 11 December 1878 he received the British ultimatum to pay taxes, return stolen cattle and demobilise his standing army or face war with Britain. Of course, he declined, giving the British the excuse they needed to invade Zululand and destroy the kingdom’s independence. The tree was declared a national monument, but died several years ago, having been all but demolished in a cyclone. A branch was grafted from the tree and planted nearby.

LA MERCY is easily approached from either the N2 or the M4 highway and lies just south of Ballito and around 25 kilometres north of Durban. A fairly quiet village, it is a coastal conservancy with a strong Indian heritage and several religious facilities including a mosque, two temples and two Christian places of worship. It provides convenient access to the ‘Big Five’ game reserves and the World Heritage Site of iSimangaliso (St Lucia) Wetland Park, not to mention boasting one of the best beaches on the North Coast from which to glimpse the whale migration and the frolicking dolphins. The old beach road along the coastline makes for a particularly scenic and laid-back drive, while the beach also provides facilities for fishing, kite-surfing, paddling, sea-kayaking and snorkelling.

PRINCE’S GRANT is best known for the popular Prince’s Grant Golf Estate which regularly attracts scores of visitors to this previously unexplored area. The estate advertises itself using the slogan ‘The way life should be lived’ and the area certainly justifies this claim. In pristine condition, the quiet beach and lagoon allow for swimming, canoeing and paddling. The Golf Estate’s building ethic insists that structures blend into the environment and that only indigenous plants be used for landscaping, a factor which has contributed to the estate gaining an award for being a site of ‘conservation significance’. Small species of game such as bushbuck, grey and blue duiker, spotted genets and mongoose can still be spotted in the dune forests.

Looking at the prestigious estate which is the flag-bearer of the area today, one is inclined to forget that, historically, the first owner of the property in that location was George Wilson Prince, who was given a Deed of Grant by her Majesty, Queen Victoria, in 1856. Ownership passed to a Mr Babu Bodasing, a cane-cutter, and the farm was subsequently sold to Prince’s Grant Property Shareblock much later by Raj Bodasing. The golf course went under construction in 1992 and was declared open for play in 1994. The Lodge itself was built on the site of the original structure.

SALT ROCK is situated a mere 30 minutes’ drive from Durban, just north of Shaka’s Rock and Ballito. It derives its name from the days of King Shaka’s reign when his handmaidens used to collect dried salt from the rocks at low tide for trading purposes.

Salt Rock offers a relaxed atmosphere with a safe bathing beach and a large tidal pool. Wonderful reefs ensure great off-shore diving, while the beach is also a good fishing spot. The Salt Rock Country Club provides facilities for tennis, bowls, squash and swimming, and there is a fabulous caravan park with shady sites very close to the beach. This is a sought-after family beach with picnic spots and showers.

SHAKA’S KRAAL is, with its single street, what would have been called a ‘one-horse town’ in the old days. It lies near the historic site King Shaka’s Royal Home Guard Regiment’s quarters at KwaHlomendlini. Today, the village embodies a blend of Indian and African culture with the imposing mosque as a focal point.

SHAKA’S ROCK is a place where legends abound. Some say it was named after the rocky outcrop which Shaka used as a look-out post, while others hold that it was a testing-place where Shaka used to encourage his men to jump to their death from the rock.

Present-day Shaka’s Rock is a small residential area with a beautiful beach and a tidal pool surrounded by towering cliffs. The beach is used regularly as a ski-boat launch site for boats heading out on deep-sea fishing trips. Shaka’s Rock or ‘Catfish Beach’, which is the main beach, is very close to Ballito and only 40 kilometres from Durban. In fact, at low tide the more adventurous visitor can traverse a rugged cliff-side walking trail between Shaka’s Rock and Willard Beach on the Ballito side of the rocks.

SHEFFIELD BEACH is a marvellous beach, dotted with sheltered coves and inviting rock pools abounding with fascinating marine creatures such as anemones, sponges and hermit crabs. Its claim to fame is its good fishing and diving location, and one can simply follow the local fishermen in order to find a good spot from where to hook a tasty catch. Snorkelling is also a must-do activity. Some spots provide amazing views of the coastline and sightings of dolphins and the migratory whale population. The reef formations just beneath the ocean’s surface offer scuba-divers and snorkelers a wide range of sea-life. Spear-fishing is popular, and provided one has a licence, mussels, oysters and crayfish can be caught.

STANGER, more currently known as KwaDukuza, lies inland from Blythedale and forms part of the Zululand Heritage Route; and rightfully so, since King Shaka’s Memorial is situated here. Historically, KwaDukuza (or ‘place of the lost person’) was the name which Shaka gave his new capital on account of the complicated arrangement of huts, which could easily confuse visitors. Shaka himself was ‘lost’ in a kraal within the capital when he was murdered by his half-brother Dingane. He was buried in great haste and a simple stone memorial marks the spot. The memorial site in King Shaka Street offers a 20-minute slide-show on the history of King Shaka, and there is also a small curio shop and an Interpretative Centre. The Dukuza Museum in King Shaka Street offers memorabilia relating to Zulu culture, the sugarcane industry, Indian culture and early settler history.

KwaDukuza fell into disuse under Dingane, and in 1873 the town erected on that site was named Stanger after William Stanger the Surveyor-General of Natal. KwaDakuza-Stanger serves as the commercial, magisterial and communication centre for the mainly sugar-producing district. Sugarcane fields were what drew the original Indian settlers to this area to work and their vibrant cultural influence is seen in the many mosques and temples.

Another interesting site to visit is that of the Stanger Sappi Paper Mill. This mill is one-of-a-kind in South Africa since it uses bagasse – the fibrous matter remaining after sugarcane stalks are crushed – to manufacture coated wood-free paper. In March 2006 the mill introduced a process known as Triple Green, which is a first worldwide, and the upgrade has resulted in a fully-integrated environmental practice at the mill.

The Stanger Mill’s effluent lake supports birdlife and a bird hide has been built together with the Blythedale Conservancy. The aptly-named Tranquility Bird Hide allows the observation of up to 30 species of bird per hour. Coupled with these conservation and sustainable environmental projects are endeavours such as the Sappi KwaDukuza Resource Centre, which is a digital village and learning centre, and Project Grow, which encourages local farmers to grow trees as a renewable resource, with markets for their produce guaranteed.

THUKELA MOUTH is also the name of a village which is situated on the northern bank of the Thukela River, which rises in the Drakensberg Mountains and follows a 502-kilometre route through the heartland of KwaZulu-Natal to reach the Indian Ocean.

Besides a plethora of natural wonders, the area here is steeped in history. The first European visitor to this spot was Vasco da Gama in 1497, while near the John Ross Bridge, about eight kilometres from the river mouth, lies the site of the historic Zulu village of Ndondakusuka. Close by is the place where the Battle of Thukela took place in the Anglo-Zulu War of 1838, and the site of the Battle of Ndondakusuka, which was fought between the opposing forces of Mbuyazwe and Cetshwayo as they struggled over the succession to their father Mpande’s throne. It is said that 23 000 Zulu died in this battle during the civil war.

Fort Pearson (discussed under ‘The Harold Johnson Nature Reserve’) and Fort Tenedos look out from above the Mouth, where they once guarded the passage along the river and its crossing. The John Ross Bridge on the old N2 route is named after the 15-year-old boy who walked from Port Natal to Lourenço Marques (now Maputo) and back to obtain sorely-needed medicine.

Besides fascinating history, the area is also rich in wildlife-related activities and supports many walks, interesting birdlife, indigenous forest sand endless beaches. Water pursuits such as fishing are very popular since the warm coastal waters encourage a variety of fish and shellfish, and Thukela Mouth hosts major fishing tournaments. Water sports and the annual Thukela Raft race are also a draw-card.

TINLEY MANOR is conveniently located a mere 15 minutes’ drive from Ballito and the sea views and beaches are awe-inspiring and well worth the trip. The southern boundary offers a lagoon which opens out into the Indian Ocean. Birdlife is prolific and the warm waters of the sheltered lagoon encourage paddle-skiing and windsurfing. A life-saving club is in the process of being established for the main beach, which has its own tidal pool.

The offshore reef formations offer an attractive environment to scuba divers and snorkelers, while for those who would like to take home a large crayfish for the pot, the rocky crevices are a perfect place to find and catch these creatures … with a licence, of course! Tinley Manor offers beauty and tranquility in its quaint, unhurried village life which allows visitors to escape the hustle of modern life.

TONGAAT is one of the primary sugar-producing towns and certainly, to South African ears, the name calls up visions of the vast Tongaat-Hulett sugar-manufacturing corporation. It is also, given their historical association with the sugar plantations as indentured workers, home to the oldest Indian community in South Africa. The Hindu temples Vishwaroop and Juggernath Puri, built in 1920, provide evidence of the Indian cultural influence. The Sri Soobramaniar Temple, which plays an important role in the annual Kavady Festival, is yet another example of the integral role played by this sector of the community. This festival in praise of Lord Muruga is the largest of its kind in South Africa, and the temple from which it takes place was originally erected to administer to the needs of the Indian community at Brake Village – named after the workers’ function as ‘Brake Boys’ on the trains which transported sugar cane around the various sections of the mills. The actual festival is one of atonement and involves the ritual piercing of tongues and bodies with long steel needles to show obedience to the Hindu deity of healing.

The Dudley Pringle Dam is a weekend leisure destination for picnics and watersports, while Crocodile Creek on the outskirts of Tongaat houses over 9 000 animals, mostly crocodiles, but also leguaan (water monitors), alligators, lizards, snakes, tortoises and monkeys. Visitors are able to take a tour through the crocodile breeding centre and touch some of the smaller animals with the assistance of a guide. A small hiking trail is also available. The Maidstone Sugar Mill is another interesting site for visitors since it still uses some of the original sugar-crushing methods in its operations.

UMHLALI’S name is derived from the Monkey Orange tree which bears fruit of a deciduous nature that proves very popular with the baboons. The Zulu word ‘umhlali’, which means the place in which a person resides, was also apparently applied to the original settlers, would pause to gather their strength on the banks of the river before pressing on to undertake the actual crossing. It was originally called Fort William when a fort was established here by the Byrne settlers from Scotland.

Umhlali is located around 50 kilometres from Durban and is a genuine old colonial sugar town. There are many places to visit, such as the Litchi Orchard, which is just four kilometres out of town and provides food and drink as well as art and crafts, with markets each first and third Saturday of the month and night markets every second month. The Flag Animal Farm is located within easy range of Ballito (eight minutes away), Salt Rock and Umhlali. As well as milking demonstrations, pony rides and opportunities to feed the animals, there are picnic spots, braai facilities and a tea garden which serves light meals.

Sports enthusiasts are not excluded, since the Umhlali Country Club has a top-class 18-hole golf course with a halfway house, pro-shop and golf cart hire. Originally begun as a nine-hole course in 1961, it was redesigned and upgraded in 2006. The golf course itself features water holes which attract wildlife, making golfing and wildlife-watching a joint activity. For those who are not keen on golf, there are also bowling greens, five tennis courts, a secluded pool and two squash courts. If a spot of deep-sea fishing is fancied, there are charter boats available with experienced skippers who know all the best spots and offer top equipment to ensure a memorable experience.

The Luthuli Museum is in Groutville a little less than ten kilometres outside Umhlali and close to KwaDukuza and Umvoti. A most interesting place to visit, it is in fact the house where Chief Albert Luthuli and his family lived, which was subsequently declared a national institution and opened as a museum in 2004. Nearby, one can visit the gravesite of Chief Luthuli, his statue, and the site of his fatal train accident. There is an Interpretative Centre at the museum which hosts regular exhibitions.

UMVOTI RIVER MOUTH is a protected estuary which can be reached by a short drive from Durban to Blythedale Beach, where one can park at the ski-boat launch site and take a short stroll. The wilderness area at the river mouth is an intersection of dune forest and beach, providing a habitat for prolific birdlife and making for great fishing. The difference between zones in this area is considerable. Since the dunes act as a screen, while the wind may be howling on the beach and whipping up the waves along the coastline, in the lee of the dune bank the forest remains a dense and shady environment beneath the milkwood trees which shield the vegetation below. The Umvoti River Mouth is part of a conservancy, so the flora and fauna of the area are protected. Bird-watchers may be able to catch a glimpse of the African spoonbill, the chestnut-branded plover and the blue-mantled crested flycatcher, among many other species.

VERULAM lies amidst lush sugarcane fields about 30 kilometres to the north of Durban, inland from Umdloti. Founded in 1850 by a group of Wesleyan settlers from Britain, Verulam bears the honour of being the third-oldest town in the province. It grew rapidly in the ensuing years, becoming the third-largest town in the colony by 1857 and achieving the status of a town in 1882. Verulam’s inhabitants are mainly of Indian descent, and in 1964 it was proclaimed an Indian area under the then government’s Group Areas Act. The act was repealed in the 1990s and in 1996 Verulam was incorporated into the new local government structure for the northern Durban areas, eventually becoming part of the eThekwini North Local Council. Verulam had one of the first sugar mills, and was also the first litchi producer in the country.

As a market hub for the surrounding area and the centre of the magisterial district of Inanda, Verulam remains a busy town. While the growing of sugarcane is still important, a number of other cash crops are also produced, with the fresh produce morning market a major draw-card. Places of interest include the Sri Gopalall Hindu Temple, opened in 1913 by Mahatma Gandhi, and the nearby Hazelmere Dam, where water sports and fishing top the agenda.

WESTBROOK BEACH is set between La Mercy and Ballito. This small community has grown somewhat in recent years, and is conveniently situated relatively close to the major shopping sites of Gateway and business centres such as Ballito, which are a mere 10 minutes’ drive away. Westbrook offers a wonderful beach for swimming, which is regularly visited by dolphins and whales. Strolling along the seemingly endless expanse of sandy beach one is able to make out the junction of the coastal beach landscape with the area’s verdant sub-tropical vegetation and indigenous milkwood trees. An annual event, the 32-kilometre International ARB Surf Ski World Cup Race to Durban’s Bay of Plenty starts at this beach.

ZIMBALI, about 20 minutes away from Durban and roughly a 20-kilometre drive from King Shaka International Airport, is perhaps best known for its two outstanding estates: the Zimbali Coastal Forest Estate and Zimbali Golf Course Estate. A sprawling coastal forest, supporting indigenous wildlife and over 200 species of birds, surrounds the residential and resort estates. The meaning of Zimbali is ‘valley of the flowers’, and it has made a name for itself as a sought-after resort destination, also serving as a conservancy and protecting threatened indigenous species.

Within the estate is Nature’s Valley, a 50-hectare reserve with an aerial boardwalk. All primary dune areas have been declared conservation areas. There are also natural lakes which encourage birds, butterflies and indigenous plant life. Bush buck, blue duikers, bushbaby, vervet monkey, banded mongoose and wild pig are some of the species which can be spotted within the forest reserve. The estate also boasts the Valley of the Pools, where visitors can sunbathe and swim in a secluded and protected environment. Other activities at the resort include a health and beauty spa as well as horse-riding opportunities along the beach.

The Zimbali Country Club Golf Course, which is just over 8 kilometres from Umhlali, was designed by Tom Wieskopf. While this memorable course offers some challenges, it also provides all the necessary conveniences, such as golf carts, a halfway house, putting greens, a driving range and a bar and lounge facility. It has been ranked in the top ten courses in South Africa and is the recipient of the Complete Golfer’s Five-Star Golfing Experience Award.

ZINKWAZI is situated just off the N2 freeway, halfway between Durban and Richards Bay and about 25 minutes from King Shaka International Airport. Besides its many leisure attractions, this holiday village is the site of some amazing archaeological discoveries which have immeasurably enriched our knowledge of the area’s history. The remains of ‘strandlopers’ were found on the lagoon site of a Mr Balcomb in 1922, and in 1958 similar finds were unearthed. The ‘strandlopers’ are thought to have been a nomadic people who frequented this area due to the location of natural sweet water springs near the lagoon mouth, since they would stop here to rest, drink water and re-provision. At Lot 47 just off Nkwazi Drive there is still a spring which flows freely into the sea, just as it did all those years ago.

This historic town, which takes its name from the Zulu for ‘white-headed fish eagle’, has developed slowly over the years, and many of the families who lived here in the 1900s still own property in the area today. The freshwater lagoon offers a home to a vast range of birdlife, and it is no small wonder that this area forms part of the Zululand Birding Route. The indigenous forests also provide a wonderful backdrop for fishing and walking trails. The Deep Sea Angling Club launches boats and jet skis into the lagoon and the sea, while the Lagoon itself supports huge populations of fish, prawns and crabs, and can be navigated by small craft for a distance of around seven kilometres. The beaches at Zinkwazi are shark-netted, and surfing, snorkelling and crayfishing are enjoyed by locals and visitors to the area.

Eco-trails in the Zinkwazi area provide different types of adventures. One can follow the 60-kilometre John Ross Trail between the Nonoti and Amatikulu Rivers, or try out an activity like paddling, cycling or fly-fishing, or even a lagoon cruise, a night drive or a bush picnic. Other tours visit rural Zulu communities, and several historical and cultural sites.




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