south coast

South Coast

The South Coast of KwaZulu-Natal is blessed with year-round balmy weather and a gorgeous subtropical setting, making it an idyllic destination for holidaymakers. A succession of enchanting holiday towns, each with its own special character, lie along a 140-kilometre seaboard stretching from Amanzimtoti as far as Port Edward. These villages and resorts offer the visitor everything from golden beaches and eco-adventures to first-class restaurants, excellent shopping venues and a wide range of accommodation.

With its family-friendly swimming beaches, fascinating tidal pools, unspoilt lagoons and lush coastal bush, this is the perfect location to relax and imbibe the heady atmosphere of sea, surf and sunshine. The South Coast is home to no less than eight pristine Blue Flag beaches, consisting of Hibberdene, Lucien, Margate, Marina Beach, Ramsgate, Southport, Trafalgar and Umzumbe.

The Blue Flag is an international award given to beaches that meet excellence in the areas of safety, amenities, cleanliness and environmental standards. The strict criteria of the programme are set by the international coordinators of the Blue Flag campaign in Europe, the FEE (Foundation for Environmental Education). In South Africa, the programme is managed by WESSA (the Wildlife and Environmental Society of South Africa), along with participating local authorities under the Department of Environmental Affairs' Coastcare initiative. South Africa was the first country outside Europe to win Blue Flag accreditation for its beaches.

The South Coast is also the site of one of the world’s greatest natural marine phenomena: the sardine run. Every winter, usually between the months of May and July, vast shoals of sardines migrate up the coast, followed by scores of dolphins, sharks, seals and game fish, as well as circling seabirds, all of which join in the feeding frenzy. These tiny silvery fish are periodically driven into shallow waters, beaching themselves along the shoreline – to the obvious delight of locals and visitors who travel from far and near to scoop up the sea’s bountiful offering.

This region is also known for its superb diving opportunities, and the Aliwal Shoal situated near Umkomaas is the undisputed treasure trove of a spectacularly rich marine ecosystem. Internationally recognised as one of the world’s top warm water diving spots, it is made up of beautifully hued corals, sponges and a large variety of warm and cold water fish, such as ragged tooth sharks, stingrays and turtles. Dive charters are numerous, with facilities for beginners as well as experienced divers. Another fantastic diving spot – though strictly for experienced divers – can be found at the Protea Banks off Shelly Beach. Soft cage diving with sharks is also on offer. While participants need to be able to swim, no diving experience is required.

Surfing is another favourite pastime, with the beach at St Michael’s-on-Sea in possession of one of the best point-breaks in South Africa. Other appealing pursuits include dolphin and whale viewing, kayaking and rafting, and deep-sea fishing trips, with the Umtamvuna River near Port Edward offering a number of water-based leisure activities. While adrenaline junkies might prefer to test their nerves on gorge swinging or abseiling at Oribi Gorge, more leisurely pursuits are also in abundance, and the South Coast boasts a total of eleven 18-hole golf courses.

The region’s maritime history takes the spotlight at the Port Shepstone Maritime Museum, with this deceptively lovely stretch of coastline having also seen its fair share of storms and shipwrecks. Lighthouse enthusiasts might enjoy visiting the North Sand Bluff at Port Edward, the first fully privatised lighthouse on the coast, as well as the Green Point Lighthouse near Umkomaas and the famous chequered Port Shepstone Lighthouse, which was manufactured in Britain and shipped to South Africa in the 1890s.

THE ALIWAL SHOAL, touted as ‘the greatest shoal on earth’, is one of the largest reefs on the South African coastline and home to over 1 200 species of fish, colourful corals and sponges. Along with the celebrated ragged-tooth shark, the reef accommodates ragged-tooth, hammerhead and Zambezi sharks, as well as the occasional great white.

With depths ranging from five metres at the pinnacles to 30 metres on the outside edge, one of the most impressive characteristics of the reef is its awe-inspiring topography. The shoal’s intricately constructed features consist of spectacular pinnacles, hidden gullies and dramatic drop-offs, as well as intriguing tunnels and blow-holes.

Diving conditions are best in the early morning, when the seas are calmer and the largest concentrations of ragged-tooth sharks – or ‘raggies’ – can be found. The extensive size of Aliwal Shoal, which stretches roughly four kilometres from end to end and 300 metres across, means that there is a huge number of interesting dive sites to choose from, with some of the more famous including:
• Raggie’s Cave – The best site on Aliwal Shoal for spotting raggies, and while divers are not allowed to enter the cave when sharks are in residence, there is a superb viewing area at the cave entrance. Other marine life includes potato bass and moray eel. With some fairly sheltered spots, the site is good for open water divers and its maximum depth is 18 metres.
• Cathedral – Another excellent spot for viewing ragged-tooth sharks; during shark season dozens of these ferocious looking yet docile creatures may be found resting within the amphitheatre. Hammerhead sharks and stingrays are to be seen during the summer months. With a maximum depth of 27 metres, this site is for advanced divers.
• North Eastern Pinnacles – Ideal for novices, this easy dive has a maximum depth of 14 metres and contains many sheltered potholes where small fish may be found. Look out for clown fish, anemones, potato bass and octopus. Maximum depth of 14 metres.
• North Sands & South Sands – With a maximum depth of 15 metres, these two large sand patches are a great training ground for beginners, and sand sharks as well as dolphins may be seen here.
• Inside Edge – Comprising the entire inshore edge of the shoal, this site is renowned for octopus, scorpion fish, fire fish, cuttlefish and eels, as well as many larger species such as sharks and dolphins. While the maximum depth here is 22 metres, the top of the ledge is around 15 metres, making it suitable for open water as well as advanced divers.
• Outside Edge – This is where the larger varieties of marine life are to be found, including game fish, hammerheads and tiger sharks. Both experienced and open water divers are accommodated, depending on the area, with the maximum depth being 27 metres.
• Eelskins – Located near the south-western tip of the reef, there are exceptional fossilised rock formations here as well as sand gullies which during shark season shelter many ragged-tooth sharks and shoaling tropical fish. With a maximum depth of 18 metres, the site is good for open water divers.
• Manta Point – With depths between 15 and 22 metres, this site is suitable for more advanced divers. A good spot for manta rays, there are a variety of nooks and crannies hiding crayfish and shrimp.

Geological history dates the formation of the shoal to approximately 80 000 years ago (quite recent in geological terms) when sea levels were much lower than they are now. The dune rock which makes up the present-day core of the shoal was formed from sand dunes and shells, which fossilised after being dissolving into a compound of calcium carbonate by heavy rainfalls. Shifting continental plates caused the Indian Ocean to rise and the eventual submersion of the dune rock.

In the millennia which followed, successive deposits of seashells and sand created a dramatically intricate sandstone shoal, comprising an elaborate topography of tunnels, gullies, drop-offs and caves, and blanketed by vibrant colonies of corals. Today the shoal is inhabited by an impressive variety of fish species, which hide in the extensive network of nooks and crannies covering this massive reef system.

Shipwrecks have also been a common occurrence in these waters. Named after the Aliwal, which narrowly avoided being sunk on the reef in 1849, the Aliwal Shoal was to claim two other ships in the years which followed: the Nebo and the Produce, which are both frequently visited on wreck dives.

Sunk on 20 May 1884 on her maiden voyage, the unfortunate Nebo was a 2 000 tonne steamship carrying the Amanzimtoti railway bridge from Sunderland to Durban. Some controversy surrounds her sinking, and today there are two conflicting stories about her demise. While the official report stated that she was sunk by one of the shoal’s pinnacles, a more likely explanation is that the excessive weight of the bridge she was carrying may have led her to capsize after being struck by a large wave.

A Norwegian freighter weighing around 15 000 tonnes, the Produce was sunk on 11 August 1974 after having her hull torn apart on the reef’s northern pinnacles. Lying on a sand bed approximately 32 metres below the surface, the ship’s now rusted steel skeleton provides a home for all types of marine life and is a fabulous site for experienced divers.

AMANZIMTOTI is well-placed just 25 kilometres south of central Durban. It has an admirable commercial infrastructure of modern shopping malls, as well as good accommodation options and restaurants. Amanzimtoti’s beaches include Inyoni Rocks to the north and the lagoon to the south. The beaches at Winkelspruit, Inyoni Rocks and Pipeline are deal for families.

The naming of Amanzimtoti is generally attributed to the renowned Zulu King Shaka, who stopped here in 1828 with his army during one of their campaigns. Legend has it that after being given water to drink from the local river, he remarked ‘kanti amanz’amtoti’ (so the water is sweet), thereby giving the river, and the town that later developed around it, the name of Amanzimtoti.

It has also been said that that the name should in fact be ‘amanzi amnandi’ (sweet water), as this is the actual expression that Shaka used when he tasted the water. However, none of Shaka’s subjects were allowed to use that expression since Shaka's mother's name was also Nandi – so Amanzimtoti it had to be!

Leisure attractions here include the Amanzimtoti Bird Sanctuary, a pretty spot for picnics and bird-watching consisting of a large expanse of open water surrounded by rolling lawns and gardens on one end and indigenous riverine forest on the other. There is an easy self-guided trail through the forest as well as three hides from which one may see many of the 150 bird species, including Hamerkop, Spurwing Geese, White Faced Duck, Greenback Heron and Giant Kingfisher.

Set on the banks of the Amanzimtoti River, Illanda Wilds is a peaceful reserve boasting three self-guided nature trails through riverine and coastal scarp forest. In addition to a number of small buck, vervet monkeys and birding opportunities, the wilds also contain a piece of history, as it was here that King Shaka drank from the river and gave the town its present name.

The 36-hectare Umbogavango Nature Reserve located in the Umbogintwini industrial site north of Amanzimtoti is an ideal spot for bird-watching. Made up of wetland and coastal lowland forest, there are two storm-water holding dams, over 200 bird species, more than 100 indigenous tree varieties, and small game such as otter, mongoose and blue duiker. There are self-guided walks, picnic and braai facilities and various hides.

ANERLEY is situated between Southport and Sunwich Port roughly eight kilometres north of Port Shepstone. The major draw-card in this little town is its beach, which offers some of the finest rock angling in the region as well as having a large and child-friendly tidal pool. Anerley’s lush coastal and riverine forest areas contain plentiful birdlife and there are attractive picnic spots.

BAZLEY is named after the engineer and Byrne immigrant John Bazley and lies on the Umdoni Coast approximately 70 kilometres south of Durban and a little to the south of Pennington and north of the Fafa River. Surrounded by sugarcane fields, Bazley is a quiet and tranquil spot, only accessible from the main road via the Sezela turn-off. In addition to the beautiful lagoon, there’s a wide expanse of unspoiled shoreline at Ndesingaan Beach for activities such as surfing, swimming or simply lazing about.

Situated close to Bazley, the secluded Vernon Crookes Nature Reserve affords sweeping views of the ocean. It is characterised by fine coastal forest and grassland, with about 56 mammal species including impala, blue wildebeest, zebra and oribi. Birdlife comprises an impressive 300 confirmed species, among which there are a number of spectacular raptors.

CLANSTHAL is a quiet spot located around 40 kilometres from Durban between the towns of Umkomaas and Scottburgh. The secluded beach seldom sees any visitors apart from locals and fishermen. Situated on a cliff overlooking the surfing beach, the distinctive Green Point Lighthouse, which is now a national monument, alerts mariners to the dangers of the famous Aliwal Shoal which lies just five kilometres out to sea.

ELYSIUM is a little village nestling between the beaches of Mtwalume and Ifafa Beach and offering safe swimming, snorkelling and diving, as well as some good fishing. Pristine and peaceful, the beach is strewn with an assortment of beautiful shells and invites a leisurely exploration.

GLENMORE BEACH is set on the lower end of the Hibiscus Coast alongside the adjacent beaches of Palm, Trafalgar and Munster. Bordered by both the Mkhandandlovu and the Itongasi rivers, Glenmore and Munster utilise a common swimming and surfing bay – a long stretch of unspoilt shoreline scattered with rocky outcrops and boulders from which anglers test the rich fishing grounds. A surfer’s paradise, Glenmore presents a particularly scenic picture in the winter months when scores of bottlenose and common dolphin, not to mention southern right and humpback whales, visit these coastal waters

HIBBERDENE is a small coastal town nearly 100 kilometres from Durban and midway between Scottburgh and Port Shepstone. Something of a commercial hub for the surrounding region, it is regarded as the gateway to the Hibiscus Coast and is an affordable and increasingly popular destination for local as well as international tourists. Boasting a Blue Flag beach, Hibberdene has a total of five recognised beaches – four of which are netted – and present plans include the possibility of establishing a small craft marina here.

Dive charters are available to the unspoiled offshore reefs, and can be arranged at local dive shops. Rare species which may be seen include the Longnose Hawkfish as well as fern coral and soft coral sponge, not to mention the unusual black coral fans. A wall some seven metres in height comprising beautiful fans and sponges is one of the striking features of the coastal reef. Hibberdene has a ski-boat launch, and offers other beach and surf activities like fishing as well as whale and dolphin viewing. Fun pastimes at the lagoon include paddle-boating, super-tubing, putt-putt and trampolining. In addition to game viewing and bird watching, other diversions include golfing, bird-watching, bowling, tennis and squash.

IFAFA’S stretch of coastline was named the ‘place of sparkling waters’ in the Zulu tongue, and beautiful views are still evident over the lagoon where the Fafa River meets the Indian Ocean. Today the seas off Ifafa are predominantly utilised for fishing, and the reef here is rated by spear-fishermen as one of the best in the country for game-fish and shark sighting. Rods as well as boats are available for hire. The beach is also attractive, with wide bays and tidal pools. Teeming with bird-life, the Ifafa lagoon and estuary is a still expanse of water set beneath low cliffs and thick coastal forest, and may be explored with a canoe. Ifafa also contains two well-known lookout points which are a great vantage point for whale and dolphin viewing. Land-based attractions take in 4x4 trails, paragliding and leisurely tours around the area’s thriving plantations, which comprise crops such as bananas, sugarcane, pineapples, macadamia nuts, pecan nuts and eucalyptus, as well extensive fields of Protea, South Africa’s national flower.

KELSO once served as a vital link in the transportation of sugar, which would come via boat down the Umzinto River and then out to sea on a larger ship. Golden beaches, exquisite shells, warm waters, excellent snorkelling and fishing, abundant tropical fish and other sea-life, perfect swells for surfers in the proximity of the legendary Mfazazana Point and horseback rides across unspoilt beaches are just a few of Kelso’s coastal attractions. Kelso also contains remnants of the area’s past: a coastal midden has been discovered in the vicinity of the Mzimai estuary which dates to the Iron Age.

LEISURE BAY is a quaint and sleepy seaside village with lush subtropical vegetation, safe surf, swimming and snorkelling beaches and good rock and surf fishing, lying just south of Munster (Glenmore) Beach. This picturesque spot, which is a little to the north of KwaZulu-Natal’s most southerly town of Port Edward, has a substantial community of artists and crafters.

LUCIEN BEACH is a beautiful Blue Flag beach positioned just across from the popular Margate Beach on the Hibiscus Coast. As reaching the beach requires walking down a number of stairs, Lucien is not as accessible as other nearby beaches – particularly for those with physical disabilities. Beach-side amenities include a tuck-shop and crafts are on sale in the vicinity of the main parking area. It has a sheltered swimming beach, patrolled by lifeguards throughout the year. Environmental education programmes take place during the holidays.

MANABA BEACH nestles between Margate and Ramsgate to the south and St Michael’s-on-Sea and Shelly Beach to the north. Leisure and relaxation is the order of the day at this laid-back beach resort, and it’s no small wonder that the name ‘Manaba’ comes from the Zulu ‘naba’, which means to sit and relax with one’s legs outstretched! Things to do include beach and surf activities such as swimming, fishing, sunbathing, canoeing and windsurfing, but there are also other pursuits available, such as golf, coffee tours at Echo Valley near Oribi Gorge – where 100 percent Arabica coffee is produced – and even some whale and dolphin watching.

MARGATE is a bustling resort town about 133 kilometres from Durban. It is renowned as the holiday hub of the Hibiscus Coast, and boasts a collection of the loveliest beaches the South Coast has to offer, including those of Blue Flag status. Washed by the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, the coastline off Margate contains a treasure chest of tropical fish, corals and sponges, as well as game fish and sharks, which gather around diving sites such as Protea Banks. Scuba diving and snorkelling are therefore common pastimes here, with top-class dive sites numbering Deep Salmon, Adda Reef and Potato Reef, among others. In addition to diving, water sports such as canoeing, boardsailing, boating and skiing are popular.

Margate has first-rate amenities, which include good shopping centres, art galleries, craft shops and restaurants, not to mention the liveliest nightlife on the South Coast. Other tourist attractions include the Margate Bird Park which contains diverse bird species and the Margate Country Club which enjoys an excellent golf course with superb greens and a breathtaking outlook just three kilometres from the sea. Particularly notable are the 9th and 18th holes, which are both par fives in the St Andrews tradition.

MARINA BEACH is situated past Margate, between the holiday resort of San Lameer and the village of Southbroom, a 90-minute drive away from Durban. With a tidal pool, Blue Flag beach and tranquil lagoon at the Mpenjati River mouth, Marina is one of the many naturally unspoilt beaches on the Hibiscus Coast. Lifeguards are in attendance throughout the year and facilities are of a high standard, with easy access for the disabled to the beach as well as the ablution facilities. There is a small restaurant on the beach and abundant parking facilities. Locally made crafts may be bought from traders operating adjacent to the beach. This is also the site of various environmental education projects, and schools in the region as well as the surrounding rural areas are being brought to visit the beach.

To the south, Mpenjati Nature Reserve, lagoon and the adjacent Trafalgar Marine Reserve offer a quiet respite from beach activities, with interlinking wetlands, grasslands and dune forests, and pleasant picnic sites on the banks of the Mpenjati River. Red, blue and grey duiker may be spotted on the south bank’s Ipithi Trail, while on the northern river bank the Yengele trail winds through some of the coast’s biggest dune forests. The reserve extends about 500 metres out to sea to protect the unique fossils of trees, shells and other marine creatures that are found here.

MELVILLE BEACH is an appealing spot surrounded by wild banana trees and thick indigenous vegetation that teems with birdlife. This unblemished sandy beach lies between Hibberdene and Port Shepstone, just a short walk from the splendid bathing beach and tidal pools of Banana Beach. Walking, snorkelling and shell-gathering are but a few of the activities that can be enjoyed here.

MTWALUME is a small village traditionally frequented by holidaymakers and fishermen, and is named after the Mtwalume tree, the bark of which is used for medicinal purposes by local Zulus. Unspoilt beaches, lush tropical foliage and pretty tidal pools that present safe swimming opportunities are the hallmark of Mtwalume, along with the beautiful Mtwalume River lagoon and Mtwalume Falls a little higher up the river. Along with the typical watersports action, fishing and spearfishing is particularly good here, with snoek and Garrick the main catch.

MUNSTER is situated next to Glenmore Beach and Leisure Bay, a little to the north of Port Edward. It is in walking distance of the adjacent Glenmore Beach, but visitors should bear in mind that Munster’s bathing beach is also known as Glenmore beach! This stretch of seashore is characterised by pristine beaches and towering rocky outcrops which provide good rock-climbing prospects. Munster is protected by shark nets, and the mouth of the Itongasi River is an ideal spot to launch boats.

ORIBI FLATS lies inland from Margate and Shelly Beach near the Oribi Gorge Nature Reserve. Oribi Gorge is one of two gorges which cut through the Oribi Flats, the other gorge to the west is shaped by the Mzimkhulu River. The land here comprises sugarcane plantations as well as indigenous forests and waterfalls, with good game viewing in the adjacent reserve.

ORIBI GORGE NATURE RESERVE is located some 21 kilometres inland from Port Shepstone in one of KwaZulu-Natal’s most spectacular natural settings. The sandstone cliffs of the gorge, which were formed by river erosion over millions of years, overlook a pristine, deeply forested wilderness area teeming with wildlife. In addition to the oribi from which the gorge gets its name, fauna includes baboons, small buck, various species of kingfisher and eagle, and even the occasional leopard. Accommodation is available in the form of self-catering chalets and a rustic cottage.

The backdrop for a wide variety of adventure sports, the reserve contains one of the highest natural abseiling sites in the world (110 metres), not to mention the ultimate rush in the world’s highest swing from the top of Lehr's Waterfall over the plummeting depths of the 165-metre-high gorge. Another slightly more sedate option is the zip-line that spans the gorge. There are also rapids to be challenged in the Umzimkhulu River at the base of the gorge, as well as hiking and climbing trails or even mountain-biking and horse-riding trails.

OSLO BEACH is situated in close proximity to Port Shepstone. Property in this little village is in great demand by people working in Port Shepstone yet wanting to live in quieter and more scenic area, close to glorious secluded beaches and native mahogany forests. The area’s elevated coastline also means that most homes have spectacular ocean views. Oslo, like the nearby Shelly Beach, has a fine shoreline strewn with a superb variety of shells, the result of the reef just off the coast. Surfing and fishing are other popular attractions.

PALM BEACH is set alongside coastal forest approximately 12 kilometres north of Port Edward, and takes its name from the indigenous Ilala Palm (hyphaene critina) which grows abundantly in the area. The leaves of the Ilala Palm continue to play an important role in the lives of the surrounding communities, which use them to create woven baskets, mats and even rooftops. Coastal attractions include a natural tidal pool and estuary, offering swimming and windsurfing opportunities and attracting local fishermen. Palm Beach also borders the Mpenjati Nature Reserve to the north, which is discussed in detail under the entry on Marina Beach.

PARK RYNIE, a little seaside town, lies on the Umdoni Coast. The pleasant swimming beach of Rocky Bay has shark nets as well as tempting tidal pools. Rocky Bay Pier forms part of a seawall where a whaling station was built almost a century ago. Today only remnants of the old station can be seen, although the landing ramp is still used by fishing boats. Park Rynie boasts one of the loveliest caravan parks on the south coast, with most of the sites located on the beach.

Off the coast, the dive spot of Cowrie Reef has interesting ledges and overhangs as well as caves and gullies which are home to triggerfish and other marine creatures, not to mention a number of different species of cowrie shell. Amazing plant and coral life comprises soft coral such as dead-man’s finger, various colours of polyp coral, black coral trees and green fern coral as well as nudibranchs in varied colours and sizes. For deep-sea divers, there’s everything from small reef fish to Zambezi sharks, dolphins and game fish.

PENNINGTON and the pretty seaside villages of Kelso, Sezela and Bazley Beach are known for their quiet beaches, sweeping bays and lovely tidal pools. Pennington has a large community of sport fishermen owing to the barricuda, garrick, salmon and other trophy fish that inhabit these waters. The ‘Couta Classic’ takes place here every year over the Easter weekend, drawing enthusiastic fishermen from far and wide. There’s also good bass fishing to be had, as well as rock and surf fishing for shad, rays, grunter, pompano and kingfish.

In addition to the beach and surf sports, there are a host of leisure attractions for tourists, from golf to indigenous fauna and flora, and walking as well as horse-riding trails. Golfing at the Umdoni Golf Course and Selborne Park course comes with game and bird watching as well as beautiful views of the sea and indigenous forest. Umdoni Park was established to preserve the indigenous fauna and flora, and the Umdoni Trust was formed in 1920. There are wonderful walking trails in the park as well as the Komba Bird Sanctuary and Nkumbane Dam.

Those interested in heritage and in search of superior accommodation might like to pay a visit to Botha House, a gracious homestead with rolling lawns, towering Umdoni trees and beautiful sea views. It was originally built in 1920 by General Louis Botha for his wife, Annie, on land found for him by the sugar baron Sir Frank Reynolds.

PORT EDWARD is the southernmost town on the Hibiscus Coast, marking the border between KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape. One of the area’s larger centres, Port Edward became a village in 1947 and was named in honour of the Prince of Wales, later to be crowned King Edward VII. The Port Edward Country Club has a challenging nine-hole golf course with some interesting water features and scenic coastal and inland vistas.

Port Edward has sandy shark-protected beaches of which Silver Beach is the most popular. Ski boat launches take place from the main beach. The beachfront boasts one of the country’s most impressive supertubes. Port Edward is also a top fishing spot, with surf, gullies, rocks, the river and lagoon all providing excellent opportunities. It is also the location of the region’s earliest known shipwreck. The Portuguese ship San Joao (St John) went down off the Port Edward coast in 1552 and today provides another interesting site for scuba divers to explore.

Heritage sites include Tragedy Hill overlooking Silver Beach. It gets its name from the massacre that took place here in 1831 when, following a misunderstanding over stolen cattle, the family and followers of early settler Henry Fynn were killed by Zulu warriors. On learning of this unnecessary tragedy, the Zulu King ordered the execution of the man who had started the rumour.

PUMULA (UMZUMBE) is the name frequently given to Umzumbe Beach because of the proximity of the Pumula Hotel, which lies in the dune forest immediately behind this beautiful Blue Flag beach. Situated just south of Hibberdene and about 20 kilometres north of Port Shepstone, Umzumbe’s beach is set amongst lush coastal vegetation, lending the spot a special wild beauty. As a relative newcomer to the Blue Flag programme, it is one of the South Coast’s best kept secrets!

A safe and protected bathing beach, lovely tidal pool for swimming, recently upgraded facilities and a full-time lifeguard presence are just a few of the attractions here. However, beach access is quite precipitous, consisting of a steep tarred walkway down from the parking lot. Spearfishing for Garrick and Brusher tales place around the reefs, while crayfish are found among the rocks closer to the river. Other activities include snorkelling, surfing, paddling and sandcastle building. During the main holiday season environmental education programmes are run for children and other beachgoers. The old St Elmo’s Convent is no longer occupied, and while it has fallen into a state of disrepair remains a beautiful building and makes for fascinating photographs.

RAMSGATE is an attractive seaside resort that is somewhat quieter and more easy-going than its bustling neighbour, Margate, situated about four kilometres up the coast. It lies on the mouth of the river known locally as the ‘Bilanhlolo’ (‘marvellous boiler’) as the river’s strong currents result in bubbles, making the water appear to boil.

Ramsgate enjoys Blue Flag status for a number of reasons: a wide, sandy beach surrounded by natural vegetation, an estuary with pedal boats and other leisure pursuits, nearby restaurants, lifeguards are on duty throughout the year, and interpretive signage and information about local environmental issues. Furthermore, a whale-watching site has been developed opposite the beach. Fishing is good, and the off-shore rocks are covered in mussels. Bird-watching is also rewarding, with a total of 386 species having been recorded – in excess of a third of all bird species recorded in South Africa.

SAN LAMEER is a private golfing estate with direct access onto two of the South Coast’s Blue Flag beaches. Set on a 169-hectare nature conservancy with herds of impala and other wildlife, the estate has 620 privately-owned villas surrounding an 18-hole championship golf course rated among the top 12 courses in South Africa, as well as a four-star hotel situated on the banks of the Umhlangamkulu Lagoon. Amenities include restaurants, convention facilities, two swimming pools and a health spa as well as varied recreational activities such as squash, tennis, cycling, canoeing and paddle-boating, mashie golf and action cricket.

THE SAPPHIRE COAST embraces 40 kilometres of southern shoreline from just past the old Durban International Airport through to Amanzimtoti and all the way to Clansthal further down the coast. A diverse assortment of picturesque seaside districts stretch from Athlone Park and Umbogintwini southwards through Amanzimtoti, its pleasant suburbs of Doonside, Warner Beach, Winkelspruit, Illovo Beach and Karridene, and the coastal resorts of Umgababa, Widenham, Umkomaas and Clansthal. Here wide expanses of sandy beaches and tranquil lagoons provide sheltered swimming and many fishing, surfing, beach and leisure activities.

The Sapphire Coast’s colourful and diverse culture is captivating for lovers of history and heritage, with its African, Eastern and Colonial traditions, intriguing arts and crafts, and variety of religious beliefs. The area’s cultural roots reach back some 1800 years, when the first Iron Age settlements sprang up here. Present day Zulu culture finds expression in beautiful handicraft such as weaving, beadwork and pottery, as well as traditional dancing.

Another vibrant influence is that of the vast Indian community, descendants of indentured Indian labourers who came to work on the sugarcane farms in the latter part of the 19th century. While the system was done away with in 1911, many of these workers stayed on, bringing their families as well as other settlers to the area.

SCOTTBURGH was in 1860 the first township to be laid out south of Durban. Originally named Devonport, it got its present name from Natal Colony Governor John Scott. With its good harbour and fertile lands, it soon became a thriving port and the site of vast sugarcane plantations as well as sugar mills. Scottburgh became a municipality in 1964.

Scottburgh lies on the south bank of the Mpambinyoni River about 58 kilometres from Durban. Boasting first-class surf and superior waves, it has an active surfing and body-boarding community. Sandy beaches include the sheltered swimming beach of Scott Bay, which is flanked by attractive grass-covered banks. Other inviting attractions, such as tidal and paddling pools, a supertube and miniature railway, add to the town’s appeal as a holiday resort. Located at the crest of a hill opposite Blamey’s Bay, the Green Point Lighthouse is a national monument that was erected in 1905 to warn passing ships of the perilous Aliwal Shoal, situated roughly five kilometres off the coast. The scenic Scottburgh Golf Course is known for its rolling fairways and magnificent views of the KwaZulu-Natal coastline.

Wildlife found amidst lush indigenous forests and beautiful rolling hills comprises bushbuck, vervet monkeys and the occasional genet. In addition to the ubiquitous hadedas and Indian mynahs, commonly sighted birds include the Knysna and purple-crested lourie (or ‘turaco’) and many different species of waterfowl. King Shaka is said to have named the river ‘mpanbonyoni’, meaning ‘confuser of birds’, because of the vast number of birds at the river mouth.

Situated near Scottburgh, Crocworld Conservation Centre contains a complete wildlife experience, being home to crocodiles, indigenous and exotic snakes, fresh water fish and a huge variety of birds. Amenities include a restaurant and children’s playground, horse and pony rides and the opportunity to go shark diving or dolphin viewing on a boat ride. Daily activities include Harris hawk demonstrations, snake demonstrations, crocodile feeding, shark diving and aviary tours.

SEA PARK once thrived as a busy farming community, producing the likes of sugarcane, tea and coffee. These days, it is a relaxed beach resort lying between the centres of Southport and Umtentweni.

SELBORNE PARK, which was a dairy farm in days gone by, is now an exclusive estate with a superb golf course, impressive water features and subtropical forests harbouring abundant birdlife and buck. Recreational attractions such as swimming, tennis, fishing and bird and small-game viewing are also available.

SHELLY BEACH is named for the remarkable variety of beautiful shells that cover its shoreline. Inviting tidal pools and lagoons, as well as recognised diving and snorkelling sites, beckon tourists from across the globe. Divers will find these fascinating waters teeming with tropical fish, sharks and corals. With the largest ski-boat base between Durban and East London, Shelly Beach is also renowned for its exceptional rock and surf fishing, hosting deep sea angling competitions throughout the year. Amenities include the Shelly Centre Shopping Mall.

SOUTHBROOM encompasses four kilometres of idyllic Indian Ocean shoreline between the Mbizane and Kaba rivers, marked by pristine beaches, two tidal pools and coastal bush. This green paradise is protected by the Frederika Nature Preserve, Southbroom Golf Club and 350 000 square metres of township land zoned to conservation, There are two recognised swimming beaches, linked by a breathtaking coastal walk over the unspoilt primary dunes.

While Southbroom village has tennis and bowls clubs as well as basic shops and grocery stores, more extensive shopping opportunities are available in Ramsgate, Margate and Shelly Beach. The Southbroom Golf Club is distinctly South African, with palm trees and tropical foliage. Frederika Nature Reserve is home to almost eight hectares of dune forests and lush indigenous forests described as ‘extremely fragile’ in view of their complex ecosystem.

SOUTHPORT covers a secluded stretch of beach between Sunwich Port and Sea Park, and has grown substantially since its early beginnings as a simple railway siding. It is approximately eight kilometres away from Port Shepstone and its many shops, restaurants and entertainment options.

ST MICHAELS-ON-SEA is a pretty town with charming scenery and good beaches. The main swimming beach lies at the mouth of the Umhlangeni River, and attracts swimmers as well as surfers, as substantial swells and large waves create some very good surfing conditions. Other watersports include boardsailing, jet-skiing and boating as well as fishing. St Michaels also possesses a well-appointed nine-hole golf course.

SUNWICH PORT, falls under the greater Port Shepstone area, situated on the southern side of Melville Beach en route to Umtentweni and Port Shepstone. Nestled in a sheltered valley traversed by the Damba River on its way to the sea, it provides safe swimming conditions, with shark nets and lifeguards.

TRAFALGAR’S beach is relatively well developed despite this seaboard town’s low-key, village atmosphere, and facilities include a parking area as well as lifeguards. Beaches are protected by shark nets and surfers rate the waves highly. Snorkelling is another favourite pastime, and fossil beds dating back close on 90 million years lie just a short distance from the shoreline.

Trafalgar forms part of the Trafalgar Marine Reserve stretching for six kilometres along the coast and 500 metres offshore, incorporating the Mpenjati Nature Reserve. There are plans to include this reserve in the proposed Pondoland Marine Protected Area, which will extend from the southern reaches of KwaZulu-Natal into the northern parts of the Eastern Cape.

UMGABABA is located some 36 kilometres from Durban, a little south of Illovo Beach and north of Umkomaas. It presents a protected bay with a good bathing area and promising angling prospects due to the proximity of the Aliwal Shoal. The Umgababa Festival is held annually around the beginning of the year. Development here slowed following a fire which ravaged the town in the 1980s. However, a project to rejuvenate the beach area is making this lovely site more accessible.

UMKOMAAS is a little hillside town which these days is almost synonymous with the internationally-renowned Aliwal Shoal, an offshore reef that draws divers from across the world. It is thus small wonder that the town has a well-established diving infrastructure, with professional dive charters, scuba schools, equipment hire and a wide range of accommodation. Another ocean-based activity is the popular whale watching tour. Other pursuits include horseback rides along the beach, mountain biking and hiking trails, tennis and bowling.

Set in woodland with beautiful trees, interesting birdlife and panoramic sea views, the impressive golf course at Umkomaas Country Club was established in 1913, making it the third oldest golf course in KwaZulu-Natal as well as the oldest natural course in the country. Challenging to both low and high-handicapped golfers, this well-maintained 18-hole parkland course is the home course of world ranked PGA tournament professional Tim Clark. The fourth hole here ranks as one of the most difficult par fours in South Africa, while the notorious 18th hole – despite being relatively flat and straight – is among the toughest finishing holes worldwide.

Empisini Nature Reserve is a wetland, coastal and riverine forest situated near Umkomaas. The reserve has a clear stream with cascades, and is notable for its profusion of butterflies and splendid birding. Self-guided and guided walks, accommodation, picnic and braai facilities are offered.

THE UMTAMVUMA NATURE RESERVE is a luxuriant, canopied forest lying just inland of Port Edward. It is a breeding ground for Cape vultures, which build their nests in the cliffs bordering the river. The reserve is also home to baboons, samango monkeys, blue duiker, bushbuck, jackal and leopard. Trails over sandstone koppies and through rainforest, gorges, streams and waterfalls range from hour-long walks for beginners to more strenuous six-hour hikes.

UMTENTWENI is an hour’s drive from Durban and just 2 kilometres from the hub of Port Shepstone. It is situated at the mouth of the Mtentweni River, which takes its name from a species of grass growing along its banks. The town is perfectly placed to take in the seasonal whale, dolphin and sardine runs as well as passing ships. Surfing and fishing are popular, and the swimming beach has lifeguards during the holidays and a paddling pool for children.

UMZINTO owes its early development to the establishment of the sugar industry. Sugarcane plantations sprung up in the hilly area around the Mzinto River as early as 1857, followed by the first public sugar company a year later. The Indian labourers who were brought in to work on the cane farms have added to the cultural mix of the area as well as boosting its economy. Present-day Umzinto remains a busy town with a mixture of colonial and Indian architecture. Shark nets provide for safe swimming, snorkelling and surfing.

Situated about 12 kilometres inland from Umzinto, Vernon Crookes Nature Reserve is secluded yet beautifully situated, with sweeping views to the ocean. Comprising wonderful coastal forest and grassland, the reserve contains approximately 56 mammal species, including impala, blue wildebeest, zebra and oribi, while birdlife is made up of some 300 confirmed species, including a number of spectacular raptors. Accommodation is available in fully equipped rondavels as well as a large tree house. There are pleasant spots to picnic, and the 11-kilometre ‘Happy Gold Mine’ trail leads to an old gold mine with mine shafts and a steam traction machine still in place.

UVONGO’S beach is famous for its 23-metre high waterfall, which plunges into one of the deepest lagoons in the country. Pedal boats can be hired here to explore the river which skirts the adjacent Uvongo River Nature Reserve. There are shaded picnic sites on the grassy banks and a children’s paddling pool. Safe swimming and snorkelling, good amenities and glorious views reinforce Uvongo’s reputation as a thriving holiday resort. Uvongo has the largest residential area on the lower South Coast, with much of the property decidedly upmarket. It nevertheless remains quaint and village-like, due in no small part to rigorous building restrictions. The Uvongo Bird Park offers walk-through aviaries where a diversity of vibrant bird life can be found.

WARNER BEACH was originally established in 1910 as a residential area for government pensioners and is today generally considered to be one of Kingburgh’s suburbs, lying between Kingsburgh and Winkelspruit, south of the Little Manzimtoti River and the town of Amanzimtoti. There are good shopping facilities as well as educational and tourism infrastructure, and the beach has a tidal pool as well as being protected by shark nets. Surf conditions are also highly rated, and Warner Beach has produced a number of the country’s top surfers. The suburb has good vantage points for whale and dolphin viewing.

WIDENHAM lies approximately 50 kilometres from Durban, a little to the south of Umkomaas at the mouth of the Mkhomazi River, which is the site of an annual canoe race. Once a German-American mission town, these days it is a quiet residential area with a number of holiday cottages and lovely views. The rocky beach is popular with fishermen, and there is a large tidal pool which is floodlit at night.

WINKLESPRUIT is a little coastal resort set on a hill overlooking the sea and the north bank of the Illovo River. It is situated south of Amanzimtoti and around 20 minutes from the Durban CBD. There are two theories behind how it got its unusual name. Some believe that it is named after the periwinkle, a small mollusc common to this part of the coastline. The other theory centres on the schooner Tonga, which ran aground here with its cargo on 10 May 1875 en route to Durban. It is said that the sailors set up a small shop (called a ‘winkel’ in the Afrikaans language) alongside the river bank to sell the water damaged goods. Today it is known for its lush indigenous vegetation and long stretch of safe, shark-netted shoreline which is frequented by bathers as well as surfers, with top swimming opportunities in the tidal pool. The beach is reached via Eastern Glen Road.

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