Focus on the Hibiscus Coast, Kwazulu Natal, South Africa

A Detailed Overview of the Hibiscus Coast of KwaZulu-Natal:Delights Down South

Two modes of carriage beckon for the 100-kilometre journey from cosmopolitan downtown Durban to the Hibiscus Coast’s gateway resort of Hibberdene – a gleaming dual- carriage expressway to whisk you past sugarcane fields and palm- dotted landscapes in less an hour, or a wood-panelled railway carriage to rekindle that almost forgotten feel of unhurried travel. Both run parallel to the shoreline and present spectacular sea vistas, while calling to mind our Zulu Kingdom’s long, intricate and fascinating past.

English adventurer Dick King and his teenage Zulu tracker Ndongeni changed the course of history along this route with their Great Ride of 1842, and furthermore, the pioneering stop-by-stop of our South Coast Railway is an epic saga in its own right. Both are detailed in our overview of the entire South Coast.

The first train travellers to witness the iridescent blooms of Hibiscus country pulled into Hibberdene in 1901, but the embryonic village was without its present name until a decade later and the arrival of retired Postmaster-General Maxwell-Hibberd. In true Colonial fashion, a trading store then hotel heralded the birth of this much- visited holiday destination. In addition to its safe, golden bathing beaches, popular seafront attractions here include Miniature Golf and the waterborne rush of Super Tube rides if the former is too sedate! Head offshore on a ski-boat expedition for scuba diving or deep-sea fishing adventures, or simply to enjoy the thrill of the ride. Landlubbers take heart - the local Town Hall hosts twice-weekly afternoons of indoor bowls competitions!

During winter, each June or July, Hibberdene lookout point is listed among the ‘hot-spots’ for catching awesome views of the millions-strong ‘Greatest Shoal on Earth’ – our warm Indian Ocean’s annual spectacular of truly epic proportions. To discover why Hibiscus Coast vantage positions are, without question, the ‘best seats in the house’ for this panoramic blockbuster, visit our dedicated Sardine Run site. There you’ll find a detailed account of vast sardine shoals being pursued by thousands of dolphins, sharks, game fish and fur seals – with the occasional whale in attendance – while vast squadrons of sea-birds wheel overhead before raining down to join the melee.

Continuing south from Hibberdene our journey takes us through a stretch of coastal bush and the oceanside resort hamlets of Woodgrange-on-Sea, Mzumbe, Melville, Sunwich Port, Bendigo, Southport and Umtentwini, before crossing the mouth of the Mzimkulu – ‘Great Home of All Rivers’. Its harbour potential was recognised and named Port Shepstone in honour of a Colonial bureaucrat, but construction delayed until 1882. The town was officially declared the same year, its population of British adventurers swelled first by the arrival in August 1882 of 246 Norwegian settlers aboard the ‘Lapland’. They anchored at night off what appeared to be a ‘dark and uninviting shore’, but gave thanks for their safe arrival by constructing a Norwegian Settlers Church that remains a Port Shepstone attraction.

These Scandinavian pioneers were soon joined by German expatriates – who built their Settlers Church a little further south and inland – plus descendants of the Boer Voortrekkers and, later, by entrepreneurs and indentured sugar plantation labourers from the Indian subcontinent. They had exchanged return passage for small parcels of land. Archaeological digs in the area indicate that our Zulu Kingdom’s original inhabitants, the Stone Age San hunter-gatherers, had already ‘been and gone’ thousands of years earlier!

The Port Shepstone ‘boom’ inspired plans for further development, beginning with assembly of a present-day National Monument – the lighthouse cast in Britain and shipped out in component form. This and a second lighthouse halfway to Durban could not, however, prevent vessels from running aground with alarming regularity along the entire South Coast, and by the railway’s arrival in Port Shepstone on 26th July 1901, the shipping service was already doomed. Plans to extend the rail service further south were scrapped, but for the visitor with a fondness for steam locomotives, another treat nonetheless lies in store. During the 20th Century’s first quarter, 122- kilometres of narrow-gauge freight link were laid inland. Later adapted to carry passengers, the ‘Banana Express’ is today a delightful meander past rural Zulu villages, through open grassland, waving plantations of sugarcane and majestic indigenous forests.

Three ‘Banana Express’ options are available. The shortest, two-hour round trip to Izotsha includes a halt at the popular Zakhele Handicraft and Training Centre, where rural and disabled women produce an impressive range of handmade paper and soft furnishings with a genuine and unique traditional touch.

A six-hour round trip to Paddock also takes in the Zakhele Centre, but adds a stop at the Paddock Station Museum followed by a delicious outdoor lunch in the station’s gardens.
The third option is a full-day train/mini-bus excursion to the breathtaking Oribi Gorge, named after the sprightly little antelope. Road transport meets the train at Izotsha or Paddock, before embarking on a scenic drive through Oribi Gorge Nature Reserve and stopping for lunch at the Oribi Gorge Hotel with its famous view-sites.

A wonder of the natural world, our 27-kilometre long Oribi Gorge boasts a history dating back to the splitting of earth’s proto-supercontinents, a pivotal chain of events detailed in our Geography of KZ-N site.
Oribi Gorge Nature Reserve is home to 250 recorded bird species, plus bushbuck, reedbuck, blue and grey duiker. You may also be fortunate enough to see one of the famed Big Five – a leopard prowling its secretive way through the African bush!

Even more heart stopping, perhaps, are the Adventure Sports for which Oribi Gorge has a global reputation. Not least challenging among these is a 110-metre abseil, ranked among the world’s highest. Additional thrills include white water rafting and black water tubing in the rainy season, and year-round wall climbing, mountain biking and hiking trails. The motto among these enthusiasts reads: ‘If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space!’

Yet further inland of Oribi Gorge, across the Oribi Flats pioneered by Norwegian settlers, waits the environmental treasure trove of the Harding district. Referred to as ‘No- Man’s Land’ during the era when local tribes, Zulu expansionists and European opportunists each sought the lion’s share of its natural spoils, this remains ‘where the eagles fly’. Beneath the Ngele Mountain range lie our Zulu Kingdom’s largest indigenous forests, with the Weza- Ngele State Forest Nature Reserve boasting enormous old yellow- wood trees, many small animals and an encyclopedic collection of fantastically plumed birds. Thanks to well- maintained trails, the visitor can absorb these splendours on foot, from horseback or mountain bike. Harding has come a long way since 1882, when the first hotel was added to its three trading stores and four private homes!

Having now completed the ‘Banana Express’ round trip (with all optional extras) and back in Port Shepstone, it’s time to explore this thriving and bustling, multi-cultural and amenity-filled commercial centre of the Hibiscus Coast. For culinary insights into our ‘ethnic mosaic’ there’s no better opportunity than the annual Gourmet Food Festival Market in August. Year round, on the other hand, mosques, temples, spice- and trinket-filled bazaars evidence the 'Indian influence', while the town’s century old, picturesque 18-hole Country Club holds the Colonial key. Welcome to South Africa’s ‘Golf Coast’. A course of the ‘not-too-taxing’ variety, Port Shepstone Country Club lies alongside the Mzimkulu River, where plans are afoot to incorporate an ultra-modern marina. The first nine holes are laid out in wooded, challenging terrain – a definite contrast to the back nine’s seaside and open, ‘links’ feel.

From country club to country ‘n’ western music – break out your best plaid shirt and pointy boots for a weekly spot of Line Dancing in the company of fellow wanna-be Texans! (If one night a week isn’t enough, a second night is staged a little further south – to be mentioned later.) Wish you’d tried your luck at pop stardom? On a Friday night, head back across the river a few kilometres to Umtentwini and blow everyone off the Karaoke stage!

Port Shepstone beaches are wide and golden, and packed with anglers when conditions are at their peak – the earlier mentioned National Monument Lighthouse is yet another listed ‘hot-spot’ for viewing the annual Sardine Run. Oslo Beach hosts a Sunday Flea Market at Old MacDonald’s Animal Farm – the inherent comic irony is perhaps a little too obvious to state!