Hibiscus Coast and Interior. Durban to Port Edward and Oribi | 180km

Port Shepstone.

PORT SHEPSTONE

...lies along KwaZulu-Natal's Hibiscus Coast, which stretches from Scottburgh to Port Edward. Visitors on South African holidays can enjoy the sight of many hibiscus flowers. Port Shepstone is situated at the mouth of the Mzimkhulu River (a Zulu name meaning 'place of the great kraal'), it was the discovery of marble deposits on the bank of the river in 1867 that first attracted settlers to the area. The town was established four years later and named after Sir Theophilus Shepstone, Administrator of Native Affairs in the Natal government. The river mouth soon became a port for the export of marble, lime and sugar. The harbour was developed following the arrival of a party of 246 Norwegian immigrants in 1886, but the port fell into disuse after the railway line reached the town in 1901.

The largest town along the South Coast, Port Shepstone is a popular resort, offering safe bathing in a tidal pool and a lighthouse as a landmark. The coast and estuary offer good angling opportunities, while boating is possible on the river. The history of the town is depicted in the Port Shepstone Museum, which has a maritime focus. Guests on South African holidays can see one of the largest collections of seashells in the country at the Sea Shell Museum at Shelly Beach, a few kilometres south of Port Shepstone.

BANANA EXPRESS

The only remaining narrow-gauge (610 mm) passenger train in KwaZulu-Natal, the Banana Express operates regular tourist excursions between Port Shepstone and Paddock. Construction of the 122-km-long rail line between Port Shepstone and Harding dates back to the early 1900s. By 1911, the first 40 km was completed as far as Paddock Station and the line was subsequently extended to Harding. For many years, sugar cane, timber, cement and fertiliser were hauled along the line, but in 1986 the line was closed as it had become uneconomical.

It was reopened in December the following year, and is operated by the Port Shepstone and Alfred County Railway Company. The passenger coaches are hauled by a narrow-gauge Garratt 16A locomotive. Numbers 155 and 156, which are owned by the Alfred County Railway, were the last Garratt-class locomotives built in the world. The 60-tonne locomotives can pull a load of 150 tonnes on 14 trucks up a gradient of 1 in 37. Paddock Station, a national monument, marks the end of the excursion. Here, guests on South African holidays can enjoy lunch under the trees in the tranquil grounds of the stationmaster's house. - Please note this railway no longer operates.

UVONGO

...is a picturesque seaside resort with an attractive garden layout and a beautiful lagoon. The name is a corruption of the Zulu word ivungu, which means 'the place of a low, rumbling sound' - a reference to the sound made by the 23-m-high waterfall which plunges into the lagoon near the beach. The resort, together with nearby St Michael's-on-Sea and Manaba Beach, offers tidal swimming pools, safe bathing, boating on the Vungu Lagoon and good angling opportunities. St Michael's-on-Sea is a popular destination for surfing enthusiasts, and is renowned for the excellent waves to be found when southwesterly winds blow. A large variety of colourful exotic and indigenous birds can be seen at the Uvongo Bird Park, which features a walk-in aviary.

MARGATE

...is one of the most popular coastal resorts along the Hibiscus Coast. Proclaimed a township in 1941, it was named after the seaside resort of the same name in England. Its beachfront features a magnificent palm-lined beach (popular with sun-worshippers and bathers), grassy terraces, an amusement park and a wide range of sporting and entertainment facilities. The Nkhongweni River forms a magnificent lagoon at its mouth, which can be explored in canoes or paddle boats. The coast is popular with rock and surf anglers - especially in winter when schools of shad follow the Sardine Run - as well as with ski-boat anglers. Strung along the coast south of Margate are the seaside resorts of Ramsgate, Southbroom, Marina Beach, San Lameer, Trafalgar, Palm Beach and Munster.

PORT EDWARD

Port Edward, the most southerly resort along the KwaZulu-Natal coast, offers visitors on South African holidays a fine stretch of sandy beach as its main attraction. Situated 4 km north of the Mtamvuna River near the CH Mitchell Bridge, the town was established in 1924 on the farm Bannerman's Rest and named after the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII). Tragedy Hill, overlooking Silver Beach, marks the spot where a party led by the well-known trader, Henry Francis Fynn, was murdered in 1831 after they were suspected of being in possession of cattle stolen from the Zulu king, Dingane. Fynn escaped the massacre, but the others were less fortunate.

MZAMBA CRETACEOUS DEPOSITS

These famous marine fossil beds are exposed in a 10-m-high cliff that forms a prominent headland about 2,5 km south of the Mtamvuna River, a Xhosa name meaning 'the reaper of mouthfuls'. The deposits consist of greyish-brown sandstone, and limestone rich in fossil material dating back some 80 million years to the Upper Cretaceous period. The lower layers contain numerous tree trunks that have been silicified (converted into silica). Many of these were penetrated by marine worms before silicification was completed. There is also an abundance of marine shells, among them spirally coiled cephalopod ammonites, echinoids (sea urchins) and bivalve shells. When the formation was brought to the attention of the scientific world in 1855, it provided the first evidence of fossils from the Upper Cretaceous.

ORIBI GORGE NATURE RESERVE

...covers 1 837 ha of spectacular scenery created over aeons by the Mzimkhulwana River, which has carved a 20-km-long gorge - up to 350 m deep in places - through the sandstones and granites of the Oribi Flats. The densely forested slopes of the gorge are another outstanding feature of the reserve. Among the rich variety of trees growing here are tarwood, red-stem corkwood, Natal wild banana, rock ash, mountain fig, Outeniqua and real yellowwoods, large-leaved dragon tree and forest bushwillow.

The forests are home to leopard, bushbuck, blue duiker and samango monkey, while the grasslands are the habitat of the oribi, a small antelope for which the reserve is named. To date, over 220 bird species have been recorded, including the Knysna lourie, Narina trogon, crowned and trumpeter hornbills, cinnamon dove, brown robin and the bluemantled flycatcher. Visitors can explore the reserve along a network of six nature walks, ranging from 1 km to 9 km. There are two delightful picnic sites along the pass that meanders through the reserve.

FAIRACRES ESTATE

This area has long been popular with visitors, and the original hotel on the Fairacres Estate dates back to 1860. From vantage points along the cliff edge, visitors can enjoy spectacular views of the Oribi Gorge far below. Not to be missed is the viewsite overlooking the Horseshoe Bend in the Mzimkhulwana River, while there are also splendid panoramas of the Mzimkhulu Valley to the east. There are also numerous fascinating rock formations with imaginative names like the Overhanging Rock, Sphinx, Pulpit, Leaning Tower and Baboon's Castle - the latter a rocky citadel rising from the slopes of the gorge. Another popular feature is Lehr's Waterfall, which plunges over a sheer cliff in a tributary of the Mzimkhulwana River. The adventurous can tackle a 101-m abseil down a sheer rockface overlooking the waterfall.

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