In the far south east of KwaZulu Natal, between two mighty rivers – the Umzimkulwana and the Umzimkulu – exists a richly biodiverse world that offers jaw-dropping views, mighty gorges, precipitous cliffs, adrenalin pumping adventure, as well as some pampering, good food, and peaceful getaways.
Here are seven destinations worth considering next time you’re in southern KZN.
1. Oribi Gorge Nature Reserve
A KZN Wildlife reserve of approximately 2000 ha, this fabulously scenic place is situated along the Umzimkulwana River that over millions of years has carved out the 400-metre deep Oribi Gorge that is actually a canyon. Coastal bush and forest habitats support up to 250 bird species along with a range of other wild creatures, the rare Samango monkey and endangered oribi antelope among them. Picnic sites, trails and chalets and campsites are provided.
Oribi Gorge Nature Reserve
+27 (0) 72 042 9390
2. Oribi Gorge Hotel
We received the friendliest of welcomes when we called in for coffee and cream scones (both excellent) at this family-owned hotel on top of the canyon. For those who want to stay longer, there’s comfortable accommodation, a restaurant, and to keep the children busy, a playground.
+27 (0) 60 5619823; +27 (0) 65 827 6655; [email protected]
3. Wild 5 Adventures
Situated on the same property as the Oribi Gorge Hotel, Wild 5 Adventures is a daredevil’s paradise. Extreme adventure activities include the Wild Swing that at 165m and dropping off the edge of Lehr’s Falls is said to be the world’s highest gorge swing. You can also test your nerve on the 110m wild abseil; a wild slide (zipline); suspension bridge; and wild water rafting. If two wheels or your own legs are more your style, there are trails along the escarpment and also down to the bottom of the canyon.
+27 (0) 82 566 7424; +27 (0) 82 337 3746; [email protected]
4. Leopard Rock Café
Miss this place and you’ll miss out on arguably one of the most dramatic views anywhere ̶ an uninterrupted 180-degree panorama of the Umzimkulu River as it curves round a forested flat-topped mountain on its northern side. Take in that spectacle over a home-cooked lunch on the restaurant deck then, if you’re not faint-hearted, wander down to the famous Leopard Rock that overhangs the valley. Or book in to one of the four chalets that afford the same grand view.
+27 (0) 74 124 0902; +27 (0) 83 265 5261; [email protected]
5. The Gorge Private Game Lodge & Spa
This five-star privately-owned boutique hotel is a luxury getaway of note. Superbly appointed suites are perched in the forested cliffs above the Umzimkulwana River on its way through Oribi Gorge, and the restaurant offers superb fine dining. An additional restaurant, sited in the pool area, serves excellent lunches to day visitors as well as hotel guests. Activities include game drives, fabulous birding, walking, and cycling for those who take their bikes. If that all gets too much and you need some relaxation, book one of a wide range of treatments at the spa.
+27 (0) 39 687 4000; [email protected]
6. Lake Eland Game Reserve
Another destination for those seeking thrills (but hopefully not spills) this 2500 ha private reserve is famous for its 4.5 km zipline. One of the longest in Africa, it comprises 14 slides, one of which whizzes across a section of Oribi Gorge ̶ a heart-in-the-mouth experience if ever there was one. A less nerve-wracking way of viewing the gorge is to stroll along the suspension bridge to a lookout platform jutting out into thin air. If you prefer firm ground beneath your feet, there are scooter tours and MTB trails. Other amenities include picnic sites, accommodation in delightful wooden cabins around a lake, and a restaurant.
+27 (0) 39 001 1010; +27 (0) 83 257 9468; [email protected]
7. Oribi Vulture Viewing Hide
Situated on a privately owned farm, this non-profit initiative is about more than the feeding station in front of the hide. It’s an extraordinary conservation success that offers limited numbers of visitors the privileged experience of seeing huge numbers of Cape Vultures in their natural habitat. Visits to the site are generally scheduled for Saturday mornings and must be pre-booked.
+27 (0) 81 510 8333; [email protected]
Words and Photography Andrea Abbott
A long teaching stint at University taught Andrea that she didn’t want to be an academic and so she rekindled her lifelong ambition to be a writer. Since then she has travelled to almost every part of her home province of KZN, discovering and writing about its unique wonders and remarkable people. In between those jaunts, she puts on her other hat – that of children’s book author.