Stretching for nearly 200 kilometres south of Durban, the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast is a sparkling necklace of bustling small towns, quaint villages, rolling sugarcane fields and natural coastal forest, punctuated by a hundred different rivers, streams and lagoons all merging with the warm blue Indian Ocean.
A short drive from Durban, it is a place of serene calm, bright sunshine, endless golden beaches, lush subtropical foliage and a thousand exciting things to see and do.
Whether you are looking for self-catering, bed & breakfast or full board accommodation, you can be sure the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast caters for every tourist’s taste, budget and need. But golden beaches, a subtropical climate, endless sunshine, good food and comfortable accommodation are not the only things South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal South Coast has to offer. Visitors can expect some of the finest fishing, diving, surfing, spear fishing, bird-watching, abseiling, hiking, river rafting, whale watching, through to eleven challenging golf courses … just about everything a pleasure-seeker needs!
Long before the off-shoots of various Central African tribal groups began filtering down to begin populating the southern end of the African continent the original inhabitants were the San, or Bushmen. With the countryside teeming with game, the sea with fish and the climate most agreeable, baring their own squabbles and clan infighting, they had not a care in the world.
However, with the arrival of the African tribal southerly migration and relatively shortly thereafter the first European settlers, life changed dramatically for the Bushmen.
The most significant change was the introduction of domestic cattle by both the African tribes and the European settlers. Being very elusive and opportunistic and finding domestic cattle much easier to hunt than wily game, the Bushmen found themselves detested and pursued by all. Suddenly they became hunted and fast dwindled in numbers, they became the first really endangered species in Africa.
What with the challenges of establishing Durban, the continual interaction and jockeying for position with Shaka and other Zulu Kings to the north and the birth of Pietermaritzburg as the gateway to the then Transvaal Republic, any interest and thoughts of development along the South Coast was the last thing on anyone’s mind.
The recorded history of the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast falls into two basic periods: pre- and post-rail.
Prior to the start of the South Coast railway, in 1895, the region was the domain of a few Zulu clans that chose to distance themselves from their more northerly Zululand brethren and a few dozen intrepid hunters, adventurers and farmers who were prepared to tackle the criss-crossing
of the one hundred rivers and streams that cut through this region to the sea.
The enormity of the transportation logistics for ox-drawn wagons to ford so many rivers and ravines made any serious development south of Durban a highly unattractive proposition. Hence, prior to 1895, the focus was on circumventing the overland transport nightmare via establishing shallow-draft harbours in some of the South Coast’s river mouths.months after starting, the first boat ran aground. Further attempts were made during 1861 and then again in 1873, but all were eventually wrecked.
Scottburgh was tried, only for the ship to end its second voyage on the beach. In 1878 a schooner-rigged boat named ‘Somtseu’ succeeded in visiting Scottburgh and other would-be ports along the coast, but was eventually beached at Umkomaas for 5 months before a team of oxen managed to drag it back into the sea.
Rocky Bay, at the mouth of the Umzinto River, was also used for shipping sugar cane to Durban until a few wrecks there shut down operations in 1892.
Long-term success also eluded Port Edward, despite those attempts still being alluded to in its name.
The most successful shallow harbour venture along the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast was in Port Shepstone’s river, the Mzimkulu – Zulu for the river of all rivers –which, despite the occasional beaching and wreck, serviced the area until the arrival of the railway line.
A SOLID LINK AT LAST
Even by today’s standards the challenge of building the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast railway would be a monumental task. Imagine: besides hacking through dense coastal forest and negotiating endless rolling hills, the work also entailed bridging some seventy-five rivers and streams.
Work started from the Durban Station in 1895. The first stage was to Isipingo, where Natal’s very first sugar mill had been established in 1852. From there they pushed on to Umkomaas, where the first train, with fifty excited passengers, arrived in 1897.
Next stop, Park Rynie, which they reached in December that same year. Work then ground to a snail’s pace as the construction team were faced with a further twenty three river crossings to reach Port Shepstone.
By August 1900 they had reached Mtwalume and completed an inland branch line to Umzinto. March 1901 saw them at Mzumbe and on July 26 that same year, 1901, the first train from Durban arrived at Port Shepstone’s north bank terminus on the giant Mzimkulu River.
Where it had taken the construction team six grueling years to get there, that first train trip took just five hours … five magical hours that were to change the history of the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast forever.
ALL AT SEA
The first attempt was in 1856 when a Captain Maxwell surveyed the navigational potential of the uMakhosi – 'the river of the Chief' in Zulu – at today's Umkomaas, for extracting the ever-expanding sugar cane crops lining its banks. He assessed it navigable for vessels of no more than 60 tons for nearly 25 km upstream which naturally excited the local farmers.
Their excitement was short-lived though