Hiking, Umhlanga Lagoon Nature Reserve

Hidden in the affluent residential, commercial and popular holiday resort town of Umhlanga on the coast of KwaZulu-Natal and only a hop, skip and jump away from the much traversed pathway to the sea, lies a hidden gem that is the Umhlanga Lagoon Nature Reserve.


Jade, the young adult daughter, insisted that a break was necessary from my somewhat sedentary lifestyle. She had us don the respective hiking gear, coerced the recalcitrant younger brother and convinced the father that his daily 15000 steps record would be broken after the hike.


Getting there was remarkably easier, finding parking a slight hassle as most of the parking reserved for the naturalists were hogged by the wedding guests from the Breakers Hotel. For the not so adventurous, shade and seating can be found at the picnic site before the hiking trail. The reserve is small at only 26 hectares, easily traversable as was evident from the some of the older adventurous folks who emerged from the trails.


Umhlanga which translated from the Zulu language means “place of reeds”, leads down a wooden bridge through three picturesque trails to the dune forest, across the lagoon and onto the beach. It is a green sanctuary for small wildlife like the blue and grey duiker, bushbuck, herons, and fish eagles. Look out for the forest weavers (there are about 208 bird species) and other wild life gems, best described by the specialist guides on their guided tours, about 3 a day, for approximately 1½ hour duration.


The path taken

We took the first trail and I conquered the first board walk with ease and excitement. The massive labelled trees held us spellbound as we searched for the 500 year old stinkwood tree. The teenage son, Owen, walked on ahead, much to my consternation, especially as Jade was convinced that she heard a rustling on the bed of dried leaves, something I am sure, she conjured up with a mentally evil smile as she noted with satisfaction, her Dad’s weary glances whenever he took a seat on the thoughtfully provided benches Rumour has it in the Ramlal family that my father-in-law once sat on a tree trunk, only to find that it was a large snake…

The second boardwalk over the Ohlange River gave me pause for thought. Having seen too many horror movies of horrors beneath those murky waters and seeing first hand the black water snake in the Vembanad Lake in Kerala, I felt the familiar queasiness emerge. Bravely I smiled, as I saw a man approach me with his little girl sitting astride his shoulders, the child was exuberant, yet hushed as she whispered her anticipation of sighting birds and fish from the river. The family were well across but still I balked at crossing. The husband came back, took me by the hand and together, we walked across, my remembered mantras were heartfelt and audible. Met my son with a sigh of relief, he had gone on ahead and returned excitedly with news of an amazing view that he wanted to share with me.


The view

The view was everything he said it would be and more. The horrifying boardwalk trip was immediately forgotten and I wanted to embrace the new view in an encompassing panoramic hug. View digested and photographed, I noted the climb down with some dismay. Having conquered the bridge, I felt a sense of bravado, took hold of the vines and half sat, skidded and scraped my way down on my behind to be met with my husband’s waiting hand. Disdainfully (now that the worst was over), I clambered down, inhaled the fresh sea air and mirrored my son’s footsteps to the sea’s shoreline.


This stretch of sand and sea was unlike the more frequented beach areas. It was the ideal escape…made even more memorable by the discovered shells, which sadly now, are almost non-existent on the beach. The porous irregular shaped rocks and stones were sourced carefully and would be added to those already ensconced on my computer tower, a reminder of the days that were enjoyed, savoured and the adventures that lay in wait.


A definite recommendation, a getaway for families, grandparents included, it was a welcome change away from the consuming malls, technology and junk food.

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