KZN South Coast offers visitors an eco-tourism getaway

The KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) South Coast has entrenched itself as a top tourism destination, but what many are discovering is that, beyond the warm, sandy beaches and idyllic coastal scenery, the region boasts a number of ground-breaking eco-tourism initiatives that put the planet first. The Southern Explorer is unearthing the Paradise of the Zulu Kingdom’s most innovative eco-offerings that are found along the 120km coastal stretch.

“Tourism drives the local economy on the KZN South Coast and there is a deep respect for the natural resources that make this possible,” explained Vicky Wentzel, director of Southern Explorer. “This is evident from the emergence of sustainable, rural, agri- and eco-tourism initiatives that give visitors the unique experience opportunity to connect with the local natural, cultural and heritage treasures found here.”

Exercise and retreats

The stress of the year can be countered with a spiritual and wellness retreat. The KZN South Coast is home to holistic therapists and wellness centres that offer relaxation and natural remedy within this enlightened setting. Those looking for spiritual nourishment will be well-rewarded at The Sunshine Yoga Studio which specialises in Yoga hikes and retreats within the Oribi Gorge Nature Reserve. Then, in the coastal shade of Umzumbe, is Highcroft Retreat, which offers guests spiritual exercises and transformational workshops; while Nakai Beach Homestay, with its ocean views and tropical design, has the dual functionality of a Yoga studio and boutique events venue. Alternatively, the calming ocean sights and sounds at Ramsgate Whale Deck make this an ideal location for Bo Yoga classes, with therapy sessions and workshops also planned for the Ramsgate-based studio in 2021.

Organic farming and eating

Agri-tourism initiatives abound in this lush, sub-tropical paradise, where visitors can enjoy tours while sampling the organically-grown produce. A great one to support is the Louisiana Organic Market – an initiative run by green entrepreneurs, The Green Net, which empowers women in rural areas by sharing methods for growing organic vegetables.

This organic ethos is also rooted at Thrive Urban Farm in Uvongo and Shelly Beach’s The Farm Food Factory, where locally-grown organic produce is transformed into mouth-watering, eco-conscious meals that rival conventional menu items. Nemvelo Farm near Port Shepstone also embraces a sustainable ethos, working with nature ‘the old-fashioned way’ through organic produce and free-range chickens.

Visitors with artisanal tastes can’t do better than The Pack Shed on Sweetdale Farm just outside Margate. All ingredients are locally-sourced from sustainable farming practices to create fusion-style food that is out of this world.

Then on to Beaver Creek Coffee Estate in Port Edward, where responsible farming practices are accompanied by one of the world’s best cups of coffee, grown fresh on the farm. In addition to the aromatic coffee and healthy meals at the on-site café, this ‘Disneyland for Coffee People’ also has a range of hiking and mountain biking trails, extending from the coffee plantation into neighbouring farmlands and forest, as well as a range of family-friendly activities.

Eco-adventures

Those with an adventurous spirit will find fulfilment within the KZN South Coast, where the extreme natural landscape provides the perfect setting for adrenaline-inducing experiences. Exploring South Coast – KZN Rocks uses qualified, local guides to take visitors on magnificent nature hikes to areas like the Petrified Forest, Mzamba River, Umtamvuna. Hikers are encouraged to leave and find painted rocks along the trails as part of a community-minded initiative.

Another great hiking spot is within the Red Desert Nature Reserve outside Port Edward, which also happens to be home to one of the world’s smallest land features – the Red Desert. This unique archaeological land form is just 200 metres in diameter – 11 hectares in entirety – and is one of many internationally-protected heritage sites found in this coastal paradise. Another heritage site sits atop a stunning cliff face – the KwaXolo Caves – which have been made accessible through KwaXolo Caves Adventures launched earlier this year. Local tour guides have started taking tourists along a secure, steel-cable climbing system to these caves, which are home to centuries-old San paintings.

More mountainside adventures can be found at Oribi Gorge through Wild 5 Adventures. Not for the faint-of-heart, adventures here include The Wild Gorge Swing – a 55-storey plunge, the world’s highest canyon swing – as well as the Wild Abseil down a 110m cliff face alongside Lehr’s Waterfall. Those who want a more sedate – but just as picturesque – experience can try the zipline or suspension bridge.

Those with aquatic preferences will also find every level of eco-adventure on the KZN South Coast, which is home to some of the world’s top diving sites at its Marine Protected Areas, Aliwal Shoal and Protea Banks. For a life-changing dive experience, it’s worth visiting during the annual Sardine Run, which takes place in the winter months when conditions are right. #TheGreatestShoalonEarth, as it’s known, is one of the planet’s most incredible biomass migrations, with those visiting KZN South Coast afforded front-seat viewing.

Divers can also ditch the scuba equipment and try free-diving with the eco-conscious operation, Freediving South Africa. Get up close to the marine creatures while not leaving an environmental footprint, as everything from sunscreen through to fuel puts the natural world first.

Conservancies and reserves

There are extensive hiking, mountain biking, birdwatching and 4×4 trails and excursions through the region’s numerous nature reserves, conservancies and game reserves. Among these are TC Robertson Nature Reserve, Umdoni Park Nature Reserve, Vernon Crookes Nature Reserve, Oribi Gorge Nature Reserve, Ramsgate Conservancy and Lake Eland Game Reserve.

Mountain biking and trail running are great ways to increase the heart rate while getting close to the region’s natural sights and the KZN South Coast is fast becoming one of the country’s leading destinations for trail-related sports. Visitors have many options to choose from, among them Rocky Bay Resorts Trails, Ingeli Forest, Clearwater Trails, Frederika Trail, Bushbuck Trail, Imbezane River Walk, Dassie Trail, Ramsgate Ramble and even the two Saturday morning parkruns at Uvongo and Umdoni.

But one cannot visit the region and overlook the marine viewing options on offer. The whale watching sites are particularly enchanting spaces for catching the annual migration of humpback and southern right whales between May and December, with dolphin sightings common. This can be enjoyed at the Umtentweni Conservancy Whale Deck, Ramsgate Whale Deck, Impithi Beach Kiosk, and Umdoni Golf Club Whale Deck.

Wildlife conservation

With an extensive variety of terrestrial habitats, from wetland environments to forest, woodland, grassland and savannah, as well as aquatic habitats ranging from rivers and lakes through to estuaries and ocean reefs – the KZN South Coast is home to some of the planet’s most incredible animal species. And, unsurprisingly, the rehabilitation and conservation of these creatures and their habitat forms an important part of the area’s eco-tourism initiatives.

Such initiatives provide valuable research data while supporting biodiversity, such as the Leisure Bay Firefly Sanctuary within Leisure Bay Conservancy. This illuminating project is preserving the natural home of these creatures while tackling the invasion of alien species.

Other winged creatures that thrive along the coast are the almost 500 bird species residing here, 64 of which are near-endemic or endemic, as well as 67 classified as red data species. There are many local birding clubs that welcome visitors – from novices to worldly twitchers – and the Oribi Vulture Viewing Hide is a must-visit site to check out the resident breeding colony of 200 Cape Vultures.

A welcome addition to anyone’s itinerary are the many rehabilitation and wildlife education centres along this coastal route, among them, Pure Venom, the biggest reptile park on the continent. This is an animal sanctuary found just inland from Shelly Beach that rehabilitates injured wildlife and houses a diverse collection of indigenous and exotic reptiles, including snakes, iguanas and crocodiles. This commitment to animal welfare continues at the Scottburgh-based Crocworld Conservation Centre where visitors are treated to crocodile feedings, tours and snake demonstrations, as well as a walk-through aviary, a children’s play area with farm animals and the on-site Fish Eagle Café.

Green building

The drive towards a zero-waste environment extends into the local construction industry with companies like Southern Natal Construction specialising in off-the-grid, eco-conscious building practices. Established in 2002 by Sarah Unsworth, an accredited professional from the Green Building Council South Africa, the company now runs today in a joint-venture partnership with John Nicholas from Jesjo. The KZN South Coast also offers holiday home owners and renovators eco-savvy green energy options, from rainwater harvesting to solar energy and eco-sensitive equipment choices.

Retail and recreation

Responsible consumer practices are adopted by many of the region’s local retailers and business owners by sourcing from local suppliers, upholding environmentally-conscious approaches and conserving the natural sites that surround them. The Earth Shed, a newly-opened, sustainable emporium, is one such venture, offering visitors ceramics and clay classes with zero plastic waste.

There are also endless eateries, serving everything from basic on-the-go snacks through to high-end cuisine, located within some of the most scenic natural locations. A leading example of this is the Riverside Aqua Sports & Beach Bar in Port Edward which sits alongside the Umtamvuna River. Great food and drinks are complemented by water sports and river activities including kayaking, speed boats, paddle boats, tube rides, water skiing and a lazy boat cruise.

Following a tough year of isolation and anxiety, many are looking to re-connect with the natural world as a way to unwind. The KZN South Coast provides the perfect space for visitors to enjoy harmonious nature-based activities – whether it’s Yoga and relaxation, or the more heart-thumping gorge swinging – all the while supporting eco-conscious practices. To find out more about these and other sites and activities, visit Southern Explorer at:

o www.thesouthernexplorer.com

o Tourist Helpline: 071 351 9958

o Mailing Address: hello@thesouthernexplorer.com

o Southern Explorer Info Centre: 973 Marine Drive, Ramsgate Village, KwaZulu-Natal South Coast

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