It is easy, when driving through most of the South Coast area of KwaZulu Natal, to imagine that you have been transported to a tropical island. Roads are edged with lush green vegetation, or the ubiquitous sugar cane and banana plantations.
Towns such as Umkomaas, renowned for its angling, as well as a top class golf course, Shelly Beach, named for the prevalence of shells found on beaches in the area, and Margate enjoy the year round bustle of tourists, as does Port Edward.
In fact, the climate of this area is very much like a tropical island, and even in the middle of winter, it is not uncommon to see tourists on the beach, dressed not much more warmly than they would be in the summer months. These beaches are often the first draw card for any visitor.
The warm waters are enticing, and there are excellent waves in many places, making it ideal for surfers, bodyboarders and other water sport enthusiasts.
When you do manage to tear yourself away from the mocha-coloured sands, and seek other attractions, one of the first could well be the wealth of excellent game reserves and nature conservation areas. With names such as Empisini, Mpenjati and Nyamazane, there can be no doubt as to the firmly entrenched Zulu culture in the area.
Possibly one of the most breathtaking and famous reserves however must be the Oribi Gorge Reserve, managed by KZN Wildlife. This natural gorge, formed over thousands of years of erosion by wind and water, is home to many animal species, including leopards, baboons and various antelope, as well as many bird species, including kingfishers. Ideal for nature enthusiasts.
Back at the beach, one can find many pristine reefs to be explored, including Arena Reef, Bo Boyi reef and Eel Skin reef. Experienced and novice divers alike can experience many of these reefs, and there are a host of diving schools, where one can take lessons and hire equipment, in the area.
The area also boasts several sanctuaries, including the Uvongo Bird park, and two crocodile parks – Crocworld and Riverbend Crocodile farm, where these prehistoric creatures can be viewed up close and personal. Another attraction for reptile enthusiasts, or simply curious visitors, is Pure Venom Snake Park.
If hiking is on the agenda, there are several in the area, offering trails through forests, for example the Ngele, Oribi and Skyline trails, or along the beach front, and these all vary in length (some a few hours, others several days), facilities on offer, and requirements.
If you are looking for a cultural, rather than athletic experience, the area is dotted with battle sites, Victorian era churches and graves, all of which can be visited by the public, or perhaps plan a visit to the Art Museum in Margate, which showcases local talent, or the Port Shepstone maritime museum, which chronicles the areas shipping history.
There are also lighthouses in the area, some of which are natural monuments.
At the craft markets, a visitor is spoilt for choice, and can find many local items to take home as souvenir a of their visit to this beautiful section of the South African coast.