Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve, situated just outside Howick in the heart of the beautiful KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, is one of Africa’s leading environmental education centres. The greater part of the reserve lies in the spectacular gorge below the Howick Falls, while the upper part is the fringe of a rolling plateau which has an average altitude of about 1000m.
I first visited the valley 26 years ago on a grade seven school camping excursion, which provided some fond memories – the most enduring of which were a black eagle swooping out of the sky to end the life of an unsuspecting dassie and a chance encounter with a genet while conducting a night vigil around the campfire …
Although admittedly not as exciting, a recent afternoon excursion to the reserve was a lot more relaxing and provided me with the opportunity to unwind after a rather frustrating week. My friends and I decided on a quick hike to the river and back – a wise choice considering that we had two young children with us.
There are six walking trails in the reserve – Shelter Falls, Inkonka, Black Eagle, Grasslands, Rietspruit and Dwarf’s Dawdle. We decided on Inkonka since it was the shortest although the steep gradient on the way back meant the hike was definitely not all plain sailing.
After leaving our vehicles on top of the plateau we made the descent towards the Inkonka campsite taking in the beautiful scenery along the way. The reserve teems with animal (including giraffe, zebra and wildebeest) and bird life (270 species in all) and the air was abuzz with insects of every description – including scores of butterflies making their way gracefully through the hot afternoon air.
With huge cliffs to our left and dense scrub to our right we continued to make our way down to the campsite which we reached within 20 minutes. The site consists of a few rudimentary dwellings situated close to the hiking trail – not exactly ideal for a lengthy stay but perfect if you are just interested in an overnighter.
Moving on we negotiated another steep decline and were soon greeted by the sound of rushing water as the Umgeni River appeared invitingly before us. We had reached our destination and rewarded ourselves with a dip in the river’s refreshing waters while a naturally occurring water slide proved a big hit with the children.
After much fun and games we decided to make our way back and this proved to be the hard part as although the distance involved was only a few kilometres, a steep descent always translates into a steep ascent. After a bit of huffing and puffing we reached the top of the plateau and were happy to see our vehicles parked exactly where we left them.
After enjoying a well-deserved drink we reflected on the afternoon’s events and unanimously decided that our efforts were well worth it. The Inkonka Trail is perfect if you just want to get out into nature for a couple of hours and enjoy some fresh air and a fairly relaxed walk.
Serious hikers are more than likely going to opt for something a lot more lengthy and strenuous – something which I’m sure is catered for.
For those visitors who’d prefer a drive rather than a walk, there is also an Auto Trail.
Umgeni Contact details:
Tel: +27 (0)33 330 3931
Fax: +27 (0)33 330 4576
Physical Address: 1 Karkloof Road, Howick, Natal Midlands, KwaZulu Natal