In the heart of the Midlands, lies a valley created by the Umgeni River after it tumbles over the impressive Howick Falls. The Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve is situated 1km from Howick on the Karkloof road – only 20 minutes from Pietermaritzburg. The reserve has natural bush with giraffe, zebra, antelope and over 260 bird species.
- Fully-equipped chalets at the reserve entrance that accommodate two people. Linen is provided. The zebras are regular visitors to the chalets’ verandas;
- Cottages where all linen, towels and cooking facilities are provided. There is no electricity, but gas appliances and solar lighting is provided. The cottages all have spectacular views over the valley and sleep 4-6 people. Booking should be done well in advance;
- There are also two rustic camps with wooden bungalows tucked away in the valley. One of the camps is called Cycad which houses 30 people. The other one being used is Indulo Camp which takes 60 people. There is no direct vehicular access to any of the camps, and the walk is a steep descent. Hiking mattresses, showers and flush toilets are available. Contact Umgeni Valley for more information about the choice of camp; and
- The Gold Fields Centre is a unique venue that has dormitories for 60 people and is ideal for workshops and special functions. Groups usually cater for themselves, but catering can be arranged. There is a dining room, a hall and a small meeting room. It is located close to the centre and reserve entrance.
Walking trails throughout the reserve are used regularly by day visitors, and range in length from 20 minutes to 5 hours. Narrow streams offer safe swimming spots for the kids, while the main Umgeni River is great for the older children who wish to ride the rapids. The main Umgeni River may be used at your own risk – please enquire at the office for the current river status and recommendation. First time visitors will probably want to walk the grassland trail where game and birds are plentiful, and historical points of interest include Zulu kraal walls and Chief Gwenya’s burial site.
Also at Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve is an environmental education centre, catering for all school children. The Umgeni Valley Project is one of the oldest and most established Environmental Education Centres in Africa. One to five day courses are held, with a flexible programme to allow for input from the teachers. Environmental-educator courses are also on offer.
The reserve is also home to the national office of the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa and Share-net, a South African-based informal networking project that supports environmental education and development in the Southern African Development Community region.
A brief history of Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve:
In 1973, the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA) members of the KwaZulu-Natal region conducted a massive fundraising campaign to purchase a portion of the farm belonging to Mr Eric Humphries. The aim was to “manage and maintain the reserve in as natural state as possible so as to provide the infrastructure necessary for Environmental Education purposes”.
The fundraising effort was successful and today a beautiful reserve exists for all to enjoy.
Some of the trails at Umgeni:
Dwarf’s Dawdle: This is a 4-5km round walk that goes just below and then along the dolerite cliff line, overlooking the eastern section of the reserve. It affords good views of the river and animals in the valley below. The upper section is flat and an easy walk for all ages. The lower path is a little more difficult (made primarily for dwarfs!), and goes through patches of indigenous forest.
The Grasslands Trail: This is a 7-8km walk, going through a variety of vegetation types – thicket along the watercourses, an Acacia dominated forest, then opening out to typical African Bushveld on the plains. There are fine trees on this route, but it is also recommended that walkers close their eyes in the forest and identify how many different birdcalls can be heard.