The deep valley of the Umzimkulwana River is one of the most spectacularly scenic areas of Kwazulu-Natal. Known as the Oribi Gorge, this haven for nature lovers and thrill seekers is located just over 20 km inland from Port Shepstone, on the Natal South Coast.
The Oribi Gorge Nature Reserve, under the auspices of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, the provincial conservation authority, was proclaimed on the 1st of April 1950 (having been protected as the Umzimkulwana State Forest since 1928). The reserve covers 1,917 hectares, the majority of which lies inside the valley of the Umzimkulwana, which meanders for a distance of almost 27km through the reserve. The gorge itself varies in width from a half to one kilometer and is up to 400 meters deep in places. Habitats in the reserve comprises mostly coastal forests, with grasslands covering the plains around the gorge, providing a safe home to a wide variety of flora, with over 500 species of plant identified, and fauna, which includes rarities like the samango monkey and blue duiker, and over 250 species of birds. Some lucky visitors even encounter leopard from time to time, or caracal like we did. Accommodation and camping is available in a small rest camp, complete with a reservoir swimming pool, while there are numerous beautiful picnic spots and view-sites along the tar road that travels down into the gorge along an old elephant path. The reserve is best explored along the many hiking trails that radiate through the gorge.
On the property of the Oribi Gorge Hotel are a number of sites, accessible for a small fee, offering spectacular views over the gorge and the river far below. It is also home base to Wild 5 Adventures, a company specialising in outdoor adventure activities. Thrill-seekers can enjoy abseiling down a cliff next to a waterfall or white-water rafting, a zipline crossing a portion of the gorge, or the highest swing in the world, at 165 meters!
At the privately owned Lake Eland Game Reserve, where accommodation and camping, and a restaurant, is available, visitors can enjoy picnics, self-drive or guided game and bird viewing, cycling, horse riding and fishing. The 80 meter long suspension bridge over a section of the gorge gets the heart racing, while the 4.5 km zipline tour, the longest in Africa, of which one section crosses 300 m across the gorge, is probably not for the faint-of-heart…
With the beaches of the South Coast less than half-an-hour’s drive away, and offering such a variety of leisure and adventure activities while surrounded by natural beauty, the Oribi Gorge definitely is an attractive holiday destination for the whole family.