AUTUMN: Chasing waterfalls in "Fall"

Four Seasons in South Africa: Autumn

Tugela Falls in the Drakensberg is the second highest waterfall on earth.  Photo by @jacques_crafford

When the heat of summer dies down, set out and explore these KwaZulu-Natal Midlands waterfalls, the first three of which all originate from the Umgeni River or Mgeni River (Zulu: uMngeni), rising in the Dargle Valley in the Midlands (with its mouth is some distance north of Durban's harbour.) It then meanders eastwards through the picturesque green countryside where it is joined by the Lions River just before it reaches Midmar Dam. Below Midmar the river cascades some 111 metres down the Howick Falls and into the Umgeni Valley where the Karkloof tributary meets it before it flows into Albert Falls Dam, deemed to be one of the best bass fishing dams in the world.

1. Walk Howick Falls Gorge 

KZN's many hidden waterfalls are great to walk and hike with the family.

The Howick Falls Gorge Walk is so easy to do, even kids will love it, and it will take you through tranquil riverine forest, grottos and meandering streams, surrounded by lush greenery and the damp scents you’ll only experience walking along a river. The falls crash down some 90 metres and the view from the top is spectacular!

Gorge Walk: Start amongst the dense undergrowth on the stone steps at the Gorge Walk sign at the bottom of Harvard Street, Howick, and wind down to the pool the water plunges into at the bottom. You’ll meet up with the trickling Karkloof Spruit and witness it meet the Umgeni River on your walk to the base, where the tumbling water makes a surprising commotion.

The leisurely walk can be done in under two hours, returning along the same path.

The surrounding cliff faces can be scaled and abseiled upon by those preferring more of a challenge, with ropes, a helmet and great caution, of course.

*A small fee attached to the walk goes to the Howick Falls Conservancy

2.    Drive the Albert Falls Amble – the route less travelled

The Albert Falls Amble (or just “The Amble”) is said to be “the road less travelled” and is a route that leads you to the Midlands Meander and Boston Bulwer Beat routes. The Amble takes note of historical locations, nature reserves, farm stays, a handful of historic crafts (like cabinet- and shoemakers), and several outdoor pursuits to the north-east and including Balgowan, Nottingham Road and Mooi River.

At the heart of the route is Albert Falls Dam and the towns of Bishopstowe, Wartburg, New Hanover, Dalton, Seven Oaks, Greytown, Kranskop, Ashburton, Hilton, Karkloof, Manderson, Baynesville and Thornville. The Amble is divided into roughly 10 mini routes (a complementary route map can be picked up at a KZN Tourism office in the area or at OR Tambo airport), with a principle town in each which is unfamiliar to the average visitor. The flyer summarises the town’s history, where to find the aforementioned crafts as well as accommodation options and activities that range from walking labyrinths, visiting lion parks, nurseries, farms, nature reserves, conservancies, lakeside resorts, picnic sites, a tea estate, pubs, historic buildings, churches and game farms.

3.    Hang out at Karkloof Falls

The Karkloof River rises in the Karkloof mountain range and descends through thickly wooded forests creating many small waterfalls. The beautiful and dramatic Karkloof Falls are 105 metres high and plunge over the cliff at Shafton Grange, and were lauded by early settlers as “the most beautiful waterfall in the land”. Karkloof Falls can be found along Karkloof Road travelling out of Howick. Entry is free and you can picnic and braai under the trees surrounding the Falls.

Karkloof Conservancy, that protects the Karkloof Valley in the mist belts of KZN, conserves a large portion of the Karkloof forest where you might glimpse of the rare and endangered Cape parrot, orange ground thrush, lemon dove and crowned hornbill. The samango monkey, blue duiker, tree hyrax, serval and aardvark make the reserve their home and several rare trees and the threatened Hilton daisy can be seen here, too.

4. Hike the Tugela Falls – Africa’s highest waterfall!

While in the area, it would be crazy not to see the amazing natural phenomenon that is the Tugela Falls. The Drakensberg Mountain’s Amphitheatre forms a natural border between KwaZulu-Natal and the Kingdom of Lesotho and, at 948-metres high, the crystal-clear water of the Tugela Falls careens a kilometre down its facade in five leaps. It’s the highest waterfall in Africa, and there’s even speculation it might be the highest in the world instead of Venezuela’s Angel Falls.

Those wanting to hike the falls need to be moderately fit to tackle the roughly 4-hour, 13-kilometre trek, and costs involved are R75 per person at the Sentinel Car Park and R45 per person at the entrance to the Royal Natal National Park. The hike, that can be done year-round, is said to be it’s very best in Autumn, so you’d better get moving… Winter is on its way!

For more information on KZN and for route maps themselves (including the fascinating Battlefields, Freedom, KZN Literature, 1 000 Hills, Zululand Birding and popular Beer Route), visit www.zulu.org.za/about/routes, or call 031 366 7500. For another handy resource, including for extensive accommodation options in the area, visit www.sa-venues.com