Paradise Valley Nature Reserve is a hidden KwaZulu-Natal gem tucked away between Pinetown and Pietermaritzburg. The coastal forest and grasslands have local history, including “mysterious burial mounds” and the remains of Umbilo Waterworks. Built in 1887, today it’s a South African national monument.
“In the late 19th Century, Durbanites caught a train to Pinetown Bridge and walked down to The Waterworks for picnicking, boating, fishing, and hiking. In 1905, a destructive flood quickly put an end to Umbilo Dam.”
“In 15 devastating hours 16 inches of rain fell, and logs, bamboo, and debris blocked the river at Pinetown Bridge.”
The bridge gave way, and the ensuing tidal wave killed hundreds of people and destroyed countless homes on the lower Umbilo riverbanks. Durban discovered alternative water supplies, so Umbilo Dam was never rebuilt.
There are four hiking trails in the nature reserve – Duiker, Bushbuck, Waterfall, and Dormouse. They begin at the Interpretive Centre on a path leading down to the picnic area. The start of the Waterfall Trail is a walk over old wooden bridges on the other side of the Umbilo River. The trail continues following beautiful flat river rock and thick jungle-like terrain with massive strelitzias – wild banana trees.
The Waterfall Trail passes sprawling yellowwood trees, ponds, and a historical waterworks slipway. Near the bottom of the falls beyond the turnoff to Duiker Trail, there’s a natural viewing platform. In the summer heat, a large pool below the falls is tempting, but water quality is poor, and swimming isn’t recommended.
I’ve been a bit under the weather with a stubborn virus and haven’t done much strenuous activity for a week or so. The gentle Waterfall Trail was perfect. I met several couples enjoying the romantic falls and heard but did not see animals. Fragrances in the light, humid air and the sweet sounds of birds singing were magnificent!