Paradise Valley Nature Reserve is a hidden KwaZulu-Natal gem tucked away between Pinetown and Pietermaritzburg. The area’s coastal forest and grasslands have local history – “mysterious burial mounds,” and the remains of Umbilo Waterworks, a South African national monument built in 1887.
History and Devastating Rain
“In the late 19th Century, Durbanites caught a train to Pinetown Bridge and walked down to Umbilo Waterworks for picnicking, boating, fishing, and hiking. In 1905, a destructive flood changed that forever by putting an end to Umbilo Dam.”
“In fifteen 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 not only killed hundreds of people, but also destroyed countless homes on the lower Umbilo riverbanks. Since Durban discovered an alternative water supply, Umbilo Dam was never rebuilt.
There are four hiking trails in the reserve – Dormouse, Waterfall, Duiker, and Bushbuck. 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 wooden bridges on the other side of the Umbilo River. The trail follows flat river rock, waterfalls, and thick jungle-like terrain with massive strelitzias – wild banana trees.
The Waterfall Trail passes through a waterworks slipway with yellowwood trees and ponds. 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 swimming isn’t recommended because of poor water quality.
I’ve been under the weather with a stubborn virus and haven’t done much strenuous activity for over a week. The gentle Waterfall Trail was perfect. I met others enjoying the scenery and heard but didn’t see animals. Fragrances in the humid air and the sound of birds singing were divine!