Various attractions in the area
Chimney Rock, one of the unusual rock formations in the gorge
Rod and I were at university in Natal, South Africa, for many years, and for whatever reasons we never did get to visit the well-known Oribi Gorge—even though many students did go there and the outdoors clubs went camping and hiking there.
So, on our most recent trip to South Africa and the Natal south coast we decided to rectify this omission. We were staying in Hibberdene and set off one morning in our little rental car with my sister and my mother, both of whom were very happy to go on a special excursion. Our main goal: the Oribi Gorge Hotel.
We turned off the main road between Port Shepstone and Kokstad—about 20km (12 miles) from Port Shepstone—onto a narrow road that first winds through sugar cane fields and then thick forests. First we climbed up and then wound down again to the river, with pretty views of the cliffs and rocky crags and lush vegetation. Back up again onto the plateau for quite a while, so we began to wonder if this was in fact the right road, as there were no more signs of the cliffs or a gorge. Not what we were expecting. But, expectations are deceptive and almost as soon as we turned off onto the narrow, badly-rutted track to the hotel we began to see glimpses of a wooded gorge.
The Oribi Gorge Hotel is the entrance point for the actual gorge area, where you pay
Rod, Viv, Veronita, granny Joy—-all very happy with the morning tea
to get in (R10 per pensioner, R20 per adult). We stopped first at the hotel’s Wild Fig Cafe for tea and scones, an advertised morning special and I must say it was very pleasant. It’s an old colonial hotel, low and rambling, with wide verandahs, pretty gardens with flowers and big trees, a bar and restaurant and a craft/curio shop, where we bought a packet of the local coffee. We could easily imagine it as the meeting place for the local sugar cane and coffee farmers. Nowadays, the hotel also targets tourists and it must be a good place to stay. After visiting the actual gorge area, we came back for lunch, which was also good—the servers are very pleasant but a little slow, but, hey, we’re in rural Africa here and time moves more slowly. Prices are very reasonable—R115 (with tip) for four teas and huge scones, for example. That’s about $13.50 at the then-exchange rate.
Rod on the suspension bridge
Oribi Gorge is situated along the forest-cloaked ravine of the Mzimkulwana River. A dirt road takes visitors along the edge of the gorge, which curves in a rough L-shape here. The road was in terrible shape at that time, partly due to very heavy rains this rainy season, but probably also due to lack of maintenance by the looks of it. We were given a “map” of the turn-off points etc, but nothing was properly sign-posted, so we missed quite a few I think. There are various look-out points, to see rocky crags with special shapes—such as Camel Rock, or Baboon Castle—or the Lehr’s waterfall (there wasn’t much water when we were there). There’s also a longish suspension bridge over a narrow arm of the gorge, which I was brave enough to try! From the falls area, they offer abseiling, a Wild Swing (type of bungee jumping), and zip-lining. You can also try rafting, horse riding and paintball. Most of these activities are open daily, from around 8:30am-4:30 or 5:00pm. Check at the hotel.
Not much water in the falls at that time!
It is all very pretty, but access in general is rather difficult, especially for anyone who is even slightly disabled (like my old mother, so she couldn’t really get to see anything). I have to say that we were a little underwhelmed, given all that we’d heard! Pity. But, it’s still worth a trip and I’m glad we finally got here. The tea at the hotel definitely made up for that minor disappointment!
For more information:
Viv and sister Veronita on the suspension bridge
A brave soul trying the swing!
Supposedly the world’s highest gorge swing!
This way to Wild FIg Cafe