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 Go Away… to Ingwehumbe and Gwahumbe…sweet place of rivers, leopards, and caves

Go Away… to Ingwehumbe and Gwahumbe…sweet place of rivers, leopards, and caves

“Hamba” is a word most of us are familiar with, and sometimes use to chase away an unwanted visitor, like a noisy hadeda or Canis Africanis, from the garden. Hamba is the Zulu and Xhosa word for “go away”, and according to one source, Ingwehumbe means “it’s a journey”, which is a concept that we 4×4 enthusiasts can undoubtedly associate with. In the Management Plan of the Nature Reserve, however, the name “Ingwehumbe” came from “Ingwe Hhumbe”, with “ingwe” meaning leopard and “humbe” meaning caves: “Leopard Caves”. Leopards do occur in the valley and there is a legendary cave near the source of the Umsunduze River.

“Gwahumbe” is the Zulu word for the river that flows through the reserve and is pronounced “Gwa-ghoom-bee”. The greater Gwahumbe Valley was carved out by the Gwahumbe and Umsunduze Rivers that join the Illovo River in the southern midlands of KZN and ends up in the Indian Ocean just south of Durban. The area covers 3000 ha of riverine forest, valley bushveld, plateau grassland, and majestic cliff faces.

Historically, this region also formed part of an ancient elephant trail as they moved between their winter-feeding grounds (mangrove swamps of what is now Durban), to their summer habitat in the Byrne Valley. In the late 1800s, the region changed considerably when 40 hectares of sugar cane were planted at Illovo. When the sugar mill became operational in 1890, sugar cane was hauled via rails laid out for harvesting and then transferred to trucks that transported it to the mill at Illovo. A century ago, tobacco was grown in the region and processed in a factory that was built in the Gwahumbe Valley. Hundreds of oxen were used to transport sugar and tobacco and were grazed in the valley, adding to the dramatic transformation of the area.

The Ingwehumbe region forms part of one of the oldest conservancies, namely the Beaumont Eston Conservancy and plays an important role in the conservation of the Critically Endangered KZN Sandstone Sourveld, as well as a large number of threatened and endemic plant and animal species. The 1000ha Ingwehumbe Nature Reserve is located approximately 15km southeast of the village of Eston, in a sugar cane growing area. Various vegetation types occur here, including the Critically Endangered KwaZulu-Natal Sandstone Sourveld, Moist Coast Hinterland Grassland, Eastern Valley Bushveld, KZN Hinterland Thornveld, and Eastern Scarp Forest.

Gwahumbe Nature Reserve is located in Mid Illovo in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, and was established more than 25 years ago by sugarcane farmers who had a passion for conservation. Gwahumbe is a 700-hectare area located at the confluence of the Umsunduze and Umgwahumbe Rivers that run through the 3000-hectare Gwahumbe Valley. The topography of the area makes management of the reserve problematic, due to the limited access to the valley bottom.  Some access roads are steep and eroded, which is bad news for the maintenance team and fire-fighters (but more of an invitation to 4X4 enthusiasts than a deterrent!).

The Gwahumbe 4×4 Trail has a grading of between one and three. Altitudes in the area range from higher-lying areas of up to 845m above mean sea level, rapidly dropping 554m down cliffs and steep slopes to the Mgwahumbe River. The 9km self-drive route takes between two and four hours to complete and comprises several different trails, most of which you will need at least a vehicle with high clearance. Apart from the remarkable views, you can expect to see hippos, rhinos, giraffes, and antelope. To make things interesting, you will find obstacles, such as river crossings, muddy areas, and slippery grasses which should be tackled with caution after heavy rains.

Gwahumbe Nature Reserve has a training route if you want to gain some experience or improve your skills while you’re there. The family can keep themselves busy fishing (indigenous yellow fish), bird watching, botanical walks, hiking, and mountain biking.

The accommodation has an AA Superior rating and the reserve has a 4 Star Tourism Grading. The new Riverbend units are nearing completion, and Zebra lodge features outdoor showers, an open-plan lounge, and a wraparound deck, with mid-week specials to sweeten the deal even more. The large variety of recreational activities include: mountain biking, fly fishing abseiling, hiking, accommodation, and (of course) a 4×4 track. So remember to pack your hiking shoes, your binoculars, fishing gear and After a dusty game drive, you can cool off in the pool or soak in the wood fired Jacuzzi while watching the sun go down, dreaming about the days when leopards slept in caves, and imagining tons of sugar cane rustling by in “koekepan” tipcarts pulled by oxen, on their way to be processed.

Remember before embarking on these challenges to ensure that your vehicle is in tip-top shape, so bring your 4×4 to us for a service or repairs: https://n14x4.co.za/rmi-workshop/

Gwahumbe Nature Reserve & Spa

Mid-Illovo, KwaZulu-Natal

+27 82 347 6536


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GPS Coordinates: 29°57’44.2″S 30°32’45.1″E


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