See also Encounter Magazine's comprehensive guide on Hiking
in South Africa.
There are 5 trails in the Reserve, namely the Black Eagle Trail of 7 km, circular, the Inkonka Trail of 5 km, circular, the Dwarfs Dawdle of 5 km, circular, the Grasslands Trail of 8 km, circular and the Shelter Falls Trail of 3 km, circular. Shorter 1,5 km walks are also available.
The environmental education centre open to self-guided groups as well as individuals, consisting of rustic camps of two or more bungalows, with kitchen, showers, flush toilet and firewood, a guest cottage equipped with beds, linen, towels, crockery, cutlery and gas, as well as a fireplace and firewood.
The main attractions include scenic walks through a varied terrain, large and small mammals and over 200 species of birds. Access to the hutted camps is on foot, about 25 minutes' walk from the carpark. Ticks are prevalent at certain times of the year.
The Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve is important as it is one of South Africa's few 'outdoor' education centres where intensive environmental courses are run by experienced field officers, most of whom are qualified teachers. Courses offered include workshops for teachers, courses for adults, school children and the disabled. Contact the reserve for details.
The setting is ideal - located only 30 km from Pietermaritzburg and close to Howick, the reserve borders 10 km of the Umgeni River immediately below the scenic Howick Falls, which plunge 111 m over dolerite cliffs into the gorge.
Habitats are diverse, ranging from regions of bushveld harbouring big game such as zebra, wildebeest, giraffe, nyala, impala, eland, bushbuck and grey duiker, to cliffs topped by grassland plateau hosting blesbok, mountain reedbuck and oribi.
Birdlife ranges from tiny warblers to magnificent black, crowned and martial eagles. A network of trails is available to visitors. None of the walks is physically demanding.
l. Black Eagle Trail begins at either the Inkonka or Indulo carpark, passing through a variety of vegetation from lowland bushveld to grasslands on the hill tops. Superb views over the valley reveal the diversity of the geology, as well as the plant and animal life, of the area.
2. Inkonka Trail is a steep descent and ascent of the valley through indigenous forest. Expansive views of the river make this walk worth the effort. A swimming spot at Fish Jump Waterfall offers the chance for a refreshing dip; there is a also a picnic site with a fine view out over the reserve.
3. Dwarfs Dawdle circular walk follows along the dolerite cliff line which overlooks the eastern part of the reserve. Again, there are excellent views of the Umgeni River Valley. The upper path is mainly along level ground making this an ideal trail for families, although the lower section of the walk is slightly more difficult.
4. Grasslands Trail passes through various types of vegetation, crosses Mhlangweni Stream and leads past an old Nguni kraal and Cycad Camp. Diverse vegetation is the predominant feature of this trail.
Watch out for the wild pear, Dombeya rotundifolia, rock-splitting fig, Ficus ingens and cabbage tree, Cussonia spicata. The areas of open bushveld are particularly good for spotting game such as giraffe, wildebeest and warthog.
5. Shelter Falls Trail splits into two different routes. Both are short and easy, heading along the Shelter Falls stream. Some excellent swimming and picnic spots make this trail a very pleasant one on a hot day.