Coast KZN

24 Jan 2016

Step into nature’s airconditioning

Duncan Guy (The Independent on Saturday)


While on an assignment in the Virginia Bush Nature Reserve last year, I found that the bush canopy over the pathways provided the most extraordinary relief from the January humidity.

Walking in the forest was cooler and more comfortable than walking around the air conditioned office.

I rediscovered that cool feeling, cycling along a pathway in a strip of estuarine forest bordered by the uMngeni River and the suburb of Umgeni Park’s Riverside Road.

It’s known as the Fish Eagle Trail that forms part of the Durban Green Corridor project, an eco-tourism venture that offers experiences within the city limits.

Its air-conditioning powers are probably supplemented by the river that flows by – carrying little bunches of floating water hyacinth.

The trail is a pathway, mostly hard earth sometimes peppered with stone and roots, with occasional climbs. It gets you to use your different gears – a touch more challenging than the extension of the beachfront cycling promenade that runs parallel next to the Riverside Road above.

One can in fact either ride the promenade without the benefit of the shade, or the trail, or weave between the two.

While one is likely to be less inclined to stop and smell the roses while cycling, it’s well worth doing. A glance over the river may bring into view large birds like pelicans and Goliath Herons or the smaller Grey Heron.

Guides are available to accompany cyclists where they also share local knowledge. One of them, Thamie Mabina, enjoys telling stories about the lagoon hibiscus tree.

“It’s bark is very strong,” he says. “Our grandparents would peel it to make string, which they would use to tie up the bundles of wood they gather.

“Fishermen could even use it to make their nets. It doesn’t get destroyed by water.” Then he turned to the leaves. “They’re shaped like hearts.” Other trees, like the tinderwood, known to science as Clerodendrum gabrum, are labelled.

Back home, a search on Google will tell you it’s widespread from tropical to southern Africa and that its leaves, when crushed, produce a fetid smell.

The white flowers of a wild banana (Strelitzia nicolai) are enough to catch even the fastest cycle’s eye. Did you know that it was one of few plants that contained the pigment known as bilirubin, which is usually found in animals?

For three days a week, forest rangers collect litter and trim the forest growth to make the trail more cycle-friendly. Their presence also helps security.

Opposite the Umgeni Bird Park, cyclists using both the promenade and the trail, can refresh themselves at Abdul Karim’s fruit stall, which is where many turn around and then head back to the beachfront.

“There are so many here at weekends that they form a queue,” he says. “They like to take litchis, fibreless mangoes and white nectarines. If it’s a very hot day, I’ll cut up a watermelon.”

Healthy refreshments and nature’s airconditioning. What more could a cyclist want in our hot, humid city?

Bikes are available for hire at Blue Lagoon. Visit