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IIt was once the home of the San, followed by the Zulus, who were joined by the traders of old and then settlers, mainly Norwegian, in the colonial era. Today, however, Port Shepstone on the South Coast in KwaZulu-Natal province has a modern identity that is tied to beach holidays, romance and rich fishing grounds.
Port Shepstone is to South Africans what Blackpool is to the English: a traditional beachside holiday resort.
With its perfect setting on the mouth of the Mzimkulu River amid holiday hotels, restaurants, beaches and a tidal pool that was built more than a century ago, Port Shepstone bustles with vacation fever most days of the year.
There was a time when this area was ruled by King Shaka’s Zulu empire, the only outsiders the European traders who did business with the Zulus – followed by a rather motley band of 246 Norwegians who arrived here in August 1882.
They arrived aboard a steamship called the Lapland and dropped anchor off the Mzimkulu River mouth in the dead of night. What followed was nearly disastrous.
So pleased were the residents of the ramshackle settlement that would grow into Port Shepstone at the prospect of these new arrivals, that one of the locals set off five dynamite explosions to welcome them. The Lapland replied with a salvo of rockets, and pretty soon the beach was ablaze.
The passengers began disembarking the next morning, in small numbers because the seas were rough. By all accounts, they arrived on shore the worse for wear. They were greeted by a sleek, well-groomed regiment of 500 Zulu warriors – in full regalia.
Despite their initial misgivings, more than 600 Norwegians eventually settled in the Port Shepstone area, and more of their countrymen travelled deeper into southern Africa.
Just off the Port Shepstone coast runs the rich Protea Reef, and this is why ardent anglers, casting from boats or simply from the beach, come from all over the country to test their skills – and their luck.
Should you be in the area in winter (June to August), you should get to the beach to see if you can witness what has been dubbed ‘the greatest shoal on Earth’. It’s the annual Sardine Run, when many millions of fish are on the move, keenly followed by humans, dolphins, sharks and seabirds of all descriptions.
TTravel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
South Coast Tourism
Tel: +27 (0)39 682 7944
Oribi Gorge Hotel
Tel: +27 (0)39 687 0253
Cell: +27 (0)82 387 7576 (Robin Lind)
How to get here
Port Shepstone lies 130km south of Durban on the N2 highway, or just over an hour's drive.
Best time to visit
The South Coast is a mild, year-round destination. The Sardine Run only occurs in winter but only lasts a day or two, so whether it happens while you’re visiting is really a matter of luck.
Things to do in the area
Try a Wild 5 Adventure in the Oribi Gorge. Book from the Oribi Gorge Hotel – see ‘Who To Contact’.
You could take a bus south from Durban, but driving yourself gives you the freedom to visit all the spots you'd like to in the area.
Length of stay
Set aside at least three days for your Port Shepstone/South Coast adventure; a week or more if you want to improve your chances of catching sardines with nothing more than a bucket.
What to pack
It’s rarely very cold along the South Coast, so just pack a light wind cheater for the occasional evening out. Be sure to pack your swimming costume, no matter what time of year.
Where to stay
Port Shepstone offers a wide range of accommodation. See the listed websites for details and choices of places to stay.
What to eat
Port Shepstone has several restaurants – see the listed South Coast Tourism website for details.