Sardine Festival and other activities great, but not a sardine in sight

HAPPY HIKERS: The group sits in mid-air on Leopard Rock. © Sowetan.
HAPPY HIKERS: The group sits in mid-air on Leopard Rock. © Sowetan.

Vusi Ndlovu

Vusi Ndlovu

Take a boat trip far into the sea. Then later, hit the road on a tour of the rural coastal region of KwaZulu-Natal's south coast before heading to a game reserve in a sub-tropical natural forest.

I was in the province for a weekend during the yearly marine migration known as the Sardine Run. In this yearly trek, millions of these little silvery fish leave the cold waters on the southern tip of Cape Point and swim up the eastern coastline in search of warmer water.

The sardine spectacle involves a shoal of fish that stretches more than 15km in length, three-and-half kilometres wide and about 40m deep as they head to the eastern coastline of Durban.

The massive movement, which takes place between May and July, ushers in a hive of activity to the marine life. Predators of the sea such as sharks, whales, dolphins and sea birds flock to the coast for the biggest feast of the year.

Tourists also flock to the eastern coast to witness the spectacle. KZN Tourism has as from this year added the event to its tourism package, which means that during this time of the year the Banana City is alive with fun-seekers.

Tourists and locals can now enjoy themselves in activities such as music festivals, sporting and outdoor leisure activities in what the tourism body has appropriately called the Sardine Festival.

At the launch of the event in Port Shepstone, journalists were invited to get a taste of what the Sardine Festival is about.

The first activity was an ocean safari at Shelly Beach. We all boarded two fishing boats and headed far into the sea. The impact of the boat colliding with the huge waves caused the faint-hearted to call off the one-and-a-half hour ride when it had just started.

Adding to the adrenaline-pumping experience was our coming across giant whales occasionally rising above the surface of the water before diving back under. Along with them, families of dolphins and sea birds were also out to enjoy the feast.

Unfortunately, we did not spot the sardines.

Then we were off inland. We headed to the Oribi Gorge Nature Reserve in the Ezinqoleni area. This is a great place for outdoor adventure. If you are a adventure junky, the wild Gorge Swing is for you. It is the highest gorge in the world.

One swing or jump from the Lehr's fall takes you 100m down the gorge before operators pull you back to the top of the cliff.

Other activities include horseriding, river rafting, fishing, hiking trails and abseiling.

Still at the gorge, we enjoyed a meal at the Leopard Rock restaurant. We sat on the deck enjoying a variety of food including meat, chips and drinks. Sitting in the restaurant, perched on top of the hill, you get a bird's eye view of the natural forests below. You see the patrollers of the sky - the eagles - flying below you.

On the other side of the gorge is the rural area of Emzumbe. The chief's kraal can also be seen from the restaurant.

The last of our tours was the visit at Ushaka Marine World, the ocean park in which sea and fresh water are drawn into a 1940s shipwreck to create aquariums where small species of fish live together with sharks.

There, we were also treated to the dolphin show at the Sea World and the Dolphin World.

The Sardine Festival, which ended on Sunday, included activities such as off-road motor racing, a 21km marathon, fishing competitions, music festivals featuring great acts such as Ringo Madlingozi and Mafikizolo, cycling and paddling competitions. All the events are organised to keep the whole family happy.

Apart from the festival, I just love KwaZulu-Natal because of its weather, its rolling hills and the nice people.

l Vusi Ndlovu was a guest of KZN Tourism.