If you’re a regular reader of our posts, you’ll know that the Man and I both have day jobs (the Man is a commercial diver who can work odd hours – when ships come in…) and, with the bean in school during the week it means that we can’t always get away. Plans often have to be changed last minute.
But, we’re adventurous spirits and we really take strain just sitting at home chilling. With so much to see and do in this world, there’s a constant pull to get out and explore. At times, we have to look at activities closer to home, activities in and around Durban that won’t have us traveling far. One particular area in KZN that we have been exploring of late is the Valley of 1000 Hills. About 30 minutes from Durban, there really is something for everyone. Restaurants to suit most dining preferences, wildlife, traditional Zulu dances as well as a traditional Zulu Village, arts and crafts, shopping, accommodation that inspires feelings of country living and wide open spaces…this all with a spectacular backdrop…the Valley of 1000 Hills which is named so due to the 1000’s of hills stretching as far as the eye can see down into the Umgeni River which runs from the Drakensberg Mountains into the warm Indian Ocean on KwaZulu Natal’s shores
Activities in and around The Valley of 1000 Hills
Our exploration of the area is still in its infancy stage and although we’ve visited PheZulu Safari Park, the Reptile Park, had a nibble here or there at some of the eateries we’ve found on route (Pot and Kettle being a great spot for lunch), there is still so much to explore and with it being so close to Durban, there’s really no excuse not to fully immerse ourselves in the experience and get to know the area better and really enjoy all that it has to offer.
Something that has been on our KZN Bucket list for ages was the Umgeni Steam Train. To chug along through the Valley of a 1000 Hills in a Steam Train that has been “following in the tracks of pioneer wagon trains dating back to the 1830’s.” (1)
The Umgeni Steam Train has been ranked as one of the best short train trips in South Africa and features alongside the Magaliesburg Express, the Diamond Express, the Ficksburg Steam Train as well as the Atlantic Rail. Granted….we’re not looking at Rovos Rail or the Blue Train level of luxury here but, it is a an experience that will have you wanting to go back time and time again. We’re hooked! The sounds as the train builds up power, the chugging, the silence of the passengers as they realise…we’re experiencing something unique and magical. Flip, why are we delaying, booking again as soon as possible!
Enough with the chit chat…you want the scoop NOW!
How to book, why you should book, pricing…it’s all coming. We’re reliving our experience writing this post and we’re getting excited knowing that we may be introducing someone to the wonders of this train by our ramblings.
Right. To book. The train runs from Kloof Station to Inchanga Station and back and is about a 3hr to 3.5hr journey in total. Bookings can be made for the last Sunday of every month but the train does run on special occasions and select dates during school holidays. The available dates and times are posted on the website and you can also book through the website. We experienced some difficulty booking online thus decided to send through a mail as opposed to wrestling with the interwebs. We got a quick reply with our booking itinerary, cost and how to proceed to confirm the booking. Payment was made and we received our confirmation which detailed all that would be included as well as direction to Kloof Stokers Arms where you depart from. We were given instruction on how to collect our tickets (this is collected 30 minutes before departure at the Kloof station).
We arrived to an expectant, gathering crowd. The sounds of excitement in the air and fresh coffee brewing (excellent coffee we must add). We got there fairly early and got to explore one of the ‘trains’ that sit on the track (I’m no fundi so not sure if calling it a train or locomotive is correct).
Just before departure, the whistle starts….
You’re climb up a small ladder into the coaches, guided by the volunteers you’re shown where to sit. You take your seat, waiting for all others to board and you take in your surrounds. The wooden panels, the old mechanisms to open windows, the flooring stained by years of feet falling, the hint of coal smoke in the air and then it begins. You can feel the excitement building up as the train starts rolling, building its pace. You look out the window and see vehicles stopped alongside the road, people waving at you and you feel almost shy but you cannot help but feel immense joy as you wave back and get wrapped up in the experience. You chug along thinking you don’t want this to end.
The trip itself is just the right amount of time before you stop at Inchanga. We had two little ones with us, the bean and my little niece RM (a threenager) and for those traveling with kids… you know… no matter how exciting the experience, if it’s too long, you’re not going to be enjoying the experience for much longer. On route to Inchanga Station, you go through the tunnel at Drummond which was built in 1878 and is professed to be the oldest tunnel still in use in South Africa today. We had been taking photos and videos and sadly missed a chance to capture the tunnel on film this time but, we were now prepared and knew that we had to pass back through the Drummond tunnel on our way back. Keep them peeled for our YouTube channel.
Inchanga Station and Inchanga Craft Market
Inchanga Station is home to the Inchanga Railway Museum which is open to the public on the day the train runs. The museum is located in the old Station Masters house and covers the rich history of South African Railways. There is a room dedicated to model trains and the intricate detail that has gone into building these models and the small buildings, tracks, tunnels and scenery is incredible. The bean and I spent a fair amount of time here while the Man was sipping some beer at a beer tent he found. Ladies…there’s gin! There is no entrance fee for the model train building but it is appreciated if you give a small donation.
After watching tiny, tiny, small trains going around a track for about 10 minutes we made our way to the food stalls where we breathed in a burger and chips and the little man persuaded his mum to purchase him a beaded weaver bird sitting in a nest. The craft market sells food, refreshments, books, curios, arts and crafts and bespoke items such as handmade leather wallets and bags. If you’ve missed the train… head on over to the market!
We whiled away our time here for about an hour before getting back on the train and this time…we were ready for the tunnel!
Get out there…for our tourism industry.
The scenery is absolutely incredible and as you traverse through the Valley of a 1000 Hills, looking at some of the landmarks along the way, passing the route of the Comrades, the Dusi race you find yourself wondering why you don’t do things like this more often. Why spend your time watching TV over the weekend when you can be out and about, exploring, experiencing, and taking in all that our beautiful country has to offer. As I write this, we are in the time of Covid. Tourism in South Africa has fallen to her knees. We owe it to our country and ourselves to get out there and keep tourism alive. Because small wonders like these may not be around for too long if we don’t cherish, preserve and promote them.
Umgeni Steam Railway is a non-profit organisation run entirely by volunteers. They generate most of the income from ticket sales and participation in the craft market. This income is used to preserve the heritage of South African Railways and locomotives. The locomotive in use by Umgeni Steam Railway was built in 1912 by the North British Locomotive Company and was donated by Illovo Sugar Company. The coaches were built between 1908 and 1953.
The bean gave this experience an easily won 10 out of 10!
Tel: +27 (0) 82 353 6003
- – southafrica.net – Reasons to visit the Valley of 1000 Hills