January 2019

Zulu Reserve Road snakes through the stunning scenery.

A Picture From My Youth

When I was a young boy in Zambia, my parents’ best friends were Uncle Bob and Aunt Betty. They had two sons around my own age so obviously us boys were best friends too and we spent a lot of time together. Uncle Bob and Aunt Betty had moved to then Northern Rhodesia from Pietermaritzburg as a young couple. Uncle Bob was a keen photographer and one of his pictures I remember vividly was taken at the Valley of a Thousand Hills. It was a lovely photo, but what really captured my youthful imagination was the name – ONE THOUSAND HILLS! So many hills in a valley?

Today, more than half a century later, I was going to see this spectacle for myself. I’d been visiting friends for a few days and after a hearty breakfast I left Pinetown early and drove along a route that seemed familiar although I’d never actually been here before. Fields Hill, Kloof, Hillcrest, Botha’s Hill, Drummond, names recognisable for being the route of the world-famous Comrades Marathon. At Botha’s Hill I turned off Old Main Road onto the P528,  marked on my map as Zulu Reserve Road. Soon, after a bend or two along the narrow road the photograph of my youth came to life before me!

Old homes have made way for newer ones.

The sprinkling of traditional Zulu homesteads in the old photograph have multiplied into countless more modern dwellings tightly clinging to the steep hills but the view is as magnificent as ever. After savouring the vista and taking a picture of my own, I drove further. The road, fairly narrow and bustling with early morning activity made its way steadily down into the valley to where it crossed the Umgeni and shortly thereafter the Umsunduzi rivers. These two rivers are the setting for yet another world-famous test of human endurance, the Duzi Canoe Marathon.

The Umgeni River carves its way through this beautiful valley
Crossing the Umgeni

As the road becomes gravel and traffic becomes less the countryside is unspoilt by development. For a while the road follows the course of the river and the views are lovely. All too soon I make my way past the Nagle Dam leaving the valley behind to re-join the main road at Pietermaritzburg.

Deep in the heart of the valley.

Nagle Dam – Clever Engineering

The scenic but unassuming Nagle Dam built across the Umgeni River in 1950 has an interesting and unusual design feature to it. As has happened ever so often, I only heard the story much later when I mentioned to someone that I’d been there.

Nagle Dam’s main wall is 390m long and 44m high.

A problem faced with most dams is that silt carried into the dam, especially during times of flood is blocked by the dam wall and settles, gradually diminishing the dam’s storage capacity. The engineers who built the Nagle Dam overcame this problem by clever engineering and making use of a natural feature of the dam’s location. At this point, the Umgeni makes a series of sharp S-bends as it makes its way through the valley. The main dam was built at the end of the first curve of the S. At the beginning of the S, another wall was built and a channel cut through the narrow hill to just below the main dam. The flow of water, slowed by the first wall, causes the silt to settle allowing only clean water to flow into the main dam. During times of flood and heavy silting, the water is diverted into the channel, bypassing the dam altogether and clearing away any accumulated silt in the process as it flows downstream into the second curve of the S. In the Google Earth image below, one can clearly see the difference between the silted water in the river and the darker, clean water in the dam. How clever!

The first wall and channel in the foreground.

I could have spent a lot more time exploring this beautiful valley and its many attractions but after a quick stop in Howick to snap a photo of its famous waterfall, I made my way to the small village of Nottingham Road. Along the way I passed the Nelson Mandela Capture Site. I turned in to have a look but it was already late in the day and I decided that the cost of the entrance fee would be wasted for the little time I had. I’d have to come back another day.

The Umgeni River plunges 95m over the Howick Falls.


Glensheilling Caravan Park has level sites and plenty of shade.

Arriving in Nottingham Road, I first had to stock up on fresh provisions and fuel for the days ahead before I made my way to my campsite for the night.

I found a lovely spot at Glensheilling Caravan Park, a few kilometres outside town. After setting up a quick camp under the gaze of a curios chameleon, I still had enough daylight left to take a walk down to the small dam and watch the Woolly-necked Stork stalking its prey.

After a peaceful night’s rest and a refreshing shower I packed up early and continued my journey. The next few days were to be in the foothills of the Drakensberg at Lotheni



Deon Pretorius · July 15, 2021 at

Great article! Thank you. Interesting part of the dam wall. Good engineering for those years! Keep up the good work. Stay safe.

Frikkie Potgieter · July 15, 2021 at

Dankie weereens. Was een keer saam met my ouers in die 60’s in die vallei. Sal hom weer wil gaan kyk. Ons is ook lief vir die Midlands meander. Daar is sulke mooi plekke

    Off The Hamster Wheel · July 18, 2021 at

    Dit het seker heelwat verander sedert die 60’s maar dit bly nog steeds mooi. Ek het ook al baie tyd in die Midlands spandeer, daarom het ek hierdie keer nie veel tyd daar deurgebring nie.

Hulda Heiberg · July 15, 2021 at

Interesting article and information especially on the Nagel’s dam. KZN is still to be explored by us.

Peter · July 15, 2021 at

Enjoyed your story as always thank you. I like the dam engineering, it must work wonders. In 2018 I took a photo of a woman doing her washing right at the top of the Howick Falls and quite near the edge as well. Classic!

    Off The Hamster Wheel · July 18, 2021 at

    Thank you. Wonder what would happen if the washing floats away?! Will be a long walk to go fetch it 🙂

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