Insure your car, home and valuables with iWYZE
Visitors to the most popular tourist attraction in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, the Howick Falls, are greeted by friendly faces upon their arrival – a volunteer group of individuals who call themselves, the Friends of the Falls.
The group describe themselves as environmentalists, who are passionate about the Howick Falls and its beautiful surroundings.
Their mission statement: to give a warm friendly welcome to international and local visitors to the falls, to record details of visitors, to compile relevant statistics and to keep the viewsite of the falls as clean and as presentable as possible.
Since being formed in June 2010, when the country hosted the World Cup, the group have made vast improvements to the viewsite of the Howick Falls.
In the past, where visitors were met with filth and litter surrounding the shrubbery and railings overlooking the falls and were accosted by vagrants who camped out on the viewsite, the Friends of the Falls have cleaned up the area and assured that they will continue to do so.
Because of the intervention of the group, more dustbins have been situated near the viewsite and the stone and glass display board that once stood broken has now been restored to its former glory.
Led by Howick businessman Stan Goodenough, the Friends of the Falls is made up of a group of 10 volunteers from the Howick area, which include five tourism trainee volunteers.
These trainee volunteers are young people from the nearby Mphopomeni township who were initially part of a National Treasury programme which facilitated the youth in tourism projects around the country.
The programme saw more than 700 youth in KZN selected from across the province and then deployed at various tourism hotspots where they were trained in tourism hospitality.
When the programme came to an end in January, five of these trainees, Irvin Makhaye, 23; Zinhle Mncube, 21; Lungile Sibisi, 21; Londiwe Ngcobo, 22; and Nelisiwe Zumu, 24, were approached by Goodenough to become part of the group.
Makhaye said that this had been a confidence-boosting experience for him.
“I have gained so much knowledge about my environment,” he said.
Makhaye said that he would definitely be taking these lessons into the future because he was studying marketing through Unisa.
For Sibisi, the most rewarding aspect was interacting with people from around the world.
“I am developing new skills and also learning more about myself and have a newfound appreciation for the Howick Falls,” she said.
Goodenough said: “These young people are fantastic and are the mainstay of this organisation.”
Goodenough, 68, describes himself as a semi-retired businessman who settled with his family in Howick in 1961.
He said the idea for Friends of the Falls came about when he was a member of the KZN Skall Club, an international organisation and whose president, Frank Mchunu, is part of the Mphopomeni Zulu Tourism Experience.
“The club was hosting a conference in 2010 and our foreign members wanted to visit the falls. They were horrified after seeing the rubbish and litter around the viewsite and the cliff-face of the falls. It was really heartbreaking to see,” Goodenough said.
It was after this that he initiated the organisation.
“I could not bear our World Cup visitors to come to the Howick Falls and leave with a terrible first impression.”
The group started sweeping the streets around the view-site, picking up litter and giving the entire area a facelift.
According to Des Wright, the group collected nearly 5 tons of rubbish and broken bottles in the first week.
Goodenough even got into contact with professional abseilers who cleared the litter from the cliff-face, as well as from the shrubbery below the falls. At that time, 20 bags of litter was removed from the cliff-face itself.
Wright said: “To this day, we still start our day off sweeping the viewsite and ensuring that the visit to the falls is a most pleasant one for all who arrive here.”
Goodenough said that visitors were often very surprised to be greeted by the Friends of the Falls.
“They have expressed a real appreciation for what we do here. We recognise that apart from the locals, people travel a long way to view this magnificent waterfall and we just want to ensure that they leave here happy.
“It’s a matter of KZN pride,” Goodenough said.
According to statistics by the Friends of the Falls, as of May this year, visitors from 146 countries have made a trip to the Howick Falls, the majority of foreigners coming from England, the US, Holland, Germany, France, Belgium and Australia.
Locals also seem to love visiting the falls, with more than 6 000 visitors from KZN alone arriving at the viewsite in May.
The average total number of visitors (foreign and South African) a day to the falls ranged between 215 and 519 this past year.
Howick Falls has been touted as one of the prime tourist destinations along the KZN Midlands Meander.
The uMgeni River waterfall is about 95m high.