The annual Trail of Lights at Durban's Botanic Gardens enchants Candice Unsworth as she strolls through the gardens.
The annual Trail of Lights at Durban's Botanic Gardens enchants Candice Unsworth as she strolls through the gardens.

Man of a million lights

By Frank Chemaly Time of article published Dec 12, 2020

Share this article:

100 000 metres of fairy light strings, 15 000 metres of rope lighting, 30 000 metres of electrical wiring, more than 1 million lights and four back-up generators.

This gives one an idea of the monumental task of turning Durban’s Botanic Gardens into a Christmas wonderland for the annual trail of lights festival.

The Independent on Saturday spoke to Nevon Singh, the creative whose Magic Lighting has been behind the success of this annual Christmas spectacular.

The annual Trail of Lights at Durban's Botanic Gardens enchants Candice Unsworth as she strolls through the gardens.

It normally takes a team of 30 people three months to install the fairy wonderland, but this year, with the go-ahead only happening in the first week of October, the team have pulled out all the stops to get everything ship shape.

The creative planning starts even earlier, soon after the previous year’s installations have been dismantled.

This year viewers can expect a 12m-high walk-through Christmas tree, with two giant walk-through gift boxes, swans on the lake, butterflies hanging from the Champion Tree, a heart-shaped pathway of romance leading to the Kissing Tree, a fairy garden in the sunken garden and a pathway of stars.

No Trail of lights would be complete without Santa’s Grotto, this year themed as an African village complete with Zulu warriors and elephants.

The annual Trail of Lights at Durban’s Botanic Gardens enchants, with new displays.

Singh, who “studied electrical engineering 30-odd years ago”, soon ventured out into the events industry, starting with weddings. Today his company not only designs and builds lighting installations, but also manufactures the lights themselves.

Singh is also the man behind the city’s spectacular LED Christmas tree outside City Hall with its kaleidoscope of colours and pattern. He is also involved with erecting the tree of lights in Jamieson Park. “There are no Christmas holidays for me,” he jokes.

To create the Trail of lights requires a creative team to design the installations and a team to build them. “Everything is manufactured in panels and we bolt it together like Meccano,” he says.

There’s a planning team to make sure all the infrastructure, mainly cabling, is in the right place, and then a rigging team to put it all up. There’s an electrical safety team to make sure everything is compliant and then a maintenance team in place while the Trail of Lights is on.

Each year the Trail of Lights has grown, with more of the garden lit up. “This year we had hoped to do the whole garden, but we’ll do that next year,” he says confidently.

The annual Trail of Lights at Durban's Botanic Gardens enchants Candice Unsworth as she strolls through the Gardens.

Singh is also sensitive to the environment of the garden. “Our first brief is to respect the garden and not to destroy or damage the plants. This year we’ve built a walk-on platform to the Christmas tree so as not to turn the grass into a mud patch,” he says.

Martin Clement, curator of the Durban Botanic Gardens, said that in times of Covid-19 the gardens were a vital public green space.

“Access to public spaces is important for our physical and mental wellbeing with the gardens offering a sense of reprieve. They also promote a sense of civic pride and social cohesion through formal and informal programmes.”

He said the Trail of Lights celebrated the beauty and majesty of the gardens.

“Trail of Lights has a strong community and charitable focus. It celebrates what we love about the gardens – that it connects people and nature. It helps develop a sense of value and care for the Gardens that is important to secure its future and remains an important fundraiser for the Durban Botanic Gardens Trust.”

For Singh, it’s been a tough year with the Covid-19 lockdown, but he remains optimistic. “It is what it is,” he says. “But we have a lot to look forward to. When this subsides, events will overpower everything.”

The Trail of Lights opened last night (fri) and is on until December 30. Tickets for entry at 6pm, 7pm and 8pm are available from Webtickets and must be prebooked.

The Independent on Saturday

Share this article: