The Red Desert was contained in navigation manuals as a sighting landmark for ships on their way up the Natal coast. Picture: Supplied.

You never know the treasures you have in your hometown unless you go in search of it, as I found when I stumbled across the world’s smallest deserts in the world in Port Edward, KwaZulu-Natal.

The Red Desert is located at the Red Desert Nature Reserve, a 180 hectare property in partnership between the Ray Nkonyeni Municipality (formerly Hibiscus Coast Municipality) and Mrs V.E Williams.

I was fortunate enough to wander through this almost 200 metre site during a visit to the South Coast recently.

The 15-minute tour left me feeling immense love for what the province of KwaZulu-Natal has to offer, especially with this hidden gem just an hour and a half away from Durban.

Matt Williams, the manager of the Red Desert Nature Reserve, gave our group of five a tour that highlighted some historical information of the site.

He said the desert got its red colour because of its high iron content and is an erosional landscape with “yardangs” (wind sculpted dune formations) and rhizoliths (signs of ancient plant roots).

“The Red Desert was contained in navigation manuals as a sighting landmark for ships on their way up the Natal coast.

“The desert dates back to the Late, Middle and Early Stone Age around 1.5 million years to the time of arrival of the first European settlers. The site is rich with threatened vegetation, special endemic plants and stone artefacts,” he told our group.

Clinton Moodley enjoys the 15 minute tour.

In 2015 the area was declared a nature reserve under the National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act No 57 of 2003. This was achieved with the assistance of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife under the Biodiversity Stewardship Programme.

The Red Desert Nature Reserve comprises several habitats from the coastal marine, grasslands, coastal forests, scarp and swamp forests, krantzes, desert, riverine and wetland. 

Travellers can either book private tours or visit themselves. The reserve does not charge an entrance fee. Once there, they can enjoy the scenery, bird watching, archaeology, hiking, mountain biking or trail running. Visitors with a passion for flowers can look out for the Phylica natalensis, a small low growing non-descript plant, Watsonia and Eriosema species, among other unique species.

Birders can keep an eye out for over 200 bird species, including the Gurneys Sugarbird, which is thought to be an altitudinal migrant moving between the Drakensberg and the Coast.

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