It’s easy to get lost in the scenery, and even easier to drive right past the Mnyameni Falls, as it’s not easy to see from the road, and there are no sign boards or tourist information around. Once you cross the river, drive on a few hundred metres and park next to a small outcrop. From here it’s a short walk to the top of the Mnyameni Falls, where you can look down into the gorge and lagoon carved by the river – it’s unnervingly high and potentially slippery, so proceed with caution.
The foot of the waterfall is accessible, but it’s a little tricky. If you follow the road another 100 metres or so further on from the outcrop, you’ll see a small waterfall on your left. From there you’ll see a river that descends over a series of cascades down a gorge – they’re easy enough to clamber down, though not recommended for smaller kids or the elderly, or if there’s been high rainfall and the river is flowing freely.
At the bottom you’ll be greeted by a large sandy beach and beautiful secluded lagoon, hemmed in on three sides by the waterfall and gorge. The lagoon gets really deep, really quickly, and although it’s not a long swim, it can feel a little intimidating to be at the bottom of a massive gorge. It’s worth the effort though, and there are a number of ledges you can clamber up onto to rest; best of all, you can swim right underneath the waterfall beneath a natural shelf, and if you’re feeling brave there are a few ledges you can climb up and jump off. Give yourself plenty of time here to swim, lounge on the sand and explore the river and gorge.
Bring your binos too – a number of birds nest on the cliffs, and there are some great little grassland and wetland species to spot in the area.
Need to know
Tensions are high between the local community and representatives of an Australian mining company and its local empowerment partner companies. The nearby Xolobeni sands, also known as the Red Desert, contain millions of tons of ilmenite and rutile, from which titanium is extracted, and the mining company has been trying to secure the rights to mine the sands for these deposits. If it goes ahead, this will displace people from their tribal lands – not to mention the environmental impact – and anti-mining community members have faced violent intimidation. Bear this in mind when heading into the area – be respectful to the locals and keep tabs on the local news to monitor tensions in the area.
What to pack
- Comfortable walking shoes
- Swimming gear
- Lots of water and sunscreen
Getting there and total travel time
It’s about an 80km round trip to Mnyameni Falls from the Mtamvuna River bridge, which serves as the border between the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal provinces, just south of the town of Port Edward. Bear in mind that the road can be heavy going, particularly if it’s rained in the preceding days.
Mnyameni Falls can be reached in a soft-roader with decent clearance, but if there’s mud it would be safer to try the roads in a 4x4 with diff lock. You’ll want to give yourself most of a day to explore the waterfall – both because travel time is slow, and you won’t want to leave too quickly once you arrive.
- Vehicle needed - 4x4 with diff lock
- Mnyameni Falls GPS co-ordinates: 31°9'1.728''S 30°4'16.895"E