By Ann-Kathrin Schewe (Durban Green Corridor Volunteer)
On a Sunday afternoon, my friend Marie and I drove up to Mkhizwana, a place in the middle of the Valley of a 1000 Hills, about 45min from Durban. Already from the car, it was easy to guess how the area got its name:
The number of hills, peaks, valleys and dells was not even close to being countable, but all were covered by beautiful green forest, cute little Zulu huts and the impressive banks of Umgeni River that find its way from here all the way to the estuary in Durban North.
We arrived and were welcomed by Bo, the owner of Mkhizwana stables and our horses which were already tacked up for our tour. Bo explained to us that horse keeping is pretty natural in the valley: His horses stay on a large field with trees and grass and every morning, the fence is opened for them to go out and enjoy their freedom on the hillsides of the valley, without any streets, cars or big settlements near by to be of danger to them. They return to the stables every night by themselves in time for their dinner! :)
After a little talk about our horse-riding abilities, Bo allocated the horses to us: A little chestnut gelding for me, that proved to be a sporty, but easy to control lead horse, which totally met my expectations of a little speed and rideability. My friend Marie was a bit insecure at first as her last ride was some years ago, but she quickly gained confidence on the tall bay gelding she got as she discovered his calm and easy character. We mounted and off we were! First, we rode through a Zulu village where we seemed to be a main attraction to the kids that played around the houses – good that I had learned how to greet them back in Zulu – lots of “Sawubona!” and “Sanibonani!” was exchanged.
Following an uphill sand road with no traffic at all, we got higher up and the Umgeni river bank started to reveal itself. Bo pointed out the source of the Umgeni River below us in the valley, which is created through the junction of two smaller streams. After going up and down some hills in wonderful and pristine green and red-brownish landscape, we finally reached the plateau where we stopped and enjoyed the breath-taking view: Over the countless hills and up to Inanda Dam, where Umgeni River is dammed up to produce big parts of Durban's drinking water. This was my Queen of the Valley moment!
Going back, I got the chance to test my little sports horse. Bo is a professional trotter trainer at one of the race courses and my little horse has been trained by him, too, which was a new and a little bit bumpy experience for me, as I have never been riding a trotter before! When it got too bumpy though, I was able to convince the little one of a canter instead of a race trot – and found those many hills quite suitable to dash up! ;)
Altogether, Marie and me really enjoyed this unique and authentic experience, far away from any touristy paths and in a beautiful, diverse and untouched environment that is, of course!, best explored from the comfort of a four-legged friend's back!