Copyright: MCSA-KZN 2007 ©
The oNgoye Hills are located in Zululand about 150 km north of Durban. They are about 15 km inland and run parallel to the coast between Eshowe and Empangeni. The oNgoye Forest Reserve is about 4000 hectares in extent and includes the remnants of a once extensive coastal forest as well as rolling grasslands with rocky outcrops. There are spectacular views out over the coastal plains and across to the Indian Ocean as well as inland views over the historic Nkwaleni Valley. The reserve is easily accessible, safe, a nature lover's paradise and as a bonus it has interesting climbing on granite boulders and slabs.
Link to Route Descriptions.
The climbing is on granite and is totally different from the usual sandstone crags that are so familiar to KZN climbers. There are two climbable boulders close to the camp and a granite slab on the escarpment facing the sea. You can follow the shade and avoid the Zululand heat by climbing on the Barbet and Baboon Boulders in the morning and then moving across to the oNgoye slabs in the afternoon. There are currently about 25 routes in grades between 9 and 15 that range in length from about 10m to 30m. Because there is no significant gear, most of the routes have been bolted. It is difficult to grade routes on this type of rock so please treat the stated grades as a rough guide only. Your comments on the grades and star ratings of the routes would be appreciated. Hopefully a consensus will soon be reached. Please send me any corrections, updates or comments – see "Contact Details" below.
Frictioning up these granite slabs makes you acutely aware of your feet and your balance and dramatically focuses your attention on these aspects of your climbing technique. There is a lot of potential for new routes and bouldering in the area. The oNgoye is a beautiful, secluded and little visited wilderness area. So if you want to tick off the endemic Green Barbet, the oNgoye Red Squirrel and some pleasant routes on granite, all in one trip, then this is the ONLY place you can do it!
Please note this observation of Anthony van Tonder, a 20+ climber, "However, the climbing is a lot trickier than the grades would indicate!" So please do not be put off from visiting this magic area by the apparently easy grades! This is an interesting venue both from an environmental and from a climbing point of view.
Take the N2 Toll Road north from Durban. Approximately 150 km north of Durban take the off-ramp at the Mtunzini Toll Plaza. At the top of the off-ramp turn left (right takes you to the village of Mtunzini). After about 1 km you reach a T-junction next to the Road Island Service Station where you can buy any last minute provisions. Turn right onto the "old main road" – the R102. Head north for about 11,5 km until you see a large marula tree and an abandoned petrol station on your left. Immediately before these turn left onto the P525. This is a winding tar road that is badly potholed, with many pedestrians, animals and taxis – proceed carefully! After about 4,5 km the tar ends. At this point turn off to the right onto the D1554, immediately cross a bridge over a small stream. Continue along this winding dirt road which is good, but rough. After about 4,0 km you will see, up on your left, at 150 m intervals, an old church, a graveyard and a school. About 200 m after the last school buildings, and about 4,5 km from the previous turn off, take a turn-off diagonally to the right. This track goes into a dip and then across a ford. Drive slowly and carefully through the ford – it's depth varies with the season but can usually be negotiated by a "normal" sedan. About 50 m after the ford you will see a pair of concrete strips leading up the hill. Continue carefully along the concrete tracks which wind up through the forest and end in grasslands at the top of the hills. At this point there is a big map on a sign board that requires some creative thinking because it has no "You Are Here" marked! Anyway, as soon as the concrete strips end, turn right and follow the track through open grassland for about another kilometer until you see some buildings ahead. The offices are in the enclosure on the left and the camping area is in the enclosure on the right. Check in at the office and PAY before proceeding.
Now that the concrete strips have been completed 'normal' cars can reach the Reserve and climbing areas quite easily. A bakkie or other high clearance vehicle will have no trouble getting there but will be limited in the areas they could access within the reserve. A 4WD would cruise up and give access to numerous vague tracks within the reserve – these also provide some interesting routes for MT biking.
A birders' lodge has recently been opened to the public. It is located at a lovely spot just within the forest (see MAP) and is easily accessed by normal vehicles. It can be booked by contacting Sue Anderson of Bird Life Travel on 082 777 7202 or at email@example.com. The rates are R150 per person per night with a minimum charge of R450 per night. The lodge has 3 bedrooms with twin beds. Bed linen and towels are provided. There is also a bathroom with a bath, shower and toilet and an open plan lounge, dining room and kitchen. The kitchen has a gas fridge, gas stove and sufficient crockery and cutlery for 6 people. There is no electricity and lighting is provided by paraffin lamps. Outside there is a veranda and braai area. If you book the lodge you need to bring your own food, torches, toiletries and braai wood.
The camping area (see MAP) is fully fenced and reasonably secure but there are no trees for shade. The ablution blocks are not yet functional and it is necessary to bring EVERYTHING you need with you, especially water. There is currently nowhere to bath except for some tiny forest streams. These carry good populations of indigenous barbus minnows and much else beside – NO SOAP PLEASE !!!! Copyright: MCSA-KZN 2007 © Eco-friendly bush-toilet methods are required. Should you be unfamiliar with these please treat yourself to a copy of Kathleen Meyer's classic book, "How to Shit in the Woods". If you are desperate, there is an old long drop just beyond the abandoned fire lookout tower - if you can make it that far in time! If "living close to nature" doesn't suit you, then go and wallow in luxury in the coastal village of Mtunzini and drive up to the reserve each day.
Apart from rock climbing you can go hiking, MT biking, bird watching and star gazing at night. The venue provides a wide variety of subjects for enthusiastic photographers. It is also an ideal venue to just "get away from it all" and do absolutely nothing for an idyllic and relaxing weekend!
Currently, all visitors are required to pay an entry fee of R10 per person. For day visitors there are no further costs, but people who stay overnight must pay R10 per person per night for camping. Please bring the correct amount of money with you as the office does not keep a ready supply of cash to provide change. Also, visitors arrive so infrequently that it is impractical to man the office around the clock. So if you arrive and find the office closed, please give a blast on your hooter and wait patiently for attention. It is YOUR responsibility to pay and NOT their responsibility to collect. Since climbers are a new "user group" please do everything possible to maintain good relations with the authorities. Please do not haggle about half price for children, half days, etc. – just pay the trivial fees requested and be grateful for the privilege of access to this beautiful area.
There are no serious security risks in this area and you are probably safer here than you are walking down the road to your local café. The local population has right of access to the Reserve. They frequently walk though the Reserve along one of several major pathways and routinely graze their cattle on the grasslands within the Reserve. It is unfair to put temptation under the noses of these largely impoverished rural people so exercise caution where necessary and lock your valuables away out of sight in the boot of your car. A major "through-path" runs along the track leading past the Barbet Boulder but the Baboon Boulder and oNgoye Slabs are far from any passing traffic. Vervet monkeys patrol the area so it is best to pack all food away securely before going riding, hiking or climbing. There is good cell phone reception in most areas.
Security Update: Whilst it has apparently never happened before, a visitor in June 2008 had R30 000 damage done to his Land Rover by – wait for it – Ground Hornbills !!! – that were savagely attacking their reflections in the panels of the vehicle. His insurance did eventually pay, but whilst you are climbing I suggest that you take a rifle with telescopic sights and a Weber braai – they taste better than Christmas Turkeys when stuffed and roasted. Seriously though, keep an eye out for this remote but expensive possibility, although it is actually quite an honour to be panel beaten by this scarce and intriguing species.
Spectacular, panoramic views and walks though pristine forest and beautiful, park-like uplands provide the backdrop for the oNgoye "specials". These include the endemic Green Barbet, the Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon, the oNgoye Red Squirrel and the Zululand Dwarf Chameleon. Apart from these, numerous other rare species are routinely observed here. These include the Ground Hornbill, Green Twinspot, Orange and Yellow Throated Longclaws, Narina Trogon, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Samango monkeys, blue duiker, thick-tailed bushbaby, forest green butterfly and many more. Because of the mixture of forest, grassland and rocky outcrops, the flora is extremely diverse and the only known specimen of the cycad, Encephalartos woodii, was found here in 1895. The Zululand Birding Route web site contains details of the many rare and unusual plants, birds and animals that may be seen here.
The main attractions of the reserve are probably the Green Barbet and the oNgoye Red Squirrel. To virtually guarantee a good view of these and other species, it is possible to hire local guides who are extremely proficient. They must be booked in advance via the contact details on the Zululand Birding Route web site.
Permission has been obtained from the relevant authorities to bolt the existing routes on condition that a "minimum visibility" approach is adopted. The bolts may be difficult to spot because the first bolts tend to be high up and the bolts have been painted a matt brown or grey. Permission must be obtained to bolt any new routes. This is unlikely to be refused as long as bolting activities do not affect the wilderness atmosphere.
Each bolt placing costs about R40 for the hardware alone. I have squandered a large part of the family fortune on bolting routes at this venue. If you have enjoyed climbing these routes and are in a position to do so, then I'd be extremely grateful to receive a donation to the oNgoye Bolting Fund in order finance further development. So far contributions have been received from: Bruce Tomalin, Carl Fatti, Ian Cox, John Sargood and the MCSA-KZN - if you want to see your name here, then you know what to do !
Top-roping from below on many of these rough and easy angled slabs could cause a lot of rope drag and wear and tear on the ropes. However, if you are not keen to lead then, at the top of most routes, there is a bolt set far back that is easily accessible from above where belayers can secure themselves to top-rope climbers from above. Chains for top roping have been placed on some routes, but only if they are out of sight of the general population and if the rope drag is not too great.
New route information, corrections or constructive comments may be sent to Gavin Peckham at firstname.lastname@example.org