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Mnyameni Falls near Xolobeni on the northern Wild Coast is one of those magical waterfalls that we love. For starters, it is always a treat to explore a new section of our amazing country and in South Africa, that's not hard to do. Set in the Amadiba section of the Wild Coast, Mnyameni Falls is an easy day trip from KwaZulu-Natal's south coast or even Durban itself. Hidden from the road and off of the main tourist routes, Mnyameni Falls is a treasure waiting to be discovered and is the perfect reward for those who will make the effort to find it.
Mnyameni Falls is still a bit of a secret
Sure, the locals know about Mnyameni Falls but somehow it has escaped the busyness of some of the better known Wild Coast destinations. A road crosses the river at the top of the falls but Mnyameni Falls itself is hidden below the view of the road, and so most visitors drive right past it without stopping. Even if you stop your car to have a look, the river meanders down a series of small rocky cascades first before being channeled over the falls. Getting to the bottom of Mnyameni Falls can be a little tricky and involves a short hike down the side with a few rocky sections to scramble over. This means that if you have put in the effort to visit the falls, you're almost guaranteed to be the only people there!
Beautiful private beach at Mnyameni Falls
Arriving at the bottom of Mnyameni Falls, visitors are greeted by a wide sandy beach next to the pool. This beach feels like another world, as it is sheltered from the road and rest of the world above by the rocky walls of the cliffs themselves. Apart from the occasional cow or goat, there is little to disturb you as you while away the day lazing on the beach or swimming in the pool.
Swim through a narrow channel right up to the base of the falls
Exploring the watery environment of Mnyameni Falls has just the right dose of adventure. The falls plunge down a rocky wall and behind a ledge that juts out, creating an overhang over the pool below. This creates a bit of an optical illusion as the base of the falls is hidden from sight. On top of this, the pool below the falls is divided into an hourglass shape by the cliff walls that narrow at a point. This means that you will need to swim up the outer pool and through the gateway into the inner pool to reach the base of the falls. The inner pool is surrounded by cliffs and in here the sound of the falls is deafening. Mostly in shade, the water is freezing but the adventure makes it all worthwhile.
Our experience of Mnyameni Falls
Even though we have visited Mnyameni Falls a few times now, each visit still feels like an adventure. Navigating the roads to the falls is the first challenge and I'm sure, like us, you'll soon have a list of handwritten notes about landmarks and route markers you find along the way! Depending on the weather conditions the state of the dirt roads is ever changing and ranges from a relaxed uneventful drive to a test of 4x4 handling skills. And then as with other rivers, the amount of water entering the falls can change the nature and feel of the experience completely, and that is something that you will never know until you arrive.
We love going on adventures like this in groups. It is so much more fun to share amazing places like this with friends, and the groups somehow keep getting bigger and bigger as word about the trip spreads! There is also of course a safety benefit to being part of a group, and having two vehicles in the case of an emergency or one getting stuck. Be sure to pack a picnic because you will definitely want to spend the day in the area.
What to pack
- Good hiking boots.
- Sun cream.
- Water (there are no water points along the way - and DO NOT drink the river water!)
- Cell phone with saved emergency numbers and power bank.
- Swimming things.
- Picnic for the bottom.
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Need to know
Mnyameni Falls is a short drive south from Port Edward in KwaZulu-Natal (and approximately three hours' drive from Durban). Drivers must follow the R61 across the Umtamvuna River which marks the northern boundary of the Wild Coast. Turn left at the Umkolora sign onto a dirt road. Finding the falls (which isn't signposted) can be a little tricky but if you're up for an adventure, the best thing to do is to use the GPS coordinates 31°9'1.728''S 30°4'16.895"E. The dirt road's condition is fair in dry weather but if it has rained recently it would be best to make this drive in a 4x4 vehicle. There are no signs or markers for the falls so keep a sharp eye out for the small bridge across the river which marks the top of the falls. Check out the map at the bottom of this post
Cross the bridge then park your vehicle at the outcrop next to the road at the top of the falls. The route down follows the path of a secondary falls that has varying levels of flow. If it is in heavy flow we would recommend not trying to make the descent as the path will be very slippery and potentially dangerous. Watch out for loose rocks or patches of quicksand at the bottom. The hike is short but can be strenuous on the way back up.
As with any natural water body there is the risk of pathogens or bacteria in the water. Visitors swim at their own risk. Do not drink the water, and always be sure to thoroughly clean any cuts or scrapes and watch out for signs of infection.
Just a quick note
Because of it's rural location, your presence at Mnyameni Falls is likely to be noticed. When we visited last, a group of young kids came over to see what we were up to. It was our personal decision not to give these children money even though they wanted to act as our guide. Instead, we hung out with them a bit on the beach and at the end of our visit shared our lunch with them. How you choose to handle these kinds of situations is up to you, but at all times as a visitor we'd encourage you to be polite and respectful of the people living in the area.
Click on the map markers to follow the route to the Mnyameni Falls.