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The Recent History of the Palmiet dates back some 200 years. A wild and untamed place full of pythons and leopards. The geology page goes back 300 million years showing how the Palmiet evolved from a desert through an ice age with glaciers to the present day.

The Palmiet Nature Reserve is located in Westville which forms part of the eThekweni (Durban) Metro Region of South Africa. The reserve and river is named after the riverine plant Prionium serratum (Palmiet) which was formerly abundant in the area. The Palmiet Valley was well known to the original families from Germany who settled here in 1848. It was through this wild rugged valley that they travelled to attend church or to visit friends in neighbouring New Germany. The route followed the present day Old New Germany Road, which is now the starting point of the Palmiet Trail into the Nature Reserve. An interesting description of the Palmiet Valley is given in the book "Letters of a Natal Sheriff" edited by R.N. Currey. It appeared in the"Natal Witness" on the 11th April 1851 written by Thomas Phipson. He describes the road between Durban and New Germany

"One piece of landscape on a small scale struck us most forcibly. It was a retired gorge or ravine shut in on one side by overhanging cliffs, and barely accessible on the other by a descent as steep as a ladder. In the bottom ran a gurgling stream of cool and limpid water; while all around thick wood, in many places quite safe from apprehension of the axe, hung over and enclosed the grey rocky glen" (Thomas Phipson 1851)

Jan Hofmeyr Road was the old ox-wagon route from Durban which followed the watershed into the interior. This also served as the main road until the present four-lane highway was opened in 1948. There is some doubt about the exact location of the famous Outspan Tree, but it is known that the former wild fig tree (Ficus natalensis) in Jan Hofmeyr road was an outspan. From here it was an easy matter to hunt in the nearby wild Palmiet valley. E.R. Browne, a former Mayor of Westville, recalls a frightening experience which happened in 1875. Huntley operated the twice weekly post-cart between Durban and Pietermaritzburg. One day his children went down to the Palmiet river near the Cascades to play and swim. One of the children was encircled by a 20 foot (6m) python. Help was summoned from the Berea West farm of Mr Konigkramer, a pioneer German settler. Konigkramer together with his staff rushed to the scene with his rifle and shot the snake which was still coiled round the unfortunate child, who by this time was blue. The farmhands had to chop the snake off with bush knives. It was probably this incident which caused Huntley to abandon the post-cart service.

Another story is told of a farmer who lived on the northern side of the valley. While gathering up his potato crop he was attacked by a lion. From 1875 the wild character of the valley from Old New Germany Road downstream changed considerably when Indian market gardeners were given title to small holdings on the steep slopes. Remnants of their crops can still be seen on the Palmiet Trail before the Reserve is entered. An old Westville resident, Dr. I. Harrison, who lived in Northcliffe Avenue, remembers going to swim near the Cascades in the 1930's. The valley sides from Northcliffe Avenue were cultivated with bananas, pineapples, mangoes and pawpaws. The valley was more open than it is today making it easier to see the prolific bird life. She has memories of sighting numerous kingfishers and owls while masses of Agapanthus grew on the krantzes and several large Cape Chestnuts {Calodendroll capense} provided a brilliant display of colour in summer. It would seem that it was only the inaccessible parts, such as the cliff-faces, that were in many places quite safe from "apprehension of the axe", as quoted earlier. Such places are probably very much the same today as they were over a hundred years ago.


What is the Value of the Reserve?

Not only will future generations be able to see a remnant of the wild valley as it was known to our pioneers, but we will have an area which is invaluable for educational purposes. Dr. E. Malherbe, former Principal of the University of Natal, once said: "Living with nature is one of the best ways of educating our future leaders while the concrete jungle of the city is one of the worst".

Great emphasis is being placed upon environmental education and ecology overseas. Robert Allen, an editor of the "Ecologist" wrote "A good understanding of the ecological processes and how ecosystems work, and of what happens when man tampers with them is possibly more important than the three R's".

Palmiet Nature Reserve12 Jan 2005
Copyright © 2014 All Rights Reserved

Michael Cottrell
The Palmiet Nature Reserve (PNR) opened in September 1972. However its history goes back thousands of years before this time. A Stone Age implement found dates to 40 000 years or older. Evidence has been found, in recent excavations in PNR, of iron age artifacts, dating to between 1700 and 800 years ago linked to people, from which the present Zulu culture evolved, who would have roamed the Palmiet River valley and well before the later European settlers in the area.

A two and a half page description of the rugged Palmiet River valley is found in the book The History and Geography of Natal , by Henry Brooks, which was published in 1876. The frontispiece of this book has a coloured woodcut picture of the Cascade.
Acknowledgement : Mary Lange, of the Circle Connection and researcher on the cultural heritage in PNR, is thanked for information supplied in the first paragraph.

Michael Cottrell

In 1968 a small group of concerned residents, Professor Corrie Schoute-Vanneck, Dorothy McLean, Marian Dawe and myself, pressed the then Westville Town Council to establish a Nature Reserve in the Palmiet valley. Some four years later, on 6 September 1972, the Palmiet Nature Reserve (PNR) opened to the public with a trail for the local councillors and officials. The early hiking trails were made by scholars from Westville Boys' High School, who were excused from watching rugby if they participated in this activity. The PNR ensured that the wild heritage and scenic beauty would be spared from development. This enables present and future generations to enjoy what the pioneers and original inhabitants had known.

After an initial reluctance to establish the PNR, the Council became enthusiastic with the concept and over the years expanded it from its original 13 ha to a viable small Nature Reserve of almost 100 ha. The Estates Manager, Peter Brigg, is acknowledged for this expansion. The management was placed in the hands of a committee which embraced the local community, Councillors and Municipal officials. This Management Committee survives today and, as far as can be ascertained, the PNR is unique in that it is the only community-managed nature reserve in the Durban Municipal area. The City employs a manager and environmental officer, Stephen Butler, three field rangers and an alien weed removal team to manage the Nature Reserve. Numerous volunteers assist with the trail and education programme as well as wider projects.


Research in many fields features prominently. Professor Steven Piper is a world authority on wagtails, especially the Longtailed Wagtail, as a result of his ongoing research of many years. The Longtailed Wagtail is the bird emblem of the PNR. Various other research projects have been undertaken over the years, some on-going. The discovery, by a school boy, Murray Chabant, in the 1970s, of a stone age implement and the dig by Mary Lange which yielded iron age artefacts, has created much interest. This will, hopefully, lead to a structured education programme with a cultural centre.

The PNR offers diverse ecological and wildlife habitats. It is home to more than 150 bird and 170 tree species. It is a haven of solitude in the heart of the residential suburb of Westville. There are about 15 kilometres of hiking trails, including those extending into the University of KwaZulu-Natal Westville Campus Conservancy . It offers many educational and recreational opportunities for scholars, residents and visitors from further afield. It is thus an important component of the eThekwini Metropolitan Open Space System (MOSS). [PNR Hist 2 doc]




Prionium serratum (Palmiet)


Palmiet River Photo Clive Read
An early post Wagon Photo Bergtheil Museum


 Westville Garage Photo Bergtheil Museum
Photo Bruce Clemence

Dear Steve & Team,
I was going through my rather worn and battered "Hiking Trails of South Africa" and it was with a bit of nostalgia that I came across the entry for the Palmiet Nature Reserve. I moved to Westville from the Bluff in 1965 and my parents built in the then almost wild Westville North. I and my friends would walk the then dirt roads of Westville North down to the old soccer ground at the bottom of Stanley Teale Rd. Perth road was dirt and Stanley Teale road a path. We would spend hours playing and swimming in the river. Never mind that it had Bilharzia. Fortunately I have never contracted the disease. One of this merry band was John Dives, who went to Cedara before joining the then Natal Parks Board. In 1970, I was a member Westville Boys High track and cross-country team. Our cross-country races would start on the bottom soccer ground and run upriver on the southern/left bank before crossing and looping back onto and up Stanley Teal Rd. It would then make its way across country (there were few houses then) to Pitlochry Rd and head towards the University. Just as the route got to the University it would turn back into the reserve running down the spur. At the river the route would then turn up river until it was below Mr Cotterel's house where it would climb in a zig zag up to his driveway. This was known as Heartbreak hill. We would then cross Jan Hofmeyer Rd in front of Handy Green Grocers and finish at the school Pavilion. This was recognised as one of the hardest cross country courses in Natal, especially as the hardest part was the last climb from the river up to the school.We spent many weekends over the years in the reserve, panga in hand assisting to clear the tracks with Mr Cotterel and members of the school's Geographic Society (as it was known then).

John "Jack" Halsted Sandhurst Berkshire UK May 2005

After campaigning for 4 years with the then Westville Municipality , the PNR officially opened in 1972 with the land-use classification of a Public Open Space. In December 1992 Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife declared the PNR a Site of Conservation Significance. The present enhanced status is thus a culmination 38 years of securing the adequate conservation of this area . [PNR Proclamation 2006]

The good news is that, on 1st June 2006, Palmiet Nature Reserve was officially proclaimed a Nature Reserve, ie a protected area in terms of the KZN Nature Conservation Management Act, by the KwaZulu-Natal Province . This concludes a process which commenced in 1989. The Manager, Steve Butler, is thanked for his tireless work in securing this enhanced protection status for the PNR, which is the only Municipal Reserve in eThekwini to have this proclamation.