Red Desert
Nature Reserve

Notes on the Red Desert at Port Edward – compiled by AAB Williams

The “Red Desert” had been known for many years and, in fact, its description was contained in navigation manuals as a sighting landmark for ships on their way up the Natal coast.

Prof. L.C.King of the Natal University College wrote an article in 1953 about the red desertinas and quoted the following from Dr G.B. Thompson of Bizana about the lower or older desertina : “The first red desert was already there before my father arrived (in about 1880). When he related a history of the red desert he stated that Chaka, Chef of the Zulus, passed his armies hereabout and with the cattle he captured may have begun this desert.” Of the upper, younger miniature desert he records : “The other had shown itself after Stafford had built his kraal and store …. Continued to what it is now and may have been caused by his cattle.” King went on “Today’s scenic beauty is also today’s warning.” According to him the medium upon which the typical wind-chiselled landforms or yardangs have been sculptured is a consolidated, coastal, red sand probably of Pleistocene age. Sands of this type have been recorded at intervals along the eastern coast of Africa from Mombasa to Pondoland (like the Berea Red Sand in Durban, or the “muceque” in Maputo). Following accumulation of the red sands, boulder beds were laid down consisting of sandstone or granite, all superbly rounded and polished by water action. Certain boulders have been used in the manufacture of Stone Age implements (130 000 years old or more) which lie scattered over the eroded surface of this precious archaeological site – there is scope for much more research to establish the origin, age and correlation of these artefacts with others near Izotsha, recently found in the Transkei, or from better known sites in the Cape.