East Coast Abundance – Figs, Flowers and Footprints

There is a fabulous fig growing in the garden of the cottage in Fig Tree Lane.  Over the years, we have watched it consume the original tree (probably a Milkwood).   Figs are fabulous wildlife trees, providing food for a myriad of species including  butterflies, birds, buck, bats and of course,  monkeys.r fig tree lane pennington 303

We were well entertained by troops of energetic monkeys throughout our stay.  There seemed to be lots of little ones about, swishing through the garden, bouncing on the roof and feasting on the fruit of another fig tree right next to the verandah.  They drop part of the fruit that they pick so that other animals like bushbuck and porcupines can forage under the trees for it.  Obviously, the buck population would be compromised if all the monkeys disappeared.

r fig fruit fig tree lane

Pennington is a monkey friendly town though, so there is no chance of that happening. It is also a firework free zone – how cool is that?

r cussionia monkey

The cottage garden is wild and wonderful.  Much of the original dune vegetation is intact. This means it is shady and cool. It is always interesting to find familiar trees in other places, like Harpephyllum caffrum and this splendid knobwood.

r knobwood

All of them providing habitats for wild things, including a Cardinal Woodpecker which spent lots of time tap tapping in the tree next to us.

r cardinal woodpecker

Then of course, there are the unfamiliar things which have us puzzling over the id books – like this Barringtonia racemosa with huge quilted leaves and pods dangling on long stalks.

r barringtonia

We love the Waterberry tree which is everywhere on the coast – Syzygium cordatum. Many things in the area are named Umdoni (the Zulu name) after it. The Milkwoods, Strelizias and aloes are all so different from the Midlands too.

r aloe

I came across this pretty little groundcover for the first time – Phaulopsis imbricata – in a sunny patch.

r phaulopsis imbricata

African cucumber, Momordica balsamina, was trailing all over the shrubbery. The leaves can be cooked as spinach, but I didn’t think they’d be at their best in mid-winter, so didn’t try.

r momordica balsamina

Walking along paths in the dune forest we saw a blue duiker duck into the undergrowth which was a treat and also a couple of families of banded mongoose. They dashed past squeaking loudly!  Obviously too quick for my camera, but I did spot these footprints beside some big rocks on the beach, which I think were theirs.

r mongoose prints

I love the transistion zone, where the forest edges onto the sand.   Carpobrotus dimidiatus – the leaf sap is a perfect remedy for blue bottle stings, sunburn and scratches. It grows so well in Midlands gardens too which is surprising.

r carpobrotus dimidiatus

All along the beach, there are aloes in flower – bright flames of colour against the dark green foliage.  This area is remarkable in that so much of the original vegetation is protected, unlike a lot of the rest of the KZN coast.

r beach aloe

I am always surprised to see birds on the beach! Well this hadeda was not actually in the sand, just enjoying a good view of the waves from the edge of the scrub.

r hadeda

Woolly necked Storks, which seem to be very adaptable (there are masses in Howick now) were foraging in the rock pools and a delight to sit and watch for a while.

r wooly necked stork

Oh, and aren’t these tiny birds adorable? Dashing up and down with each wave on the shoreline. I presume they are sandpipers or stints, but am not sure.

r sand bird

I wondered who had left these dainty prints all across the dunes?

r bird prints

And who had once lived in this shell?

r beach shell

Where do you think this tree grew up?

r driftwood

Dassies were often spotted basking on the hot rocks. Jolly different from the edges of the mist belt forest at home!

r beach rocks

One has to be in awe of the tough inhabitants of the rocky shores. Imagine, half the day underwater and the other half exposed to the baking sun. Incredible how creatures have adapted to survive (and thrive) in these conditions. It did make me very careful where I trod while exploring the rock pools.

r rock pool


r bubbles in oyster shell

The Pennington Conservancy is every active and doing an astonishing job of clearing invasive vegetation and replanting with indigenous.  I did like the line of cheery aloes all along the railway line.

r yellow aloe railway line

At the uMphiti Kiosk they have wonderful information boards about some of the species found in the area – from Humpbacked Whales, to Painted Reedfrogs and Banded Mongoose.  I am certainly inspired to do something similar in Dargle.

r pennington info boards

Of course, my absolute favourite creatures on the beach were our very own East Coast Rockhoppers – who had an absolute ball!

r sush dizz

As we said good bye to Pennington and headed for home, scarlet Erythrina lysistemon lined the coastal roads.  Abundance is a perfect word to describe our East Coast. Exuberant would be another.

r erythrina

7 Comments Add yours

  1. Corinne Winson says:

    Thank you so much, Nikki, for show-casing our glorious South-East Coast. Just a km or so inland, in the Amanzimtoti area, we have two small areas of unique biodiversity : Ilanda Wilds and the Amanzimtoti Bird Sanctuary.


    1. Thanks Corrine – the South Coast truly is wonderful. I will add those treasures to my “to do one day” list.


  2. Bridget Ringdahl says:

    What a simply enchanting spot!! The east coast coastal veg has to be some of my most favourite in the world! PS is this cottage open for others to rent?


    1. Yes, contact Rose Willams at rose@biowatch.org.za to hire the cottage in Fig Tree Lane.


  3. Sarah Ellis says:

    Hi Nikki

    I have so enjoyed your writings on your trip to Pennington and trust you have returned home refreshed and inspired! You needed the break and you deserved it!

    FYI the little bird in this blog is a white-fronted plover – a beautiful bird and a beautiful pic!

    Many thanks and keep well,

    Lol Sarah x


    1. Thanks Sarah, I have checked in the book and that is it! So glad you enjoyed the tales from the oh-so-retro South Coast. It is still so gloriously unpretentious – the smell of sugar cane burning, Zulu kids fishing on the beach, salty beach buggys zooting along, banana trees everywhere. And the delightful uMphiti Kiosk where you can get a Roast Sunday lunch (with old fashioned peach cobbler for desert) for only R65. I didn’t take up the offer, but was charmed none the less. xxx


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