Geography of KwaZulu-Natal Continued
Table Mountain and Karoo Series
The former’s sandy rock strata are the lowest, and therefore oldest, in the series overlaid on Basement granites, and make most of the spectacular cliffs and plateaus found lateral to this granite foundation. In the western reaches of Durban Metro, within the Kloof and Hillcrest areas of our Valley of a Thousand Hills, are picture-perfect examples of such scenery. A few kilometres beyond, at the beginning of a Midlands tourism route known as The Amble, our own 960-metre Table Mountain is perhaps the finest of all, while also providing panoramic vistas of the entire region. Further breathtaking views can be enjoyed in southern Zululand, particularly when following the Thukela River inland to Kranskop, where the bastion rises to 920m above the riverbed to afford perspectives bettered only by those from the majestic Drakensberg.
Southern Africa’s most famous rock system is that which lies on top of the Table Mountain Series – the Karoo stack of sedimentary strata crowned by volcanic lava flows. Each is several thousands of metres thick and extends over three- fifths of the province, thus responsible for many of its typical landforms. The Karoo System is subdivided into four successive sedimentary series, with each named after a typically occurring locality.
Dwyka, Ecca, Beaufort and Stormberg
The Dwyka Series crops out in the eastern part of the province only and was originally mud, diagnosed by scientists as over 200 million years old and transported by ancient glaciers. It is calculated that in northern KwaZulu- Natal the icepack moved in from what are now the Transvaal highlands, while evidence in the coastal belt indicates that glaciers arrived from the northeast – current location of the Indian Ocean. The above-mentioned Table Mountain has glacier evidence, as does seaside Durban, just a short drive from its lush, subtropical Botanic Gardens - all further proof of our ‘Gondwanaland Connection’. Dwyka was first declared a glacial deposit in 1859, only the second such diagnosis anywhere in the world, and has now been quarried in Durban for over a century-and-a- half.
The succeeding Ecca shales are prominent in both the Midlands and coalfields of northern KwaZulu-Natal which fall within our historic Battlefields tourism route. Sandstones of the Middle Ecca form the productive coal measures, and also create the minor escarpments notable in that particular region. The Ecca Series total some 700 metres in thickness and were originally laid down in large bodies of fresh water. Our province’s distinctive red bricks result from the Ecca shale’s high iron content, which imparts the trademark colour under kiln firing.
Beaufort shales highlight rugged country into the Drakensberg foothills, but in Gondwanaland formed the vast alluvial flats and swamps where ancient reptiles sought warmth and sustenance. For this reason, fossilised remains have lain imbedded in these shales for some 200 million years. As the visitor will easily see, almost the entire face of the Drakensberg range is composed of the Stormberg Series’ four stages – Molteno, Red Beds, Cave Sandstone and Drakensberg Basalts. Fossil plants in the primary, Molteno stage, indicate its origin as Triassic and dating back some 150 million years. Both Red Beds and Cave Sandstone continue to yield rare fossil bones of early dinosaurs, with the latter further indicating a phase of desert environment. The lava flows that then erupted in Early Jurassic time piled up enormously, and the Mont-aux-Sources displays Drakensberg Basalts 1350 metres thick. (Visit our Drakensberg site for a more detailed, comprehensive geological analysis.)
Above and Below
Volcanic debris in the Lebombo Mountains of Zululand’s northeastern Maputaland quadrant has been measured at almost 8000 metres in height. Between these mountains and the sea lies our widest area of coastal belt, a stretch that alternated between shoreline and seabed for millions of years in each cycle following the breakup of Gondwanaland. As a result, the richest fossil-bearing bed in all South Africa now runs from Richards Bay through the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park World Heritage Site to our borders with Mozambique and Swaziland. Giant sharks once cruised above this former ocean bottom where over 100 species of shellfish and other molluscs browsed. This ebbing and flowing of the ocean saw many of the primal bays and lakes fill with geological debris.
A Tragic Tale
First inhabitants to enjoy the bounties of what became a subtropical paradise teeming with wildlife were the ochre- skinned San hunter-gatherers, who traversed its length and breadth while evolving unmolested from Early to Later Stone Age. Caves in the oft-mentioned Lebombo Mountains show evidence of what is believed to be humankind’s first use of fire and burial of the dead. Caves in the Drakensberg mountains were the San’s other summer retreat from coastal humidity, and these turned out to be their final fastness.
First, the San were displaced from their Lebombo Mountains corridor by the earliest waves of black clans to migrate down the eastern seaboard from the Great Lakes of Central Africa. Succeeding pulses of new arrivals from there pushed the San further and further into the interior. The arrival of white pioneers then drove them into the Drakensberg range, from where the San were reduced to thieving settler livestock in order to survive. So- called ‘punishment sorties’ by a British Army with orders to “exterminate like vermin” saw the San extinct before the 20th Century dawned. All that now remains are the irreplaceable and priceless rock paintings that were largely responsible for our uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park achieving World Heritage Site status.
For All to See
Each of our Zulu Kingdom’s varied destinations – Durban Metro, South Coast, North Coast, Zululand, East Griqualand, Midlands and northern Battlefields - is endowed with clearly visible, fascinating glimpses into the history of our planet. One need not be armed with a foreknowledge of geological terms and timetables to appreciate the epic nature of the processes involved, nor how evolution is flux- in-progress more and more affected by the vagaries of modern humankind. The visitor to our unsurpassed natural wonderland will also realise why KwaZulu-Natal boasts a well-earned reputation as pathfinder in the vitally important field of conservation.