Paradise Valley Nature Reserve is situated along the Umbilo River, and covers an area of 100ha. The reserve offers a number of graded trails, and picnic and braai sites on the banks of the river. The reserve sees thousands upon thousands of people passing through it everyday, making it surely one of the most visited reserves in the world. However most of the human traffic through the reserve moves along the Paradise Valley viaduct which connects the M13 and the N3 highways, fifty meters above it. The Paradise Valley Nature reserve features a number of scenic picnic sites, public toilets, braai facilities, a car park and a visitors centre a beautiful waterfall, and a wide variety of fauna and flora , as well as much local history with about 80 mysterious burial mounds to be found there.
The reserve also offers visitors a variety of hiking trails which criss cross the area, and one which leads to Durban’s first water works which dates back to 1887. Back in the old days Durban relied on spring water and wells for its water supply, but as the town expanded it became necessary to build a waterworks to meet the demand. The municipality decided to construct a dam on the Umbilo River, and in 1884 purchased 19 hectare of land just upstream of the Umbilo waterfall. A storage dam with a capacity of 150 million liters, with an adjoining 27 megalitre settling dam were completed in July 1887, with 177cm pipes carrying water 12 km to the Umbilo waterworks. Materials needed for the massive project were delivered to Pinetown Bridge station (later known as Sarnia station) in Stapleton road. The remaining three kilometres was covered by ox-wagon along a gravel road specially built for the project.
The building of the dam served the small area of Pinetown whose population was only 300 in the late 19th Century rather well. Durbanites would catch the train to Pinetown Bridge and then make their way down to “The Waterworks” for a day’s picnicking, boating, fishing, and hiking. Then, a short time later in 1905, a massive flood came that absolutely destroyed Durban’s Umbilo dam. In a space of just 15 hours almost half a meter of rain fell, and large amounts of debris blocked the river at Pinetown Bridge. The remains of railway bridge which can still be seen in Stapleton Road near the block factory, eventually gave way and the enormous volume of water rushed on to the storage dam, which collapsed and unleashed 150 megalitres of water. The resulting tidal wave killed hundreds of people and destroyed many homes on the lower Umbilo riverbanks. By then, Durban had sourced alternative water supplies so the dam was abandoned and never rebuilt.
Today Paradise valley nature reserve is home to a variety of wildlife which includes bushbuck, blue duiker, water mongoose, slender mongoose, otter, and numerous species of bats and birds. In 1928 more history of the reserve was recorded when the famous Huberta the Hippo made her way through it. Huberta set of from St.Lucia, passing through Stanger as she moved southwards. After four months the hippo reached Durban North, and continued for another month until it was said that she had reached the Umbilo Waterworks. Her journey had captured the imagination of the entire country, and so two local police officers decided to pay the area a visit to investigate. They located Huberta, and managed to take a few photographs, before she took offense and charged them.