The world’s smallest desert

Recently I found out about the world’s smallest desert – right on my doorstep in South Africa.

170 km from Durban next to a small town called Port Edward, lays the Red Desert. This desert is only 11 hectares ‘small’ and can be compared to (a much smaller version of) the Arizona desert in the US.

You can feast your eyes on miniature hills and valleys made from naked red soil – in stark contrast to the surrounding green subtropi.jpgcal vegetation.

Obviously since finding out about the Red Desert I started to read up about it. Apparently a Zulu tribe assembled there in the 19th century with a cattle herd that had been stolen from the Pondos in the south. Initially the ground was brutally overgrazed and later the wind eroded the stripped layer of soil which in turn led to desertification. A while ago the community of Port Edward got hold of the land with the intention to declare a nature conservation area.

In Port Edward, at the Lighthouse Cafe, you can enquire about a knowledgeable guide for a tour of the Red Desert.

Below an extract from the email I received from the South Coast Tourism Board (unfortunately they didn't have any pi.jpgctures available):

“Aesthetically the area gives a superb views over the Umtamvuna Gorge and Estuary with the stark contrast of the Red Desert. Southern Reed Buck, common duiker, blue duiker, and oribi have been seen.

Rare and vulnerable plant species has been discovered in the area.
The presence of early, Middle and Late Stone artifacts on both the Upper and the Lower Red Desert should be noted and Archeological studies have been done.

This area lies within the area known as the Pondoland Centre of Endonism (One of the two such centers of the Pondoland – Pondoland Region of plant diversity) There are about 235 centres in the world and the Pondoland Centre has also been rated by Conservation International as one of about 2 dozen plant hotspots recognized world wide.

Local residents are concerned about the rare and maintenance of the areas invasive plants are threatening large areas of the Upper and lower Red Desert and visitors are using the area as a 4X4 track. The land belongs to the Hibiscus Coast Municipality and farmers owing the land adjacent to it are interested in adding their land to an area declared a Nature Reserve for all time. Moves are foot at present to get protection for this land as with everything, willing workers and funds in short supply.

Until something can be done we request all visitors to the Red Desert to respect it’s “uniqueness” and treat the area as the special place it is

Our Readers Comments

    • Thanks for your reply Esmarie,

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  1. I would love to do an interview about the Red Desert in Afrikaans for our current affairs shows on Pretoria FM. I don’t think many of us know about it. Susann, would you by any chance be available?

    • HI Esmarie,

      Great to hear from you.

      Sandra has since left Travelstart.

      We do have other amazing content writers working at Travelstart who will be able to help. Let me know if I can put you in touch with one of them.

  2. We visited the tiny Red Desert in about 1965. It was such a delight and still is one of the highlight surprises of all our holidays. We read about it in an article is Huisgenoot magazine all those years ago. So glad it’s being looked after and cared for. Really something special.

  3. Hi all those intrepid nature lovers. Our lodge is situated approx 500m from the Red Desert Heritage site. We have in the past taken small and large groups of guests to the Red Desert. Through research into the Red Desert Heritage Site have found some interesting facts about the area. We would like to invite anyone who is interested in a visit, to give us a call to arrange time and place. There is no cost involved, we wish to share our heritage with all. If you wish more info please contact Debs @

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