KATIA BENEDETTI UNCOVERS THE HISTORY BEHIND DURBAN’S “GREEN LUNG” – THE BEAUTIFUL KENNETH STAINBANK NATURE RESERVE
Located just 14km from Durban’s CBD, the Kenneth Stainbank Nature Reserve in Yellowwood Park is a mecca for nature lovers, conservationists and historians alike. Officially opened to the public in 1967, the land was a historic dairy farm owned by the Stainbank family until that time. It was then donated to the Province of Natal for use as a nature reserve by Kenneth Stainbank himself – a keen conservationist and heir to the estate.
Kenneth Lyne Stainbank was the third son of Dering Lee Warner Stainbank, who came to South Africa from England in 1857 to farm. Dering bought land on the south bank of the Mhlatuzana river known as nDabanKulu – meaning “important discussions” in isiZulu. A historic site, nDabanKulu was where King Shaka had his coastal kraal years before, and was used by his warriors for keeping cattle before returning to Zululand. Dering later renamed the farm Coedmore.
In 1889 at the age of 48, Dering married Ethel Lyne from Pietermaritzburg. They raised their seven children in the stone homestead and farm buildings Dering had started building in 1882 at Coedmore. When he died in 1907, Ethel continued farming, and following her death years later, the farm was inherited by their third son, Kenneth, since his two elder brothers were sadly killed during the Great War.
Kenneth was a dairy farmer but also a great lover and custodian of nature. Certain areas of the farm were not cultivated and were instead maintained as natural habitats for the flora and fauna of the area. In the 1940s, he approached the Administrator of Natal with the intention of donating his land to the province, thereby preserving the farm and its natural heritage for future generations. His dream of creating a protected sanctuary for wildlife finally came true when the donation was accepted and the Kenneth Stainbank Nature Reserve was officially opened in the 60s.
Today, the reserve is managed by KZN Ezemvelo Wildlife and boasts 253 hectares of coastal forest and natural grassland. Thanks to its 13km of nature walks and 10km mountain bike trail, the reserve is a popular destination for family picnics, hiking, biking and bird watching. It’s hard to believe that such a natural haven coexists alongside one of South Africa’s largest cities, where tame zebra and impala can be seen by visitors at close quarters. Other wildlife include bushbuck, reedbuck, duiker, mongoose, rock hyrax and bush babies, and if you are lucky enough – you might even spot a beautiful Picasso bug.
Tucked beneath giant yellowwood trees, the gracious Stainbank family home known as Coedmore Castle still stands within the reserve today. Completed in 1885 and built out of stones quarried on site, the castle was also bequeathed to the state by Kenneth with the intention that it be maintained as a heritage building. Still furnished with its original contents dating back some 130 years, the house was open to the public for guided tours until recently since usufruct remained within the family. With the death of Kenneth’s daughter Elizabeth earlier this year, ownership of the castle now vests with the state and tours have unfortunately been suspended until clarity is gained on its intentions for the property.
A visit to the reserve and Coedmore Castle remains a beautiful and worthwhile day out, however. Art lovers must not miss out on the Mary Stainbank Memorial Gallery found alongside Coedmore Castle. Kenneth’s sister, Mary, was a very talented artist, who after studying Fine Arts at the Royal College of Art in London, returned to South Africa and established her studio in the farm’s restored granary. The gallery houses a large collection of sculptures, her work representing an important contribution to the modernist art movement.
FOR MORE INFO
The Kenneth Stainbank Nature Reserve is open daily from 6am to 6pm, with guided walks organised on a regular basis. The reserve can be contacted on 031 469 2807. Although Coedmore Castle is not currently open for tours, the Mary Stainbank Memorial Gallery can be visited by appointment. Heartfelt thanks to Kenneth Stainbank’s granddaughter, Jenny Keith, for supplying images and historical notes. For more information, contact Jenny on firstname.lastname@example.org