The Hawaan Forest is a large remnant of a climax dry coastal dune forest and described as a “last relic of coastal forest”. The ‘climax’ part of the description, means it has reached its full potential of growth and has the capacity to reproduce indefinitely, largely due to it providing its own shade.
It is 80 hectares of stunning indigenous forest that grows on a dune which dates back 18,000 years. About 40 hectares is considered virgin forest. This beautiful primordial closed canopy sanctuary is home to rare tropical tree species. To date about 147 indigenous trees have been identified, some very rare. Many are labelled along the trails.
A large number of the trees and shrubs bear edible fruits or seeds most of the year round, so provide food for animals and birds. This results in a wealth of bird life both in and on the outskirts of the forest. Over 100 different species have been observed, not counting those that inhabit the lagoon or adjacent beach. It is one of the best birding sites on the North Coast. Bush pig, red, blue and grey duiker, bush buck, banded and slender mongoose, leguvaan and velvet monkey occur. Both species of mamba and python are to be found. Approximately 10 species of climbers assist in providing the relatively dense canopy. Trees with knobbly stems and ‘monkey ropes’ formed by the climbers winding through the branches creates a fairy tale atmosphere.
Protected since 1860 the forest lies on the edge of residential Durban North. It is one of the few examples of primeval forest left in South Africa. The Hawaan is a unique indigenous woodlands area that has remained in its natural state for centuries. It is as well that it is protected or development would long since destroyed it. In the 1960s Hawaan was one of many patches of indigenous forest on the coast. Now, hemmed in by both the Mhlanga River and the sea, the Hawaan forest is all that is left.
It is suggested that the name stems from indentured Indian labourers who were brought to South Africa to work on sugar-cane plantations. Much of the area surrounding Hawaan Forest was sugar-cane plantations, and it is thought that the Hindu labourers used the forest for religious ceremonies, particularly those associated with Havan. A Havan is a sacred purifying ritual in Hinduism that involves a fire ceremony and is a ritual of sacrifice made to the Fire god, Agni. The vessel used to perform the havan is called the Ôhavan kund. After the fire is lit in the Ôhavan kund, things such as fruits, honey and wooden goods are placed in the sacred fire. It is thought that the forest now known as the Hawaan Forest was a source of fruits, honey and wood to be used in the Havan ceremonies and that the forest was thus called Havan or Hawan, now Hawaan.
One of the older trees is a 400 year old buffalo thorn tree. Many of the tribes in Africa are buried with a twig of Buffalo thorn; one thorn to indicate a past life, two thorns for a future life. Many trees in this ancient forest have split trunks. When one of the stems is dead, the tree produces a new trunk to try to regenerate.
For details and photos of tree and plant species see the website.
You can only walk through the forest with a Wildlife Society guide on Saturdays at 8.00 and you will need to book. The nominal fee goes towards forest maintenance.