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On February 10, the uMthayi Marula Heritage Festival will again pay homage to the King of African Trees, the Marula tree, through an annual celebration where older women from the Tembe clan deliver a secret brew derived from the first fruits of the Marula harvest to their chief, Inkosi Mabhudu Tembe. The festival is hosted annually at the eMfihlweni Royal Residence in uMkhanyakude District in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). A staple on the KZN tourism calendar since 1998, the Marula Festival promotes tourism and celebrates the shared cultural heritage between KZN and Mozambique. Over the years, it has welcomed guests from across the region and even as far afield as the Seychelles. Excited ahead of this year’s Umthayi Festival, Tourism KZN Acting CEO, Mr Sibusiso Gumbi said: “This joyous annual celebration strengthens cultural exchanges among our neighbouring countries, a key pillar in creating new tourism nodes that drive cross country tourism exchanges. The uMthayi Marula Heritage Festival is one of many spectacular cultural events that showcases the province’s diverse tourism offerings and rich culture. “The region that hosts the Marula Festival is globally renowned for its Big 5 Game reserves, its marine conservation areas and dive sites as well as a UNESCO World Heritage site in the form of the iSimangalio Wetland Park.”

What the marula fruit is probably best known for is being a delicacy enjoyed by elephants that travel from far and wide to feast on the fruits. Although scientists have debunked the myth that elephants become quite tipsy when eating fermented or over ripe fruit, this once again links the marula with the region that is also popularly known as the Elephant Coast. Named after the country’s largest herd of indigenous African elephants that has lived in sand forests for centuries, the region is relatively untamed with an  incredible variety of habitats and eco-systems that combine into an unforgettable blend of adventure, unspoilt scenery and unique experiences. The area is also steeped in history and is home to a number of paleontological sites of scientific importance including Border Cave, a middle stone age site which forms a large overhang within the surrounding Lebombo Mountains in the remote Ingwavuma district. The Elephant Coast also boasts a number of unique, community led game reserves, including the Tembe Elephant Park which not only introduces visitors to these magnificent tuskers but, together with the nearby Ndumo game reserve, offers some of the world’s best birding. Together, these conservation areas are home to 60% of all bird species found in South Africa. The Somkhanda Community Game Reserve is a Big 5 game reserve that is a flagship example of land restitution and transformation. Stretching out across 12 000 hectares of natural Zululand bushveld, it is home to the critically endangered black rhino, wild dog and  other bushveld game. The uMthayi Marula Heritage Festival takes place close to Manguzi, a small town also known as kwaNgwanase. Formerly called Kosi Bay (although it is 25kms from the shoreline), this is the perfect hub from which to explore unspoilt beaches and world-famous dive sties. Many guests at the uMthayi Marula Heritage Festival stay on to explore this wonderful part of KZN. Popular accommodation venues include Royal Thonga Safari Lodge, Tembe Elephant Park and Jozini Tiger Lodge just to name a few.
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