Mtubatuba Town, a different perspective for the tourist

Visitors coming to stay at Macadamia Lodge and nearby St Lucia normally come here to visit the beaches, the game reserves, iSimangaliso Wetland Park and to enjoy activities such as horse riding, whale watching, boat cruises, fishing, birding and many more. Instructions to get here go along the lines of “exit the N2 and drive through Mtubatuba, and follow the signs for the R618 to St Lucia”. If guests need information on shopping for groceries prior to their arrival we will usually recommend PicknPay, but after that, no more mention is given to Mtubatuba.  This, I suddenly realised yesterday, is a bit short sighted of me.  Mtubatuba doesn’t have beauty of the wetlands, or the Big 5 of the game reserves but it does have people which is one of the key assets of South Africa, and is also an extremely vibrant and bustling town.

When we were first moved to Monzi, we thought that we would do most of our business errands in St Lucia. We opened a bank account and post box at the local branches, we took up the services of the local accountants and insurance brokers to help set up our company, and popped into the local supermarkets for our shopping. Most of this was done purely for comfort and ease. It soon became apparent though, that in fact Mtubatuba was more than likely going to be the town that would supply us with most of our hardware, farming, veterinarian, medical and general merchandise requirements.  My first day to Mtubatuba took me back to Arusha, in Tanzania which I had just recently left after 7 very happy years and made me feel for the first time since moving to South Africa that I was in Africa. The only difference here was that the roads weren’t full of pot holes or covered in dust and I wasn’t being called “Mzungu” every 30 seconds, in fact most people took no notice of me at all as everyone is occupied and getting on with their own business.

Yesterday morning I headed to Mtubatuba to run some errands and I suddenly had an urge to go to the market area and visit all of the nearby retail shops to see what this little town had to offer. I manoeuvered my car around the collection of vehicles parked everywhere with people negotiating space as they loaded or offloaded their good and eventually I found a spot. I then walked through the food market, listening to the exuberant chatter and realised what a central social hub this market was to everyone.  I watched the variety of dishes and meals being prepared, many of which reminded me of food served at my school in Ghana and another wave of nostalgia hit me. People come from far and wide to do their weekly shopping, sell their goods and deal with banking and administration in Mtubatuba. Livelihoods depend on this town and the town’s economy depends on the people trading there.

As picture perfect as this all sounds, I have also experienced Mtubatuba town in the blazing Zululand summer, around pay day, stuck in traffic in the middle of the day trying to finish my errands, people and noise everywhere. The trick is to visit Mtubatuba at the right time, and you will have a completely different experience.

For those of you interested in history “Memories of Early Matubatuba and District” by E.R Harrison can be purchased at Canerats Craft Shop in Monzi.