Visiting the Desert in South Africa

Desert in South Africa

I take another gulp of water and keep moving forward. A red sand dune looms ahead of me and I struggle to keep my footing as the sand gives way with every step. I’d heard that walking through deserts was hard work but I think I’m doing okay. After all, with a small bottle of water, sunglasses and my sunscreen, I should be okay. Right?

Well, yes, but only because I’m visiting what is reputed to be the smallest desert in the world. Called the Red Desert because of its striking red sand, it is just 11-ha big and only 2-00m across. Lying inland from the Indian Ocean, it is 170km from Durban on the south coast of Natal, South Africa, just outside the small holiday town of Port Edward.

It’s not easy to find it though.  I would have thought that with such a prestigious–if not confirmed–title, it would warrant at least a small brown tourist sign. But alas, armed with only a car, two curious passengers, my smartphone and a vaguely good sense of direction, I roamed the area looking for the illusive sand dunes.

When I finally arrived at what I suspected might be the non-famous desert, I came across a faded sign indicating that I had indeed found the right spot and without further delay, I hopped out the car, grabbed my water and headed towards the red. Rare and vulnerable plants have been found in this area as well as South Africa’s national flower, the Protea, which can be seen growing amongst the rocks. I have also since heard that there are discussions about putting the area under protection as 4×4 enthusiasts have discovered it works well as a practice ground.


In the desert itself, I find more red rock than red sand.  There are different stories as to how the desert was formed. I’m still not sure which are true and which aren’t but my favourite one is that the Zulu warrior king, Shaka Zulu, overgrazed this area with his cattle. I close my eyes and imagine the fierce Zulu warriors camped nearby planning their next strategic move. I can almost hear Shaka barking his orders, commanding respect and dishing out punishment to anyone who dared defy him.


When I’ve finished imagining being part of South Africa’s history, I take my final photos and start heading back towards the row of houses, peering out from between some tall trees.

I can’t help but imagine that with a little protection and maintenance, this could really be  fabulous tourist spot. Imagine that? A real desert in the middle of a tropical coastline. South Africa really does have it all.

Read more about Colleen’s travels here: http://www.writearoundtheworld.me/

About Colleen Setchell

Colleen SetchellColleen Setchell is a writer, photographer and enthusiastic explorer. She exchanged her stressful corporate job for a few years of travelling. She is at her happiest when she is learning and discovering new things, eating food and drinking cocktails on the beach. She is now a writer living on Koh Samui in Thailand and teaches English part time.

9 thoughts on “Visiting the Desert in South Africa

  1. Avatar
    Anesh
    January 9, 2015
    Reply

    Love your narration Colleen. either way South Africa does have it all. I do believe though that the Red Dessert is smaller than carcross so if both were considered to be desserts, Red Dessert is the smallest dessert in the world. If you google “smallest dessert in the world” you get more results for red dessert than carcross.

    either way I’m sure both places are wonders of the world.

  2. Avatar
    Kelly Hubble
    August 5, 2014
    Reply

    I have been to the Carcross desert, but not to South Africa. Carcross (despite humidity level) consider themselves to be the smallest, there are signs everywhere stating it, lol.
    There are trees and grasses around it, so it may not meet the Webster’s definition. I could not post a pic in the comments.

  3. Avatar
    January 28, 2013
    Reply

    Wikipedia suggest Carcross wasn’t a true desert due to the humidity level. Granted you must always take Wiki with a lot of salt, but could it be this is the world’s smallest, true desert?

    • Avatar
      Colleen Setchell
      January 29, 2013
      Reply

      Interesting….. Thanks Kay, so maybe it just MIGHT be 🙂

  4. Avatar
    January 7, 2013
    Reply

    Hi Coleen.

    I have a virtual tour of the red desert would like you to post it for me http://www.virtualtours360.co.za/virtual-tours/virtual-tour-of-red-desert/

  5. Avatar
    Colleen Setchell
    June 28, 2012
    Reply

    Hi again Naveen
    I’ve just looked on Wikipedia. It also states that Carcross is ‘considered’ to be the smallest in the world so even that isn’t certain. It is 1sq mile large. The Red Desert has a diameter of 200m.

    I can’t find anything certain about either of them do I guess we’ll all be kept in suspense for longer 🙂

    Take care

  6. Avatar
    Colleen Setchell
    June 28, 2012
    Reply

    Thanks Naveen 🙂
    That’s why I stated ‘is REPUTED to be’ because noone was sure…

  7. Avatar
    naveen bhargava
    June 27, 2012
    Reply

    the smallest desert of the world is carcross is located in north america not in africa

    • Avatar
      thiago
      July 30, 2012
      Reply

      vai to ma no cuuuuuuuuuuuuuu.!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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