Red Desert – Port Edward, South Africa - Atlas Obscura

Red Desert

Port Edward, South Africa

Is this 200-meter-wide nature reserve the smallest desert in the world? 


Filled with wide grasslands and lush forests, KwaZulu-Natal is known as South Africa’s “garden province.” But in Port Edward, a town on the southeast coast, there is a small nature reserve that stands out from its surroundings. The Red Desert measures just 200 meters (656 feet) in diameter and 11 hectares in area. This rocky patch of red is surrounded by greenery and located a stone’s throw away from the ocean.

Though it has been called the world’s smallest desert, the surrounding area receives too much rainfall to meet the scientific definition of a desert environment. So how did it come to be, and why does it look so different from everything around it? Some outlandish ideas have been proposed, including extraterrestrial origins, but the real explanation is more agricultural. A Zulu tribe kept a herd of cattle on this land. The ground cover was eaten or trampled, leaving behind bare earth. Without a protective layer of plants, wind further eroded the land, creating this little desert-like area.

It consists of a fine red sand, some human-made circles, and little boulder hills to climb. Climbing up a boulder hill, you can see the entire Red Desert. It is a great hike, something that looks so desolate in such a green tropical area. 

Know Before You Go

Dress comfortably and wear some older shoes, as the red sand gets all over your shoes. There are no facilities, so make sure you make your stops before going.

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August 25, 2022

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