Empangeni Zululand Guide

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Empangeni Zululand, a well-established commercial centre, is situated approximately 160 km north of Durban on the N2 and lies about 20 km inland from the Indian Ocean.  Empangeni Zululand is surrounded by sugarcane fields, timber plantations and hilly countryside.

 Zululand guide sugar cane

It is a friendly and busy Zululand town and openly welcomes visitors.  Empangeni Zululand has grown immensely since the early days and many of the curved streets are lined with large old magnificent trees. Empangeni has been our home since the early 70’s and the town has served us well. Small town qualities and a drumming vibe make Empangeni a special place in the Kingdom of the Zulu.

History of Empangeni Zululand

The early history of the town is cloaked in quite a bit of mystery so one cannot be sure where the name Empangeni was derived from. The old Zulu folk adamantly state that Empangeni proper is the “rail” area and the name Empangeni comes from the stream which was infested with crocodiles, the eMpangeni river. It is, however, a strong possibility that Empangeni comes from the isiZulu word “phanga” which means to “grab, rob or plunder”.  This may have involved attacks from crocodiles or humans and perhaps flood destruction to crops. It is also noted that the name Empangeni is derived from the Mpange trees that grow on the banks of the Empangeni river.

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Rev Aldin Grout appears to have been the first white settler in Empangeni Zululand. The Rev Grout built a mission station in 1841, adjacent to the eMpangeni river, that he named Inkanyezi, “The Star”.  The name emanates from Revelation 22:16 where Jesus is described as “the bright morning star.” Grout introduced Western civilization and Christianity into this area.

  • The Norwegian Mission Society established the Empangeni Mission in 1851. A difficult life as the missionaries had to travel to the local Zulu homesteads to spread the Gospel.
  • In 1894 a Magisterial district was established in Empangeni and according to the records Empangeni was officially declared a village in 1906.
  • The Zululand Railway linked Empangeni, with its few wood and iron sheds, to Durban and Eshowe in 1903.
  • George Armstrong began the Empangeni Sugar Mill in 1911 and the mill started crushing operations in 1913. The sugar industry played a major role in the industrial development of Empangeni. Commercial farmers became the backbone of early Empangeni society and contributed to the development of the local economy. The soil in Empangeni is rich and healthy from sugar cane planting.
  • A school was established in the community in the golden old year of 1912.
  • The Public Hall was opened in 1916 and for many years this prestigious structure became the centre of a flourishing Empangeni society.
  • 1931 was a fairly big year for the community as village, rail and mill components amalgamated to form the first Town Board of Empangeni.
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Empangeni Zululand street names

Empangeni Zululand is an attractive inland town with beautiful tree-lined streets and colorful bougainvillea. Many of the streets are aptly named after the various trees that grace the town.  Jacaranda and Flamboyant street form part of the Railway Housing scheme and all streets in this layout are named after flora and fauna.

Loftheim street, named after the late Thor Martin Loftheim, a pioneer trader and founder of Loftheim’s Limited.   One can find Mr. Loftheim’s grave in the cemetery at the Norwegian Mission at Matjana near Empangeni.

Union Street, the provincial main road, is a busy street bustling with activity and is undoubtedly named after the “Union of South Africa”.

Empangeni zululand guide union street

Empangeni Zululand Arts and Culture History Museum

Empangeni Arts and Culture History Museum on Turnbull street houses the Harrison Collection and photographs from the early sugar farming days.  The impressive Mthethwa collection of traditional Zulu Culture is a main attraction.  Temporary exhibits featuring local artwork are also held at the museum.

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Enseleni Nature Reserve

Enseleni Nature reserve situated about 13 km north of Empangeni on the N2 is a peaceful out-of-town haven.    The reserve offers picnic spots shaded by beautiful trees.  A 7km hiking trail is a must for those wanting a bit of exercise in free and peaceful surroundings. Enseleni means “the place of the badger” in isiZulu.  While enjoying the Zululand bush one will hopefully see antelope and zebra.  Not sure if a badger will be seen though!  Enjoy the mangroves and papyrus and wild fig trees.

Empangeni Golf Club and Country Club

Empangeni Golf Club and Country Club began in the 1900’s and today the club forms an integral part of the community.  The 18-hole golf course is well-maintained and challenging and enjoyed by golfers throughout Zululand.  The Empangeni golf course is known as a park course due to the undulating hills, storage dam and trees.  The fairways consist of mainly local indigenous Nkwaleni grass and water for the course is sourced from the storage dam and a borehole.

In 2002 the majestic “colonial” clubhouse was destroyed by a fire.  The current and modern looking clubhouse was opened in 2003.

Empangeni Zululand Schools

Empangeni Zululand Schools St Catherines

Empangeni Zululand has good primary and senior primary schools. Empangeni High School, established in 1957, has one of the country’s best marching bands. The band has amassed numerous awards and are known internationally. St. Catherine’s Covent, now known as St. Catherine’s School, has been around since 1955 and is an exclusive school for young ladies from Grade 1 to 12. There are other government and private schools in the area. The main campus of the University of Zululand, established in 1959, lies a short distance to the south.

A few interesting facts about Empangeni Zululand:

Empangeni Zululand guide tree lined streets
  • The town has only one hotel, the Protea Hotel, which is built on the old Royal Hotel Site.
  • Lodges and B&B’s abound in the town and cater for different budgets.
  • Empangeni also has a Spur, a Wimpy and an abundance of takeaways, from fresh fish to pizzas.
  • The humidity in Empangeni can be very extreme in summer but the winter months are a Zululand joy. We often moan about the heat, long for the winter months and then we groan about the cold.
  • Empangeni has a private hospital, the Garden Clinic and a government institution in Ngwelezane.
  • Sanlam Centre is the main shopping complex and includes a selection of well-known franchised shops as well as privately owned clothing stores.
  • The Empangeni Rugby Club, Mick Kelly Park, is quite the rugby hub in the Zululand region and the club has attracted quality players from abroad.
  • In the 80’s the town was terrorised by the Hammer man, Simon Mpungose. Doors were locked and windows tightly shut in an effort to keep safe.
  • Empangeni is a delightful town and a great stop-over for those wanting to visit the ever popular game reserves in Zululand.

Empangeni has been home for over 40 years and has become so much more than a town. Home is where the heart is and home is where the sugarcane grows green and tall. Visit Empangeni Zululand.