lights girl

The Durban Botanic Garden’s pathways will be spectacularly lit up this December. Image: Adobe Stock

Durban Botanical Gardens’ enchanting Trail of Lights returns

The city’s botanical gardens have reopened and are bringing back their most popular seasonal event this December.

lights girl

The Durban Botanic Garden’s pathways will be spectacularly lit up this December. Image: Adobe Stock

The Durban Botanical Gardens were established in 1849, making them Durban’s oldest public institution and the oldest surviving botanical garden on the continent.

Situated in the heart of Durban, the gardens span 15ha and focus on core areas of biodiversity, education, heritage research, horticultural excellence and green innovation.

Celebrate Christmas spirit with light 

The iconic Trail of Lights Festival is a magical, botanical outdoor trail of lights celebrating the Christmas season through the beauty of light. The illuminated trail winds through the trees and landscapes of the gardens, and features an array of spectacular light designs that create a magical experience after dark. 

Now in its fourth year, the Trail of Lights is Durban’s most popular festive season event and firmly entrenched on the city’s festive season calendar. 

Charities to benefit from Trail of Lights

The festival embraces the season of giving by raising funds for several KwaZulu-Natal-based charities.

The 2020 beneficiaries will include the Association for the Aged (Tafta), Feeding the Furballs, the KwaZulu-Natal Cerebral Palsy Association and the South African Association for Marine Biological Research (Saambr), among others.

Some charities will be directly involved in the festival and engage directly with the public through onsite activations, while others will benefit from funds raised through vendors.

According to the event organisers, Reach for a Dream has also partnered with the Trail of Lights to host “a dream a week”.

Challenging year for Trail of Lights organisers

Martin Clement, curator of Durban’s 171-year-old botanic gardens, said they had never been more excited to start working on any event. 

“It was touch and go as to whether the event would be able to take place, but we are thrilled to have received the go-ahead, clearing the 2020 Durban Botanic Gardens Trail of Lights for take-off. 

“This has been a challenging year in every way and this year’s event offers a celebratory moment for us all.”

Preparation work for the festival was hampered because of the national lockdown, as the gardens were closed to the public for the first time in history. 

“Following many months without the regular care and tending the gardens are used to, the planting programme and maintenance priorities have been re-organised to ensure that the gardens are looking their absolute best in time for the opening.

“This includes the Sunken Garden and Gazebo,” Clement said.

The Orchid House is being refurbished to show off the Special Orchid Collection, which was lovingly tended to during the lockdown, and a new drainage system has been installed in front of the Orchid House to keep the lower grounds drier than previous years.

Add a little light this Christmas

The theme for the 2020 Trail of Lights festival is “Add A Little Light”, with everyone needing a little light at the end of the difficult year it has been.

“This event is the gardens’ biggest fundraiser, and we have worked hard over the years to establish a brand and reputation that showcases Africa’s oldest surviving botanic garden, brings festive season cheer to those who attend, and at which family traditions are formed and memories made,” Koren Gnirck, Durban Botanical Gardens Trust’s operations manager said. 

“We need this light to look forward to at the end of 2020.”

The Trail of Lights is the Durban Botanic Gardens’ biggest fundraiser of the year. Image: Adobe Stock

“With the gardens festooned with millions of lights, 2020 will see the return of some fan favourites, along with new lighting displays and activations, Live@theTrail pop-up entertainment, a bigger festive market, two food gardens, Santa’s Grotto and the opportunity to give back to a host of worthwhile charities in the charity-driven Santa’s Workshop,” event organiser Naidoo said. 

“This year’s Trail of Lights couldn’t be more anticipated after a year fraught with the stresses of coping with the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Festive market, food garden and some surprises

According to Nevon Singh from Magic Lighting, this year has a few special surprises in store. The festival will include several themed areas, including a Christmas Village, a 12m walk-through festive tree, and the brand-new Santa’s Grotto and Tunnel of Light. 

Two food gardens with a wide variety of food types from 30 vendors will be spaciously located in the gardens to ensure sufficient social distancing. An expanded Festive Market will feature vendors selling gifts, arts, crafts and handmade items for visitors to browse and buy in a relaxed, open-air space. 

Entertainment will include pop-up acts throughout the gardens, and Live@theTrail will showcase a wide range of artists and musical styles.

How to book for Trail of Lights

To meet protocol requirements and ensure the safety of patrons, there will be three entry times — 18:00, 19:00 and 20:00. This will allow for social distancing as families can navigate their way around the trail before the next group arrives. 

There will be no ticket sales at the door. Tickets are available from or Pick n Pay.