When I think of the key reasons people travel to South Africa, KwaZulu-Natal offers them all – so I thought it would be interesting to run through those reasons and show you how KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) has the answer.
Scenery. South Africa’s stunning landscapes and gorgeous coastline is a major draw card, and it’s safe to say that KZN has some of the best scenery in the country. Top of the list would be the Drakensberg Mountains, towering and impenetrable (their Zulu name translates as “Barrier of Spears”). They are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and offer a variety of experiences to the visitor, from short hikes to overnight trails, and from wildlife to millennia-old San rock-art. From mountains that touch the sky, we move through to golden beaches that meet the ocean. Along the Elephant Coast are mile upon mile of deserted beach, fringed with luscious coastal forest and pitted with the nests of endangered turtles: an inspiring landscape if ever there was one.
Culture. With its eleven official languages and many, many different tribes and ethnic groups, South Africa loves to showcase its culture. In KZN, as the name suggests, this means the Zulu culture. A proud tribe, built on the military might that gave the British a bloody nose at Isandlwana (more of which later), the Zulus are making great efforts to preserve their traditional customs and practices, and a visit to a traditional homestead is one way to see this in action; it’s also very likely that at some point during your time in the province you’ll be treated to a display of the energetic, athletic and entrancing Zulu dancing.
History. The history of South Africa, from the advent of European settlers right through to the end of apartheid is tumultuous and holds a special fascination. KZN’s major slice of that history is the Anglo-Zulu and Anglo-Boer wars. Names like Isandlwana, Rorke’s Drift and Spionkop resonate through the intervening century, and are dramatically bought to life by absolutely superb battlefield guides. Immediacy is the key to these battlefield tours: you’re standing on the exact spot where this soldier and that Zulu warrior clashed: in many cases we know their names and their backgrounds, we know how they fought and how they died. It’s incredibly moving.
Cosmopolitan City Life. Cities like Cape Town are a huge draw for visitors to South Africa, and Durban is right in the front rank of South African cities. Recent redevelopment, thanks in part to the FIFA World Cup, has seen Durban transformed. Next to the harbour is the impressive uShaka Marine Park, start of a boulevard of several miles linking the fantastic beaches of the city (Durban’s Golden Mile) with the impressive Moses Mabhida Stadium. Visitors can fly into the gleaming new international airport and stay in a growing array of smart, boutique hotels, and eat in stylish restaurants. As a place to bookend your travels around the province, Durban is hard to beat.
Relaxation. South Africa is all about relaxing, chilling out and enjoying great weather, wonderful food and gorgeous local wines; fortunately KZN is well able to deliver on this front as well. Just outside Durban you’ll find the Midlands, a beautiful area of gently rolling countryside, dotted with perfect little country getaways. These hotels have made a real name for themselves offering beautiful accommodation and the most amazing food – wholesome, decedent meals paired with selections from extensive and impressive wine cellars. It’s an amazing way to unwind for a couple of days (though not too much longer if you’re keeping an eye on your waistline!).
Wildlife. I’ve left wildlife till last because for so many people it’s a major highlight of their trips to South Africa: saving the best for last! I’ve already mentioned the wildlife of the Drakensberg Mountains – you’ll find herds of enormous, mystical eland here as well as the Lammergeier (or Bearded) Vulture. But it’s big game safari that most people want to see, and KZN really delivers. It’s a province right at the forefront of eco-tourism and conservation. The vast Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Reserve in the heart of KZN can claim to be the place the rhino was saved from extinction, as all the initial rebreeding work for the white rhino took place here in the 50’s and 60’s. Nearby Phinda Private Game Reserve was one of the first game reserves to take farmland and return it to its indigenous condition, letting the natural vegetation grow back and reintroducing the wildlife that had been absent for decades; the result is a wonderful reserve with excellent opportunities for viewing big game.
So when you add it all together, you can see that KwaZulu-Natal really does have it all. A two week trip round the province will allow you to experience the very best it has to offer and is a microcosm of everything that’s best about South Africa.