Dramatically beautiful and surprisingly diverse, KwaZulu-Natal, in the northeast of the country, packs in many of South Africa’s most popular attractions despite its small size. Here visitors can enjoy the World Heritage-listed Drakensberg Mountains with their jagged peaks and spectacular landscapes, Durban’s golden beaches and surf breaks, a thriving Zulu culture and exciting nature adventures. KwaZulu-Natal is home to Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, the oldest game park in Africa, and also boasts private game reserves where lucky visitors can spot the Big Five (leopard, lion, elephant, buffalo and rhino). Along the coast, nature lovers can explore the breathtaking scenery of iSimangaliso Wetland Park, another UNESCO World Heritage Site, and take a dip in the coral reefs of Sodwana Bay.
1 The Drakensberg
The Drakensberg, from an African word meaning ‘dragon mountains’, is a place of breathtaking beauty and one of the most popular destinations in the country. High-backed peaks rise above dense forests and deep valleys, and waterfalls feed clear mountain streams. This spectacular region includes uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park , a UNESCO World Heritage Site with soaring basalt peaks that are some of the highest in the province and petroglyphs of the San (Bushmen), as well as Royal Natal National Park with the Amphitheatre , a five-kilometre-long rock face with one of the world’s highest waterfalls tumbling down from above. The 3,282 meter high Mont-aux-Sourcesextends beyond, and is the source for, some of the nation’s mighty rivers. Nearby, visitors can see herds of eland, bearded vultures and beautiful Bushman petroglyphs at Giant’s Castle Game Reserve . Another highlight of the region is Cathedral Peak with some of the most beautiful mountain scenery in the region. This area is also home to the venerable Cathedral Peak Hotel , which has been pampering guests since 1939. Outdoor enthusiasts come to these velvety green mountains for trout fishing, hiking and biking the wilderness trails, rock climbing, rappelling and riding the mountain rivers. To best appreciate the dramatic landscapes, visitors can float over the area in a hot air balloon.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Drakensberg
2 Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park
Established in 1895, Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park (formerly Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve) is the oldest game park in Africa and one of the few parks in KwaZulu-Natal where visitors can see the Big Five: lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo, and rhino . Including the wildlife corridor connecting the two parts of the park, it covers more than 96,000 hectares and is famous for its rhino conservation efforts – both black and white rhinos can be found here. The park is located deep in Zululand and was once the royal hunting grounds of King Shaka. Today the park offers a rewarding safari experience with an impressive variety of flora and fauna and usually fewer crowds than the Kruger National Park. The Hluhluwe section in the north of the park is mountainous, while the iMfolozi section reveals vast savannah with taller trees along the river banks. In addition to the Big Five, wild dogs, cheetahs, zebras, wildebeest, hippos, hyenas and more than 300 species of birds are among the animals that make their home here. The best game viewing is in the cooler and dry months of May to October, but summer brings lush growth and newborn animals. Guests can choose to stay in the park in modest chalets, safari tents and various lodges. More accommodations are available just outside the park. The best game viewing is in the cooler and dry months of May to October, but summer brings lush growth and newborn animals. Guests can choose to stay in the park in modest chalets, safari tents and various lodges. More accommodations are available just outside the park. The best game viewing is in the cooler and dry months of May to October, but summer brings lush growth and newborn animals. Guests can choose to stay in the park in modest chalets, safari tents and various lodges. More accommodations are available just outside the park.
Accommodation: where to stay in Hluhluwe
3 Simangaliso Wetland Park
About 250 kilometers from Durban, iSimangaliso Wetland Park (formerly the Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park) protects the largest estuarine system in Africa. iSimangaliso means “wonder and wonder” in Zulu, and the name suits this beautiful biodiverse park. The eight interconnected ecosystems include coral reefs, crocodile-filled rivers, lakes, wetlands, savannas and coastal dunes. Thanks to this diversity of habitats, the animal kingdom is abundant and varied. In one day, visitors can snorkel, dive or kayak along coral reefs where leatherback and hawksbill sea turtles swim; spot an incredible array of birds; and see leopard, buffalo, zebra and rhino on a game drive. The park is also home to the highest concentration of crocodiles and hippos in Africa. Also in the park,offers empty seascapes of sun-bleached shores and glittering lagoons. The area is also known for its traditional fishing techniques – fish are trapped in woven baskets here.
4 Sodwana Bay National Park
On the Elephant Coast, Sodwana Bay National Park is one of the best diving destinations in South Africa . Part of iSimangaliso Wetland Park, the reserve sits on the shores of the Indian Ocean with South Africa’s southernmost coral reefs flashing just offshore with schools of colorful fish. Divers can see caves, pinnacles and both hard and soft corals, as well as an incredible array of marine life including lionfish, crayfish, moray eggs, rays and many species of sharks. Whale sharks also swim in these waters. Loggerhead and leatherback turtles nest on the beaches here, and nature lovers can take part in turtle watching to see them in season. Apart from SCUBA diving and snorkeling, other popular activities here include sport fishing for marlin and sailfish, horse riding on the beach and walking along the coastal nature trails.
Official site: https://www.kznwildlife.com/sodwana-bay.html
5 Editor’s Pick Kwa Cheetah Breeding Project
At the Kwa Cheetah Breeding Project, within the gates of Nambiti Private Game Reserveanimal lovers can enjoy exciting hands-on interactions with these graceful creatures while helping a worthwhile cause. The experience begins with an educational presentation about the plight of the cheetah. Visitors can then pet the animals, take photos and watch a demonstration of their incredible speed. Depending on the residents at the time, visitors may also see other cats, such as servals, caracals and African wildcats. The successful captive breeding program aims to increase the cheetah’s gene pool and prepare the animals for life in the wild. The project only runs one tour per day to protect the animals from undue stress, so advance booking is highly recommended.
Address: Ladysmith, KwaZulu-Natal
Official site: https://www.cheetahinteraction.com/
6 Nambiti Private Game Reserve
About a three-hour drive from Durban, close to the spectacular Drakensberg Mountains, Nambiti Private Game Reserve offers exciting guided safari adventures in search of the Big Five: leopard, lion, elephant, buffalo and rhino. The landscape ranges from vast savannah and grasslands, with unobstructed views of game, to lush riverbanks and wildlife abounds. In addition to the Big Five, the reserve protects more than 40 different species of game, such as cheetah, zebra, kudu and hippos, as well as a diverse range of bird species. Day visitors are welcome, and those wishing to stay overnight can choose from six self-catering or full-board five-star lodges, some with swimming pools, as well as an elevated luxury tented camp. This popular private game reserve is also close to the KwaZulu battlefields, allowing visitors to combine a guided historical tour with their wilderness experience.
Official site: https://www.nambiti.com
7 Sani Pass
Sani Pass is one of South Africa’s most spectacular mountain roads. Passageway from KwaZulu-Natal to the Kingdom of Lesotho, the pass is an eight-kilometre-long, unpaved road that can ascend to heights of up to 2,876 metres. The road runs through the Mzimkulwana nature reserve with a landscape that extends from towering rock formations and mountains with green hollows to dizzyingly steep ravines. Only four-wheel drive vehicles are allowed on the road between the two border posts; on foot it takes between two and three hours. To the north of the pass is 3,482 meter high Mount Thabana Ntlenyana, the highest mountain in southern Africa. The pass takes its name from the San (Bushmen), who fled here to escape their white and black persecutors. Check weather conditions before you go as snow and ice can make the pass even more challenging.
8 Golden Mile from Durban
Durban, South Africa’s third largest city, is a multicultural melting pot. A great way to get a feel for this salt-hued port city is to take a stroll along Durban’s Golden Mile, a busy beachfront promenade that connects some of the city’s top attractions. On this sun-drenched strip you will find entertainment venues, high-rise hotels, shops and restaurants. The golden beaches attract surfers, swimmers and sunbathers. Segway tours offer a quick way to rip between the attractions here, including Moses Mabhida Stadium ; uShaka Marine World ; and Minitown, a small replica of Durban, complete with a small airport, a railway network and a harbor view. Lifeguards patrol the beach all year round.
9 De KwaZulu-Natal Battlefields-route
During the 19th century, central Zululand, now part of KwaZulu-Natal, was the site of many historic battles between the Zulus, Boers and British. Today, tourists can explore this rich history on the Battlefields Route. Knowledgeable guides take visitors to battlefields, museums, memorials and forts and share fascinating details and descriptions of these historical events. Two of the most famous battlefields are within a short distance of each other: At Isandlwana , visitors will learn about the clash between 22,000 Zulu warriors who led 1,350 British troops in one of the first battles of the Anglo-Zulu War. About 10 miles from here, Rorke’s Driftis the site where British troops defended a mission post against the attack of more than 3,000 Zulu warriors. Vryheid is the largest town on the Northern Natal battlefield route and plays host to clashes between British forces and Zulus and between British forces and the Boers. Blood River Heritage Site is another popular Zulu-Voortrekker battle site near the city of Dundee . Following the annexation of Zululand and its creation into the province of Natal, British authorities built a number of forts in the region, including Fort Nongqaiin Eshowe. Ideally, tourists should try to focus on a particular era or region of the battlefield route, as the sites are numerous. Many guides offer pick-up points in cities such as Durban or Johannesburg.
10 Tatham Art Gallery, Pietermaritzburg
In KwaZulu-Natal’s friendly capital, Pietermaritzburg, the Tatham Art Gallery is a must for art lovers. Located opposite the Town Hall in a building once occupied by the Supreme Court, the gallery showcases an impressive collection of both European and South African art with a focus on art from KwaZulu-Natal. The gallery has a remarkable collection of works by 19th- and 20th-century European artists, including photographs by Sisley and Sickert and drawings by Picasso, Braque, Chagall and Moore. Temporary exhibitions add to the eclectic works here and support many local artists. Other popular tourist attractions in the capital include the African Bird of Prey Sanctuary , Butterflies for Africa , theVoortrekker Museum , and the KwaZulu-Natal National Botanical Garden with many rare and endangered plant species.
Adres: Box 321, Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal
Official site: https://www.tatham.org.za