Washed by the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, KwaZulu Natal (KZN) with its subtropical coastline, sweeping savannah in the east and magnificent Drakensberg mountain range in the west, generously caters for just about every taste imaginable.
Known as the Kingdom of the Zulu, KwaZulu Natal is a melting pot of African, European and Indian cultures. This province boasts two World Heritage Sites – the iSimangaliso (previously Greater St Lucia) Wetland Park and the Ukhahlamba Drakensberg Park.
Traditionally, a popular destination for holiday-makers, KwaZulu Natal is South Africa’s busiest local holiday destination.
KwaZulu Natal stretches from Port Edward in the south, to the Mozambique boundary, in the north. From its early days, the province has been the scene of many fierce battles - being the bone of contention between the Zulus and the Voortrekkers; the British Empire and Boer settlers (Anglo-Boer War); the Zulus and the British Empire.
KwaZulu Natal has the largest population in the country with some nine million people living on 92 100 km2 of land. Seventy-five per cent of its inhabitants are black, mainly Zulu-speakers. Some 15 per cent of the population are Indian, while white people make up the remainder.
‘Durbs by the Sea’ (as it is affectionately known) is a veritable playground for those with fun and sun on their minds. The coastal city offers year-round sunshine, and virtually no winter - this makes it the perfect venue to kick back and celebrate tropical urban life.
Durban is a great base for day-trips. One can go to the North and South coasts, or take a drive to St Lucia Greater Wetlands Park (a World Heritage Site) or make waves inland and head out to the Natal Midlands for high tea and bit of polo perhaps?
If you are looking for beach, beach and more beach – the North and South coasts of KZN have much to offer. On the North Coast the beaches of Umdloti, Umhlanga and Ballito are extremely popular. The South Coast has a wide variety of beaches to choose from – from the more popular venues of Margate and Ramsgate to the more relaxed venues of Southbroom and Port St John’s.
Pietermaritzburg may be the capital of the province of KwaZulu Natal, but it has long been regarded as little more than a university and retirement town. However, Maritzburg, as it is known to the locals, is coming of age and it’s easy to see why.
See why Maritzburg is called the city of flowers. It even has its own rose. In late September, its garden time as nature erupts to celebrate the arrivalof spring.
Visit the Garden and Leisure Show or be inspired by some of the city’s best private gardens when they’re opened to the public during Open Gardens. You’ll be able to see everything from compact apartment gardens to sprawling estates.
You can see the Pietermaritzburg rose at Alexandra Park or just enjoy the tranquillity of these 85 hectare gardens established nearly 150 years ago. Here you can also catch a concert or cricket game at the Pavilion; an exquisite Victorian masterpiece built in 1898.
There are enough attractions in Pietermaritzburg to keep you busy, but should wanderlust strike there are treasures in easy reach. Within an hour or two in any direction there’s a magnificent coastline, the Drakensberg mountains andbattlefields of international historic interest.
For wildlife lovers there are four game and nature reserves within half an hour of the city. The Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve has accommodation, one of the country’s leading environmental education centres, and a wide variety of fauna and flora. Also try The Lion Park, Tala Game Reserve and the Albert Falls.
And if you have caught the leisure bug, for that is the style of Pietermaritzburg, head for the beautiful Midlands, a lush pastoral area that provides top-class produce. Follow the Midlands Meander, a pioneering route of hospitality and craft-based tourist attractions. Or The Amble, a route through the attractions of the region’s less developed forested valleys and scrubland.
| The Drakensburg Mountains
A thousand kilometres of mountain majesty, the Drakensberg (Dragon Mountains) range is the adventure tourist's playground. It is also perfect for nature photography, easy walking and simple relaxation. Full of game sanctuaries, Bushman rock art sites, challenging peaks and cascading waterfalls, the views in the Drakensberg will compete with anything the rest of the world has to offer.
Covering over 243 000 hectares, this is a place of extraordinary beauty –summer-green grasslands, high twists of montane forest, a place of sheer cliffs, clear streams, a fairy world of tree ferns and mosses that just begs to be explored on foot.
In winter, the mountains are often shape-shifted by mist and snow – the perfect place to relax before a roaring fire with something belly-warming to hand. The basalt and sandstone peaks have eroded into shapes that evoke their names: Giant’s Castle, the Amphitheatre, Cathedral Peak, Devil’s Tooth, Champagne Castle, the Monk’s Cowl, and the Sentinel.
KwaZulu-Natal Nature Conservation Services (also known as Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife) administer the Park, and they offer accommodation that ranges from budget to semi-luxury throughout the mountain range.
Hiking is the best way to explore the mountains. There are excellent trails and maps. Many of the camps have horse-riding facilites and mountain bikes are generally allowed. Ask about trout-fishing.