The north-east province of KwaZulu Natal [KZN] in South Africa was once the scene of regular land disputes between Zulu tribes and British colonists. Today, all their descendants peacefully coexist in this desirable region of South Africa.
KZN encompasses much of the best South Africa has to offer; it has the highest mountain peaks, 2 UNESCO world heritage sites, unique marine reserves, idyllic swimming beaches, modern progressive cities, traditional lands, battlefields, diverse wildlife, adventure sports and strong cultural influences.
The province’s climate contrasts between subtropical, warm temperatures along the coastline to cool, sub-alpine weather in the higher mountainous region in the west. So too is the contrast evident in living spaces where modern cities like Durban, actively participating in the world’s economy, are a short drive away from tribal villages following ancient traditions.
South Africa’s constitution, under the Traditional Leadership clause, allows for the country’s only monarchy to exist in KZN and the Zulu nation is currently ruled over by King Zwelithini.
The entire region that makes up KwaZulu Natal is a place of beauty, hence Natal is known as the Garden Province of South Africa..
Things to do
The warm Indian Ocean along KZNs coastline is perfect for swimming, fishing and surfing. Many beaches deploy shark nets to ensure the safety of bathers and surfers. Durban is known as Surf City where there is no need for a wetsuit. Take a road trip along the vast coastline to enjoy the plethora of glorious beaches.
The Sardine Run along the KZN coastline occurs annually between June and July and is a spectacle comparable with any of nature’s great mass migrations. Hordes of sardine shoals move up the coast while masses of predators feast on them, causing the sea to bubble with activity. Locals rush to the shoreline to scoop up the sardines while brave divers venture in amongst the shoals.
KZN hosts two world renowned sporting events; the 89km Comrades Marathon, the world’s greatest ultra-marathon, and the popular Dusi Canoe Marathon, a 120km 3-day canoe endurance race along the Dusi River.
uShaka Marine World is an enormous theme park in Durban to keep the entire family enthralled. The park has 4 areas; uShaka Sea World, uShaka Wet 'n Wild, uShaka Beach, and uShaka Village Walk, all offering unique entertainment, dining and shopping experiences.
If you enjoy adventure sports, visit the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban to attempt the world’s only stadium swing 100m above the turf. Another option is the Wild Gorge Swing at Oribi Gorge, the world’s highest swing that plummets 165m down into the gorge.
If history and architecture interests you, then the KZN capital city of Pietermaritzburg should be your first stop. Known as the Last Outpost of the British Empire, it is one of the best preserved Victorian cities in the world. Tours of the historic battlefields surrounding the city are worthwhile.
Locals wanting to avoid crowded beaches head inland to the scenic Midmar Dam to enjoy activities such as boating, cycling, hiking, horse riding and rock climbing. Overnight stays are possible and the small game park has an abundance of non-threatening wildlife.
The dramatic Drakensberg Mountains, a world heritage site in the Royal Natal National Park, offers scenic splendour where ancient volcanic rocks, exposed by erosion over millennia, can be explored on foot or horseback. A popular hike up the gorge traverses The Tunnel where boulder-hopping brings you out to the magnificent Amphitheatre, an overwhelming majestic stone cliff rising over 3000m into the heavens.
Take a sojourn into the undeveloped wild areas of the Elephant Coast, incorporating Kosi Bay’s lake district, the iSimangaliso Wetlands Park (world heritage site), Sodwana Bay reefs and the Hluhluwe iMfolozi Game Park. Expect to see the Big 7 – lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo on land and whales and great white sharks in the sea. Schools of dolphins abound.
Tp gain understanding of Zulu culture visit the authentic Dumazulu Cultural Village outside Hluhluwe. Activities include weapon and craft making, the opportunity to see a Zulu war dance and a reading from the resident Sangoma (witch doctor).
For an unusual cultural experience, visit some temples, mosques and churches surrounding the city of Durban and Pietermaritzburg. Worth a mention are the Sri Siva Soobramoniar Hindu Temple, the Mariannhill Monastery and the Hare Krishna Temple of Understanding.
Durban is a tourist hotspot, best known for its Golden Mile, a stretch of beautiful beaches overlooked by large hotels and resorts. It’s a vibrant, fluid city run by innovative administrators and broadminded entrepreneurs. The harbour is the largest and busiest in South Africa.
Where to Eat
There are excellent restaurants spread throughout this region. The diverse KZN population of Nguni, Zulu, Xhosa, Ndebele and Swazi, Indian, British, Dutch and German descendants brings with it a melting pot of food flavours and techniques which, when combined, creates unique dishes. Here are 5 of the best:
The cuisine at The Gorge Fine Dining Restaurant at Oribi Gorge can best be described as divine. The venue is set alongside the stunning gorge and the interior is bright and welcoming.
Exquisite dishes on offer at The Grill Room at the Oyster Box Hotel Restaurant in Umhlanga are complemented by an old world interior and excellent wine choices available on the menu.
iSibaya Restaurant located at the Woodridge Country Hotel and Spa in the Natal Midlands offers top quality dishes around a boma and under thatch. Dishes are given the African treatment.
Gigi’s in Ballito is a contemporary, vibrant restaurant serving delightful dishes inside or out on the terrace. The kitchen is open for diners to watch their meals being prepared from scratch. The venue has a private 12-seater area for business power meetings.
Café 1999 in the heart of Durban offers cosmopolitan dishes all flawlessly presented. The prawn and chorizo aglio olio dish is a favourite.
All coastal towns have some form of night entertainment, be it a sports bar or club where locals and visitors can hang out. They are too many to single out. The big cities like Durban, Pietermaritzburg and Margate have a sophisticated and varied nightlife.
Where to Stay
The accommodation options dotted up and down the coast of KZN, some inland, are sure to complement a holiday to the area. The options vary from small well-equipped sea facing apartments to exclusive lodges, giving visitors amazing good value . Being a popular destination, KZN accommodation owners provide first-rate service to their guests.
Air The only international airport in KZN is Durban’s King Shaka International Airport, however, there are many other smaller airports and landing strips throughout the province for private charters or inter-linking domestic flights.
Car Order a vehicle online or visit a rental agency at all major cities and airports.
Taxi Most towns and cities have taxi or shuttle services available .
Bus There are many bus services, including national carriers, for easy access in and between towns.
Did you know?
The small town of Howick, north-west of Pietermaritzburg, is where Nelson Mandela spent his last day of freedom before being arrested in 1962. The town is also known for its waterfall, a mystical place believed by some to be the home of the monster Inkhanyamba, a giant horse-like creature sparking thunder & lightning when angered.
Another small town, Dundee, was the centre of many a battle and over many years that involved the Boer, the Brit and the Zulu. Famous personalities such as Mahatma Ghandi, Winston Churchill and Prince Louis Napoleon have direct links to this town.