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Blog: Exploring KwaZulu Natal
After living in beautiful Cape Town, our South Africa specialist Annie was looking for a new experience, and where better to head than KwaZulu Natal. Filled with breath-taking scenery, Zulu culture, history and wildlife – KwaZulu Natal is off-the-beaten-track in South African terms and well worth a visit, particularly for return visitors.
Having fallen in love with South Africa and Cape Town in particular, I was keen to explore another side of South Africa. I had been to the Cederberg and Kalahari in the Northern Cape, driven along the Garden Route and been on safari in the Kruger… I was now looking for something different. With a history-buff father in tow it had to be the KwaZulu Natal Battlefields, admittedly not top of my bucket list!
As we wound our way through the Midlands I was blown away by the beauty of these rolling hills. Not dissimilar to our own British landscape, it is perhaps unsurprising that this is an area where many Brits chose to emigrate to. Our first few nights were spent on the edge of the Drakensberg Mountains – a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000 and covering 243,000 hectares. The uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park has been preserved and venerated for eons since the San people roamed these slopes. This is a walker’s paradise, but there is much more to the Drakensberg besides hiking, with horse riding, white water rafting and mountain biking all possible. A day trip into Lesotho is also well-worth doing if you don’t have time for a longer stay! Our base at Three Tree Hill Lodge proved the perfect base from which to explore this spectacular region. We enjoyed tracking rhino on foot and a really insightful tour of Spioenkop Battlefield – one of the most significant sites of the Anglo-Boer war.
One of the greatest draws of this part of the world is the Anglo-Zulu battlefields of Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift in the rural hinterland. Winding through the valleys passing by traditional Zulu villages, I felt a world away from the comparatively European Western Cape. The significance of Rorke’s Drift has been immortalised in the film Zulu and certainly is the top of many history buffs’ bucket lists. I must admit that this wasn’t a part of the trip that I was particularly looking forward to myself, having felt I’d had my fill of history lessons at school, and I’ll be the first to admit that I knew nothing about this significant part of British and South African history. I needn’t have been worried though. The passion, energy and emotion of our guides, Alastair Lamont (at Rorke’s Drift) and Mphiwe Ntanzi (at Isandlwana) from Fugitives’ Drift is palpable and highly affecting – I defy even the most disinterested going in not to be moved – the accounts truly get under your skin!
A safari in KZN doesn’t have the same range and scale of game viewing as the Kruger, but if you pick the right reserve you can have a truly memorable trip. You really cannot beat Phinda Game Reserve – offering 23,000 hectares of Big Five reserve to explore as well as being within easy reach of iSimangaliso (former Greater St Lucia) Wetland Park and the Indian Ocean, the diversity of activities on offer here is a huge attraction! The cheetah and rhino sightings are particularly impressive and given the threat posed to them in the wild, this is one big plus for visiting a private reserve – that and the fact that you are only sharing the reserve with a handful of other lodges. You really are in wildlife viewing heaven here with game drives, bush walks, rhino tracking, turtle nesting and scuba diving safaris; the list goes on…
Whilst KwaZulu Natal may not on the face of it have the same sophistication as Cape Town and the surrounding area, its diversity is really hard to beat. The scenery is spectacular, the food (as throughout the country) is truly wonderful and the history, culture, wildlife and beautiful beaches are hard to beat too. It is well worth including a visit to KZN on your next visit to South Africa, whether you are a first-timer or returning devotee; there truly is something for everyone!
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