KwaZulu Natal and the northern coast
It is hard to match the beauty and diversity on offer in KwaZulu Natal. Here you will find the dramatic Drakensberg Mountains, historic battlefields, traditional Zulu culture, the sub-tropical beaches of the Elephant Coast, a range of Big Five game reserves and the cultural melting pot of Durban. So, whether you’re looking for safari, beach, history or culture, this province will deliver.
Located on South Africa’s northeast coast and sharing a border with Mozambique, KwaZulu-Natal is one of South Africa’s most diverse regions. Traditional African life prevails in the noisy markets and rural tribal settlements, rolling hills give way to rugged beaches with the warmest waters in South Africa and the well-stocked game reserves, make this a wonderful area to enjoy a safari and beach holiday, without having to travel long distances. When you factor in the natural wonderland of the Drakensberg Mountains and historic battlefields, it is easy to understand why we love this region of South Africa.
We would recommend exploring KwaZulu-Natal by car, as self-driving gives you the freedom and flexibility to explore the region at your own pace. What’s more, all the distances are easily manageable, so it’s possible to pack a lot in without feeling under pressure timewise. A lovely drive in our opinion, is the Midlands Meander route, a collection of arranged routes that focus on arts and crafts, warm hospitality and excellent accommodation. The route takes you through the rolling hills of the province, to the foothills of the Drakensberg Mountains.
Yet even if you have a car, we think the best way to discover the UNESCO-protected Drakensberg Mountains is by foot, bike or horseback. There is a vast array of trails to choose from depending on your fitness levels, from a gentle amble to a steep climb. Do remember to take a picnic and swimming gear, so you can recharge and cool off in the natural pools and waterfalls along the way. There is excellent bird watching and it is even possible to see game from some of the trails. Culture vultures will be interested in the rock art found in the caves, tucked away in the stunning landscape of rugged cliffs, sweeping valleys, verdant forests and alpine lakes. One of the most scenic spots is the dramatic cliff face, more than five kilometres high, known as the Amphitheatre, home to the powerful Tugela Falls.
These mountains formed the backdrop to the battles between the English, Boers and the Zulu in the late 19th century. The most famous of these was at Isandlwala in 1879, where the English were defeated by the Zulus. While you are in this area, we would strongly recommend taking some time to explore these historic battlefields. While history buffs have always flocked to the area, it is often those with a mild passing interest who leave the most overwhelmed, as the brilliant guides bring these conflicts to life. Their passion and emotion, are truly moving, making a battlefield tour one of our top recommendations. We can arrange a sunset tour of Rorke’s Drift, where the British Army fought long and hard to defend the church and mission station, before their defeat by the Zulus. There is also the opportunity to take the Battle of Isandlwala tour, an educational and emotional tour relating to one of the greatest military disasters in British colonial history. For the under 12s, we’d highly recommend the Zulu Horrid Histories tour, a fun, informative and interactive experience.
For those looking for a safari experience, KwaZulu-Natal has a handful of game reserves close to the Indian Ocean coast. The options range from self-drive in Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park, which is one of the most successful sites in South Africa for rhino conservation, to luxury private reserves including Phinda and Thanda. While there is not the vast scale of the Kruger here, the convenience of a safari when combined with the coast, Drakensberg Mountains and battlefield tours, makes it a popular safari destination.
If you’re looking for a slower pace and a chance to really unwind, the coast here is magnificent, with the warmest waters in South Africa. For those looking for a beach experience, we’d suggest Durban, but for getting off the beaten track, head north to the Elephant Coast, where you’ll find barefoot luxury, along with endless miles of unspoiled beaches. This stretch of coastline incorporates the UNESCO-protected iSimangaliso Wetland Park. Thick forests, serene lakes and boggy swamps make this a utopia for bird watchers and you can expect to see pelican, flamingo, lemon-breasted canary and pink-throated twinspot. The marine life is just as exciting, with plenty of sightings of dolphin, whale and turtle.