The biggest, most detailed FREE Travel Guide to South Africa. Part 4: Kwazulu-Natal Province

 

Kwazulu-Natal

KwaZulu -Natal  is the traditional homeland and territory of the Zulu, the largest tribal group in South Africa.  

DURBAN  is its major centre, the country’s 3rd largest city with 4 million people (40% odd of the provincial total of 11 million) and home to the most of the nation’s Indian community. Durban’s Natal Bay was first visited by the Portuguese on Christmas day 1497, but it was only in 1824 that a trading post was setup (by Flynn and Farewell, to buy ivory from the Zulu – with the full authority of the Zulu King, Shaka – a decision he was later to regret!).  

The British took little interest in ‘their’ settlement, until the Afrikaners (Boers) established a new city in 1837 at Pietermaritzburg, 80 kms inland from Durban, and until 1840 when the Boers finally vanquished the Zulu nation at Blood River. Britain sent troops to ‘protect their interests’,  finally annexing the entire Natal territory in 1843, but it took them a few decades longer to finally conquer  the  Zulu’s fighting impis. The first indentured Indian labour arrived in 1860, by which time Durban was a large and thriving colonial port. The city has always has been a melting pot of cultures – Zulu, Afrikaans, English and Indian (both Hindi and Muslim). The inland discovery of gold in 1886 made Durban the main port of entry and led to the city’s rapid growth and almost continual  ‘boom’ since. Today the city suffers many problems – many due to its fast growth and success!

Durban is the country’s largest port and one of the top 10 in the world. It’s also a major holiday destination – especially among South Africans from nearby Johannesburg and Pretoria – with its warm winters, hot, tropical summers, year round sunshine (300 days/year) and its the lush gardens, parks, and warm Indian Ocean temperatures. All these factors contribute to Durban being the country’s only major year-round resort. The city and its adjoining South and North Coasts (see below) offer the country’s largest and best selection of resorts, accommodations, beaches and activities. Inland lie the Midlands, the Valley of a Thousand hills, and Drakensberg Mountains – all major attractions in themselves.

The city of Durban is extremely extensive and its attractions likewise widespread. Viator offers small group tours of the city, many of its attractions (like the Indian market) as well as tours further afield.  http://www.viator.com/Durban/d315-ttd   Ricksha bus also runs a good introductory tour of the city twice a day : –  http://seedurbanpass.iventurecard.com/attraction/durban-ricksha-bus/

Must-Sees:-

City Centre with its classic English colonial architecture; City Hall, Farewell Square, Playhouse Theatre, Old Railway station (now Tourist Info Central, where anything/everything about the city, region and province can be obtained and reserved ), Church Square, the Workshop shopping center, as well as the area round Smith, West, and Gardiner Streets.

Indian (Victoria) Market – the largest Indian in the world outside of India with anything one could wish for – and the best, hottest curries and spices anywhere (try ‘Mother-in-law’s tongue’ or ‘Osama’s vengeance’). Be sure to visit the busy lanes and roads around  the market, as well as the Juma Mosque (Queen/Grey Streets), and West St Mosque (West/Grey Sts) .   http://www.safarinow.com/destinations/durban-central/ShoppingMalls/Victoria-Street-Market.aspx

Marine Parade/Golden Mile – the 6 kms long Durban beachfront promenade, with several major attractions – some well worth seeing (Minipark, the Snake Park, flea market), others not….but all set in a  beautifully landscaped tropical park, running alongside the long, vast white beaches of the bay. A definite must-see here is the Ushaka Marine and Seaworld with the largest, best aquarium in the Southern Hemisphere  (4th largest in the world) with South Africa’s marine life from both coasts, the warm Indian and cold Atlantic Oceans. Ocean walks along the sea bottom, diving with the sharks – this is probably Durban’s top attraction – and a definite ‘must-see’  http://www.ushakamarineworld.co.za/n .                                                                                                  

While in the area, take a walk out onto one of the several jetties off the beach to get a terrific view of the city.

Alayam Hindu Temple – the oldest and largest  in S Africa, reputedly the largest outside of India. It’s at the northern edge of the city centre, on Somtseu Rd  that runs from North Beach to the M-13, just a couple of blocks north of the huge, new ICC (Convention Centre).  http://www.durbanhindutemple.co.za/

The KwaZulu-Natal Shark Board – Umhlanga Rocks . KZN has the only coastline in South Africa  protected by shark ‘nets’.  The KZN Sharks Board maintains shark protection at 38 localities and is the only institute of its kind in the world, offering safe bathing to tourists while also conducting research into shark life history and offering a public education programme. A spellbinding visit, boat trips out to the ‘nets’ etc – nothing like it anywhere in the world – Umhlanga Rocks lies just 15 kms north of Durban.  http://www.shark.co.za/

 

Off-the-Beaten Path :-

Botanical Gardens, the oldest on the continent and one of the finest tropical gardens in the southern Hemisphere. A wide range of African, Asian, South and Central American trees, bushes and flora – but famous for having the world’s largest collection of “fossil plants” – the cycads  dating back over 200 million years ! (Sydenham Road, just north of Greyville Hippodrome)  http://www.durbanbotanicgardens.org.za/

Umgeni Bird Park – In Durban North, just 8 kms north of the city centre,  over 800 birds, many rare species, breeding, research – covers almost 4 hectares.  http://www.umgeniriverbirdpark.co.za/

Umhlanga Rocks – (pronounced: “Um-sh-laan-ga”)  lively resto and nightlife suburb just 15 kms north of Durban and a great base from which to visit the city. Nearby is “The Gateway” shopping centre, the largest in Africa (and Southern Hemisphere)  with over 400 shops, many attractions. Only for  Mall addicts.. but some original Zulu and SAfrican souvenirs, artistic items. The towns’ laid-back ambiance, beach walkways, nature trails  and tropical park like surroundings  make for a fun stay and visit. (See the KZN Shark Board facility under  “must-see” …above )   http://www.umhlangatourism.co.za/  

 

Getting Around Durban

Trains: A good network of local trains links the city centre with outlying suburbs and towns as far out as Kelso (80 kms) or Stanger (75 kms). Check for timetables, tariffs at : http://www.metrorail.co.za/).  

Of the 7 electrified commuter lines in Durban, only 3 lines are of possible interest for visitors .   All operate from the new Durban and Berea Road stations.                                                       
— The South Coast Line operates along the Indian Ocean coastline to Kelso in the south, through Amanzimtoti, Umkomaas and Scottburgh from Durban.                                                                                                                                  
— The North Coast Line operates along the coastline to Stanger in the north, through Durban North, Verulam, Tongaat, from the city centre.                                                                                                                                      
— A 3rd line – The Bluff Line operates from Wests station along the Bluff  – is useful to visit the Bluff area overlooking the huge harbour and city skyline, central Durban – with wonderful walks and cliffs on the  ocean side. 

Bus: The best is  the Durban People Mover (tel (031) 309 5942;/i/bengaluru-bangalore http://www.durbanpeoplemover.co.za/)  which operates three routes in the city, including a connection from the city centre to the beachfront – all useful, convenient for visitors and tourists. Day passes available.  Buses run between 0630-2300.

Tuk-Tuks: Within the city, the easiest and best alternative transport is offered by “tuk-tuks” South African style;, more comfort, less polluting, noisy  etc … great for short trips, but for anything over 1 kilometre they cost pretty much the same as taxis. But they are a lot more fun !

Along the Golden Mile a popular distraction for visitors are the colourful Zulu rickshaws (more a photo op  than transport option…). Beware of exorbitant tariff demands – and much shorter trips than negotiated for.  The ultimate tourist-trap unfortunately.

Taxis:  There are two types of taxi in Durban: metered cabs, which must be booked by telephone from a specific location, and the ubiquitous minibus taxis, which can be hailed on the street. The latter are often crowded, have variable and complicated routes etc – so stick with the former – all of which are  reputable, reliable and good operators -Try  Zippy Cabs (tel: (031) 202 7067; http://www.zippycabs.co.za/) and Mozzie Cabs (tel: (031) 303 5787 or 0860 669 943; http://www.mozzie.co.za/).

Car hire: in Durban includes all  the usual guys – Avis, Budget, Hertz, Thrifty etc.

Bicycle hire:  in Durban is usually  arranged through the hotel or hostel provider – easy! Otherwise scooters, quad bikes etc can be hired from: Scooter Inn, 10 Umbilo Rd, (tel: (031) 306 8826).

As in all South African cities, care should be taken when walking around, and taxis or other arranged transport is recommended for evening travel.

 

THE “SOUTH COAST”  (The Hibiscus Coast)

The South Coast stretches 150 kms odd, from Durban south to Port Edward on the Transkei’s northern border. It used to be a beautiful, largely unspoilt stretch of coastline interspersed with small resort communities renowned for their friendliness, rusticity and homeliness. In many parts it still has vestiges of, and retains this ‘oldy world’ charm, but over recent decades it has become South Africa’s Costa del Sol, or Miami Beach, where to a high degree the beach resort communities – totally dependent on tourism for this existence and survival – make up a single conurbation of high-rise beachfront hotels, apartments, backed by shopping centers and attractions. Nevertheless the trip is very worthwhile, and provides another perspective on the country, way of life and people. Moving from north (Durban) to south (Port Edward)  where the N-2 from the Transkei once again joins the coast, the South Coast offers a full array of accommodations – and scores of youth and backpacker hostels. Staying here is an alternative to staying in Durban – cheaper  and more enjoyable.

It’s an easy train trip (with frequent service) from the city to the south. Amazimtoti, 20 kms south of Durban, merges into Kingsburgh – both renowned for their great, safe family and surfing beaches, and nightlife – and are considered to be the ‘start’ of the South Coast. The rail and road routes run through Karridene, Umkomaas, Scottburgh, Park Rynie, Pennington (Kelso – where the suburban trains end), and Hibberdene, into Bendigo, Margate, Ramsgate and Port Shepston. All have wonderful beach and swimming facilities  and make for an easy, interesting day outing.

Scottburgh– Zulu Dancing is held at the huge Crocworld (crocodile wholesalers!) 4 kms out of town. The chance to see what is supposedly ‘real’,  non-commercial, non-touristy Zulu dancing – practiced by the young . Arrange a visit to one of the largest sugar mills in the world (Sezela) at: http://www.southcoasthappenings.co.za/scottburghhomepage.htm

Oribi Gorge Nature Reserve– perhaps the only real ‘must-see’ of the area. 20 kms Inland from Port Shepstone (one of the ‘last’ South Coast towns) and off the N-2 main road, it offers a great day – or more – in a magnificent environment. National Park camp-style and hut accommodations, great animal and game walks – and a beautiful , dramatic gorge!  http://www.kznparks.com/accommodation/oribi_gorge_kwazulunatal.aspx

 Above: Oribi Gorge Nature Reserve. Photo Credit Wildcard

 

THE NORTH COAST  (The Dolphin Coast )

Starting at Umhlanga Rocks and stretching 80 kms north to theTugela River Mouth, the north coast is known as the Dolphin Coast, due to frequent sightings of bottlenose dolphins who ride the waves of the Indian Ocean in large frolicking schools. It is an enviable strip of coastline that includes the inland areas of Umhiali and Shakaskraal . Developed much later – and far less intensively – than the South Coast the region offers a much wider spectrum of activities and attractions as well. Inland  are fields of sugarcane, interspersed by attractive coastal towns buried in tropical vegetation and flowers – Ballito, Salt Rock, Umdloti or Zinkwasi. Starting in the south – and just north of Durban, served by the N-2 is:

Umhlanga Rocks  (See Durban above -” Must See”  and “Off the Beaten Path” sections) Umhlanga Rocks may be the gravitational centre of the North Coast, but nevertheless, it’s well worth taking the lovely drive north along the coast, and through its other pretty tropical beach towns .

Tongaat  is a pleasant sugar growing and refining centre 6 kms inland from the coast – and Tongaat Beach –  with many beautiful, old architectural masterpieces from the sugar-boom days. With a large Indian population it is the closest rail station to Umhlanga Rocks, near Jaggernathi Puri Hindu Temple and market – both worth a visit.  http://www.southafrica.com/kwazulu-natal/tongaat/

From Ballito it’s possible to get off the N-2 and drive along a lovely coastal road through Ballito, Shakas’ Rock, Salt Rock onto Sheffield Beach. All tend to be quiet, upscale , pretty towns with really lovely beaches and a very laidback, relaxed lifestyle.

Tugela Mouth– once the natural boundary of Zululand, is where the important Tugela River ends its journey from its origin at Mont-aux-Sources in the Drakensberg.  The river mouth has been the sight of many battles over the years – the ruins of Fort Pearson, dating back to the Anglo-Zulu War are on the south bank of the river just east of the N-2.

Shakaland, a traditional Zulu village built for the historical film Shaka Zulu  (itself a ‘must-see’ for anyone visiting South Africa) is run as a cultural centre and hotel by a local hotel chain and the Zulu community. Although it perhaps lacks a certain authenticity, it remains an interesting – and one of the too few – centres where one can be exposed to, discover and learn Zulu culture, traditions, medicines, tools and arms (assegaai, spears) making. Very pleasant, unique accommodation and traditional meals on sight. See:  http://www.southafrica.net/za/en/articles/entry/article-southafrica.net-shakaland#.UoJmrpSEiUk   Day-culture visits possible  at: http://www.amatikulu.com/Shakaland.htm

Above: Shakaland. Photo Credit South Africa Tourism

 

FAR-NORTH OF KWA-ZULU-NATAL

North of the Tugela Mouth you are in historical traditional Zulu territory. Farming slowly changes from sugarcane to more pastoral (cattle) and maize growing. Most of the region lies inland (west) of, but is easily accessed from the N-2.  Zulu villages are generally spread widely over the countryside, being more a collection of various family compounds than villages as such… Ulundi, Ondini (KwaZulu Cultural Museum), and Mgungunndlovu were all Zulu capitals (depending which king was reigning). Many of the towns are of great historical significance to the Zulu nation, but without any specific interest in, or knowledge of the culture, they offer little to the average tourist .

However, two “must-see” attractions are located in northern KZN. They are both very close to each other and should be visited together on the same trip, if possible;

— The Greater Lake St-Lucia  Wetland Park– the largest natural freshwater lake, wetland area and marine park in the country, covering over 320.000 hectares is also a World Heritage Site. The village of St-Lucia is situated at the entrance to the NP and – rather strangely for such a wild, natural area – offers the usual urban distractions and attractions. But the environment is wild. Its’ common to see hippos wandering down the village streets at night, or to see them walking down the beach at the mouth of the lake after sunset ! The lake itself, over 60 kms long, is the most densely inhabited locale for crocodile and hippos in the world. The peninsula is a game and animal reserve, easily visited by car, while its ocean-side beaches are prime turtle egg-laying territory. The entire area abounds with bird life – including the rare Fishing Eagle.  This unique, wild natural attraction offers a wealth of ‘natural’ sports including horse riding along pristine white beaches and through the reserve.   http://www.sa-venues.com/game-reserves/kzn_lakestlucia.htm             http://www.southafrica-travel.net/Parks/e_lucia.htm

The Hluhluwe-Umfolozi National Parks,  350 kms north of Durban, just off the N-2 dates back to 1897. Merged in 1998, the NP now covers 100.000 hectares with 220 kms of game drives. The NP is renowned for its populations of Black and White Rhinos – both of which are rapidly disappearing from the world – as well as many well protected game reserves and refuges. The parks have a huge variety of other wildlife including lions, leopards, elephant, and large herds of various antelope and buck. They lie in the middle of beautiful countryside, dominated by high rolling hills, low acacia forest and fever trees dotted with various camps and chalets http://www.africasafari.co.za/hluhluweparkm.htm

Below: Drakensberg Mountains. Photo Credit South Africa Adventures

 

DRAKENSBERG MOUNTAINS

Inland, and northwest from Durban, lie the iconic Drakensberg Mts. Running SE from the Freestate, and then curving to the SW, they form the border of KZN and Lesotho. The highest, most impressive and spectacular ramparts  of the mountains are to be found at the Amphitheatre, and Mont-aux-Sources in the KZN Royal National Park, http://www.nature-reserve.co.za/royal-natal-national-park.htmlthe in the northern section of the range  about 320 kms from Durban.  Cathedral Peak      http://www.cathedralpeak.co.za/ as well as  Champagne Castle and Cathkin Peak are situated further south in the central reaches of the mountain range,  250 kms from the coast ( http://www.natal-tourism.co.za/drakensberg/drakensberg_central_cathkin.php)  while  Giants’ Castle, in the KZN Drakensberg Park, is in the southern section of this impressive range. The highest peaks top the 3.400 meter level  (the highest in Africa, with one exception – Kilamanjaro!).  All the resorts – NPs or otherwise – offer a full range of mountain hiking, horseback riding, paragliding – even  helicopter tours ‘over the tops’.

Don’t be intimidated by the private resort hotels – which for the most part belong to another era. They are often expensive for what they are, but also can and do provide surprisingly economical rates and their location is second to none. All the areas however provide a wide selection of nearby accommodation options as well as backpacker and youth hostels. Like the distances and the peaks in this area, a little research goes a long, long way.

Some of the most stunning, beautiful and intoxicating hikes, walks and climbs are here in the Drakensberg. Research the options before you decide – it’s well worth the effort.

KwaZulu-Natal provides the visitor with just about everything he could ever wish for, or want to do. But then so does much of the country. If you have the time, before leaving the Zulu motherland, take a trip across the Valley of a Thousand Hills. It is an oddly unique landscape with deep ravines, thick forests, sugarcane fields and hundreds upon hundreds of Zulu villages and houses spread over the hillsides. See: http://www.zulu.org.za/index.php?1000hills It is within an easy days drive and visit from Durban or the coast – try the route from MooiRivier (on the Durban-Johannesburg motorway) through Greytown to Stanger , which cuts through the middle of the Thousand Hills and provides an excellent overview of the area.

 

THE TOP TOURS TO EXPERIENCE IN KWAZULU-NATAL

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