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Last updated : Nov 2009
 
Kwazulu - Natal
Kwazulu - Natal - TravelPuppy.com
Perhaps the most varied province in South Africa, KwaZulu-Natal contains roughly 1 quarter of the South African population and ranges from semi - tropical and tropical coast lands to snow capped peaks in the Drakensberg. In an otherwise dry country, KwaZulu-Natal has the same rainfall as the United Kingdom.

Durban

Growing at a startling rate, Durban is South Africa’s 3rd largest city, a mix of cultures including a large Indian community and a new arrival of Africans from countries to the north. Due to the almost tropical climate, swimming is achievable all year round, although the city’s beaches are becoming gradually more crowded. The central beach area, called the Golden Mile, actually stretches for 6 kilometres (4 miles) from the Umgeni River to the Point. Along it are a large variety of family entertainments and souvenir stalls, from the brilliant u'Shaka (aquarium) to funfairs, mini golf and a snake park. This stretch has also gradually become a target for muggers, and there are safer and quieter beaches south and north.

Colonial Durban has its heart in Francis Farewell Square, surrounded by numerous fine Edwardian and Victorian buildings, including the City Hall (which now contains Durban Art Gallery (which features a fine collection of black South African arts and crafts) and the Natural Science Museum. Nearby is the African Arts Centre, where a lot of local art is for sale. To the north is Central Park, and to the west of the centre is the Indian District, characterised by mosques, markets, temples and well preserved buildings from the turn of the century, including the Juma Musjid Mosque. At the other end of the Madressa Arcade stands the Emmanuel Cathedral. To the north is the Victoria Street Market, filled with curios, spices and fresh produce.

To the north, the Botanical Gardens offer cool relief. The other main attractions of Durban lie along the Victoria Embankment and beyond, and include the Ocean Terminal Building (relic of the age of sea travel), the Yacht Mole and the Sugar Terminal, the nexus of KwaZulu-Natal’s massive sugar industry. Further out west is the suburb of Cato Manor, an amazing mix of temples and shanties including the Shree Alayam Second River Hindu Temple, which has a fire walking festival in autumn.

Scattered around the town and suburbs are many other interesting small museums, such as the Killie Campbell Collection, an outstanding African cultural collection in an old Cape Dutch mansion, the Natal Maritime Museum, the little Kwamuhle Museum of local 20th century history, and the Old Court House.

Excursions - Inland

Just north of Durban, the Valley of a Thousand Hills is a well-liked excursion for locals, with plenty of bijou shops and tearooms, the Assagay Safari Park and Phezulu are essential, child friendly places offering a snake park, crocodile farm, children’s zoo and Zulu dancing. The Paradise Valley Nature Reserve is a brilliant place to walk off the beaten track.

Excursions - The South Coast

South of Durban a series of beach resorts, including Scottsburgh, Amanzimtoti, Port Shepstone and Margate, have run together to create a ribbon of fun, sand and sea aimed at the family market, with several timeshares, self catering apartments and fast food. Activities include the Banana Express railway, a crocodile farm and the Oribi Gorge Nature Reserve, a scenic collection of forests and steep gorges leading down to the beach, covered in intense forest. The offshore Protea Banks and Aliwal Shoal are some of the finest dive sites in South Africa.

Excursions - The North Coast

North of Durban is a comparable string of slightly more upmarket resorts. Umhlanga Rocks is the residence of the Natal Sharks Board, which offers audiovisual presentations and shark dissections to visitors with a taste for gore. Ballito offers a variety of water and land sports, and just to the north lies Shaka's rock, where 19th century Zulu king, named Shaka used to throw his enemies off the cliff. Other small towns in the area include the sugar cane community of Tongaat, Salt Rock, which has a small crocodile farm, Crocodile Creek, and Shaka’s capital, Stanger, home to an appealing small museum.

The Midlands and Drakensberg

Between Natal’s coast and the mountains, there is an area of rolling wooded hills and lush plains with scattered villages and flourishing farmland, known as the Natal Midlands. There are several small game reserves with a large range of animal and bird life in the Midlands and the foothills of the Drakensberg, while local rivers offer brilliant fishing.

Pietermaritzburg, joint state capital (with Ulundi) is the biggest city in the area. Although founded by the Voortrekkers, the town’s architectural heritage is largely Victorian, best observed in the area around Church Street. There are many brilliant museums including Macrorie House Museum, the Natal Museum, Tatham Art Gallery and Voortrekker Museum.

The city is particularly beautiful in September when the azaleas are in bloom. The Botanic Gardens enable visitors to look at a variety of original flora. Within easy reach of Pietermaritzburg are the Karkloof Falls, the Howick Falls and the Albert Falls Public Resort and Nature Reserve.

The Drakensberg is South Africa’s biggest mountain range and the official southern end of the Great Rift Valley, which slices north across Africa for 6,000 kilometres (3,728 miles). Its name, which means ‘Dragon Mountains’ in Afrikaans, originates from the jagged backbone of saw toothed peaks. It is a inspirational place with cold mountain streams shaded by ancient yellowwood trees and ferns and the mountains are capped with snow in winter. The area offers good climbing, walking and riding while the peaks are the realm of eagles and bearded vultures. Famous climbs include Champagne Castle, Cathkin Peak and Cathedral Peak.

In the nearby caves are great examples of the rock art of the Bushmen who inhabited the area until a century ago. The Main Caves, in the Giant’s Castle Game Reserve, brag over 500 rock paintings in a single shelter. The reserve, which flanks the border with Lesotho, is dominated by a huge basalt wall incorporating the peaks of Giant’s Castle (3,314 metres / 10,873 feet) and Injasuti (3,459 metres / 11,349 feet) and is home to eland, other antelope and a variety of birds, including lammergeier, jackal buzzard, Cape vulture,   and black eagle.

Just to the north, the Royal Natal National Park is 1 of Natal’s most beautiful reserves. Its spectacular scenery includes the Amphitheatre, an 8 kilometres (5 mile) long crescent - shaped curve in the main basalt wall. It is flanked by 2 impressive peaks, the Sentinel (3,165 metres / 10,384 feet) and the Eastern Buttress (3,047 metres / 9,997 feet). Even higher is Mont-aux-Sources at 3,284 metres (10,775 feet). It is the source of the Tugela River which plummets 2,000 metres (6,562 feet) over the edge of the plateau. Hikers would enjoy following the spectacular Tugela Gorge.

The Battlefields

The northern part of KwaZulu-Natal is chiefly rolling grassland, spiked by irregular rocky kopjies (hills) which became the bloody frontline in a whole series of wars between the Afrikaans, Zulus and British (1830 – 1902).

Ladysmith was the site of a upsetting siege during the Anglo - Boer War. The Town Hall still shows the scars, while the old Market Hall next door is an brilliant Siege Museum. Behind it, the Cultural Centre is dedicated to local cultures and heroes, including the band, Ladysmith Black Mambazo and former World Boxing Champion, Sugarboy Malinga.

There is another fantastic museum, the Talana Museum, in Dundee, site of the 1st battle of the Boer War. This is also the finest place from which to visit Isandlwana, Fugitive’s Drift and Rorkes Drift, where a devastating series of battles between the Zulus and British in January 1879 led to the distressed defence of Rorke’s Drift mission station by a garrison of 139. Before the battle began, 35 people were already wounded. The outcome caused the most Victoria Crosses in a single engagement in the history of British warfare and was filmed as Zulu, starring Michael Caine. The mission is now an interpretive and arts centre. Also nearby is the battlefield of Blood River, scene of a well known victory by the Afrikaaners over the Zulus in 1838.

Further east, the small Afrikaaner town of Vryheid (Freedom) was founded in 1884. It continues to be a pretty little town today, with 3 small museums, the Lukas Meijer House, the Old Carnegie Library and the Nieuwe Republiek Museum. 3 major battles of the Anglo-Zulu War were fought nearby.

Just to the south, little known, but game rich, Itala Game Reserve (73,243 acres) offers spectacular golden grasslands, rocky kopjes and wooded valleys and is home to all main species except lion.

Zululand

In the mid 19th century, the Tugela River formed the boundary between Zululand and British Natal. Eshowe (‘the sound of wind in the trees’), now an attractive little farming town, has a Zulu royal pedigree. Fort Nongqayi (1883) is now the Zululand Historical Museum, and the Vukani Museum holds the world’s largest collection of traditional Zulu arts and crafts. The 494 acre (200 hectare) Dhlinza Forest is a small but stunning patch of indigenous hardwood forest.

In the nearby hills are many Zulu cultural villages, including KwaBhekithunga, Shakaland, Pobane, Stewart’s Farm and Simunye, all providing accommodation, food, a tour of a village, discussion of lifestyle and medicine and dance displays. North of the little market town of Melmoth, Mgungundlovu (the place of the great elephant) was the capital of King Dingane (c.1795 – 1843). The city was destroyed by the Afrikaans, but has now been partly rebuilt as a museum.

Ulundi, joint capital of KwaZulu-Natal and still home of the Zulu monarchy, has somewhat little for the tourist, however the site of the former royal capital, Ondini, is now the captivating KwaZulu Cultural Museum.

Much of the northerly part of KwaZulu - Natal is made up of a progression of interlinked public and private game reserves that together form 1 of Africa’s finest intensities of wildlife. In addition, it has a startlingly attractive coast, with vast sand dunes, silver sand beaches (shared with turtles) and offshore coral reefs. The 95,545 acre (38,682 hectare) Greater St Lucia Wetland Reserve is a diverse collection of wilderness areas around Lake St Lucia, including Mapelane, Sodwana Bay National Park, the St Lucia Game Reserve, False Bay Park, Cape Vidal State Forest, Sodwana State Forest, St Lucia Marine Reserve (stretching 5 kilometres / 3 miles out to sea), the Maputaland Marine Reserve, and the Mkuzi Game Reserve.

It covers 5 distinct ecosystems ranging from dry thorn scrub to tropical forest and bordered by beaches, giant dunes and tropical reefs, has ‘Big Five’ game viewing, and is the only place in the world where crocodiles, hippos and sharks share the same lagoon. It also has brilliant birdwatching and diving and, outside the National Park, exceptional fishing.

The 237,120 acre (96,000 hectare) Hluhluwe - Umfolozi National Park offers a huge range of habitats, from rocky hillside to open savannah grass and thick woodland, supporting about 86 species of mammal and roughly 425 recorded bird species. This is the Eden of almost all white rhinos in the world, thanks to a cautiously controlled breeding programme that has restocked a great deal of the rest of Africa. Between here and St Lucia is the privately owned 42,000 acre (17,000 hectare) Phinda Resource Reserve.

In the far north, near the Mozambique border, Lake Sibaya is the largest natural freshwater lake in southern Africa (77 square kilometres / 30 square miles), offering good fishing, bird watching and hiking. Beyond this, are the Ndumo and Tembe Game Reserves, with wonderful wildlife, including a large rhino population and a assortment of birds, and the magnificent coastal and marine Kosi Bay Nature Reserve, access is by 4 wheel drive only.
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