KwaZulu-Natal is a province in South Africa absolutely teeming with exciting and diverse attractions. Located in the south east of the country, it borders three other countries – Mozambique, Swaziland, and Lesotho. Its capital is Pietermaritzburg, and the largest city is Durban. KwaZulu-Natal has a long, beautiful shoreline of outstanding beaches on the Indian Ocean, as well as game reserves, historic battlefields, dramatic mountain ranges, and ecologically important wetlands.
The following is a list of great places to see in KwaZulu-Natal while on your South Africa vacation.
Durban is South Africa’s third-largest city and a semi-tropical urban metropolis. Durban’s downtown area is a mix of grandiose colonial buildings and Art Deco architecture. It is a very important tourist centre because of its warm, subtropical climate and excellent sandy beaches. It is home to the largest concentration of people of Indian descent outside of India, which gives Durban an unmistakable Asian feeling.
The Colourful South African Gateway City of Durban
Pietermaritzburg, the capital of KwaZulu-Natal, is situated about 80 kilometres/50 miles from the coast and is at its loveliest in spring when masses of azaleas burst into bloom. It is a city with many landmark colonial buildings, including the red-brick City Hall and the old Supreme Court building now turned into an art gallery. The beautiful old Pietermaritzburg Railway Station is where, in 1893, Mahatma Gandhi was told to leave the train when he was travelling in a “whites only” compartment.
Pietermaritzburg is known for the famous and grueling 90 kilometre/56 mile Comrades Marathon, which runs between here and Durban, and takes place every year, attracting participants and spectators from around the world. One of the prettiest parts of the area is the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, which starts just north of Pietermaritzburg. Featuring green, well-watered farmlands, lovely streams, rivers, and waterfalls, this natural beauty is ideal for horse riding, hiking, swimming, biking, and fishing.
Ladysmith is a city located in the north west of KwaZulu-Natal, roughly equidistant from both Durban and Johannesburg. It became a prosperous hangout for fortune hunters en route to the Transvaal gold and diamond fields. However, Ladysmith made world headlines at the end of the 19th century when it was besieged during the most crucial stage of the Anglo-Boer War. Approximately 3,000 British soldiers died during the siege. Worth a visit is the Siege Museum, which explains the battles and history at the time of the Siege. The museum holds around 60,000 documents related to the Siege and the Boer War. A large number of Second Boer War battlefields around Ladysmith have been preserved as memorial sites, as monuments have been erected to those who died during the battles. Ladysmith is also an excellent gateway to the Drakensberg Mountains.
The Drakensberg Mountains
The Drakensbergs are an 1120 kilometre/700 mile range of mountains, not totally in KwaZulu-Natal, but spread out into other provinces. Consisting of scenery that is some of the most spectacular in South Africa, especially in the north, it features rugged peaks, pinnacles, forest, waterfalls, and rivers. The name comes from the Afrikaans for Dragon Mountains.
The uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park is one of two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in KwaZulu-Natal. It offers scenic sites with interesting names such as Cathedral Peak, Giant’s Castle, and Monk’s Cowl. A particularly renowned attraction of the park is the Amphitheatre, a wall of rock 5 kilometres/3 miles in length and 1000 metres/3250 feet high. The spectacular Tugela Falls rush down from its domed summit at Mont-aux-Sources. With its crisp clean air, the park is perfect for hiking, rock climbing, and fly fishing.
One very fascinating feature of the Drakensbergs is the San (Bushmen) rock art. Though the inhabitants have largely disappeared from the area, they have left their mark in the form of some 30,000 paintings in 600 caves – the largest collection of such work in the world. The paintings are difficult to date, due to the materials used in their production, but there is evidence, including many hunting implements, that the San people existed in the Drakensberg at least 40,000 years ago.
The iSimangaliso Wetland Park
The iSimangaliso Wetland Park is the other UNESCO World Heritage Site in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, and is awarded in recognition of its exceptional natural beauty and unique global ecological values. It is also known as the St. Lucia Wetlands. The park contains three major lake systems, eight interlinking ecosystems, most of South Africa’s remaining swamp forests, Africa’s largest estuary system, over 500 bird species, and coastal dunes which are among the highest in the world. iSimangaliso means “miracle and wonder”, and it aptly describes it.
What are you going to see here? With its rich biodiversity, unique ecosystems, and natural beauty occurring in a relatively small area, there is a huge diversity in fauna and flora ranging from coral reefs and sandy beaches to subtropical dune forests, savannas, and wetlands. Animals to be viewed include elephant, African leopard, black and southern white rhino, and buffalo. Ocean marine life includes whales, dolphins, and turtles, including the leatherback and loggerhead turtle. The park is also home to 1200 Nile crocodiles and 800 hippopotami. In 2013, African lions were reintroduced.
KwaZulu-Natal is home to Zulu monarch, King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu. Although he doesn’t hold any direct political power, the Zulu king is given a stipend by the government and holds considerable influence among the more traditionalist Zulu people in the province.
Despite being constantly under threat from modernization, Zululand remains intact, and there are sites of great cultural significance to be experienced. One way to have this experience is to visit one of the many cultural villages to catch a glimpse the special lifestyle and traditions. You can stay over in a traditional Zulu homestead, sample traditional Zulu food, and visit a traditional healer. Some of the best places to visit are Shakaland, Dumazulu, or Simunye.
Suggested Day Tour:
Durban: Shakaland Full Day Tour
The Inheritance of Zululand in South Africa
Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve
Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve is the oldest nature reserve in Africa. It is situated 280 kilometres/170 miles north of Durban and is known for its rich wildlife and conservation efforts. The reserve is the only state-run park in KwaZulu-Natal where all the “Big Five” game animals can be found. In fact, it has the largest population of white rhino in the world. It is home to 86 special species including the Nile crocodile, hippopotamus, cheetah, spotted hyena, blue wildebeest, jackal, giraffe, zebra, a variety of tortoises, terrapins, snakes, lizards, and so much more! It is also home to 340 bird species. Throughout the park there is evidence of Stone Age settlements, as the region was originally a royal hunting ground.
KwaZulu-Natal is the site of a concentration of historic battles which took place over numerous years and shaping both South African and British history. The wind-swept plains are littered with the remains of stone forts and graveyards which bear witness to innumerable fierce battles. These include the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 and the First Anglo-Boer War, which pitted the Boers and the British against one another with numerous battles ensuing across this same area of land.
One famous battlefield site is Spionkop, where three prominent men were featured, who would play an important role in world affairs. Winston Churchill was a war correspondent, Mahatma Gandhi was a stretcher bearer, and Louis Botha went on to become the first prime minister of the Union of South Africa.
Every year, numerous re-enactments of some of the famous battles take place. These are colourful affairs with many local people dressed up in either bright red colonial British soldier or traditional Zulu warrior attire.
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