Spotlight on Kwa Zulu Natal, Safaris and Cultural Experiences
A round-up of some of the best cultural experiences in KZN
KwaZulu Natal boasts a variety of cultural experiences. The province is deeply rooted in the legacy of the great Zulu nation; providing multiple opportunities for visitors to explore various cultural experiences the province has to offer.
Visitors can learn about King Shaka, the great Zulu military leader; visit the site of the most brutal battle for the Zulu throne after King Shaka’s death, eNdondakusuka; the Anglo-Zulu war where two battles were fought in the north coast, or learn about Mahatma Gandhi; who was instrumental in the struggle against the Apartheid regime. Gandhi showed his humility during this time when he provided medical assistance to Chief Bambatha’s injured soldiers during the Bambatha Rebellion.
Try out the Shakaland Nandi Experience; a guided tour that allows guests to experience Zulu culture on a full-day tour to the largest kraal (homestead) in Zululand. Here guests get the opportunity to visit a traditional healer as well as observe their ancient practices, sample beer, and see weapons used by Shaka Zulu to forge an empire.
Craig Rutherfoord, Managing Director of Ghost Mountain Inn; said being in the heart of the Zulu Kingdom, there are a variety of opportunities to meet locals, and discover as well as experience Zulu culture first-hand. He said Ghost Mountain Inn offered an authentic experience of rural Zulu culture.
Guests visit a local homestead up in the Lebombo Mountains; where they meet the Headman and his family. The visit may be curated to include a food and beer sampling, a visit to a Sangoma (traditional healer), or a lesson on how to stick fight with some of the locals.
The tour also caters for the more energetic traveller, with a community hike through the Myeni ancestral lands and offers hikers the chance to meet more of the community, as well as take in the views from the top of the Lebombo cliffs towards Lake Jozini.
Aha Shakaland is 160 km north of Durban, in Eshowe; a famous cultural village tourist attraction.
Aha Shakaland offers 55 traditional thatched Zulu rondavels; comprising twin standard rooms for two adults sharing, double standard rooms for two adults and two children sharing, and family rooms for up to four people. All are en-suite.
It features authentic African décor, complete with wooden furnishings and signature Shakaland Nguni hide mats.
Guests can explore the rich heritage of the Zulu people through the ‘Cultural Nandi Experience’. This experience is a three-hour daytime adventure named in honour of King Shaka’s mother, Nandi. It starts with a walk through the village, with a stop at the local sangoma. This is followed by a traditional Zulu beer drinking ceremony. Guests will also learn more about the fighting formations invented by King Shaka. Guests also witness traditional stick fighting demonstrations, and try their hand at spear throwing.
Afterwards, stop at the market; where arts and crafts, including beadwork, carvings and woven baskets, are on display.
Dining at aha Skakaland gives guests a truly Zulu African experience with a Zulu feast and forms an intrinsic part of the whole cultural experience. Food is prepared on an open fire in the restaurant. ‘Shisa Nyama’ is a traditional method of preparing the meals; with an open flame and three-legged pots.
Guests are shown the traditional methods of how food was prepared; from a maiden grinding corn into maize meal, to the brewing of traditional beer.
Dumazulu Traditional Village in Hluhluwe, allows guests to learn about Zulu culture over a traditionally cooked meal; paired with a vibrant Zulu dance from the local tribe.
Ardmore, founded in the Midlands, was established in 1985 by Zimbabwean-born ceramic artist Fée Halsted on Ardmore farm in the foothills of the Drakensberg. Today one will find a bustling studio, gallery and museum in the Caversham Valley.
Halsted originally took her first student, Bonnie Ntshalintshali; who was her housekeeper’s daughter, and disabled due to polio, and within five years the two found national and international recognition. Soon more members from the local community signed up and today, Ardmore is a collaboration of 40 artists under Halsted’s mentorship.
Ardmore combines ceramic art techniques with African colour and folklore. Since its beginnings, Ardmore has branched out into colourful fabrics too; recently collaborating with the international brand, Hermès.
The Voortrekker Msunduzi Museum in Pietermaritzburg was created in 1912 to profile the Voortrekkers of the KZN region. The museum has since become fully representative of the different cultures of the area; while retaining a focus on the history and culture of the Voortrekkers.
The museum displays the political shift towards integration and democracy. One of the most notable on-site attractions is the Church of the Vow; which was built in 1839 by the Boers to fulfil a promise that they would construct it in return for victory at the Battle of Blood River.
Further down the road, an extension of the museum sits one of the oldest original Voortrekker houses; dating back to the 1800s. The building focuses on the concentration camps that were established by the British in Natal during the Second South African War (Anglo-Boer war).
A guide to safaris in KwaZulu Natal
There are various reasons to opt for a safari holiday in KwaZulu Natal instead of the usual Mpumalanga and Limpopo getaways. Tourism Update delves into why one should book a KwaZulu Natal safari.
According to Craig Rutherfoord, Managing Director of Ghost Mountain Inn; the tourism offering in northern KwaZulu Natal has grown rapidly in recent years in terms of variety, quantity and quality. The traditional game reserves include the Big Five reserves of uMkhuze and Hluhluwe, Tembe; which is home of Africa’s largest African elephants, Ndumo’s inland pans and birding, or the highlands of Itala.
The iSimangaliso Park is a major draw card as it includes a variety of coastal destinations; such as Sodwana Bay, which is a pull for diving enthusiasts, as well as Cape Vidal, St Lucia and Kosi Bay, all offering a variety of fishing, snorkelling, scuba diving, whale and turtle tours, and numerous other beach activities.
Rutherfoord says: “Combine this with cultural and historical offerings and we have a destination that offers great diversity of experiences, catering for a variety of affordability levels.”
KwaZulu Natal is unique in comparison with other more traditional safari destinations due to the relative proximity of all the diverse experiences. One need not venture out of the province to get the bush and beach experience, allowing visitors to base themselves in one spot and take day trips for various activities or sightseeing.
The Ghost Mountain Inn in KwaZulu Natal.
Rutherfoord says Ghost Mountain Inn is an ideal base for guests, as they can either explore the variety of offerings in the vicinity with a guide or self-drive; go birding the uMkhuze and Hluhluwe game reserves; opt for boat cruises and fishing on Lake Jozini; and enjoy authentic cultural experiences, homestead visits and numerous hiking options.
His tip to visitors is to allow time; as you need time to explore the diversity that the region offers. He says there are multiple packages available; especially from Ghost Mountain Inn, which also includes Mozambique in one itinerary.
Northern KZN offers a variety of game reserves to choose from, such as Phinda Game Reserve, Thanda Game Reserve, AmaZulu Game Reserve, Mkuze Falls Game Reserve in Pongola, Zululand Rhino Reserve and Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve, which is open to the public and rhino sightings are an amazing experience.
The game reserves in the region differ hugely from those in the Kruger region, and guests have a good chance of seeing cheetah on their visit.
Lodges in the area generally offer good value for money in comparison with the rest of South Africa; which has been highly marketed and commercialised.
General Manager of Business Development and Contracting for Tourvest DMC, Renier Friis; said guests looking at KwaZulu Natal on their second or third visit to SA, after already experiencing the Kruger National Park, tend to combine the safari portion of their KwaZulu Natal trip with other attractions such as the coast, Midlands, Drakensberg, and the Battlefields, as well as cultural experiences.
A spotlight on Durban and surrounds
There has been much development along Durban’s coast and its surrounding areas. Tourism Update investigates the perks of visiting the region.
How to get there
Durban and its surrounding tourist regions are easily accessible, as visitors can opt to drive or; for those who prefer to fly, King Shaka International Airport offers a variety of daily flights.
Mkhuze Airport is undergoing a massive R32 million (€2m) upgrade. The airport is north of Richards Bay and will hopefully further grow tourism in the area.
The new developments of at the airport are expected to benefit the numerous game reserves in the region, making them even more accessible.
Where to stay
There is an abundance of accommodation options, catering for five-star all the way to budget-conscious travellers. There is the Fairmont Zimbali Hotel and Zimbali Lodge, which is high-end accommodation, the Salt Rock Hotel with beautiful surroundings and numerous food options, to La Montaggne Hotel and Resort famous for its vibe and nightlife.
If you are looking for something a little more rustic; you can choose between Salt Rock Caravan Park, Cane Cutters in Umhlali, or Chaka’s Rock Chalets on the Beach Road.
Those looking for seclusion can opt for Palmland Bed and Breakfast. A treasure trove in the north is Blythedale Beach, which has various options to choose from. Kearsney Manor, a guesthouse towards Maphumulo from Stanger offers old-world charm, allowing guests to switch off.
For nature lovers, there is Zinkwazi Lagoon Lodge and Nkwazi Camp Site, which is among the sand dunes, making it an ideal spot for campers. The Amatikulu Nature Reserve offers rustic cabins and bungalows and is perfect for those wanting to canoe, fish, swim and stroll along the stretches of beach and river. Guests can also pitch a tent on the reserve.
What to do
Northern KZN offers an abundance of activities; ranging from beach to bush, and everything in between.
Thompsons Bay, home to the famous ‘granny pool’ and the ‘hole in the wall’, a unique rock formation, is popular amongst tourists and locals.
Clarke Bay has a constant buzz, with various activities available. For the foodies, the bay has many restaurants and, for the young at heart, the nightclubs adjacent to the beach precinct boast a vibrant nightlife. Close by is Salmon Bay, a go-to for surfers and deep-sea anglers. 5FM holds its Ballito New Year’s Eve Party here too.
For the bush lovers, northern KZN has numerous game reserves with the Big Five. For the birding fanatics; the region hosts a wide variety of birds; Amatikulu Nature Reserve is the perfect option for the bird-watchers.
Visitors can enjoy some of the most rewarding fishing, from the freshwater fishing in dams and lagoons, surf fishing along the shore and deep-sea fishing.
uShaka marine theme park has the fifth-largest aquarium in the world and is a great day out for the whole family.
The aquarium is home to various shark species, rays, morays, local game fish and dolphin, just to name a few.
Oribi Gorge is a must, as visitors can either get active and enjoy the numerous hikes on offer, go abseiling, zip line across the top of the gorge, or sit back and relax and enjoy the scenic views while enjoying a picnic.
The gorge is 24 kilometres long, carved out by the Umzimkulwana River. The reserve is home to five species of kingfisher, and seven species of eagle, as well as leopards, baboons, small antelope and prolific birdlife.
The Midlands Meander is one of the most popular arts and crafts routes in South Africa, featuring over 150 destinations. Tourists can enjoy outdoor activities, go to family-friendly farms and enjoy canopy tours, as well as hot-air ballooning, not to mention the choice of golf courses in the region.
The city of Durban is another go-to for tourists, as it is the province’s business and industry hub, SA’s Miami Beach, with its extensive shorelines and promenades.
Durban’s port is the busiest in SA and is one of the ten largest in the world. The weather in the city feels as if it is summer all year round.
Howick Falls is 95 metres high and is on the Umgeni River, with the name ‘KwaNogqaza’ by the Zulu people, which translates into ‘place of the tall one’.
The area near the falls was thought to have been occupied by humans over 30 000 years ago; prior to any western influence and local legend is that the falls are home to a resident giant serpent-like creature, Inkanyamba.
The falls have become a go-to with tourists visiting the Midlands.
The Ampitheatre, one of the main geographical features of northern Drakensberg is one of the most imposing cliff faces in the world.
The cliff face is around three times the size of the Yosemite’s El Capitan in California, and more than ten times the size of its southwestern face.
It forms part of the Royal Natal National Park.