KwaZulu Natal

Because I’ve always wanted to…

Issue 39 / January 2020

New decade greetings to you all,

As mentioned in my October newsletter, I am a huge believer in travelling to and experiencing the countries we so enthusiastically market. Nico travelled around the South African region of KwaZulu Natal extensively last April and below is the story of her wonderful trip.

We plan to showcase many more of our exciting 2019 adventures in the coming months.

Wishing everyone a happy and healthy 2020.

Yours laterally,

Whether you are a Michael Caine fan or not, it’s difficult not be fascinated by the story of a group of spear-wielding Zulu warriors holding off the British army at a time when the latter had colonised most of the world, all the way from the Americas to Asia. Thanks to the brand new direct British Airways flight to Durban, the eclectic KwaZulu Natal region is now easier than ever to visit.

Nowhere else in Southern Africa can such a variety of scenery and activities be found: begin with trekking and mountain biking in the Drakensberg Mountains, visit big 5 safari reserves with pioneering conservation projects, discover battlefields from both the Zulu and the Boer wars, stay at one of Durban’s lively seafront hotels and explore the pristine and wild coastline towards the Mozambican border.

Thanks to the well-maintained roads and light traffic, this region is also ideal for those looking for a self-drive adventure and the fact that it’s malaria free is certainly a bonus point for families with younger children.

Drakensberg Mountains

After landing in Durban, the 4 hour drive to the Northern Drakensberg Mountains may seem daunting but it will certainly pay off upon arrival. The name, Drakensberg, roughly translates to “dragon mountains” or “the mountains of dragons” and it’s no wonder that it has earned this name as it is home to some of the country’s highest peaks, which surge up to 3,482 metres above sea level. Between and amongst these peaks are plateaus, valleys, slopes, and incredible mountain passes that make for some of the best hiking, walking and cycling adventures in South Africa.

Enjoy stunning views of the impressive cliff faces of the Amphitheatre escarpment from the comfort of your chalet at Montusi Mountain Lodge. The lodge is located in its own private reserve which is the perfect natural playground for trekking, mountain biking, horse riding and swimming or fishing in the many lakes and rivers present in this reclaimed farmland. The main mountain range itself is a short 10-minute drive away but for those preferring a stay within the peaks, the bigger Cathedral Peak Hotel could be a good alternative.

Anglo-Zulu & Anglo-Boer Battlefields

Heading East from the Drakensbergs, the terrain softens to rolling hills and eye-catching brown signs pointing the way to different battlefields start appearing. Zululand was the backdrop of 19th century epic battles between the British army and the Zulus as well as the Boers. The Anglo-Zulu wars, in particular, are firmly part of our popular culture thanks to many films dedicated to the subject, first of which the war epic Zulu (1964) featuring a young Michael Caine in his first major role. The movie depicts the events unfolding in January 1879 during the Battle of Rorke’s Drift and guided visits to the battlefield depart from Fugitives’ Drift Lodge daily. Today the battlefield appears as it did in the past and having the events of that day narrated by the descendants of those same Zulu warriors is thrilling as well as moving. The lodge overlooks another famous battlefield, Isandlwana, and features spacious and well-appointed rooms, pleasant gardens and an extensive collection of gins that is best “explored” around the fire while exchanging battle stories with fellow guests.

The Anglo-Boer war has been described as ‘the longest, the costliest, the bloodiest and most humiliating war that Britain fought in between 1815 and 1914’ and Three Tree Hill Lodge is perfectly located to bring to life the struggle between one of the largest Empires in history and one of the smallest nations in the world at the time. This family-owned lodge, places great emphasis on Sustainable Responsible Tourism and offers spectacular scenery, delicious locally grown farm-style country food and friendly hospitality. During a stay at this intimate, luxury 9 room lodge guests can learn about the war (and the little known capture of young Winston Churchill during such war) as well as explore the farm on foot, on horseback or mountain biking. Walks in the neighbouring Spioenkop Game Reserve, home to rhino, giraffe, zebra and wildebeest can also be arranged.

Big 5 Game Reserves

KwaZulu Natal remains a hidden gem in the safari scene which is surprising considering it’s malaria-free, it has an abundance of options to choose from and is one of the few places to offer both Bush & Beach experiences. The pioneer amongst the region’s award-winning private game reserves is without a doubt Phinda, the first Big 5 reserve to be established in the province, successfully demonstrating that dedicating land to wildlife had the potential to produce better returns than cattle farming. It encompasses seven distinct habitats and is particularly well known for close-up sightings of the cheetah, as well as the, sadly, very rare black rhino. Phinda is home to six lodges with &Beyond Phinda Rock Lodge being a firm favourite thanks to the luxury cave-like design of its six suites, all featuring private pools overlooking the beautiful Leopard Rock – always keep your binos close by while staying here!

Phinda’s neighbour, Thanda Private Game Reserve, offers interesting conservation activities and is particulary leading-edge in introducing wildlife to ensure genetic diversity. Guests can participate in the conservation tasks constantly happening behind the scenes, which can range from checking on the newly relocated cheetahs in the cheetah boma, placing camera traps, dehorning rhinos and more. Thanda Tented Camp is perfect for those wanting an under canvas experience or treat yourself to the more high-end Thanda Safari Lodge. Finally, Leopard Mountain Lodge, located in the ever expanding Manyoni Private Game Reserve, offers without a doubt the best Bush views in KwaZulu-Natal as well as a particularily well stocked wine cellar.

iSimangaliso Wetlands, Lake St. Lucia and Maputaland

When leaving the arid Zululand and heading North-East, the way to the Indian Ocean leads through the unique iSimangaliso Wetland National Park, South Africa’s first World Heritage Site. This huge protected area extends around the vast Lake St. Lucia, home to hippos and crocodiles as well as numerous bird species, includes grasslands teeming with wildlife and continues all the way to the coast. This exceptional variety of ecosystems allows for diverse wildlife sightings and experiences, including game drives, boat safaris, marine safaris, whale watching, deep sea fishing, snorkelling, kayaking, scuba diving and more.

The family-owned Makakatana Bay Lodge is located on the banks of Lake St Lucia and offers exclusive access to the lake’s backwaters. The best base to explore the coastal dune forest and to enjoy the wild beaches of Maputaland is Thonga Beach Lodge. Its 12 rooms are set in indigenous coastal bush, nestled in the dunes and a stone’s throw away from the sea. The coastline is enjoyable year-round, but November to February is turtle breeding season and the whale watching season runs from June to November.

Umhlanga, Durban

Located close to both Durban airport and the city itself, in the coastal town of Umhlanga, and beneath its landmark white and red lighthouse, is the Oyster Box Hotel.

The hotel exudes vintage charm and enjoying a sunset over the Indian Ocean from the terrace while watching pods of dolphins swim by would make anyone feel like Monaco royalty. The sea side pool, beautiful spa and impressive curry buffet make this hotel the perfect conclusion to a busy journey through the KwaZulu Natal region.

Up Periscope: Mahu Whenua, New Zealand

Perched on a plateau high over Wanaka lake and featuring sweeping 360 degrees views of the surrounding peaks and valleys, Mahu Whenua certainly offers a lot of what New Zealand is known for: towering mountains, lush green valleys, native bush, forests and meandering rivers. The property consists of four adjoining high country sheep stations which, combined, stretch from Wanaka all the way through to Arrowtown in Queenstown and host some of the most dramatic natural alpine scenery in New Zealand.

It may prove difficult to tear away from the stunning views but behind the lodge lie over 55,000 hectares of alpine playgroud just waiting to be explored. Activities available on-site include horse riding, mountain biking, hiking, yoga, cooking courses and heli-skiing. Mahu Whenua is also an eco-sanctuary, giving guests the opportunity to take conservation tours to learn about the native plant and bird projects underway and sustainable farming practices being undertaken on the property.

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