Kwazulu-Natal: Land of the Zulu Kingdom

A crossroads of cultures. The meeting place of the ancient and the modern. Here the splendour of nature abounds, complemented by a rich history of icons and legends, playgrounds and sensory pleasures, adventure and leisure…and it all comes together in an awesome spectacle like no other.

There is something very, very unique about KwaZulu-Natal, a province in the north-eastern part of South Africa, bordered by the majestic Drakensberg mountain range, the Highveld of the interior, Mozambique in the north, the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, and the kingdoms of Lesotho, Swaziland and the amaXhosa.

What makes it so unique is that within an area of some 60,000 square kilometres you will find some of the most astonishing natural beauty anywhere, set in a landscape that constantly changes as you travel from region to region. You will also find a dynamic fusion of cultures and people originating from three different continents, while ancient rural custom and tradition interchange with modern, urban sophistication. It is also home to arguably one of the most fabled, enduring kingdoms of Africa.

Dotted throughout the province are some of the best game reserves and parks in Africa, home to the Big Five and numerous other species, and a bird-watchers delight. Be sure to visit the country’s first World Heritage Site, the breathtakingly beautiful iSimangaliso Wetland Park and its ‘Miracle Waters’; the only place on earth where the world’s oldest land mammal, biggest terrestrial mammal, oldest fish and the biggest marine mammal co-exist in a shared ecosystem. Kayak close to hippo and crocodiles, or snorkel on coral reefs in the company of turtles, sharks and giant whale sharks. A once-in-a-lifetime experience.

The North Coast, South Coast and the metropolitan area of Durban are renowned as the holiday playground of South Africa, with hundreds of thousands of people flocking here every summer. The warm coastal climate, however, makes this an all-year ‘summer’ destination.

The province has two major cities, pulsating Durban on the coast and the stately capital Pietermaritzburg an hour’s drive inland. There are many historical and interesting smaller towns, with much to offer. Durban, within the greater eThekwini Metro, is also South Africa’s premier port, serving not only the industrial heartland of Gauteng, but also most of the countries of Southern Africa.

Explore the cultural explosion that is Durban, from its golden beaches to its theatres and shops, from traditional Zulu dancers to its bustling muti and Indian spice markets at Warwick Junction, one of Africa’s largest market complexes. Go surfing, kayaking, scuba diving or play in the breakers. Take in a boat cruise, a helicopter flip, or drift above it all in a hot-air balloon. Bungee jump off the top of Durban’s Soccer World Cup stadium, where you can also attend any one of a many international sporting events. Or pick from a menu of world-class courses for a leisurely day of golf.

Then live it up in the nightlife district on Florida Road. Spoil yourself to beer and a braai while entertained by streets buskers at a lively township shebeen in KwaMashu. Stroll along the Golden Mile with its high-rise, world-class hotels and visit the aquatic sensation, uShaka Marine World.

Pop into the house where Mahatma Ghandi lived and worked, or feel the Madiba Magic where Nelson Mandela voted for the first time in his life. Or go and say “howzit” to Fernando Pessoa, or rather his bronze bust, known as the greatest Portuguese poet and an international literary giant who grew up here. On the Victoria Embankment you can snap a selfie with Dick King and his horse, who raced 960km in 10 days to Grahamstown in 1842 to fetch military help for the British garrison in Durban besieged by Boer forces.

For a more solemn experience visit the Emmanuel Cathedral, built in memory of the Prince Imperial, Napoleon IV, who died in battle in this province during the Anglo-Zulu War. Or enter into the soulful silence of the biggest Hare Krishna Temple in Africa, the Sri Sri Radhanath Temple of Understanding.

Then head inland, passing through the natural beauty of the Valley of a Thousand Hills, to the provincial capital of Pietermaritzburg with its colonial architecture. From here you have a multitude of choices.

Head west to the majestic Drakensberg with its towering cliffs, giant natural amphitheatres, waterfalls and, in winter, snow-covered slopes for some snowboarding or skiing. Or go north for a guided tour of the famous battlefields where Zulus, Boers and Brits once clashed in legendary battles that shaped the history of this country. Or go northeast to the Zulu Kingdom, visit the kraals of kings and the grave of that most famous of Zulu warrior kings, Shaka Zulu, at kwaDukuza.

These area but a handful of the many, many splendid delights this awesome province of South Africa has to offer. If you have never spent quality time here, you have not lived.