KwaZulu Natal has always been a difficult place to sell to people who have never visited, but as the second and third generation visitors come back to our shores, it seems to be getting more popular and for that I am glad! As a daughter of the province, and as the unofficial tourism minister for the region, I thought it my duty to spell out the best that it has to offer:
Durban, although loved by locals for its easy-going lifestyle and year-round sunshine, is certainly not the kind of city that you would spend a week in, but rather as a base for exploring the province. Best to stay away from the city centre when looking at hotels and rather choose places in or near trendy Florida Road with its boutiques, cafes and restaurants (The Quarters Hotel, for instance) or otherwise move up the coast to Umhlanga, Umdloti or Ballito. The latter three were once villages north of the city but with the growth that Durban has experienced, they are now part and parcel and Umhlanga is considered by locals as another “suburb”, although this is really not the case. They are all in essence still seaside villages, Umhlanga and Ballito being the biggest and most popular. They all have lovely beaches and plenty of restaurants to keep you well fed.
Recommended places to stay in the coastal villages include the five star Beverley Hills Hotel, Teremok Lodge, Sandals, Hotel Izulu and the Ballito Boathouse. Even further up the coast (a good 45 min drive) is Zimbali Lodge, which is perched on top of a forested hill with fantastic views of the ocean and even more fantastic golfing. KwaZulu Natal is famous for its golf courses and offers several of the best in the country including The Durban Country Club, Selbourne, Zimbali and Princes Grant. You definitely need a car in Durban as everything is very spread out and public transport is virtually non existent. It is also a must for getting out of the city and spending time in other parts of the province:
The Midlands started as a farming community and then later turned into a haven for artists and writers and has since also become home to cheese makers, organic butchers and all sorts of other industrious folk. Extremely popular with weekenders from Durban as it is only an hour and a half’s drive, it has yet to take off with the international crowd. On the accommodation side, there are a few good hotel-type options and then also plenty of self-catering cottages on farms. I would recommend either Cleopatra Mountain Farmhouse which is a gourmet retreat in the mountains or otherwise Rawdons Country House, which although is not by any means a hugely upmarket property, is brilliantly situated and has everything you would expect a country house to have with regards to sporting facilities and also has a micro brewery on site that makes its own ales!
The 200 kilometre long Drakensberg Mountains - otherwise known as uKhahlamba or Barrier of Spiers, were declared a World Heritage Site in 2000, and rightly so. They are both dramatic and alluring and are a must to visit. Whether its for the culture and history of the people (people have occupied the region for a million plus years, first in the Stone Age and more recently the San people) or the walking and hiking, or simply for relaxing and enjoying the mountain air! Interestingly enough, most of the hotels are three or four star country houses, rather than five star, but views, sports facilities, a pub and warm fireplace and friendly smiles keep people happy and I suppose that?s all that counts at the end of the day. I would recommend Cathedral Peak, Champagne Castle or Champagne Sports Hotel in the area.
The KZN Battlefields
The Battlefields, although not for everyone, certainly have their place in Kwa Zulu Natal itineraries. The province hosted some of the most significant battles in South Africa?s history ? first the Voortrekkers and the Zulus and later the British against the Zulus. There is plenty of accommodation in the region, two of the most popular being Fugitives Drift Lodge (home of the late David Rattray) and Isandlwana Lodge.
KZN Game Reserves
There are four Game Reserves in KwaZulu Natal, three of which are part of the Parks Board and the last being the private Phinda Reserve. The latter is situated in Northern KZN, very close to the St Lucia Wetlands, and is by far the most upmarket reserve in the region. Otherwise, on the more budget end, there are the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi and also Mkuzi Reserves ? which do offer a similar experience to say, Kruger Rest Camps, for instance. However, the Parks Board does offer accommodation within the reserves which are in between budget and Phinda standard, for instance Mtwazi in Hluhluwe and Masinda in Umfolozi.
the Elephant Coast
The Elephant Coast is the stretch of coast between St Lucia to the south and Kosi Bay to the north. I spent my childhood there, playing on empty dunes, learning to snorkel and helping the folks cook fresh fish on the braai or prepare mussels in garlic butter! I still wonder whether they still sell pineapple ice creams in Sodwana Bay, where the locals cut off the sharp leaves making a “stick” and then aptly peeling the outer skin of the fruit. Absolutely beautiful! In my opinion, this coastline is some of the most beautiful and wildest I have ever seen and no visit to KwaZulu Natal is complete without experiencing it. Access is tricky to some parts unless you have a 4x4 but the upmarket lodges have a pickup point where you drop your car off and finish the journey with them. Rocktail Bay, Tonga Beach and Kosi Forest Lodge are among the best lodges to stay at, a far cry from the camping we used to do!
If you’d like to discuss these destinations or any others in KwaZulu Natal in more detail, why not contact us.