Visiting South Africa: The Rich Beauty of KwaZulu-Natal March 03 2015
As we are going to South Africa for a holiday in a few weeks' time, I thought it would be appropriate to share some great places that you should definitely visit at some point in your life.
I know that South Africa is often not on the top of everyone's bucket list, and many fear the crime situation (partly blamed on the sensationalist headlines from the media), I'd like to state that as long as you have your common sense skills tuned to the max, then you will be fine. Believe it or not, there are some places even in the UK and USA that people wouldn't dare walk through for whatever reason. So if you avoid walking down a dark alleyway on your own with laptop in hand and staring uncertainly at a map - a universal sign of vulnerability for wannabe criminals around the world - then all will be great! South Africa has so much to offer and is definitely one of the most beautiful and diverse countries in the world (and yes I may be slightly biased!). But just in case there is any confusion, check out some of these tips on how to keep safe.
Home is where the heart is, and that home is the beautiful east coast of South Africa, or more specifically KwaZulu-Natal, one of the country’s nine provinces. Whether you want to lounge on the beach, take a scenic drive through the Midlands or the Drakensberg, or visit a game reserve where you can go on game drives in the hope of spotting the Big 5 (lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino and leopard), there is something for everyone! Here are some of my favourites:
The Afrikaans name 'Drakensberg' can be directly translated to 'dragon mountains', or the Zulu name 'uKhahlamba' means 'barrier of spears', and you can see why from the pictures. The Ukhahlamba Drakensberg Park is one of UNESCO's World Heritage Sites, stretching about 150km across the country with breathtakingly beautiful scenery and is South Africa's highest mountain range. This has to be my favourite place in the whole world, and having been married here is testimony to that.
San Rock Art
There are numerous hiking routes for the adventurous type, some easier than others, and some spanning a number of days. Other exciting activities that you can participate in include fly-fishing, rock climbing, river tubing, quad biking and horse riding. There are also many picturesque golf courses and holiday resorts within the park. For a cultural touch, you can arrange tours where you will be taken to view some of the 4000 year old San rock art. There are about 30 000 paintings in 600 caves and overhangs depicting their way of life, something both fascinating and rewarding to see. Whether you are passing through or would like to spend a few nights here, you won't be disappointed! If you would really like to appreciate this magnificent landscape, then I fully recommend a helicopter tour. It will be worth every cent!
Nambiti Game Reserve
Nambiti Game Reserve (Far & Wild Safaris)
One cannot come to South Africa and not see some wild animals! If you plan on visiting the Drakensberg then a really great reserve nearby is Nambiti Game Reserve. Set in 22 000 acres of land rich in biodiversity, including savannah, grassland, riverine bush, and thornveld, this reserve is home to the Big 5, 40 other game species and a number of different birds. There are 9 different luxurious lodges situated within the reserve that offer self-catering or all-inclusive accommodation, and daily game drives are usually included in the price. And to answer your burning question, no you don't need to take any malaria tablets! In fact all of South Africa is malaria-free, and the only area where you will be advised to take precautions against malaria is at the northern-most tip of South Africa, or if you visit the Kruger National Park.
If you fancy exploring the rest of the province, then other major game reserves worth a visit are Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve, Thula Thula, Thanda Private Game Reserve, Tembe Elephant Park, and Phinda Private Game Reserve, to name a few.
iSimangaliso (St Lucia) Wetland Park
iSimangaliso Wetland Park (African Sky)
iSimangaliso Wetland Park, previously called the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park, became South Africa’s first World Heritage Site in 1999. This 332 000 hectare park boasts Africa’s largest estuarine system and has a unique arrangement of complex and interlinking ecosystems. iSimangaliso combines three major lake systems with swamp forests, 25 000 year old coastal sand dunes, and spectacular ocean coral reefs. There are a number of animals that make this beautiful yet sensitive environment their home such as hippo, crocodile, elephant, turtle and 526 species of birds!
iSimangaliso Wetland Park
You can enjoy a relaxing estuary boat cruise while sipping on a Savanna (South Africa’s best premium cider, and my favourite drink when I’m there!), or a leisurely stroll along one of the many pristine beaches in the park (if you fancy a dip in the sea, then make sure you go to one of the designated bathing beaches). For the more adventurous there’s kayaking including full day trips which combine snorkeling at Cape Vidal and a game drive, horse riding, scuba diving and deep sea fishing. There are many options for accommodation in and around the park, so this magnificent spot should definitely feature on your itinerary!
KZN Midlands (southafrica.net)
For a landscape similar to that which you’ll find at home in the UK but with a touch of Africa, then exploring the KZN Midlands is a must! The best way to do this is to follow the Midlands Meander and stop along at the various arts and crafts stalls, coffee shops for yummy cakes and lunches, indulge in a bit of shopping for locally handmade goodies, or even enjoy some beer tasting at the Nottingham Road Brewing Company. There are so many activities to enjoy along the way that are great fun for the whole family such as candle dipping, chocolate experiences and mini golf. Another great stopover is PheZulu, an educational Zulu cultural village and safari park where you can learn about traditional Zulu huts, culture, and dancing.
Nelson Mandela Capture Site
To experience a bit of solemn South African history, you can also visit the spot where the late Nelson Mandela was captured and arrested before being sentenced to 27 years in prison. The Nelson Mandela Capture Site is home to an impressive commemorative sculpture comprising of 50 steel columns that, from its main focal point, depict a portrait of the national hero.
Me with one of the Zulu dancers at PheZulu
After having a pause for a quick cuppa, I’ve realised that I might have written too much already and that you may have nodded off by now. So I’ll end there for now :)
I will post some more fabulous must-sees and -dos for South Africa soon. I do hope that this will inspire and encourage you to visit my beautiful home country. There is so much on offer culturally, aesthetically, historically (although not as ancient as some UK sites), and environmentally that not only will you feel relaxed when you leave, but you will feel spiritually enriched too.