Capital city: Durban
Population: 10 million
Surface area: 95 000 square km
Population wise, KwaZulu-Natal is one of the largest provinces in South Africa. Roughly a quarter of the national population resides here. The province is also geographically diverse, with the high Drakensberg mountains and a long coastline. As much rain falls in the province as in the United Kingdom.
Durban is the third biggest city in South Africa, and continues to grow in size. The city is home to a large Indian community (said to be the largest outside of India) and immigrants from other African countries. The subtropical climate means that the city is usually hot and humid, and this makes the long beaches very popular. The central beach, namely the Golden Mile, is 6km (4 miles) long, and extends from the mouth of the Umgeni River to the Point. Along this beach are an aquarium (uShaka) and funfairs, as well as a snake park and other entertainments.
At the centre of the city is the Francis Farewell Square. Adjacent to the Square is the Natural Science Museum, and the Durban Art Gallery. Close by is the African Arts Center, specialising in local art. North of the city centre is Central Park, while westwards lies the Indian District, which is home to mosques, markets, temples and antique architecture. Durban also has a Botanical Garden.
On the Victoria Embankment, and further on, is the Yacht Mole, the Sugar Terminal, and the Ocean Terminal Building. The Sugar Terminal is at the heart of the province’s enormous sugar industry. To the west lies the district of Cato Manor, where one can see various shrines, such as the Shree Alayam Second River Hindu Temple, which hosts a fire-walking ceremony in the autumn.
Durban is one of the largest port cities in South Africa. Moving into the interior of the province, however, one finds the locally popular Valley of a Thousand Hills, the Assegai Safari Park and the Paradise Valley Nature Reserve, the latter offering good hiking trails.
Located on the South Coast of KwaZulu-Natal are a number of resorts, such as Scottsburgh, Amanzimtoti, Margate and Port Shepstone, offering a variety of accommodation and a good fun-filled holiday destination. Places to visit include the Oribi Gorge Nature Reserve, the crocodile farm, and the Banana Express. Diving is possible in the Aliwal Shoal and Protea Banks.
The North Coast of the province is peppered with more upmarket resorts. Then there is also the Umhlanga Rocks area, where the Natal Sharks Board is based. The Board offers shark dissections and presentations. Water sports are popular in Ballito. Or you can view Shaka’s Rock, where the Zulu king Shaka used to cast his enemies off a high precipice. Other places of interest are Tongaat, a sugar farming settlement, Stanger, the capital of Shaka’s kingdom, and Salt Rock.
The Natal Midlands are aptly named, as they lie in a region midway between the Drakensberg mountains and the coast. This area is devoted to agriculture, and also includes some smaller game reserves. Fishing is possible in the rivers. The largest urban settlement in the Midlands is Pietermaritzburg, where one can visit a number of fine museums, such as the Macrorie House Museum and the Natal Museum, or the Botanical Gardens. Some way out of the town are the Karkloof Falls and the Albert Falls Public Resort and Nature Reserve.
The Drakensberg mountains are the highest mountains in South Africa. They also form the southern perimeter of the African Great Rift Valley, which extends for about 6000km (about 3750 miles) across the face of Africa. The name Drakensberg means “Dragon Mountain”, and was given owing to the rugged appearance of the mountains, which resembles the saw-tooth back of a dragon. The mountain is characterised by cool streams and old yellowwood trees. In winter, the peaks are covered in snow, which is unusual for South Africa. Hiking trails are available, and so is climbing. Some of the best known trails are Cathedral Peak and Champagne Castle.
In the vicinity of the mountains are caves which contain San rock art. The San used to reside in the area, but they are no longer there, their hunter-gatherer lifestyle having been disrupted by both indigenous tribes and European settlers. The so-called Main Caves, situated in the Giant’s Castle Game Reserve, contain upwards of 500 paintings. The Reserve borders on the independent country of Lesotho, and includes game such as antelope and eland, and also many bird species, such as black eagles and Cape vultures. Within the boundaries of the Reserve are two soaring peaks, namely Giant’s Castle peak (measuring approximately 3300m, or 10500ft) and Injasuti (3400m, or 11000ft).
Further north, one finds the Royal Natal National Park. Within the Park one finds the Amphitheatre, which is an 8km (5 mile) curve in the huge basalt wall that rises up there. On either side of the Amphitheatre is a peak, namely the Sentinel (3100m, or 10300ft) and the Eastern Buttress (3000m, or 10000ft). Then there is also the Mont-aux-sources peak, which measures 3200m (or 10750ft), and which is the source of the Tugela River. The river flows over the plateau and falls about 2000m (6600ft). There is a hiking trail that travels along the Tugela Gorge.
The north of the province consists of undulating grassland, with occasional rocky outcrops dotting the landscape. This area was the scene of heavy fighting between the Zulus, the local European settlers, and the Zulu army, between 1830 and 1902. The town of Ladysmith was the site of a siege action during that time, and hosts the Siege Museum, as well as a Cultural Centre dedicated to local icons such as Ladysmith Black Mambazo, a music band, and Sugarboy Malinga, a boxing world champion. The fine Talana Museum is located in the town of Dundee. Also involved in the wars was Rorke’s Drift, a former mission station where a small number of British soldiers withstood a ferocious attack by a heavy Zulu contingent. The engagement led to the award of the most Victoria Crosses for a single action in the history of the British army. In recent times, the incident was portrayed in the movie Zulu, starring Michael Caine. Nowadays, the mission is an art centre. To the east is the town of Vryheid (meaning “Freedom”), established in 1884. It was in the vicinity of Vryheid that the British army engaged the Zulu army three times. Southwards, one finds the Itala Game Reserve, a reserve of roughly 29000 hectares (or 70000 acres), which contains all the main species of fauna, with the exception of lions.
The area known as Zululand used to be the kingdom of the indigenous Zulu tribe, with the Tugela River demarcated as the boundary between the kingdom and the British imperial district of Natal. In this former kingdom area one finds the town of Eshowe, an agricultural centre. Here one also finds the Zululand Historical Museum and the Vukani Museum. The latter hosts a large collection of Zulu art. Or you can visit the picturesque Dhlinza Forest, an area of indigenous trees occupying roughly 200 hectares (500 acres).
In the hills of Zululand there are Zulu cultural villages, with names such as Pobane, Simunye, and Shakaland. Accommodation is available in these villages, as well as tours and dance displays. To the north is Mgungundlovu (meaning “Place of the Great Elephant”), which was the Zulu capital of King Dingane’s realm, roughly 150-200 years ago. The city was razed by European settlers, but is now a museum. Currently, the Zulu monarchy resides in Ulundi.
The northern area of KwaZulu-Natal is occupied by a number of unsegregated private and public game reserves. The area also has a pristine coast. The Greater St Lucia Wetland Reserve, occupying about 38000 hectares (or 95000 acres), is based around Lake St Lucia, and includes Mapelane, the St Lucia Game Reserve, False Bay Park, Sodwana State Forest, Sodwana Bay National Park, Cape Vidal State Forest, the Maputaland Marine Reserve, and the Mkuzi Game Reserve, and the St Lucia Marine Reserve (which extends out to sea by about 5km, or 3 miles). Included in the Reserve are no fewer than five individual types of ecosystem, ranging from drier thorny scrub to tropical forest, and surrounded by giant dunes, beaches and tropical reefs. The Reserve offers Big Five game tours, and is also internationally unique in that crocodiles, sharks and hippos are found in the same body of water. The Reserve offers birdwatching and diving too. There is good fishing outside of the Reserve.
The Hluhluwe-Umfolozi National Park, covering roughly 96000 hectares (or 235000 acres) includes a diverse range of habitats, such as rocky hillsides and savannah grass, as well as dense woods. There are more than 80 species of mammal and about 400 species of bird on record here. Most of the international population of white rhinos originated from the breeding scheme of this Park. Between the Park and St Lucia lies the private Phinda Resource Reserve, covering about 17000 hectares (or 40000 acres).
Further north, close to the national border with Mozambique, lies Lake Sibaya, the biggest natural freshwater lake in the southern African region. The lake occupies roughly 75 square km (or 30 square miles). Attractions of the lake include birdwatching, hiking and fishing. In the vicinity of the lake are the Tembe and Ndumo Game Reserves, which host a sizeable population of rhinos, and many species of birds. On the coast one finds the beautiful Kosi Bay Nature Reserve, which requires a 4×4 vehicle to visit.