If you are visiting Durban in June/July, don’t let the elegant lines of Moses Mabhida Stadium steal your attention for too long. Beyond this 2010 FIFA World Cup™ host city, in every direction, there are wild adventures to be had and unique destinations to be explored.
Northern safari region
From Durban, South Africa’s N2 highway stretches north all the way to the Swaziland border before cutting inland. While the massive Kruger National Park, one of the African continents most renowned wildlife reserves, may steal much of South Africa’s safari attention, the much smaller reserves of north KwaZulu-Natal offer equally incredible safaris.
Located some 280km north of Durban, The Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve is renowned for being a Big Five destination and is also a haven for white and black rhino. As one of Africa’s oldest proclaimed parks, Hluluwe-Imfolozi is rich in both wildlife and history; the park is considered to have been the royal hunting grounds of the great Zulu King Shaka.
Wedged between the Lebombo Mountains to the west and the Indian Ocean to the east, The Phinda Private Game Reserve comprises several distinct ecosystems in which a massive amount of wildlife thrives. From the four fantastic lodges on the reserve to the incredible game drives on offer, Phinda offers a safari adventure as grand as any other.
Further north, the Pongola and AmaZulu reserves round off the top wildlife destinations in this region and each reserve brings its own special quality to the safari table.
Travel tip: For a shorter self-drive, it’s easiest to fly into Richards Bay. From here parks and reserves like Hluluwe-Imfolozi, Phinda, Mkuzi, AmaZulu and Pongola are all a comfortable few hours driving distance away.
The northern region isn’t all bushveld and Big Five spotting. A 600km-long coastline unravels alongside the warm thrashing waves of the Indian Ocean. The St. Lucia Marine Reserve is a world-class scuba diving and snorkeling destination and forms part of the Isimangaliso Wetland Park (previously known as the Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park) - a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In the extreme north of KwaZulu Natal, the untamed traditions and terrains of the untouched Elephant Coast spill forth. Much of this region is still only accessible by 4WD vehicles. If you do venture here, Rocktail Bay is the place to stay.
The Battlefields of KwaZulu-Natal have seen some of South Africa’s most brutal and important battles. Places like Rorke’s Drift and Isandlwana have become more than just hills and grasslands; they are the historical dirt and dust upon which the Zulu, British and Boer forces collided at various points in history.
Today the Battlefields has become as much a spiritual region as a historical one. Armed with little more than one of the incredible local storytellers, a visit into the Battlefields quickly becomes a time-traveling adventure into South Africa’s past as you retrace warriors' steps and explore stories of valor, courage, victory and defeat.
To the west of Durban, The Drakensberg Mountain Range rises from the earth, towering over the landlocked nation of Lesotho and also much of KwaZulu-Natal. This dramatic area includes the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park. Within the park places like the Amphitheatre, Giant's Castle and Cathedral Peak are so mesmerizing that they consistently attract visitors from all over the world.
The Drakensberg was home to the hunter-gatherer San people for thousands of years and their rock paintings adorn many of the caves and cliff faces in this area. The legacy of paintings on the rock walls is so extensive and impressive in fact that this has helped the region become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Natal Midlands
If you are traveling between Durban and the Drakensberg, the best way in which to enjoy this scenic part of South Africa is to embark on the Midlands Meander (The Midlands Meander route is situated between the city of Pietermaritzburg in the East and the Drakensberg mountain range in the west). The Natal Midlands is a place of quiet country roads, fine cuisine, antique stores, spas, serene fields and quiet gentle lakes. Country inns, luxury guesthouses and lavish farmhouses are the lodgings of choice in this quaint and restful part of South Africa.
Whether you travel by land, sea or sky in your exploration of this wild and mysterious region of South Africa, rest assured the experience will be one you will never forget.