Tucked on the tropical eastern coast this fascinating region promises a real African adventure in a beautiful and accessible environment. If a visit to the huge nation of South Africa feels a bit overwhelming, KZN (as it’s affectionately known) offers a more pocket sized experience with so much to discover in an area spanning only roughly that of Portugal. Immerse yourself in breath-taking Drakensberg mountain scenery, natural wildlife habitats, crashing waves, historic battlegrounds and Durban’s cool surfer vibes without needing to cover large stretches. Culturally distinct from the rest of South Africa, KZN is a proper melting pot, mixing African, European, and Indian cultures, and it’s here that the South African Rainbow Nation really comes into its own. Crucially the name means ‘the place of the Zulu’ reflecting the power and the majesty of this formidable tribe, and their fiercesome fighting in the 1879 Anglo-Zulu War.
The attractions of this diverse province are not lost on tourists, with most visitor numbers made up of South Africans taking a well-deserved summer break in December, January and February. This is when KwaZulu-Natal is at its most crowded, with soaring prices, soaring temperatures well into the 30°Cs, and high humidity. On the flip side, by choosing to visit from April through to August, low season travellers get the best of both worlds. After Easter the crowds disperse and prices drop, but also the climate becomes more amenable with mild temperatures, drier weather, and an end to thunderstorms. It’s absolutely the perfect time of year to enjoy beach, bush and berg all within just a few hours.
KZN boasts a magnificent coastline along the shores of the Indian Ocean. Low season remains wonderfully balmy, with gorgeous sunny days. Beaches are much less crowded at this time, although life-guards and shark nets remain in place for the safety of those enjoying the rolling waves. Renowned northern dive spots offer fabulous scuba and snorkelling. Swim with hammerhead sharks, tiger angelfish, butterfly fish and leatherback and loggerhead turtles, and experience the spectacular low season phenomenon of the sardine run. Explore the coastal cities of Durban and Umhlanga which enjoy year-round musical and entertainment events, top restaurants and great surf culture, as well as cool promenades to run, cycle, Segway or rollerblade.
Wildlife and Nature
Low season’s drier weather brings thinner vegetation, with better chances of spotting all of the Big Five. A good choice is Hlhhluwe-iMfolozi Park, divided into the mountainous forests and rolling savannah landscapes. The UNESCO World Heritage iSimangaliso Wetland Park is the ultimate coastal safari with hippos, crocodiles, elephant, water buck, leopard, and impala. KZN is also a hiker’s dream, with another UNESCO recognised site, the Drakensberg range, rising majestically with craggy peaks, rivers cutting through peaceful valleys and the stunning Tugela Falls. Unlike the coast, once inland and at altitude temperatures can be chilly in low season, and the Drakensberg can experience snow, much to excitement of locals for whom the white stuff is a rare phenomenon. Top attractions include the Giant’s Castle mountain, the sheer rock face of the Ampitheatre, and the amazing rock art of the San people who left over 20,000 images in the world’s greatest outdoor art gallery.
On the Battlefields
A fascinating history played out here in the 19th and early 20th centuries between formidable local Zulu warriors, British colonialists, and the Boers. Well-known battles are Spioenkop, Isandlwana and Rorkes Drift. Resident guides based at the lodges are keen historians and master storytellers who really bring these battles to life. Spioenkop had two historical icons in its midst, Winston Churchill as a courier and Gandhi as a stretcher-bearer. Isandlwana is the site of possibly the greatest defeat that the British Empire ever saw when the mighty Zulu Warriors took control, while Rorke’s Drift, just a few hours later was the centre of a colonist victory when 140 British soldiers withstood an attack by 4000 Zulus. These unmissable sites offer incredible tales and highly emotionally charged experiences.