KwaZulu-Natal is one of the most dramatic and beautiful parts of the country. Less known to foreign travellers, the province offers a more low-key, easygoing experience, with fewer tourists. Unspoiled wild beaches, tropical reefs, some of the best diving in the world and the majestic Drakensberg Mountains, make KwaZulu-Natal a nature and adventure-lovers go-to destination.
Spend a day exploring the city and surrounds
It’s likely you’ll start your trip in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal’s largest city and South Africa’s biggest port. This beachside city has great places to swim and year-round warm weather. Start with breakfast at the bright and bustling Freedom Café, before heading to the Durban Botanical Gardens, Africa’s oldest botanical gardens. When you’ve reached your Cycad capacity, adrenaline junkies will be delighted to know that the Moses Mabhida Stadium has the tallest commercial swing in the world. The Big Rush Big Swing is a thrilling experience, where you soar through the stadium in a secure harness.
You can’t leave Durban without experiencing bunny chow, a quintessential South African street food. Consisting of a hollowed out bread-loaf, filled with Durban-style curry. Some of the best bunnies can be found at Hotel Britannia, House of Curries and the iconic Sunrise Chip ’N Ranch, known to locals as Johnnies. They’re not the fanciest restaurants in the city, but for bunny chow, they’re among the best.
As your day begins to wind down, snag yourself a spot aboard a luxury yacht and enjoy a glass of rosé, watching the sunset over the KwaZulu-Natal coastline. If something more adventurous appeals to you, head out on a deep sea fishing excursion, in search of a big catch at dusk. For the nightlife lovers head to The Chairman, Durban’s funkiest jazz bar or for a fine dining experience accompanied by sparkling ocean views visit Restaurant Ille Maurice in Umhlanga Rocks.
Go in search of adventure
Ahead of a day filled with adventure, caffeine might be a requirement, so grab a take away coffee from iwantmycoffee in Umhlanga and enjoy as you stroll along renownedly beautiful Umhlanga Pier and up to the landmark Umhlanga lighthouse. KwaZulu-Natal has some exceptional nature to explore, with many adventure-filled activities. If you’re keen to build up a sweat and experience the surrounding nature, hikes can be arranged in the Valley of 1000 Hills, a landscape made up of dramatic cliffs and gushing waterfalls, which cascade into the Umgeni River.
The Zulu culture bursting with old tradition, rituals and ceremonies which originated in KwaZulu-Natal still exists in rural areas. Street Scene offers day tours to a local Zulu village where the community lives in iQukwane (thatched beehive huts) and still wear traditional clothing. This off-the beaten track experience is a truly unique insight into the daily lives of an active Zulu village.
For a truly distinctive experience, the diverse iSimagaliso Wetland Park is a few hours north of Durban. The world heritage site is like a theme park designed by nature. Home to an array of wildlife, the country’s largest hippo population, swamp forests, tropical beaches and some of the best diving in the world – it is undoubtedly one of the most unique parts of the country. Getting there is not easy, and it’s likely you’ll require a 4X4, but if you’re after spectacular scenery and an adventure, the park will more than fulfill your thrill. Shoreline Boat and Walking Safaris offer a Hippo Boat Cruise up the St Lucia Estuary providing two hours of uninterrupted photo opportunities.
Sodwana Bay National Park, an unspoilt coastal town situated in the iSimagaliso Wetland Park and Maputaland Marine Reserve is a must for any keen diver and nature lover. In summer visitors might catch a glimpse of the endangered leatherback and loggerhead turtles as they lay their eggs on Sodwana Bay beach, while night dives are a spectacular way to experience the diverse underwater seascape.
Where to stay
About an hour north of Durban lies one of the country’s best hotels: The Oyster Box. This iconic hotel on the seashore has been keeping travellers and celebrities returning to the Umhlanga beachfront for years. The candy striped beach chairs, which line the outside area and overlook the lighthouse, are perfect for an afternoon cocktail. Rates start from R4470 (about A$409) per night. oysterboxhotel.com
If you’re eager to explore further beyond Durban, the superb five- star &Beyond Phinda Forest Lodge lies near the boundary of the Isimangaliso Wetland Park. Guests sleep in luxury glass-walled suites, which overlook the private reserve where game drives are offered as an activity. Rates are R6600 (about A$605) per person per night and include safari activities and game drives with refreshments and three meals served daily. andbeyond.com/phinda-forest-lodge