KwaZulu-Natal is a province of such variation that it is hard to know where to begin. From the beaches of the South and North Coast to the wild and lonely stretches of the Elephant Coast; from the lakes and estuaries of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park to the high peaks of the uKhahlamba Drakensberg; and from the untamed wilderness of the game reserves to the tranquillity of the Midlands, there is something for everyone in this part of South Africa.
In the north eastern-most corner of South Africa, the wild country of the Elephant Coast presses up against the Indian Ocean in the east, Mozambique in the north and Zululand to the south and west. Here, the bright lights of the city are nowhere to be seen, replaced by night skies as unpolluted as nature created them. The area was named for the elephants that once roamed here in great numbers.
Hunted for their tusks, they had all but disappeared. Fortunately, this tale of woe has been turned around and elephants can once again be seen in many of the region’s game reserves, along with the rest of the Big 5.
Heading inland, your progress is soon arrested by the formidable mountains of the uKhahlamba Drakensberg. By global standards these mountains are quite modest, topping out at less than 3 500m.
But the escarpment has eroded into a rich tapestry of ravines and gullies, presenting a series of ever-changing vistas to those energetic enough to venture into its embrace. The management plan for this World Heritage Site has sensibly allowed development in some of its valleys, but the quid pro quo was to allow almost none in others. This has preserved the sense of the wild and lonely places that mountains are famous for.
On the doorstep of the ‘Berg are the Midlands. Here life is more relaxed. Over the years a large number of artists and crafters have set up shop in the towns and surrounding farms and smallholdings. If your idea of a Saturday well spent is a lazy sleep-in and a bit of browsing between lunch and dinner, this is the place for you. There is also a range of outdoor activities on offer, including world-class technical river rafting, quad biking and fly-fishing.
The rest of the interior is perhaps the Cinderella of the province. Here the driving distances between attractions are greater, and the tourist infrastructure less developed. There are still a few jewels to be found, such as Ithala Game Reserve. For history buffs, this is area rich in history – it is not called the Battlefields for nothing.