Beach, Battlefields, Bush and Berg: KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Beach, Battlefields, Bush and Berg: KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

On 5 August 1962, the quiet and unassuming town of Howick – 88 miles from Durban in KwaZulu-Natal province – gained profound fame.

that day, a chauffeur-driven car was pulled over by armed
apartheid police just two miles shy of the town. The chauffeur,
incognito, was none other than anti-apartheid revolutionary Nelson
Mandela, who was immediately arrested and subsequently disappeared
from the public for the next 27 years.

I had travelled to what is now known as the “Nelson Mandela
Capture Site”, to experience an impressive 9.5-metre-tall sculpture
made in Mandela’s honour and created by artists Jeremy Rose and
Marco Cianfanelli. This unique artwork was constructed on the
roadside where Mandela was arrested.

It consists of 50 steel columns, each measuring between 6-5 and
9.5 metres high. As I approached a spot 35 metres away, the columns
slowly came into alignment to reveal a huge portrait of Nelson
Mandela. If I moved fractionally left or right, the flat illusion

I was at the end of my journey. I’d left Durban five days prior
on a self-drive loop of KwaZulu-Natal, also known as the Garden

Beach: Durban

Driving from King Shaka Airport, I spotted dolphins and surfers
catching waves along the 214 kilometres of white-sand beaches,
nicely setting the scene for the next few days. Situated on the
Indian Ocean, cosmopolitan Durban is blessed with warm weather all
year. This laid-back city is a melting pot of cultures, and it
gives a real feeling of being in Africa while being easy to
navigate and is visitor friendly.

Durban has always been a relaxed, low-key town, often viewed as
the poor relation of Johannesburg and Cape Town. But after the 2010
Soccer World Cup, people viewed it differently and its visibility
as an international destination grew rapidly.

Zig-zagging through crowded streets and jumping up and down
curbs, I soaked in the town’s historical past and present. I
explored the city, starting near the City Hall, where a young
Winston Churchill once spent time during the Second Anglo-Boer War
(1899-1902) as a journalist reporting for London’s The Morning

Street sellers dominated each corner, while jovial ladies worked
the stalls in a labyrinth of colourful markets, selling fresh
fruit, vegetables and spices. The atmosphere darkened as I delved
further into the visceral and controversial muthi (medicine)
market, where endangered plants, animal parts and other contraband
were on sale. I was warned not to take photos. Although disturbed
by the skins of endangered species, I wanted to experience this
culturally important market. Items sold here are used by
traditional healers (sangomas) and herbalists (inyangas), yet some
sellers were unaware of or didn’t care about the impact their wares
have on the survival of some species.

I stayed at The Oyster Box hotel, a colonial-style property
just out of town in a quiet beachfront area on Durban’s north
coast. It’s a favourite among visitors and locals alike, who gather
to drink and dine at the lively rooftop bar.

I departed Durban along the Dolphin Coast on a four-hour drive
to visit the famous Isandlwana Battlefield of the Anglo-Zulu War,
along the N2 coastal road north; it connects Durban to the
southwest and southeast of the country.

Fine, slim trees, synonymous with Africa, lined the roads. At
the Gingindlovu road toll, street sellers sold bags of lychees,
moving between cars until a window rolled down and a 10-rand bill

Battlefields: Isandlwana

I passed through Stanger, Eshowe, Melmoth and Babanango, and
later drove onto the rolling gravel road leading to Isandlwana.

We arrived at the battlefield – a vast, open piece of land
surrounded by high bluffs and mountains. The famous rock formation
(Isandlwana Hill) stood alone in the centre. I stayed at the
Isandlwana Lodge, just two kilometres from
Isandlwana Hill and 18 kilometres from Rorke’s Drift – both
Anglo-Zulu War battle sites. Constructed in the shape of a Zulu
shield, the lodge is built on the side of the iNyoni Rock, on top
of which the Zulu commander stood during the first major battle of
the Anglo-Zulu War on 22 January 1879. The Battle of Isandlwana
reverberated around the world because the Zulus gave the mighty
British Army one of its worst defeats in the colonies.

We hiked, scrambled and rock climbed our way up the imposing and
tricky facade of Isandlwana Hill to its summit. This vantage point
gave me 360-degree views of the well-known battlefields. My guide,
Barry, recounted the battles fought here and brought the area’s
dramatic history to life. Whitewashed cairns dotted the landscape,
marking the mass graves of the British soldiers. A huge metal lion
claw represents the Zulu warriors lost during the battles.

Bush: Thanda Safari Lodge

With the battlefields in my rear-view mirror, I set off on a
four-hour drive to Thanda Safari Lodge. I passed through the town
of Babanango, with thick fog blocking my visibility. I missed a
turn, but, after making a quick U-turn and swerving to avoid a
tortoise, I was on my way again, trading in the smoothness of the
asphalt for the bumps and bounce of a dirt road.

The fog lifted as I joined Route 66, passing through Ulundi,
where on 4 July 1879 the last Anglo-Zulu battle was fought. This
was when the Zulus ceased to be an independent nation. Onwards I
drove, through Nkonjeni and Nongoma, where the current Zulu king

A shortcut took us along another off-road route that snaked
along for miles, over farmland and around lush rolling green hills
dotted with healthy-looking cattle and small Zulu villages. Thanda
consists of three types of lodgings: a tented camp, the luxurious
flagship Safari Lodge, and Villa iZulu – the private luxury lodge
where I stayed. Our days were spent on safari, or simply chilling
out and enjoying our surroundings.

One cool morning, we left the lodge at first light (around
4.30AM) for our three-hour morning safari. Evening drives start at
4.30PM and end after dark, as this is when animals are most active.
Our guide, Pietr, and tracker, Winnet, conversed in Zulu so as not
to give away what was ahead.

You’d think a herd of 40 elephants would be easy to spot. With
binoculars enthusiastically pressed into my eye sockets, I scouted
the horizon, eventually, making out the enormous, lumbering,
ashen-bodied creatures moving silently through the bush. The sound
of branches cracking underfoot and guttural noises gave them

We then tracked lions for an hour and a half. The anticipation
built up; we were getting close, expectations were high. We found
the magnificent creatures well-hidden and snoozing among rocks, and
we watched eagerly for a long time.

Reluctantly, we left the lions and immediately ran into a
roadblock in the form of two huge rhinoceroses. Inquisitively, they
approached to within two feet of Winneth, who was perched like bait
on a small seat above the front wheel of our roofless vehicle. A
third rhino appeared and sniffed the air, and then they all moved
off, nonchalantly looking back over their shoulders.

Our departure was spectacular, with giraffes, vervet monkeys,
zebras, lions, cheetahs, impalas, warthogs, gnus, buffalos, lions
and more all coming out to see us off as if arranged.

Berg: Drakensberg Mountains

Back on the road, I drove for five hours, passing through Dundee
and Ladysmith along the M11, where the internationally celebrated
band Ladysmith Black Mambazo is from.

The mountains grew in magnificence as I approached Cathedral Peak Hotel in the spectacular
Drakensberg mountains. I spent the afternoon quad biking through
the hills and, later, hiked to Doreen Falls and upwards to see some
precious San Bushmen rock art. There is anthropological evidence
that the paintings date back at least 40,000 years, and possibly
over 100,000 years.

My experience in KwaZulu-Natal was rich in wildlife, history and
culture. There’s an abundance of landscape to explore in this
impressive part of South Africa – it’s not all about Cape Town.
“Zulu” means “heaven” – and KwaZulu is pretty damn close.

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