Underrated South African destination is teeming with adventure and natural treasures
KWAZULU-NATAL, SOUTH AFRICA: Blessed with natural resources scattered in its 470,693-square mile land area and 1,738-mile coastal line, it is no surprise that South Africa is highlighting its scenery and adventures to attract global travelers.
The southernmost country on the African continent enjoys varied topography and rich biodiversity in all of its nine provinces — Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Northern Cape, North West and Western Cape — so that each one can proudly offer different experiences to visitors.
But the same vastness and richness are also the reasons tourists should look beyond the typical and popular Cape Town or Johannesburg itinerary when planning a vacation to South Africa.
Today, The Manila Times puts the spotlight on KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa’s third-smallest province, but also one of its most exciting destinations.
Everything in one destination
Like the rest of South Africa, KwaZulu-Natal can boast of wealthy scenic attractions and rich wildlife. But what sets it apart are its cultural attractions such as famous historic battlefields.
KZN, as the province is also called, is an area where major South African battles took place — the Battle of Blood River; the Battle of Isandlwana; the Battle of Rorke’s Drift; and major battles of the two Anglo-Boer Wars.
Moreover, KZN is also historical for being the capture site of South Africa’s charismatic first black president Nelson Mandela.
“This province is affordable, it has humanity, it has humility, it has culture, it has wildlife, it’s got adventure and it’s got natural scenic beauty,” Neliswa Nkani South Africa Tourism’s hub head for Middle East, India and South East Asia proudly shared with The Manila Times when the latter visited South Africa.
“One thing about KZN that is different from other provinces, is you get everything in this province in one destination,” Thulisile Galelekile, general manager for marketing of Tourism KwaZulu-Natal added.
In succeeding issues,The Manila Times will focus on the rich historical and cultural offerings of KwaZulu-Natal but for this issue, the sole the attention is rightfully directed to the unique natural and extreme sport offering of the province.
“We pride ourselves in diverse range of things you can do. For instance, you can go down to the south coast, about an hour drive from Durban, and find Oribi Gorge where the highest swing in the world is located,” Galelekile pointed out.
What Galelekile was referring to was the Wild Gorge Swing where daredevils will find themselves at the top of Lehr’s waterfall before leaping of the edge and diving to a total depth of 165 meters where they will swing from one side to the other. According to sa-venues.com, the experience is equivalent to launching off a 55-story building.
For those who can’t bear the thought of swinging at that height but still would like to feast on adrenaline rush, a good option is the Karkloof Canopy Tour in Midland Meander, KZN.
A safe adventure for kids as young as 6 and for seniors even above 80, the canopy tour brings tourists to one of the highest points of Karkloof forest and allow them to descend by gliding on steel cables connected from one tree to another. The Karkloof Canopy Tour consists of 12 platforms and 10 zip-line slides, the longest of which is 200 meters.
The tour can be completed in two hours, but time will surely fly by as tourists get pumped up on the their glide that offers different views of the forest and the expansive Karkloof valley down below that will surely take their breath away.
Arguably, the most popular destination of the province is the Drakensberg mountains, which the native Zulus call “Barrier of Spears,” in the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park, a natural and cultural World Heritage Site.
“We have about 200 kilometers of mountain range in Drakensberg that people can actually come and experience, if a person is interested in nature and they like hiking,” said Galelekile.
With the mountains’ rock art, dramatic views and outdoor activities, it is no question why tourist flock the area.
Water and land safari
As with the rest of South Africa, KZN offers wildlife experience be it in water or land safari.
In fact, KZN is the home of iSimangaliso Wetland Park in St. Lucia, which includes Lake St. Lucia, the St. Lucia and Maputaland marine reserves, the Coastal Forest Reserve and Kosi Bay Nature Reserve.
Further research showed that there is about 220 km of almost untouched coastline in iSimangaliso Wetland Park plus almost 333,000 hectares of scenery. The area also boasts of South Africa’s biggest population of hippopotamus. Hence, for those who would like a closer look at these gentle giants, they can take the famed Hippo and Croc Cruise of St. Lucia.
When it comes to game reserves, undoubtedly, Kruger National Park in Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces is the most popular choice. But KZN is also home to a number of game reserves, albeit lesser known, that offer Big Five experiences. The advantage, of course is that they have lesser crowds.
For the uninitiated, game refers to animals that are not domesticated, simply, the wildlife. Game drives or guided vehicle drives, usually aboard an open jeep, is a popular activity for tourists to spot wildlife in their natural habitat.
This activity is considered safe — the animals see the vehicle as just another big animal — and, strictly following guidelines from trackers and rangers, can get even to the Big 5 really close.
In Africa, the term Big 5 refers to the lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant and Cape buffalo. According to the rangers The Manila Times met during this visit, they are not called as such because they are the biggest animals of the wild. Rather, these five animals were the most difficult to hunt on foot — whereas other animals run and hide at the sight of human or sound of gunshot, these five would bravely retaliate.
During this visit, The Manila Times stayed at Thanda Safari, a luxury private game reserve that measures 14,000 hectares. “Thanda” means love in the native language of Zulu people and across its three unique properties and community partnerships, love is very much evident.
Thanda offers game drives in morning, afternoon and evening as wild animals tend to be more active in cooler parts of the day. For those who want an exclusive experience of game drive accompanied with luxury accommodation, private game reserves such as Thanda Safari is the way to go.
Apart from these activities, there is so much more to do in KZN what with its year round subtropical weather perfect for any activity — one can rock climb, ride horse, swim, snorkel, scuba dive, spot turtles, and whale watch among others.
The good news is KZN has excellent infrastructure to support tourism, fine accommodation and a wide selection of restaurants for global visitors.
“We are spoilt for choice, we have everything for anyone and what’s nice is that KwaZulu-Natal is within reach for people who are interested to come here,” Galelekile ended.
PHOTO COURTESY OF SOUTH AFRICA TOURISM