Popular for its beach, bush, battlefields and berg, KZN offers a veritable smorgasbord of experiences to visitors to the region. Here are a few reasons to look beyond the obvious when making your holiday choices…
Mtunzini, meaning ‘Place in the Shade’, is an unspoilt coastal town with much to offer the birding or wildlife enthusiast. The town, situated on a hill overlooking the coastline, has pristine dune forest and an estuary lined with mangrove swamp forest.
The Umlalazi Nature Reserve in Mtunzini offers visitors wonderful opportunities to experience both land and water… canoe and fish in the estuary, take romantic walks on the beach, swim in the ocean and spot wonderful birdlife and a variety of small game in the coastal forest. The Mtunzini beach is wild and wonderful, with sand dunes that appear to stretch on forever – there are no lifeguards and the sea here can be treacherous, so swimming is at one’s own risk.
Take an easy walk through the mangrove swamp near the main parking area of the Umlalazi Nature Reserve and besides great examples of black and white mangrove, you get to walk past Dunn’s Pool – a man-made ‘bathing area’ dug out of the banks of the Mlalazi River safe from crocodiles and hippos. John Dunn was a legendary hunter, trader and the white chief of Zululand, and played a significant part in the history of the Zululand region.
A highlight of this area is the striking Raphia Palm (Raphia australis) forest. This grove of Raphia Palms is one of the few declared natural monuments in the country and is the best place to spot the rare Palmnut Vulture which nests close to the top of the palm whose fruits form an essential part of their diet.
Birding enthusiasts will enjoy spending time in the lush mangrove swamps and forests of Mtunzini and the Umlalazi Nature Reserve where, in the company of a local birding guide you’ll be able to tick some specials of the region, from the Palmnut vulture that feeds on the fruit of the Kosi palms to the little-known mangrove kingfisher, African finfoot and Green Malkoha.
When you say ‘iSimangaliso Wetland Park’, most people think of Cape Vidal and the Eastern Shores – popular because it offers beach-and-bush in one destination. But what many don’t realise is that across the length and breadth of this World Heritage Site a veritable wonderland of beach and bush destinations await.
The area is vast. It extends from the Mozambique border in the north to Mapelane in the south, spanning 280km of pristine coastline and extends inland to include False Bay Park as well as the Mkhuze Game Reserve – an area of 239,566 hectares!
What makes iSimangaliso so special is the incredible diversity of habitats which include coral reefs, long sandy beaches, coastal dunes, lake systems, extensive wetlands as well as grasslands and bushveld. All offering a variety of outdoor pursuits, from snorkeling and scuba diving, community visits and cultural experiences to game viewing and bird watching as well as turtle tracking and whale watching in their respective seasons.
The coastal Eastern Shores side of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park is famed for its wetlands, water birds, crocodiles and marine species, while the Western Shores side is appreciated for its spectacular views over the St Lucia Estuary and its drier palmveld vegetation with its diverse mammal species and abundance of raptors.
Do a google search for KZN Battlefields and the Isandlwana and Rorkes Drift Battle Sites are sure to feature – the Battle of Isandlwana was after all the greatest defeat the British army had suffered against ‘a technologically inferior indigenous force’.
What many don’t realise is that on that same fateful day troops were marshalling, and on the coastal plains of Zululand war was already afoot. An ultimatum had been given, one that no Zulu king (or any king for that matter) would abide by. War was inevitable, and as it seems, just what the British wanted.
Route 66 is one of the oldest trade routes through Zululand between Gingindlovu and Phongolo. Settlers in Port Natal (now Durban) would set off in ox-wagons on well-worn tracks into the heart of the Zulu Kingdom to hunt and trade, stopping first for permission to do so from the Zulu king. We no don’t stop to ask permission before starting our Route 66 Zululand Battlefields trip, but do begin where the drama of the Anglo-Zulu War for all intents and purposes began – on the banks of the Thukela River, the traditional boundary between colonial British Natal and Zululand.
Beneath a large wild fig tree is a plaque marking the spot where in December 1878 King Cetswayo was given the ultimatum, disband your troops or else, by the British. He clearly rejected this demand which resulted in the British invading Zululand on the 22 January 1879. The first Zulu attack on the British in defense of their territory was on the coastal plains near Eshowe during a breakfast break taken before climbing towards the higher ground of Eshowe. Known as the Battle of Nyezane by the British and Wombane by the Zulus, this encounter saw 12 British soldiers and in excess of 400 Zulu soldiers killed.
This, and their defeat at Isandlwana, caused the British to retreat to Natal to regroup, get more troops and weaponry and to re-plan their strategy. It was, however, the beginning of what would be a futile war for the Zulus as any attempts at reconciliation and avoidance of war were ignored.
Route 66 and the Zululand region offers more than just battle sites and memorials, of which there are many. There’s plenty to get side-tracked with… from the Dlinza Aerial Boardwalk in Eshowe to the fields upon fields of proteas on Jane and Jono Chennell’s protea farm – guests of their B&B are offered the opportunity of a farm and pack-house tour where hundreds of thousands of proteas are sorted, packed and readied for export.
Dlinza Forest Aerial Boardwalk, which, at 125-metres long and at an elevation of 10 metres, allows visitors to walk right under the canopy of the indigenous scarp forest. The Dlinza Forest is one of the many beautiful forests of Zululand but is probably the most accessible and is currently visited by birdwatchers from all over the world hoping to catch a glimpse of one of the many bird species to be found there. Early morning is the best time to visit when the forest echoes with the calls of Trumpeter Hornbills, Purple-crested Turacos and Narina Trogons, just a few of the 65 forest bird species in Dlinza.
A great overview of the history of the region can be found at Fort Nongqayi Museum which covers a wide range of local interest from natural and missionary history to wars between kingdoms and battles against the tsetse fly. The Fort was built after these wars when Zululand was made a colony of the British Empire.
Also of interest in Eshowe is Fort Mondi – the Zulu name for Bishop Schroeder at the Kwa Mondi Norwegian Mission Station during that time, KwaBulowayo, King Shaka’s capital for 12 years before he moved to KwaDukuza, Coward’s Bush, where legend has it that Shaka tested the bravery of his soldiers who had been accused of cowardice by ordering them to throw themselves into the aggressively thorny Kei Apple Dovyalis caffra and the lone grave of a British soldier who was killed by accident while on the march in 1888 – left undisturbed showing the great respect the Zulu people have for the dead.
We spent the night at Mtonganeni Lodge with its views over the Valley of the Kings and across the rolling hills to Ulundi in the distance… this is where the British gathered for their ‘take two’ against the mighty Zulu nation at Ulundi during the Anglo-Zulu War. It is also where King Cetshwayo sent gifts of ivory, amongst other things, in the hopes of persuading the British to withdraw. The Mtonjaneni Zulu Historical Museum has an exceptional display of artefacts from the Anglo Zulu War and from here a guided tour of King Dingane’s Spring can be undertaken.
We delved further into Zulu history and culture as we travelled along this route to The Spirit of eMakhosini, a memorial to the Zulu kings buried in the valley below, to uMgungundlovu, and the royal palace of Zulu king Dingaan.
It was then on to the KwaZulu Cultural Museum with its wonderful displays depicting Zulu culture and King Cetshwayo’s royal settlement at Ondini (near Ulundi) which was razed to the ground after the final battle of the Anglo-Zulu War.
On the 4 July 1879 the British crossed the White Mfolosi River and headed in the direction of Ondini, King Cetswayo’s capital. The force of over 5,000 men, two Gatling guns, and 12 artillery pieces was too much for the 20,000 strong Zulu warriors that awaited them – the Zulu’s didn’t have a chance and the battle lasted less than 45minutes and resulted in the death of approximately 1,500 Zulu warriors and 12 men on the British side. This was the last battle of the Anglo Zulu War of 1879 and the stone memorial pays tribute to those lost on both sides.
After the Battle, King Cetshwayo fled to Ngome forest near Nongoma and evaded capture for neatly two months before being captured and sent by ship to Cape Town where he was held captive for 3years before going to London to plead his case to the Queen. He was an object of great curiosity in Britain as the man who had destroyed the British army in the Battle of Isandlwana. Cetshwayo returned as a free man in Jan 1883, but during the Zulu Civil War of 1883-1888 he was forced to flee and took refuge with British in Eshowe where it is suspected he was poisoned. He died in 1884 and is buries just outside Nkandla Forest.
The KwaZulu Cultural Museum at Ondini, which was opened in 1984, houses one of the most representative collections of the rich cultural heritage of the region and is famous for is collection of beadwork. There are also several items which belonged to King Cetshwayo who ruled the Zulu nation during the Anglo-Zulu war of 1879.
Named ‘Ukhahlamba’ by the Zulu people and ‘The Dragon Mountain’ by the Dutch Voortrekkers. The awe-inspiring Drakensberg Mountains, with their massive cliffs towering over grasslands, riverine bush, lush yellowwood forests, fresh mountain streams and cascading waterfalls, form an enormous barrier separating KwaZulu-Natal from the Kingdom of Lesotho. In combining sheer natural beauty with a wealth of biological diversity, this 243 000-hectare mountainous region known the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park well deserves its international status as a World Heritage Site.
The lower slopes of these mountains were once teeming with herds of eland, prized game for the San, the original inhabitants of this region. Some 350 years ago they were displaced by African tribes and the arrival of early European settlers, but evidence of their reverence of the eland can still be seen as rock art in numerous cave and overhang sites between Royal Natal National Park in the north and Bushman’s Nek in the south.
The popular and easily accessible Giant’s Castle Main Cave Museum is the commercialised of any rock-art site and is a mere half-hour hike on well-marked paths. But for a more off the beaten track experience visit the Kamberg Rock Art Centre for a guided four-km hike up to the Game Pass Shelter to view the incredibly well-preserved San paintings depicting their way of life – chances are you’ll be the only ones visiting. Your local guide will explain the history and culture of the San people as well as the meaning behind the art.
Enjoy the wildflowers and diverse grasses on-route, fill your water-bottle from the mountain stream, look out for eland, bushbuck and gazing skywards one might be lucky and spot a Lammergeier, the endangered bearded vulture. Specials for birders in this region are the Drakensberg Siskin and the Drakensberg (orange-breasted) rock jumper. It is a tough hike if you’re unfit but take it slowly and enjoy the views as the result is worth the effort!