Beyond the Ordinary: KwaZulu-Natal’s Beauty and Conservation Unveiled

Locally referred to as KZN, South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province is a place of lush sugar cane plantations, Big Five game reserves, coastal splendour and the incredible Drakensberg mountain range. It’s also home to the Zulu people, South Africa’s largest ethnic group (and historically a proud warrior nation), as well as the largest Indian population living outside of India.

Known for its bananas and bunny chow (a local street food), this beautiful province can be accessed via direct international flights from London, Istanbul, Doha and Dubai or by short internal flights from cities like Cape Town and Johannesburg – and it’s well worth exploring.

Here are a handful of the many excellent experiences to be had here:

Searching for pangolins
Pangolins are incredibly rare and elusive, and unfortunately, they are also the most trafficked mammals in the world. KwaZulu-Natal’s private Phinda Game Reserve, along with several other reserves in the province such as Manyoni, has successfully reintroduced the vulnerable Temminick’s ground pangolin—one of four species found in Africa—that had previously become locally extinct. After being rescued from trafficking and rehabilitated at the Johannesburg Wildlife Veterinary Hospital, the pangolins are tagged and released in suitable locations. You can join rangers in tracking them to have a truly unique experience of seeing these gentle, shuffling animals with long, quivering snouts and extraordinary scales in the wild.

Hiking in the Drakensberg
Immerse yourself in nature by enjoying a guided hike through some of South Africa’s most dramatic scenery in the Drakensberg (Dragon’s Mountains). Popular routes include those around Cathedral Peak, which offers panoramic views of the jagged peaks and lush valleys, as well as a variety of trails suitable for different fitness levels. The Drakensberg Amphitheatre hike, sometimes referred to as the Sentinel Peak or Tugela Falls hike, takes you up the Amphitheatre—a towering, iconic rock wall—with river crossings and steep ascents leading to the top of the world’s second-highest waterfall. Although fairly challenging, it typically takes just under five hours to complete the 11.7-km out-and-back trail.

Monks Cowl presents several trail options, including the moderately challenging hike to Nandi Falls, boasting picturesque views of Cathkin Peak and scenic rock pools along the route. For those seeking even greater adventure, consider scaling Mafadi Peak, South Africa’s highest summit. This challenging route in the Drakensberg begins near Injasuthi. If you’re not familiar with the Drakensberg, we highly recommend hiring an experienced guide (we’d be delighted to connect you with one).

Get to know KZN’s history
A visit to the 1860 Heritage Centre in Durban documents the rich heritage of Indian South Africans, while the Nelson Mandela Capture Site near Howick commemorates the spot where Nelson Mandela was arrested before spending 27 years in prison, prior to co-leading South Africa to freedom and ending apartheid. 

Cultural villages offer immersive insights into the rich traditions of the indigenous Zulu community and can be organised through various lodges, such as those in the Isibindi group. If you’re staying at one of the Isibindi Africa lodges, the staff will take you to a local village where you’ll find a traditional Zulu homestead. Here, you’ll learn about cultural practices, see implements traditionally used in food production, and be encouraged to ask about “traditional ways of showing ‘hlonipha’ (respect), which are often so opposite and contradictory to Western ways.”

Explore the coastline
In addition to the magnificence of the game reserves and of the Drakensberg, KwaZulu-Natal has a 600 kilometre-long coastline, with beautiful beaches like Lala Neck in Kosi Bay and Thonga Beach. Take part in a conservation-based activity through Thonga Beach Lodge in November and December that’s both family-friendly and awe inspiring: watching leatherback or loggerhead turtles lay eggs on protected beaches. In January and February, you could get to watch hatchlings emerging from the nest and making their way to the ocean. Besides witnessing turtles on land, there’s also the opportunity to snorkel with them, as well as enjoying excellent scuba diving in the area. Additionally, you can opt for a boat-based ocean safari,  where you have the opportunity to see bottlenose or spinner dolphins, humpback whales, manta rays and sea turtles.

Happy travelling,
The Leopard Team

P.S. To learn more about Temminck’s Ground Pangolin, watch the video below…but before you do, we’d love it if you share this email with someone you know who’d enjoy it!

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