KwaZulu-Natal is a world within a province. There are mountains and farmlands, bushveld, beaches, plenty of sugar, spice and, it even boasts its own monarchy.
When it comes to the weather, KZN, as the province is affectionately known, is hard to beat. It boasts a moderate coastal climate, with sizzling summers and warm winters. There is quite a bit of humidity in the air and a fair amount of light rainfall to be expected. But the terrain is always green and well-nourished, making it incredibly easy on the eye.
Holidaymakers from across the country flock to the Garden Province in their droves during the summer peak season. You’ll be hard-pressed to find beachside accommodation if you leave it to the last minute. KwaZulu-Natal is still a popular destination during the winter months, however, with the glorious sight of aloes blooming along the southern coastline marking the seasons. The showing also signals the imminent annual Sardine Run, when pockets of these tasty little fish make their exciting arrival along the KZN shoreline.
Aside from great beaches and almost perfect weather, the province brims with the most incredible battlefield sites further inland. The province remains the stronghold of the isiZulu kingdom, and there is plenty to learn about their legendary battles against the British Empire. The fighting didn’t end there, however, and the historic graveyards located close to the Drakensberg Mountains prove that there were plenty more skirmishes between the Zulu warriors and the Afrikaaners, too.
With the battle days over, nowadays, KwaZulu-Natal is arguably one of the most friendly provinces in the country. If you’re passing through the port city of Durban and are short on time, stay close to Umhlanga and Ballito. Enjoy the nightlife and popular restaurants, and you’ll soon be rubbing shoulders with the locals. Whatever you do, make sure you come hand-to-mouth with a famous Durban curry. The spicy cuisine has become part of KZN’s mainstream culture, thanks to the influx of Indian labourers brought to the province to work the sugar cane fields along the North Coast in the early 1900s.
At 92,100 km2, KwaZulu-Natal packs a real punch. It caters to local holidaymakers and international visitors looking for an authentic South African experience.
Once you arrive in the main metropolitan hub of Durban, it’s a tough choice between exploring the KZN North Coast and the KZN South Coast. You could also head into the green belly of the Natal Midlands to explore its historic battlefields or go further into the majestic Drakensberg Mountains.
Our advice? Don your best pair of beach shorts and flip flops, or ‘slops’, as the locals call them, and while away some time in the city of Durban, getting lost in the infectious, laid-back Durbanite culture.
The Golden Mile
Why you should visit: Durban’s Golden Mile stretches along the city’s main beaches. It is the perfect place to go for a light stroll or a bike ride. Grab an ice-cream from one of the local sellers (listen out for their bells) and flop down on the sand when your legs are tired. Don’t miss an opportunity for a quick ride on one of the colourful, traditional Rickshaws.
You can also explore Mini Town, a miniature replica city, or spend some time at uShaka Marine World for some souvenir shopping. If you have time to spare, the dolphin and seal shows are always a crowd-pleaser.
How to get there: The Golden Mile covers the main beaches in the city, starting from North Beach and running all the way to South Beach. It ends at the Point Waterfront. To get there, travel on the N3 highway. It takes you straight through the city to the Indian Ocean.
Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve
Why you should visit: KZN is not all just about those brilliant beaches. Giving the Kruger National Park a run for its money, Hluhluwe-Umfolozi offers a treasure trove of wild animals including the Big 5, which you can witness out on 4×4 game drives. Here, professional tracker-guides will get you up close to an array of wildlife.
Remember, this is the African wild, so nothing is guaranteed. However, it does help to know that your time will be well spent with experts who are passionate about nature. The best part about Hluhluwe-Umfolozi is that it is malaria-free, making it perfect for families with smaller children.
How to get there: Hluhluwe-iMfolozi is located about 250 km north of Durban in the Elephant Coast, historically known as Zululand, and is easily reached by tarred road. Most visitors to South Africa fly into King Shaka International Airport in Durban and make the scenic self-drive from there.
iSimangaliso Wetlands Park
Why you should visit: Keep it natural in KZN by visiting the wetlands and coastal forest surrounding St Lucia and Bhangazi Lake. You can see a great variety of birds and also reedbuck, various antelope and crocodiles (at the crocodile centre). There are six looping road routes to explore on a self-drive in this region. The Marine Reserve provides protected beaches where endangered sea turtles return every year during the summer months to lay their eggs.
The floodplain areas are also home to large flocks of flamingos, many waders, including annual sightings of rarities such as Long-toed Lapwing, Caspian Plover and Rufous-bellied Herons. When you need to stock up on travel supplies, pay a visit to the town of St. Lucia. There are many quaint shops and local restaurants.
How to get there: iSimangaliso Wetlands Park is easily accessible from Durban. The two-hour road trip along the N2 is all part of the experience, passing those stunning coastal views and waving isiZulu children from the roadside villages.
Why you should visit: Part of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, Sodwana Bay is the jewel of South Africa’s east coast. Rich in natural biodiversity, it is rated as one of the ten best diving sites in the world. A meeting place of whales, sharks, dolphins, manta rays and turtles, you can do as much snorkelling and scuba diving as you want. Join a turtle tour, and discover the local birds and wildlife on nature walks. Nature lovers assemble!
There are plenty of dive centres located in the area, and dives are suitable for all levels. As for non-divers, the stunning, shimmering beach is great for some family picnicking and casual fishing.
How to get there: From Durban, get onto the N2 north, which passes Ballito, Mtunzini and Richards Bay before reaching the Hluhluwe turn-off. The distance between Durban and Sodwana Bay is about 400 km, and the trip takes about five hours. Remember, there are many sand roads in Sodwana Bay, and that getting stuck happens to the best of us!
Royal Natal National Park
Why you should visit: The Royal Natal National Park forms part of the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site. It is one of the best places to go hiking in the province. There are dozens of trails, and trout fishing is also good at the Mahai and Thukela dams. It is a top location for birding, and horse riding is another popular activity.
The main features of the park are the Drakensberg Amphitheatre, a rocky wall standing 1,200 metres high, the Mont-Aux-Sources peak (the source for the Orange and Tugela rivers), and of course, Tugela Falls, the world’s second-highest waterfall at 948 metres.
How to get there: The Royal Natal National Park is located in the Northern Drakensberg, only 50 km west of Bergville, and just off the R74.
The South Coast
Why you should visit: While the development of the North Coast has captured the attention of holidaymakers in recent years, there is still only one place to catch ‘South Coast Fever.’ The craze first hit in the late 1950s, when families from across the country flocked in their droves to this stretch of ‘endless summer’ coastline. South Coast Fever even reached England, with a young Prince Charles and the rest of the Royals seen holidaying at Rennies Beach down in Port Edward at one point.
Keep an eye on the horizon between May and September, when schools of dolphins and porpoises, along with Humpback whales, can be seen making their move up to Mozambique for mating season. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch them showing off by breaching, spy hopping and tail slapping.
How to get there: The South Coast is exceptionally easy to reach. Just head south from Durban along the N2 towards Port Edward, and you’ll discover a treasure trove of shimmering beaches along the way.
If one thing is for sure, you will never feel bored in KwaZulu-Natal. The diverse topography was designed for adventure.
From hardcore thrill-seekers to those who only occasionally like to step out of their comfort zone, there is something for everyone and plenty of opportunities to try something new. Venture up into the lush and leafy Midlands, or head out to explore the KwaZulu-Natal coastline, keeping an eye on the horizon for those friendly dolphins.
The KZN South Coast is especially good. Fondly known as the Hibiscus Coast, it runs from Hibberdene to Port Edward. Expect nothing but great beaches there, such as Pumula, Banana Beach, Umtentweni, Margate, Uvongo, and St. Michaels. If you’re not done living on the edge (especially after surviving the bite of a Durban Bunny Chow), be sure to stop in Umkomaas to try a spot of shark diving at the world-famous Aliwal Shoal.
Sports fishing and snorkelling at Cape Vidal
Why you should visit: The lure of Cape Vidal lies in its unique appeal as a twin, beach-and-bush destination on the coast.
The superb location is the pinnacle of both bush and beach, right between Lake St Lucia with its resident wildlife, and the marine delights of the Indian Ocean. Cape Vidal is renowned for its sports fishing, and the bay has a designated launch site for ski boats. It is also sheltered from the elements, making it a superb spot for snorkelling at low tide
How to get there: Cape Vidal is located along the North Coast, within the Isimangaliso Wetland Park in St. Lucia. It is a three-hour drive from Durban and about 30 km north of the town of St Lucia.
How much does it cost: Adults: R51. Children under the age of 12: R37.
Vehicle entry charge for up to five people: R61. Community Levy: R5 per person. Vessel launching fees: R100 per vessel.
Cruise the St Lucia Estuary
Why you should visit: Enjoy a leisurely cruise around the St Lucia Estuary within the iSimangaliso Wetland Park onboard double-decker boats, which provide the perfect vantage point to view crocodiles and hippos as you meander through wetland waters.
There will be plenty of bird sightings of hippos, crocs, African fish eagles, vultures and African broadbills.
How to get there: iSimangaliso Wetlands Park is easy to reach from Durban. The 2.5-hour road trip heads along the N2, past the port town of Richards Bay.
How much does it cost: No entry fees payable. Two-hour boat cruises cost R300 per person.
Get muddy at Splashy Fen
Why you should visit: Splashy Fen is South Africa’s longest-running and oldest music festival, held in the Drakensberg. It was established in 1990 on a farm near Underberg, where every Easter long weekend, festival-goers filter in by the thousand to set up their make-shift camps.
The entertainment line-up varies each year and features local and international artists. There are food and market stalls along with multiple performance stages and an always-festive beer tent. Be warned, it can get very muddy!
How to get there: The festival grounds are located on Splashy Fen farm just outside Underberg on the D600. Take the first Bushman’s Nek Road as you exit Underberg.
How much does it cost: Splashy Fen ticket prices change each year, with early bird specials and day passes available too. It’s best to check the official website.
Hiking in the Berg
Why you should visit: The Drakensberg Mountain Range is one of South Africa’s most spectacular natural wonders, with plenty of hiking opportunities.
The most famous peaks include Giant’s Castle, Cathedral Peak, and Mont-Aux-Sources. However, there are plenty of smaller foothills, stunning waterfalls, inviting rock pools, fresh mountain streams, and mysterious caves filled with San rock art.
How to get there: You can drive to this region from either Durban (roughly three hours’ drive) on the N3, or from Johannesburg. The main park is the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park, which is so vast, you’ll have to choose which parts you want to visit before you go.
How much does it cost: Expect to pay R70 per adult and R35 per child per day for entry into the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park.
One of the best ways to experience the raw beauty of KwaZulu-Natal is to get as close to nature as you can. Luckily, this province boasts hundreds – if not thousands – of authentic tented safari lodges, caravan and camping spots. You can even spend the night in a cave if you prefer!
While the province is known as being incredibly laid-back, you’ll still find a good selection of high-end resorts and hotels. If you’re on a bit of a budget, mid-range accommodation is available, too. Locally owned B&Bs and guesthouses are nestled around every corner, especially in the smaller towns.
The Blue Marlin Hotel
Where: Scottburgh, a little coastal town along the South Coast.
Why you should stay here: The Blue Marlin has long been a family favourite on the South Coast. In recent years, it has undergone various improvements but hasn’t lost its unique ‘Marlin’ personality and charm that everyone adores.
The hotel boasts a total of 110 rooms, so there’s plenty of space for larger families and groups. There’s a designated play area and pool just across from the Big Blue pool bar with incredible views over the bay. Don’t forget to swing by the Lighthouse Restaurant – the pizzas are out of this world!
How to get there: It is located just an hour’s drive from Durban. Head south along the N2.
How much does it cost to stay here: In low season, family rooms start from R1,820 per night with breakfast included.
Nibela Lake Lodge
Where: Nibela Lake Lodge overlooks the beautiful Lake St Lucia in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. It is located on the Kwa-Nibela Peninsula, Hluhluwe.
Why you should stay here: Nibela Lake Lodge is ideal for self-drivers who are keen on a flexible schedule while driving along the North Coast. Nestled in the World Heritage Site iSimangaliso Wetlands Park near Hluhluwe, it offers a nature-based holiday for the whole family. Think beautifully appointed timber chalets with private balconies, lakeside views, and an on-site restaurant.
How to get there: Head up the North Coast along the N2 towards the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. Take the Hluhluwe off-ramp.
How much does it cost to stay here: For information on their latest rates, contact Dream Hotels and Resorts (+27 (0)861 010 347).
Little Switzerland Resort
Where: Little Switzerland is situated in Bergville (Northern Drakensberg), just off the R74. It is precisely 25 km from Royal Natal National Park.
Why you should stay here: This charming resort offers a little taste of Europe right here in South Africa. There are quaint Alpine chalets and hotel rooms with breath-taking views of the Drakensberg. There’s also a fantastic bar, and a light and airy dining area, with plenty of activities to try during your stay, like fishing, horse riding and easy hiking trails just off the property.
How to get there: Follow the R74 highway.
How much does it cost: Self-catering one-bedroom chalets are from R1,200 per night.
The Oyster Box Hotel
Where: On Lighthouse Road, a brief five-minute walk from the Umhlanga Village Centre. It is convenient for quick and easy access to the Durban city centre, and King Shaka International Airport.
Why you should stay here: Overlooking the iconic Umhlanga Lighthouse, The Oyster Box is one of KZN’s best-loved and most distinguished hotels. It occupies a special place in the hearts of the countless guests who have enjoyed its warmth and relaxed elegance since its opening in 1947. It stands proud on Umhlanga’s beachfront, directly overlooking the Indian Ocean, and is perfect for travellers looking to splurge on their holiday to KwaZulu-Natal.
How to get there: Head north from Durban to reach Umhlanga. The hotel is on Lighthouse Road.
How much does it cost to stay here: Rates are from approximately R9,000 per room, including breakfast and full use of the facilities.
Thanks to the local Indian community, KwaZulu-Natal produces some of the best curries in the country.
The Bunny Chow is a Durban staple. It’s a half loaf of bread hollowed out and filed with hot spicy meat or veg filling. Opt for the ones sold at local eateries instead of the more ‘gourmet’ options at the hotels. If you’re a bit unsure about sinking your teeth into one of those, make a beeline for the restaurants in Florida Road. This famous street is great for dinner and a night out.
The Natal Midlands also boasts some local breweries and fantastic eateries. Paired with fresh country fair, expect proper KZN hospitality.
Breakfast at Shongweni Farmers’ Market
What’s special about it: This farmers’ market takes place once a week on a Saturday morning on a plot of land near Shongweni Dam. The trick is to make sure you get there early, so you’ll have to avoid a late one the night before. Once there, you’ll find a selection of tasty treats, local delicacies, and, best of all, hot coffee.
How to get there: Head along the N3 until you see the Shongweni Dam turn-off. Take a left and follow the signs (and cars). It’s about a 20-minute drive from the city centre.
How much does it cost: No entry fee.
Piri-Piri Chicken at Joita’s
What’s special about it: With the constant development along the North Coast, especially in the cosmopolitan hubs of Umhlanga and Ballito, this family-owned Portuguese restaurant has remained firmly planted (and popular) for many years. The locals love it because the food is always fresh and the piri-piri chicken is the best you’ll find this side of the Mozambican border.
How to get there: Head up the North Coast to the coastal hub of Umhlanga. It’s a 15-minute drive from the city centre and on the way to the airport, if you’d like one last epic meal before you leave KZN.
How much does it cost: Half a chicken is R95 with sides.
Bite into a Johnny’s roti
What’s special about it: A visit to Durban is not complete without a visit to the famous Sunrise Chip ‘n Ranch, aka “Johnny’s Rotis,” as the locals know it. The clientele is a mix of all walks of life, and the best thing about the place is the generous portions. It also stays open until the early hours of the morning.
How to get there: Located in Overport, in the heart of Durban. Just ask any local, and they will point you in the right direction.
How much does it cost: The original chip and cheese roti will set you back a grand total of R29.
Stop for a pint at the Nottingham Road Brewery
What’s special about it: This thriving independent brewery is a popular pitstop for travellers making their way north by cutting through the centre of the province. Stop for some snacks and beer tasting any day of the week. The Tiddly Toad Premium Lager and Whistling Weasel Pale Ale are just two of the on-tap favourites.
How to get there: It is located in Nottingham Road in the green belly of the Natal Midlands. It’s a slight detour on the Old Main Road (the R103).
How much does it cost: If you need some nibbles with your pint, the snack basket is R80,00. Brewer’s platters are R490 with more than enough to share.