Sam tours South Africa’s Kwazulu Natal20.01.19 | Sam Cooper
Historic battlefields, mouthwatering food and mountainous walks just about scratch the surface of the diverse Kwazulu Natal region of South Africa. Sam experienced a slice of the continent which offers so much more than a safari holiday.
It all started on a bright and sunny Saturday afternoon at Heathrow Airport onboard British Airways’ new direct service to Durban. I travelled in Club World which made the overnight flight much more comfortable with a seat that converted into a flat bed, along with a great selection of food, drink and entertainment. I landed on time and my driver swiftly transferred me to The Oyster Box in Umhlanga in just 20 minutes, ideal after a long flight. This was a wonderful way to start my first South African adventure with a two-night relaxing stay. This elegant, five-star boutique hotel offers breathtaking views of the Indian Ocean and the iconic lighthouse, and the service was first class.
After a two-night relaxing stay at the Oyster Box, it was time to start my self-drive itinerary. I recommend an SUV/4X4, not because the roads are challenging, but it means you’re higher up with good views. I drove up to Fordoun Hotel and Spa via the N3 which took just under two hours. As I approached the property, all I could see were the bright green colours of the rolling hills, contrasting beautifully with the bright orange soil. No billboards, just unspoilt views. It was a real breath of fresh air to get away completely from today’s fast-paced, commercial world. The sun was shining, and the sky was bright blue.
Fordoun is situated between Pietermaritzburg in the South East and the Drakensberg mountain range (a World Heritage Site) in the north west. It’s a great rural meeting point which has an array of bespoke shops. Anyone who knows me, knows I’m a real foodie, so when I saw a place called Chocolate Heaven, I couldn’t resist. The white chocolate was like nothing I had ever tasted before. This part of South Africa lends itself very well to a self-drive holiday.
After spending some quality time at Fordoun and enjoying their excellent hospitality, it was time to move up a gear and really get to know the area. I headed north west to Montusi, located in the mountains with a view of the amphitheatre escarpment which is regarded as one of the most impressive cliff faces on earth. I’d definitely recommend you pack your walking boots to enjoy this area to its full potential. The natural beauty of this area blew me away; the bright green rolling hills merging in the distance against a vibrant blue sky, I was embracing high definition in real life with no filters required!
This afternoon I went on my first ever horse ride for an hour-and-a-half. This gentle ride took me down to the lake and I enjoyed a picnic including a cheese board and a bottle of Savanna cider, just in time to watch the sunset. As the sun was setting over the hill, you could hear the birds whistling away; this was something that dreams are made of, and I was pinching myself, I was awake.
The following day, I met my guide Shadrack who was born and bred in the local area. What a funny character he was; so passionate about his country and his people. Wealth in his culture is not measured by financial gain, but how many children you have, and he was wealthy. He told me I could buy a wife for 11 cows! We hiked for an hour to view cave art and talked over coffee and cake about our lives and how we were chalk and cheese, yet got on very well indeed. It was a unique opportunity to learn about each other’s cultures and was a very memorable experience.
I departed Montusi with a heavy heart, but it was time to drive to my first ever safari at Nambiti Hills. Located directly east in an area called Ladysmith in the Uthukela District, it was a drive of around two hours. I met Jason, a young guide with a lot of knowledge of the private reserve and wildlife. He took me to the main lodge where I was met by hosts, Betty and Magdela who made me feel right at home for the next two nights.
On my first ever game drive later that afternoon, my eyes were peeled, and the excitement was building, wondering what I would see first. Just as we edged over a hill, we came across a group of giraffes. Such elegant animals strolling along so calmly and natural; it was a great sight. We then drove to a picturesque spot for sundowners, and to take in the peaceful surroundings.
Jason then got a call on the radio about a potential kill nearby. I was very unsure of how I would feel about this, as I’m a real animal lover but in that very moment, knowing I was about to witness something completely natural, I relaxed a little. En route, we came across white rhinos, which are just huge tough animals, very impressive.
We arrived to an open plain and paused. I could see a group of buffalo being circled by three cheetahs, mother and two older cubs, following her lead. It was quite remarkable to see how they were positioning themselves and keeping good eye contact. They were getting closer, but as with all buffalo, they are quite stupid and kept running in circles trying to confuse the cheetahs. The sun was setting, and it was getting quite dark and we sadly had to leave. I don’t think the kill happened that night, but I never saw another cheetah during my stay. That evening we had a lovely dinner around a campfire and experienced a traditional dance by the locals, a great way to end the day.
On the following morning game drive Jason made us breakfast, pancakes in the bush. The morning drive didn’t disappoint; we came across impalas, elephants, various birds and even more rhino. I was getting quite a keen eye for spotting wildlife, I was rather proud of myself!
Saying goodbye to Nambiti was hard, because for those two nights, I had really forgotten about home. All the stresses that come with everyday life had disappeared and the experiences I’d had so far been truly life changing. When you are viewing nature at its best, in a natural environment, seeing how the animals live side by side, it gives you perspective to what is really important. Being in a setting with no pollution and no other tourists breathing down your neck, it makes those moments extra special. Although I’ve been very lucky to see wildlife in Costa Rica, Thailand and Sri Lanka, seeing the wildlife here raised the bar, the vast number of different animals, along with the experiences of trying to find them as well as the quality guides on offer and hospitality, it all just made this place very special indeed.
A steady two-hour drive took me to Fugitives Drift, which is known for Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift battlefields of the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879. I was welcomed by the Rattray family and taken to Rorkes Drift by Richard Rattray, son of the late David Rattray who was a historian of the Anglo-Zulu war. He took me around the museum which showed glimpses of a battle that took place, timelines, pictures and maps started to paint a picture of a battle. He took me around the hospital which was in the heart of the battle. As we walked on the very ground that on January 22, 1879 at 4.30pm, the Zulus charged at the British, it was heart-wrenching, palm-sweating and very emotional to hear of the stories.
After an emotional tour, Richard took me back to the lodge. I sat down with a few other guests at the hotel around an open fire where I took a moment to reflect on what we had just experienced. The following morning, Richard took me for a walk to Fugitive Drift. He once again brought to life how the battle started and at various points, he explained accounts of the survivors and I paid my respects to the graves. This is a fascinating place to visit and a must do during your stay in this region.
It was time to say goodbye to Richard and his family and I had a choice. Either a four-hour drive back to Durban, or a 45-minute helicopter ride. Of course, I chose the helicopter and sat with my trusted pilot in the co-pilot seat, we went high into the sky and saw South Africa from a bird’s eye view – absolutely incredible! I was back where my South African adventure had started, at The Oyster Box. I had lunch on the terrace, overlooking the beach in Umhlanga, drinking a cold refreshing Savanna cider. Looking out to sea, I could see the waves crashing against the rocks, and I could feel the warm breeze. I didn’t want to leave.
I can honestly say, I love South Africa. If it’s not on your bucket list, then it needs to be, and I suggest at the very top.
How to get there:
Direct flights from London to Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban
Around 11 hours
When to visit:
South Africa is great in our winter months when the days are warm and dry. For better game viewing, consider the dry season when there is less foliage.
Best area for safaris:
There’s a wide selection to choose from for ranging budgets. Our favourite would be Sabi Sands on the edge of the Kruger National Park, for its luxury lodges and leopard sightings.
You can’t miss:
Cape Town. As well as being one of the best safari holiday spots in the world, South Africa is also home to one of the most beautiful cities, Cape Town. With Table Mountain, the beautiful beach at Camps Bay, the V&A Waterfront and an eclectic mix of restaurants and nightlife to enjoy, it is a great place to start your South African adventure.
For a second time visit:
New flights to Durban open up this part of South Africa which is often overlooked. With interesting historic sites, beautiful scenery and a new selection of game lodges and camps, it is worth exploring as Sam did.
Types of holiday:
Nearly all of the holidays we create to Africa are tailor made to meet our clients requirements based on our expert knowledge. There are also group tours for those who prefer this style of holiday. Self-drive is a popular option to explore the Garden Route and Winelands.