A more detailed overview of Zululand .
Not that an auspicious omen is prerequisite to enjoying the holiday experience of a lifetime, but when your odyssey begins with crossing a river appropriately called Thukela - The Startling One - there's no doubt that extraordinary adventures lie ahead. Which is exactly what happens when heading north from the metropolitan buzz of Durban along the shore-hugging highway into our Kingdom's heartland. British soldiers of the Anglo-Zulu War were surprised when they invaded Zululand at this spot in 1879...and not only by the fierce resistance they encountered from spear-wielding regiments. Museum held letters extol the 'vast, majestic beauty alive with fantastically-plumed birds and the great beasts of Africa'. The hostilities are long gone, memories of that historic incursion linger at the Fort Pearson National Monument - but the surroundings are as inspiring as ever... as evinced by an altogether different kind of National Monument. This lies beyond the industrial tourism of Mandini and historically-important Gingindlovu at the nearby coastal resort town of Mtunzini. Meaning 'Place in the Shade', this unspoilt eco-tourism centre boasts giant raphia palms which attract equally- rare and protected palmnut vultures. Adjacent to Mtunzini's tranquil dune forests, wetland and golden beaches lies the Umlalazi Nature Reserve, a vast area of coastal forest surrounding a beautiful lagoon and pristine mangrove swamps. This area's winter butterfly migration is a world-famous and much-photographed riot of fluttering colour. Continuing north, the road veers slightly inland through waving cane fields of sugar country to Empangeni and its landmarks of Zulu military history. The museum housed in this agricultural centres Town Hall provides fascinating insights into Zulu culture and the lives of pioneering sugar barons. Contemporary artists are well-represented alongside the reminders of previous epochs.
Zulu Children at Shakaland
Cultural tourism is inextricably linked to economic upliftment in Zululand, and previously disadvantaged communities are applying their traditional skills to meet visitor's interests. Most of our tourist destinations offer insightful opportunities to experience living Zulu culture at first hand - township tours present the vibrancy of modern urban life, complete with 'lunch and a pint' at the local, music-fuelled shebeen...while timeless rural living is equally accessible. Spend a few days as honorary village resident sleeping...in a mud and thatch hut, sampling indigenous cuisine, seeing your future revealed in a throw of the bones, learning the language of the beads and, of course, uncovering the mysteries of the drums. Due east of Empangeni is the Tuzi Gazi Coast...a name derived from twin rivers flowing into the sea at Richards Bay. A fascinating blend of industrial-,eco- and cultural-tourism, this harbour city offers all the implied delights of a beachfront mini-metropolis in the midst of a nature- lovers dream. North of evergreen and ever-warm Richards Bay - beyond the game park and aquatic birds of the small, picturesque Enseleni Nature Reserve - swampy plains dominate the landscape before you encounter another of Zululand's great waterways and its boundary to the Elephant Coast - the Umfolozi River.
Northern Zululand's 'capital' is the picturesque town of Pongola. At the centre of sugar, cotton and citrus estates, this business and tourism centre provides meaningful insights into the area's rich history of Zulu, Boer and British interaction...plus the aforementioned prehistoric landmarks. Due south is the hunting and photo-safari area of Magudu, named after the Zulu rain queen who once lived on the nearby sacred mountain of the same name. Heading further inland, we encounter the magnificent and increasingly popular Itala Game Reserve before arriving in the northwest's largest town - Vryheid. Simultaneously modern and historic - a prime destination on our Battlefields Route - Vryheid offers much in the way of outdoors activities in addition to fascinating hours for museum- buffs. Paulpietersburg is another pivotal name in our somewhat turbulent history...with reminders of both Anglo-Boer and Anglo-Zulu conflicts. A short drive north of Vryheid, this 'healthiest town in South Africa' - according to the Guiness Book of Records - abounds in spring water and therapeutic sulphur spas. Midway between Vryheid and the coast is Nongoma, home district of reigning monarch His Majesty King Goodwill Zwelithini. This picturesque town makes a convenient base for exploring the Ngome Forest and within it, the Ntendeka Wilderness Area - a 'hidden heart' of Zululand considered by many to be South Africa's most rewarding piece of pristine beauty. Equally green - but closer to town -are tea estates that welcome curious visitors! South of Nongoma lies the historic royal seat of the Zulu people - Ulundi. This 'High Place' of King Cetshwayo was burned to the ground during the final act of the Anglo-Zulu War...but the original capital has been meticulously reconstructed. Other historic battlefields dot the surrounding area. Between Ulundi and Babanango to the west you'll find the Valley of the Kings - where many Zulu royal ancestors are buried - and the rebuilt homestead of King Dingane. Nearby are the graves of Voortrekker leader Piet Retief and his 101 compatriots, put to death in 1837 on Dingane's orders during land negotiations.
A traditional Zulu 'Umuzi' or 'kraal'
Continuing south, we pass through lush green mist-belt around Melmoth before arriving at the indigenous, protected rain forests of historically significant Eshowe. From there, enriched with memories of a lifetime - and hopefully a few authentic, inimitable curios - it's but a short drive back to that point at the coast where we initially embarked on this magical tour. And just as your arrival in Zululand was met with the warm, traditional greeting-call of 'Sawubona!' so will your departure be accompanied by the equally heart-felt 'Siyabonga...hamba kahle' -'We thank you and farewell.'