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Durban - KwaZulu-Natal is a country within a country. In just this one province there are so many different landscapes and a bewildering variety of reasons to visit: cosmopolitan city life in Durban, the cultural heritage of the Zulu people, the battlefields of the Anglo-Zulu and Anglo-Boer wars for history buffs, wonderful beaches in a long sweep of Indian Ocean coastline, game parks at Hluhluwe-iMfolozi and Pongola, the mountain wilderness of the Drakensberg, the farmlands of the meander… and so it goes on.
And the layout of the province lends itself rather handily to a two-week circuit. So I thought I would suggest an itinerary, using Greenwood Guides places to stay as stepping-stones, which would take in almost all the major drawcards of the province. I would always recommend two nights at each place. Please bear in mind there is only space here for one of our places to stay for each KZN zone. But there are many more in the guide (www.greenwoodguides.com) if you find a place is full.
1. Fly in to Durban and stay at The Grange Guest House
1 Monteith Place
031 563 6826
As I walked into the Grange I got that tingly excited feeling that GG researchers experience when they find somewhere particularly special! The bewitching art around the house is from all parts of the African continent – my personal favourite was commissioned in Nigeria. And then, of course, there are your hosts. Mutari, who is Nigerian, met Annelie in her homeland of Australia. Never one to say no to a challenge, Annelie moved back to Nigeria with Mutari for 13 years before they decided on a new adventure in South Africa.
The Grange has been lovingly renovated into a very modern space, keeping in touch with the building’s heritage in original wooden floors, but all the bathrooms, beds etc are super-luxurious. No expense has been spared.
2. Then head north along the coast for some Indian Ocean beach chilling. Stay at Nalsons. Maybe it will be oyster season.
10 Fairway Drive
032 525 5726
After a long, long (long, long) day on the road I finally emerged from my car at Nalson’s, wild-eyed and mud-besmattered. I couldn’t have pitched up anywhere more perfect.
Kelvin and Wendy welcomed me as if I had been living there for years. They have an oyster and mussel licence (guests can go with them and pick their own) and these were by FAR the best I’ve had in South Africa.
With Durban’s new King Shaka Airport just 20 minutes away, Nalson’s View is a worthwhile first or last stop on any KZN adventure. Ask about kids.
3. Then up to the Chase Guest House in Eshowe.
Chase Guest House
035 474 5491
Jane and Jonathan have so much to offer their guests that you hardly have to leave the premises. But leave the premises you must! Chase is in the heart of the Zulu kingdom and what better spot to catch up on the history of King Shaka or get tangled up in the King’s Reed Dance. The Dlinza Forest Aerial Boardwalk is another highlight. Back at the ranch, the weather-boarded house is gargantuan. Chase Guest House is an involving, very comfortable, incredibly good-value family home, with huge amounts of space inside and out. Pack a sense of humour and a pair of binoculars. Bikes are available for use.
4. Next head to Shayamoya for a game lodge experience on the Pongola reserve.
Shayamoya Tiger Fishing and Game Lodge
034 435 1110
Arriving at my night’s accommodation before dusk (a rare occurrence for a GG inspector), I was greeted by Busi with the warmest of smiles and offered a welcome afternoon tea on the deck surveying the spectacular view of Lake Jozini and the Lebombo Mountains. Shayamoya is a family-built (ask to see the photo album) and -run lodge, managed by daughter Lindy, on a plot that once served as an extension of the family’s cattle farm.
Come dusk, I was sharing pre-dinner drinks with two couples whose fishing holiday, planned by the husbands, had uncovered the wives’ natural talent. A return trip was already booked… to redeem themselves. For the more adventurous, ask about their self-catering bush camp.
5. Follow the N1 on to the Anglo-Zulu War battlefield area and stay at Three Trees at Spioenkop where history is brought to life against a backdrop of fabulous hospitality and excellent food.
036 448 1171
This is the comfortable way to experience the Boer War and one of its most famous battlefields, Spioenkop Hill. The Three Trees lodge sits in complete isolation on an opposing hill with views that flood out across the green valley and down to the Spioenkop Nature Reserve. The chalets are little colonial havens where the emphasis is on simple good quality, rather than elaborate decoration.
This is the first Fair Trade guesthouse in KwaZulu-Natal no less; they make their own firelighters out of teabags; they have a wormery; a wonderful veggie garden where kids are encouraged to get dirty; and a newly-purchased solar cooker. Three Trees will surely have at least one box for you to put a big tick in!
6. Continue on to the Drakensberg Mountains for some of the best walking and views in the whole country. If you stay at Montusi, head up Tugela Gorge.
Montusi Mountain Lodge
Near Alpine Heath
Montusi feels a bit like a hotel, which just happens to be run by your aunt and uncle. You know… you haven’t seen them for years, but no sooner have you stepped from the car than they’ve got your bed sorted and are fixing you a sundowner on the patio.
Ant bought wattle-strangled Montusi Farm in the early 1990s. Being a man of X-ray vision, he saw through the undergrowth to a lodge perfectly positioned to catch the surrounding view, he saw fields of galloping horses and he saw lakes to fish in. So he did away with the wattles and a new Montusi emerged.
Meals are superb. There are many ways to burn off the calories with limitless and fabulous Drakensberg hiking on your doorstep (we walked up stunning Tugela Gorge, but the Cartes can help with suggestions).
There’s also horse-riding for all levels of experience, mountain-biking (bring your own bike), swimming in the wonderful pool and fishing. And just 10 minutes down the road is son-in-law Chris’s Adventure Centre with high-adrenalin activities ranging from zip line to quad biking. Montusi impressed me because it’s a happy, family-run place with plenty of style. Relaxation massages are offered by local women as part of a successful community project. Picnics at waterfalls can be arranged.
7. Now down a bit to farming and polo country at Mawelawela Game and Fishing Lodge.
083 259 6394 or 073 486 8694
George and Herta are a natural, down-to-earth couple whose veins of hospitality run deep… and staying with them is to enjoy a few days awash with incidental pleasures.
Herta, a bubbly Austrian, moved to South Africa some 38 years ago and married George, who is a beef farmer – his boerewors is delicious. He is also a keen historian and leads tours out to the site of the battle of Elandslaagte. His study is full of Anglo-Boer war prints and weighty tomes including a collection of the London Illustrated News. (Ask him to show you his father’s beautiful collection of bird’s eggs too.)
If you stay in the main house the rooms are very comfortable and the bungalow across the jacaranda-filled garden is perfect for families or groups.
A short drive away from the farm itself you’ll find the thatched hunters’ cottage on 1 500 wild hectares set aside for game. There is a trout dam at the front into which George has built a waterfall, and there’s a shower and a plunge pool to one side.
The cane-sided shady braai area faces dam-wards and you can watch the eland and kudu come to drink in the evenings and with the Nambiti “big five”, malaria-free conservancy just a short drive away from the lodge, you won’t forget you’re in animal country. Finally a toast to Herta’s cooking which is wonderful!
8. And finally a last zap of beach at Yengele on the south coast before heading back to Durban.
68 Effingham Parade
071 422 0773
Yengele is Zulu for spotted genet, a pretty cat-like creature which, along with a wide diversity of other wildlife, populates the forest bordering this property… so keep your eyes peeled when traipsing along the leaf-canopied walkway to the beach. The marine reserve waves roar ferociously here.
The brave can snorkel the 90 million (give or take one or two)-year-old fossil beds at low tide, but blue-flagged Trafalgar Beach is only a scenic 25-minute stroll away for gentler swims. Significantly closer to home flows the Black Lake, a sleek, little-known horseshoe of flat water, as mysterious as its name suggests.
The people who held it sacred many years ago told the story that the stars originated from the lake. The house has been impressively reinvented with retro character and plenty of creature comfort.
Middle Eastern kilims, a red Victorian sofa, Zulu head-wear, a 1960s Xhosa skirt dyed in red river mud. I longed to lie out on the substantial deck gawping down at luscious indigenous gardens and an infinite Indian Ocean.
The self-catering kitchen is ideal, although Anna specialises in vegan dishes, so give her a nod in that direction and expect something out of the ordinary. You should expect the extraordinary at Yengele anyway. - Sunday Tribune
l There are many more places to stay in KZN recommended by Simon Greenwood at www.greenwoodguides.com.