5 pit stops to explore when road tripping on Route 66 in the Zulu kingdom

Experience nature from the treetops at the Dlinza Forest Aerial Broadwalk. Picture: Supplied

Experience nature from the treetops at the Dlinza Forest Aerial Broadwalk. Picture: Supplied

Published Nov 20, 2023


Route 66, which traversed the American Midwest between the 1930s and 1960s, supporting small towns and inspiring music, novels, and movies, now has an African version.

And this one is marked by the historical drumbeats of the Zulu Kingdom.

The road winds its way for 250km through the sugar cane clad hills of northern KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) through the now bustling towns of Gingindlovu, Eshowe, Melmoth, Ulundi, Nongoma, Mtunzini and Phongolo.

It also includes KZN’s oldest trade routes previously travelled on horse and ox wagon by transport riders, missionaries, soldiers and farmers.

Even today, Route 66 still ferries everything from sugar cane to groceries and everyone from school children and businessmen to the busy N2 highway that links up with the world-class ports of Durban and Richards Bay.

Tourism KwaZulu-Natal (TKZN) explained that the route also provides curious travellers with the perfect way to explore the very same place that was home to the iconic King Shaka Zulu, who has captured the imagination of the world and inspired television epics like “Shaka Ilembe” as well as novels and films.

“The routes is punctuated by monuments, museums and memories that date back to a time filled with bloody clashes that changed the course of the region’s history - the tribal wars of the early 1800s, the Voortrekker-Zulu War of 1838, the Anglo-Zulu War of 1878 and the Bhambatha Rebellion of 1906,” said TKZN.

TKZN added that Route 66 is perfect for history buffs and nature lovers alike so if you’re planning to explore this rich route, here are some pit stops to explore along the route.

Fort Nongqayi

Route 66 is anchored by the town of Eshowe. According to TKZN, if you’re planning a road trip on this route, then you should consider a visit to Fort Nongqayi , a picturesque turreted white structure that was originally built by the British in 1883.

“The precinct includes the Mission Museum which pays tribute to the early Norwegian Christian missionaries and the Vukani Museum of Zulu Art and Culture which showcases some of the province’s best pieces of pottery and basketry,” said TKZN.

Dlinza Forest Aerial Boardwalk

You can also stop at the Dlinza Forest Aerial Boardwalk that magically traverses the tree canopy, offering a bird’s eye view of the forest with its giant trees, orchids and winged residents and ends at a 20-metre high viewing tower with breath taking views all the way to the coast in Eshowe.

“Route 66 offers a wonderland of unexplored indigenous forests, including the Ntumeni Nature Reserve and the Nkandla Forest, a 1 600-hectare mist belt forest with deep gorges and steep ridges that’s a place of mystery and legend,” said TKZN.

Siyaya Coastal Park

Another place to visit on the historical route is the Siyaya Coastal Park consisting of 42 kilometers of unspoilt coastline stretching from the mouth of the Mlalazi River to the southern boundary of the Amatigulu Nature Reserve.

“It’s two nature reserves span a pristine coastal dune forest, mangrove forests, swamp forest, grassland and ilala palm bushveld, providing homes for everything from fiddler crabs and mudskippers to herds of zebra and giraffes grazing on grasslands overlooking the ocean,” explained TKZN.

eMakhosini Ophathe Heritage

TKZN highlighted that when heading to Melmoth and Mtonjaneni, one finds the eMakhosini Ophathe Heritage Park and the Spirit of the eMakhosini Monument that overlooks the Valley of the Kings.

“This rugged park boasts spectacular krantzes overlooking the White Mfolozi River and offers sanctuary to the endangered black rhino,” said the tourism body.

Zululand capital, Ulundi,

And finally, the tourism authority said that the road trip would not be complete without a stop at the capital of Zululand where the decisive battle on Gqokli Hill took place and was integral to King Shaka’s rise to power took place.

“After extensive archaeological excavation, King Cetshwayo’s residence at Ondini has been recreated on the exact site of the Royal capital.

“Travellers can also visit the Ondini Heritage Site and the KwaZulu Cultural Museum with a collection of fascinating artefacts that includes the silver friendship cup presented to King Cetshwayo by Queen Victoria when the Zulu King visited England after the Anglo-Zulu War,” said TKZN.