Humpback trail in Lion country

It’s a scorcher of a summer. But in the Southern Hemisphere, some people are enjoying the chill. Head to the cool climes of South Africa, one of the world’s most preferred destinations, and discover the lesser-known parts of that beautiful country.

Sriya Ray Chaudhuri | Print Edition: June 15, 2008

The Drakensberg Waterfall
The Drakensberg Waterfall
Most people who visit South Africa rave about the Table Mountain, the Cape of Good Hope and the many sights that await them in the fashion capital of Sun City.

Of course, these are amazing places to visit, but having been there and done that, I was looking to check out parts of this colourful nation that the average tourist wouldn’t really know about. That’s why to begin with, I chose KwaZulu-Natal this time. And boy! Did I back a winning horse.

The Zulu Experience

The Humpback Whale makes a great picture
The Humpback whale
While we were in KwaZulu-Natal, I was charmed by the local people and the stunning luxury lodges. Yes, there were many private and government-controlled game reserves where we saw everything from lions to elephants. But it was probably “the Zulu experience” which will linger in my mind forever.

We took an ox wagon to Zulu villages of bee-hive huts and experienced traditional Zulu hospitality, including a rural wedding ceremony. If you do get the chance (we didn’t) please do visit Ulundi—the site of the final battle fought in the Anglo-Zulu war.

KwaZulu-Natal is full of small rivulets
KwaZulu-Natal is full of small rivulets
Nearby, Zulu kings lie buried in the Emakhosini Valley.


We first headed to the quaint town of Pietermaritzburg. Indians across the world must have heard of this place, since it is here in the town set amidst forested hills and the rolling countryside that Mahatma Gandhi was forcibly removed by the white rulers from a First Class railway carriage. This was the start of his Passive Resistance campaign.

The Gandhi Memorial

Camping out is a popular option for tourists
Camping out is a popular option
We took a taxi to the station (which will soon be transformed into a museum) to see the Gandhi plaque in the station building. There is also a large statue of Gandhi in Church Street. His jail cell is at the old prison, which now houses an administrative building.

The Butterfly Museum:
The complex, housing a butterfly craft shop, art gallery, coffee bar, African art and craft centre and a garden, is a must-visit. The prime attraction is an impressive walk through the butterfly house where visitors can come into close contact with butterflies from around the world as they fly freely in a lush environment. An outdoor butterfly garden complements the enclosed house, allowing guests to observe these magnificent butterflies in their natural habitat.

Albert Falls Resource Reserve:
There are many game reserves near this city, including the famous Tala Game Reserve, which was awesome, but we visited this one as well, since it promised something different. Spending half a day following the Rhino trail, meeting curious giraffes, kudu, waterbuck, red hartebeest, eland and antelopes against a backdrop of the vast Albert Falls Dam, was a sight to behold. Albert Falls is just a few minutes drive from the city centre.

What to do: We took a half-day walking tour here. Start from Publicity House, which is opposite one of South Africa’s best galleries, The Tatham Art Gallery. Thereafter, we strolled past the impressive legislative building to the Natal Museum and the famous Imperial Hotel onto the glorious St Peter’s Cathedral. Finally, we stopped for a bit of food and coffee at South Africa’s largest heritage retail area—the Church Street Mall.

How to get there:
It’s 80 km from Durban by road. Many luxury bus, rail and taxi services are available. The Oribi Airport also caters to many domestic flights.

Where to stay: Protea Hotel Imperial
Price: Approximately 700 rands (Rs 3,850) per day
Look up:www.proteahotels.com

The Humpback Trail

The South Coast of the province is a must-visit to see a creature that’s a hundred times as large as a lion. In a speedboat on the Indian Ocean, we were lucky to spot a Humpback Whale that seemed to have taken a liking to us, spewing huge fountains of water and performing acrobatics as if it knew we were around. The Humpback whale darshan was genuinely the high point of the trip.

South Coast beaches are a big draw for tourists
Beautiful South Coast beaches
There is nothing quite as stunning as taking a boat out to the sea (with one of your hands clasped around the boat seat, for safety) and suddenly looking up to see a gigantic whale barely a 100 metres away. It’s scary all right but as the guides tell you, if you don’t bother them, these giants don’t bother you. But try clicking one in action. It’s a tough act.

How to get there: It’s less than an hour from Durban
Where to stay: St Michael’s Sands Shelly Beach Hotel
Price: 3,200 rands (Rs 17,600) and upwards per night
Contact: www.southcoast.co.za

Drakensberg Mountains

The Zulu people named it Ukhahlamba or the Barrier of Spears. The Drakensberg Mountains, with their awe-inspiring basalt cliffs, snowcapped in winter, form a massive barrier separating KwaZulu-Natal from the Kingdom of Lesotho. This 243,000-hectare mountainous region known as the Khahlamba-Drakensberg Park has been preserved and venerated for eons since the bushmen roamed these slopes. In December 2000, the park received international recognition and was declared KwaZulu-Natal’s second World Heritage Site. Watch out for 48 species of mammals here.

A Pub on the Snowline

On our last morning in KwaZulu-Natal, we hit the trail to Sani Pass on the Lesotho border—to have a drink at the highest pub in Africa. We reached in time to have lunch at the pub known as Sani Top Chalet. One of South Africa’s best kept secrets, this is a small rustic establishment at 2,874 m above sea level. Just as we left, it started to snow lightly. It was a fitting way to finish off our trip to KwaZulu-Natal.

How to get there: Sani Pass is a short drive from Drakensberg.
Where to stay: Woodridge Country Hotel
Price: Approximately 1,200 rands (Rs 6,600) per night
Look up:www.woodridge-estate.com

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