Safari Booking KwaZulu-Natal SafariKZN’
Why opt for KwaZulu Natal? For me it’s the best all round province in South Africa with something for everyone. It is a relatively small province, easy to navigate, with good roads. Perfect for self-drive and road trip holidays with all major car rental companies based at the airport. Durban may not be the capital city but just north of here is King Shaka International Airport. Airlines offer direct flights with others having just one stopover en-route. From here in the UK the time difference is either one- or two-hours dependant on the time of year. Most flights are overnight and jet lag is almost non-existent.
Big 5 Safari and Abundant Wildlife
For the majority of visitors, to anywhere in Africa, the number one priority is taking a safari, and South Africa is the number one destination for this. My advice when planning a safari would be speak to an expert, someone who has actually spent time in different lodges & reserves in the area, like myself. Think about what you want to experience and see. If you are a first timer on safari you will want to see as much wildlife and big game as possible. If you are returning visitor, you may want to have the best chance of encountering something specific. For instance, maybe you want to have the best chance of a wild dog encounter. Based on my experiences, I can pinpoint the best reserves for this. Much the same if it is Tusker elephants, Cheetah or turtles. The game viewing in KwaZulu Natal does not stop where the ocean begins, but we will get to this later.
You have a few options to consider when booking a safari. Firstly, there is self-drive and self-cater. This is best for a returning visitor or someone who has spent some time with an experienced guide on previous game viewing excursions. It is very doable, but you must have read up on encounters with various animals. Here on SafariKZN we have information about what to do when encountering elephants. These in particular are unpredictable and extremely dangerous, especially when in musth. It is vital to get a map book of the reserve before setting off and always abide by the rules. On a few occasions I have seen people get out of their cars for photo opportunities. This is a real no-no! Self-catering is available in many reserves, but you must stock up with everything you need before entering a park or reserve. Leave nothing to chance, take wood, charcoal, all food and drinks. There are supermarkets located close to most of the major parks and reserves. In 2006 I spent 6 weeks on a road trip where I self-catered for 99% of the journey. Most self-catering accommodation will provide cooking utensils, cutlery, glasses, etc in their kitchen plus there will be a braai (barbecue) located outside of your room. You can also expect bedding and towels. Accommodation will also come with en-suit bathroom but very occasionally it is shared ablutions. I can generally tell you what to expect at each reserve. After dark there is also a chance of a visit from nocturnal creatures. Have your torch at the ready, keep watch, and be vigilant. Never ever feed any wild animal! I have experienced bush babies, genets and bush pigs plus the scary scavenging hyena.
Private Safari Lodge
The next choice will be a private safari lodge located in a reserve with other lodges. Lodges will offer two game drives a day plus all meals and snacks. The only thing you will be asked to pay for here are drinks and tips. Your guide will share an abundance of knowledge from mammals to birds to trees. Dining can be inside the lodge restaurant or outside, under the Milky Way, in the surrounds of a traditional wooden boma enclosure and generally around a fire. I think in all the years of visiting lodges we have only been disappointed in one meal. The food is more often, than not of the highest restaurant quality. Days run to a routine, but some lodges can offer options such as bush walks rather than a drive. Standards of accommodation are very high as are the staff and their usually excellent service. You could be in a luxury tent or a private bush villa. Some lodges will have communal swimming pools, some will have plunge pools on your veranda.
All of the above also applies to lodges set within their own reserve. The main difference here is that you will not see guests on safari drives from other lodges. It can be a more exclusive experience. You may also find that these lodges offer that little bit extra of something special. Once, while staying at a high end lodge on a solo safari our driver stopped after dark and escorted us down a pathway lit by gas lanterns, some on the ground, some in thorn trees, to a clearing where a huge bonfire had been lit. Staff from the lodge were here en-mass waiting to greet us. They had set up a bush bar and snack buffet tables. When the first young lady was overcome with romance and emotion and tears it seemed to set off a chain reaction. I may have had a tear in my eye, but the solo safari addict has no one to see it.
All lodges and reserves will have varying guidelines on children. Some reserves are family orientated and encourage children of all ages to stay with them. Only last year we met a couple from the UK with a nine month old baby. Some lodges will also offer baby sitting services. I always try and take note of who is family friendly and what ages of children are allowed on the game drives, so I can relay the information.
Other options to consider
Are you a birder or twitcher? KwaZulu Natal is a birding hotspot with a huge number of bird species numbering close to five hundred, with over two hundred more occasional visitors. Walking safaris are available, and in particular one wilderness area offers one of the best experiences available of anywhere in South Africa. I know this because for my 50th birthday I spent five days on a primitive walking trail. This is not so much about wildlife sightings; it is more of an experience away from the distractions of the modern world.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites
There is so much more to the province that can be combined with a safari.
The Drakensberg Mountains are one of two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in KwaZulu Natal. Here you can hike, walk, stroll or simply enjoy the magnificent, huge, scenery. The highest peak in the range elevates to just under 3500 meters. There are many places to stay stretching the length of the mountain range. There top-class hotels, guest houses, B&B’s and self-catering options. From the southern end you can even take Sani Pass into the land locked kingdom of Lesotho. This is either a 4×4 self-drive or a guided tour. I took a guided tour which offered so much more. Our guide pointed out the various peaks and natural landmarks along with a variety of flora & fauna, which included several species of Protea plants. At the top of the pass you can take a drink in Africa’s highest pub. At the northern end of the range you will find the Amphitheatre, a five-kilometre-long, cliff face, towering at its highest point at over three thousand meters. I will hopefully let you know more about the views from the top soon. The Drakensberg also boasts the highest concentration of ancient rock art in the world. It is quite common to see baboons and several species of antelope including the mighty eland. For birders you have the chance of seeing the bearded vulture. The best place for this is the hide at Giants Castle.
Epic Blue Flag Beaches
What about some beach time? There are nearly six hundred kilometres of coastline running from Port Edward in the south to Kosi Bay in the north. You will find seaside resorts in the South, city beaches in Durban, and wild beaches stretching north. The wild beaches have some of the highest sand dunes in the world. Surfing is big past time and surfers can be spotted from many beaches and early mornings in Durban is a peak time. I have visited dozens of beaches and have felt the warmth of the Indian Ocean. Some would say its like bathwater. The iSimangaliso Wetlands, the province’s other UNESCO World Heritage Site, incorporates both beaches and pristine wetland. Here is the best place for seeing seasonal migrating humpback whales and turtles. The Wetlands and the area close to the town of St Lucia also boasts the highest concentration of hippos in South Africa. The area is a hot spot for leopards, and you have the chance of seeing plenty of big game, plus giant Nile Crocodiles. Here you can see and here the iconic call of the African Fish Eagle. As mentioned earlier the game viewing continues from the beaches and into the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. I have been privileged (and like all sightings & encounters very lucky) to have seen migrating humpback whales, hatchling turtles emerging from their nest and making their way to the ocean. I have also seen a variety of sharks from the comfort of a cage under specialist guidance from shark experts and conservationists.
Historical Battlefields and Sites
The province teems with history and culture. The Zulu people have played a big part in this. You do not have to be an avid historian to appreciate the world-famous battlefields dotted around the province. I have been particularly lucky having in-laws interested in history with their great, great, grandfather, Fred Symons, having served in the British army during the Zulu War. The original handwritten diaries of Fred are a treasured piece of family history. Battlefield guides will take you through epic and tragic encounters from the Zulu and Boer Wars. My favourite film as a boy, and probably still now is ‘Zulu’. I never imaged I would ever visit Rorke’s Drift, the battle the movie is based on, or walk the area in Royal Natal Park where the movie was filmed. Other notable sites well worth visiting are SpionKop, iSandlwana, Eshowe and Talana Hill. Away from the wars there is the Nelson Mandela Capture Site Museum just outside of the town of Howick. In Phoenix, part of the heritage route, you can visit the Ghandi homestead and print works. Near the town of Colenso you can find a plaque marking the spot where Sir Winston Churchill was taken prisoner, by the Boers, when the armoured car he was travelling in became derailed.
Sports Fanatics and Foodies
I could go on, and on, however a few last things to mention: If you are a sports fan, like me, two musts are watching rugby at Kings Park and cricket at Kingsmead, both in Durban. I have been lucky enough to watch the Sharks at home and England play South Africa at Kings Park. Rugby is like a religion in South Africa and fans are deeply passionate. Cricket is a more casual affair where you can relax on the grass bank in Castle Corner and watch the action unfold in front of you. Again, I have seen England take on South Africa here and watched the Dolphins cricketers play on their home ground. The Province’s weather varies from cricket season in summer to rugby in winter. Durban and much of the coast is sub-tropical. Summer can see rain and storms whereas winter is very dry. Never a bad time of year to visit. At sporting venues, the air is often filled with the smell of smoke and food from barbecue fires and braais. When in KwaZulu Natal look out for some great cuisine: Steak, boerewors, biltong, droewors, bunnychow, Durban curry, creamed spinach, curried butternut soup, Shisanyama, potjie, melk tart, koeksisters.
We are passionate about KwaZulu Natal and want to share our first hand knowledge with you, to help you get the most from your visit. I do not profess to know where every pot hole is on every road, but there is a very good chance I have driven that road.