KwaZulu-Natal’s capital city is worth a visit in its own right, but it’s once you hit the open road and explore its surroundings that the magic really happens.
Many people are surprised that it’s Pietermaritzburg, and not its bigger, bolder sister Durban, that holds the honour of being the capital of KwaZulu-Natal. Once you visit the city, you’ll understand why. Maritzburg, as it’s commonly known, is the region’s industrial hub, home to aluminium plants and surrounded by forests where trees are harvested for paper and pastures where dairy cattle graze. It’s home to the University of KwaZulu-Natal ; a famous statue of the legendary campaigner for peace and equality, Mahatma Gandhi; a beautiful botanical garden; and a museum dedicated to what is perhaps the world’s most famous long-distance race, the Comrades Marathon. Oh – and it has one of South Africa’s largest Indian populations, so there are great curry restaurants galore. So it may seem puzzling that most visitors to the city spend very little time there – but that’s only if you haven’t seen how much there is to discover in the surrounding area.
FIGHT YOUR OWN BATTLES
The Anglo-Zulu War is a part of British colonial history that most people would prefer to forget. The bloody conflict was waged in 1879 between the British Empire and the Zulu kingdom, led by Cetshwayo, nephew of the legendary Shaka. Today, the battlefields of Blood River, Isandlwana, Rorke’s Drift, Colenso and Spioenkop are, for the most part, carefully preserved, many with fascinating on-site museums. There’s enough to see here to provide the basis for an entire holiday, but even if time is tight, a visit to at least one of these fascinating and poignant sites is a must.
THE BRILLIANT BERG
Even the name Drakensberg ( “dragon mountains”) is thrilling, although sanguine locals generally refer to the area as “the Berg”. Some of South Africa’s most stunning scenery is to be found here, in the country’s highest mountain range. If you love the outdoors, you’ll find something to do here at any time of the year – hot-air ballooning, white-water rafting, hiking, mountain-biking, trout-fishing, even skiing, if the weather is right. But many people visit the Berg with the intention of doing nothing but relaxing – admiring the glorious views over sundowners, enjoying delicious gourmet food, or being pampered in one of the many luxury spa hotels.
CRAFTS AND CULTURE
It’s no surprise that this stunning part of the world has proved a magnet for artists in everything from painting to sculpture and stained glass to needlework. If you love looking at and buying beautiful hand-made treasures, you’ll find as much as your budget can handle on the Midlands Meander . For 25 years, this collective of creativity, centred around the picturesque Nottingham Road area, has celebrated and supported local artists and craftspeople, all of whom welcome visitors into the inner sanctums where they work. The informal association, which is committed to responsible and sustainable tourism and to supporting the local community, also incorporates gorgeous boutique hotels, first-class restaurants, and museums that offer a fascinating glimpse into the region’s history.