Experience world-class game reserves and golden beaches in northern KwaZulu-Natal

What to do and where to stay when visiting northern KwaZulu-Natal

07 December 2018 - 11:36 By Dane Forman
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Image: Supplied/Dane Forman

Northern KwaZulu-Natal is a place of wonder. The area boasts world-class game reserves that spill into endless untouched beaches, a Unesco World Heritage Site that holds the interest and respect of international travellers and locals, and a rich, natural heritage interwoven in a tapestry of strong Zulu culture. This was our destination for our weekend.

It’s a Friday afternoon. A close friend and I pack the car and head north from our coastal city home of Durban. Our destination is Protea Hotel by Marriott Umfolozi River. Centrally located between two of Zululand’s biggest attractions, the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve and iSimangaliso Wetland Park, this hotel proves to be a perfect base camp for the weekend’s activities.

Friendly staff welcome us and get us settled in for the weekend … a few cold beers around the hotel pool and it’s time for an early retirement.

An early start on Saturday morning sees us heading through St Lucia, a small town at the mouth of the St Lucia estuary.

Image: Dane Forman

The coastal retreat of Cape Vidal in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park is our morning mission. The drive takes us through the sprawling plains of the Unesco World Heritage Site and descends into the coastal forests around Lake Bhangazi.

A morning trail run through indigenous shrubland and cool coastal dune forests is the first order of the day. A beach swim in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean gets us ready for the rest of the day’s activities. Cape Vidal is a haven for fishermen, divers and their families. Good laughs, friendly smiles and wildly exaggerated fishing stories make up the vibe around camp.

Image: Dane Forman

Back in St Lucia it is time to explore the estuary for the afternoon. There is no better way to get close to the action than with a croc-and-hippo-viewing boat cruise. Advantage Tours operates out of St Lucia and guarantees hippo sightings with each cruise.  

We definitely get our fair share of sightings. Nile crocodile and hippos line the shores as our double-decker viewing boat makes its way up the river towards the setting sun. The area is rich with bird and reptile life. The sighting of a 3m-long forest cobra in the nearby trees is fantastic but also has our skins crawling.

With the day behind us, it’s time to settle into our own watering hole. The town of St Lucia attracts a vibrant mix of locals and international travellers, most of whom arrive on safari or come to explore the fantastic diving and fishing available in the area. This also means the nightlife in St Lucia can get exciting, especially when people from all walks of life and parts of the globe converge at one of the local bars.

Sunday morning is all about game viewing. The Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve offers the full African safari experience right on your doorstep. Get your binoculars out and make sure you see some of Africa’s big five.

Just outside the reserve is the Zamimpilo Market, a traditional cash-only market that offers fresh produce and an array of traditional Zulu curios. Grab a snack for the road and chat with the friendly locals. You’re guaranteed to meet some interesting characters and share a few good laughs.

Image: Dane Forman

With the weekend over it’s a two-hour drive back to the hustle and bustle of Durban after a perfect weekend away to explore a beautiful part of the world often overlooked by city dwellers but never forgotten by those who take the time to #WanderMore.

What to do & where to stay

Hippo & croc tours: A number of tours operate from St Lucia. This is a must for any first visitors. Sightings of wildlife are common.

Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Park: This big-five reserve is one of the oldest game reserves in Africa – a 30-minute drive from the hotel and you are in the heart of the African savannah. Personal vehicles are allowed but the park is no zoo. Visitors must respect all animals in the park, especially the elephants.

St Lucia: The small coastal town is a good base point to link up with safari and fishing tour operators. There are a few good eateries, great backpackers' and coffee shops to visit.

Protea Hotel by Marriott Umfolozi River: Click here to view rates and make a booking.

Image: Dane Forman

Dane Forman is a South African explorer and photographer.

This article was paid for by Luxury Hotels.

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