KwaZulu-Natal map & highlights

KwaZulu-Natal stretches from the rocky spear-like peaks of the Drakensberg Mountains, through Zulu battlefields and rolling plains, to the rhino-filled reserves of Hluhluwe-iMfolozi and the vast iSimangaliso Wetland Park – where savannah and sand dunes give way to enormous hippo-filled estuaries, white strands of Indian Ocean beaches and some of the most biodiverse coastal waters in the world. Wildlife may be KwaZulu-Natal’s big draw – from giant tuskers to humpback whales – but it is the ever-present Zulu culture which colours and underpins every experience you’ll have here. In the form of your local hiking, safari or cultural guides, the stories told on Isandlwana’s battlefields or in Durban’s vibrant townships. Say ‘sanibonani’ to our favourite things to see and do in KwaZulu-Natal.

1. Battlefields

Nowhere is the fearsome reputation earned by the Zulu Warriors more evident than at the Zululand battlefields at Rorke’s Drift, Isandlwana and Spion Kop. Hearing stories of the Anglo-Zulu Wars - which shaped South Africa’s 19th century history – and the tales of bloody battles and survival against the odds in the locations they took place is riveting. Your local guides can also weave insights into Zulu culture and tradition into the histories here.

2. Beaches

Lined by a glorious stretch of Indian Ocean coastline, it would be a travesty to not spend at least a little time on KwaZulu-Natal’s beaches. The Elephant Coast, incorporating the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, offers protected swathes of coral sands with excellent snorkelling and diving. Upscale Umhlanga Rocks north of Durban meanwhile is home to golden, boulder-backed beaches and pristine forests, a short walk from boutique shops and stylish restaurants.
Big 5 safaris

3. Big 5 safaris

KwaZulu-Natal’s game reserves may not boast big names, but the safaris through the region’s mix of private reserves and national parks are second-to-none. Hluhluwe-iMfolozi boasts the highest concentration of white rhino anywhere in Africa, while some of the world’s biggest living tuskers call Tembe Elephant Park home. Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, the authority which manages KwaZulu-Natal’s public reserves, has received many awards for the quality of its conservation work.
The Drakensberg

4. The Drakensberg

Known as uKhahlamba – the ‘barrier of spears’ - in Zulu, the dramatic rocky peaks of the Drakensberg Mountains offer sublime vistas, an abundance of San rock art and excellent walking routes. Don’t miss the Amphitheatre, a vast arc-shaped escarpment in the northern Royal Natal National Park, or the beautiful Didima Valley for wildlife and wildflower-filled hikes ranging from a few hours to a few days.

5. Durban

Cosmopolitan Durban has undergone a transformation in recent years. The city, home to the largest population of Indians outside the Indian subcontinent, alongside Zulus, Afrikaners and Europeans, boasts clean streets linking safe beaches to the heart of the modern city, where skyscrapers mix with rickshaws and spice-filled Indian markets. Don’t miss a taste of bunny chow – Durban’s unique quick eat of curry served in a hollowed-out loaf.

6. Hluhluwe-iMfolozi

KwaZulu-Natal’s conservation success story and the jewel in its safari crown. Hluhluwe-iMfolozi, the oldest reserve in Africa, is home to the continent’s highest concentration of white rhino and has been credited with saving this endangered species from extinction. You’ll need to keep eyes peeled for all the Big Five on game drives here – with lion, leopard, cheetah, buffalo, elephants and more ranging its rolling hills and swathes of savannah.
iSimangaliso Wetland Park

7. iSimangaliso Wetland Park

KwaZulu Natal’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, the iSimangaliso Wetland Park protects a 220km coral-fringed coastline of hippo-filled wetlands, mangrove-lined estuaries, coastal forest, open savannah and dune-backed white sand beaches stretching from St Lucia to Kosi Bay. The snorkelling and diving here is world-class, while bird watchers and Big Five spotters will be in their element in uMkhuze Game Reserve.
Midlands Meander

8. Midlands Meander

A beautiful driving route through the pleasant rolling countryside that stretches from Pietermaritzburg to the northern Drakensberg Mountains. The Midlands Meander is a celebration of local arts and crafts – a thriving cottage industry set up by local artists and entrepreneurs to connect you with potters, artists, wood-carvers and weavers, as well as food and drink producers. Hiking trails and locally-owned accommodations in quaint rural villages link the route together.
Tembe Elephant Park

9. Tembe Elephant Park

Remote Tembe Elephant Park is home to over 220 African elephants, including some of the largest living tuskers in the world, as well as the rest of the Big Five and over 340 species of birds. Bordering Mozambique, this unique park of sand forest and savannah – co-owned by the local Tembe tribe – protects vulnerable elephants in what is known as the ‘Ivory Route’. Safaris here are special; only 10 vehicles are allowed in per day.
Township tours

10. Township tours

Apartheid ended in 1994, but its legacy is still strong across South Africa. KwaZulu-Natal is no exception, and while the region is rightly proud of its Zulu traditions it is still divided, and black South Africans suffer disproportionate poverty and unemployment. Take a tour of Durban’s large Umlazi township with a local guide to put this recent history in context – and feel the optimism for a better future.

11. Volunteering

With a wealth of wildlife reserves it is no wonder that KwaZulu-Natal is South Africa’s go-to destination for conservation volunteering. Volunteer teams help fund – and assist - permanent research teams in cash-strapped reserves, monitoring wildlife populations, tracking leopards or - if you’re lucky – radio collaring cheetah – in an authentic, no-frills experience of the wild African bush. Alternatively, wildlife centres also rely on volunteers to care daily for rescued birds and baby monkeys.
Zulu culture

12. Zulu culture

Whether Battlefield tours, or a luxury safari lodge working collaboratively with local communities, underpinning every experience in KwaZulu-Natal is traditional Zulu culture. Zulu homesteads bring this to life. You’ll be welcomed into the community’s beehive huts and rondavels – round thatched cottages – to learn more about Zulu values and customs, and perhaps even see into your future with a visit to the local sangoma, a traditional diviner.
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about KwaZulu-Natal or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.
Written by Sarah Faith
Photo credits: [Page banner: meunierd] [Battlefields: Charldurand] [Beaches: Bernard DUPONT] [Rhino: Darren Glanville] [Drakensberg: Klim Levene] [Durban: Stayza] [iSimangaliso Wetland Park: Fyre Mael] [Hluhluwe-iMfolozi: Jumblejet] [Midlands Meander: Jumblejet] [Tembe Elephant Park: Steve Slater] [Township: John Charalambous] [Volunteering: Eric Knoll] [Zulu culture: South African Tourism]