KZN is also is the home province of the Zulus, who were molded into a fierce nation by Shaka kaSenzangakhona pheZulu in the early 1800s. Shaka was one of the most influential African kings ever born, and his military exploits led to a complete reorganization of many Southern African tribes. Today, the Inkatha Freedom Party holds the primary claim to Shaka’s legacy, though as a political force it is on the wane.
Formerly split into Natal Province and the “homeland” of KwaZulu, the area amalgamated and was renamed Kwazulu Natal in 1994, after SA’s first democratic elections.
A province of great contrasts, KZN’s landscapes range from a warm tropical coastline, to fertile valleys filled with sugarcane as far as the eye can see, to the majestic (and, in winter, snow-bearing) Drakensberg Mountains, site of the famous uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park.
As we exit the former Transkei and leave the Eastern Cape behind, the Baz Bus is likely to come upon a decontamination station.
Here all passengers are required to jump out and walk the length of a large sponge soaked in pesticide, and then hop back into the bus. At the same time the bus’s wheels and undercarriage are sprayed. This is to prevent the spread of swine fever into Kwazulu/Natal.
Crossing the border well after 9pm, we pull into Port Edward for a…
DINNER STOP. The food of choice here is Kentucky Fried Chicken. I suggest the twisters – at least you can pretend they are healthy.
BAZ STOP: PORT EDWARD
We have cruised along the Sunshine Coast and the Wild Coast, and now its time for the Hibiscus Coast, part of the KZN greater South Coast. Port Edward is a small, rugged town. If I remember correctly, I took a few school trips down here. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to revisit it again this time. But I always heard good things about Port Edward, and, if nothing else, it’s the first stop along a beautiful coastline, with water that remains warm all year through.
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- Where to stay in Port Edward: Ku-Boboyi River Lodge
BAZ STOP: MARGATE
If you like scuba diving Margate is a good place to stop. With Protea Banks just off the coast you are sure to get a sighting or two of the ragged tooth sharks that call the place home.
In June and July there is one of the world’s greatest marine events, the SARDINE RUN. Millions of the fish migrate up the coast toward Durban, close to the shore, with dolphins, sharks, whales and birds in hot pursuit. If you are lucky the fish might even come right onto the beach where you can scoop them up by the basketful – great eating.
Don’t forget to try your hand at fishing off Orange Rocks in the small town of Uvongo (just 5 min drive away); or you can go golfing in Southbroom, an equally short ride away. In fact, here’s the full list of things to do while you are in this holidaymaker’s paradise…
- Scuba Diving
- Crocodile Farm in Ramsgate
- Whale watching
- Beach, beach and more beach
- Shelley Beach Shopping Center (be sure to find the little curry shop and buy yourself some excellent curry powder, a.k.a. masala)
- Where to Stay in Margate: Margate Backpackers, if it’s open. This is a great little hostel with a relaxing atmosphere, and is close to all the amenities in town. Unfortunately I believe it’s due to close down… in which case head over to Diamond Diggers in Southbroom.
- Trekker’s Opinion: Margate is a great little town. It’s where I spent about five years of my childhood, and I loved every minute of it. However, during the July and December holidays, it is a prime tourist destination for many families from the Gauteng and Free State Provinces. This is when the locals retreat indoors and only go out into the throngs when absolutely necessary. I suggest that you visit during the low seasons, between March and June and August and November. The water is warm all year round and the weather is pretty close to perfect, so that’s never a worry.
BAZ STOP: PORT SHEPSTONE
Sheppie, as it is known to the locals, is a wonderful spot that is highly underrated. I met a few travellers who felt that Port Shepstone was one of their favorite towns along the whole of the South Coast. Overlooking the mouth of the uMzimkulu River, it’s home to the “Banana Express”, a train which chugs its way from the river mouth through lush hills and sub-tropical forests. Not forgetting the great surf, the spectacular Oribi Gorge, with the world’s highest gorge swing, and lots of hiking, abseiling and white water rafting. All in all, it’s a good place to get an African adventure started.
- Side Note: When heading back towards Cape Town on the baz bus, we stop for lunch just down the road from Port Shepstone High School (my alma mater!).
BAZ STOP: UMZUMBE/BANANA BEACH
These stops are so close together that they are named as one on the Baz Bus map. Banana Beach, named after the wild strelitzias (wild bananas – not edible I’m afraid) that abound in the place, is a great beach spot with some good surfing. Take time out to relax while watching for dolphins.
Umzumbe is just a hop skip and a jump away – and it’s a jump into some of the best waves on the South Coast, especially in “winter” (winter along these shores simply means the dry season; the temperature is nearly always perfect, and the ocean always warm). So grab your board and head on down.
- Where to stay in Umzumbe: Mantis and Moon Backpackers. I loved this hostel. From the wonderful swimming pool (that seems more like a rock pool in paradise), to the tree house room to the owners serenading us around the bar, it’s a must-stay in everyone’s books!
BAZ STOP: UMKOMAAS/WARNER BEACH
Umkomaas is, quite simply, all about scuba diving. The closest town to the world-famous Aliwal Shoal, this is the place to come for a guaranteed swim with the sharks. During the winter (July through October), the ragged tooth sharks (known as “raggies”) migrate down along this coast and spend most of their time in Aliwal Shoal for breeding.
The raggies are usually very “docile” during this time, but I still wouldn’t recommend going up and stroking one! During my two dives we saw about five sharks, the biggest being 3 meters (around 10 ft) long – plus a bevy of turtles, rays, dolphins and lots of brightly colored fish.
- Where to stay and dive in Umkomaas: The Whaler. This small company is very friendly and helpful and has a fantastic lodge just up the street from the diving offices (accent pillows and good water pressure…. what more needs to be said). They also can always make a deal for backpackers and the prices are quite acceptable. There are lots of other stay-n-dive places, but I was most impressed with this one.
- Blue Sky Mining Backpackers & Lodge, meanwhile, is just a few minutes further up the coast, in Warner Beach, close to the Durban airport and the lure of a big city. Warner Beach offers more city-type amenities than Umkomaas along with the normal diving and beaches.
- Trekker’s Opinion: While I never stayed in Warner Beach, I was not very impressed by what I saw when the Baz dropped travellers off. If you want scuba diving rather head to Umkomaas, where you can be in the thick of things.
BAZ STOP: DURBAN (a.k.a. eThekwini, a.k.a. the Rainbow City)
Arriving around 10.30 p.m., we enter Durban, the Baz Bus’s next compulsory stop.
With one of the world’s largest Indian populations outside of India, Durban is the place to be if you having a craving for curry (but remember only order HOT if you are prepared to sweat!). There is so much to do in this colorful city I don’t know where to begin, but here are a few of the best choices:
- Excellent Surf! (in July enjoy the Mr. Price Pro Surfing Competition)
- Beaches galore
- Durban Botanical Gardens (just outside the city center, featuring many rare cycads, a “prehistoric” plant species)
- uShaka Marine World
- Indian Market in the city center (grab a bunny chow – a loaf of bread hollowed out and filled with curry)
- Cricket at Kingsmead
- Visit the Natal Sharks Board and maybe go out with them to check the nets
- Scuba Diving
- Take your chances and bet on a horse race at the Greyville Turf Club
And thats barely the start of the things to do!
Well I don’t know about you, but I am quite exhausted now after all this travelling! Stay tuned for Leg Three, as we leave Durban and head towards Egoli (Johannesburg – the city of gold)…
Until then, keep trekking…..