The majestic Drakensberg Mountains with their splendid vistas, the pristine beaches and the abundance of rivers that give life to lush subtropical vegetation – this is only part of what draws thousands of holidaymakers to KwaZulu-Natal every year. The South Coast with its holiday towns is the favourite destination for fun on the beach while eco-tourists gravitate more towards the North Coast. The ocean waters of the South Coast are ideally suited for swimming and surfing and, as a bonus, various types of sea creatures may often be seen from vantage points all along the coast. The unspoilt beauty of the vast shell-covered beaches and the untamed vegetation of the North Coast provide a real opportunity to get away from it all.

The lush vegetation of the inland areas is nurtured by the balmy subtropical climate. The swaying palms, banana trees and clusters of coconuts could just as easily belong on a remote subtropical island. KwaZulu-Natal’s hinterland boasts a large number of nature reserves, many of which are home to the Big Five (buffalo, rhino, elephant, lion and leopard). The wetlands in the greater St Lucia area have been recognised as a World Heritage Site and the combined system of rivers, lakes, lagoons and sea provides sanctuary to an astounding variety of animals, birds and plants.

The mountains, rivers and ocean extend an open invitation to all adventurers. The peaks of the Drakensberg Mountains present an irresistible challenge to mountaineers and the rivers offer many opportunities for white water rafting. Many mapped-out routes take 4×4 enthusiasts, bikers and hikers on wonderful excursions throughout the countryside.

The many inland lakes and rivers and the sea are well stocked with fish and the beautiful surroundings contribute to the relaxing effect of the angling experience. Trout-fishing has become a firm favourite and the best times for trout fishing are from March to May and from September to November. Angling is not allowed during the winter months.

The provincial hunting system is run in accordance with legislation and ecological management principles. Hunters usually choose to hunt different species of antelope. However, there are several places where hunting of the Big Five (lion, buffalo, elephant, leopard and rhino) is allowed.

But it is not all fun and play – fruit farmers utilise the conditions of the fertile garden province to grow produce such as mangoes, papayas, litchis and bananas in abundance – ask and you shall receive! In addition, large tracts of land are covered by sugar cane.

The people of the province are a great part of its attraction. Many of the Zulu people still maintain their proud heritage and their kraals (traditional African settlements) still dot the malachite hills of rural Zululand as they did hundreds of years ago. The artistic heritage of the Zulu people is evident in the art and crafts they produce and that are sold all over the province. Their craftwork includes leatherwork (handbags, purses, shoes, belts), pottery, basketry, beadwork (dolls, ornaments, jewellery), wood carvings and stone sculptures. Beads are no longer made of ivory, bone, clay, seeds or stones but of plastic, which is easy to come by and particularly colourful. Zulu craft is characterised by bright colours and bold patterns and every colour has a symbolic meaning.

South Africa is home to the largest population of ethnic Indians in the world outside India, most of whom live in KwaZulu-Natal. The exotic influence they exert over the city of Durban is unmistakable. The first Indians arrived in the province in 1860 to work on the sugar plantations. After their contracts expired, many of the workers remained and were later joined by their families and friends.

As befits a popular holiday destination, the province has developed an extensive tourist infrastructure. The nightlife of cities such as Durban and Pietermaritzburg is lively, catering for a wide variety of tastes. The smaller holiday towns also host special events during the holiday seasons. The fare in the restaurants ranges from traditional South African cuisine to theme restaurants with dishes from all over the world.

Shopping is a celebration of the cultural and natural richness of the province. Zulu art- and craftwork is on sale at various venues throughout the province, including curio shops, art galleries, flea markets and street stalls. The Esplanade in Durban, for instance, is lined with street sellers selling their wares at bargain prices. Other markets display distinctly Indian products, of which curries and other herbs are probably the most popular.

These shopping experiences do not include the modern shopping complexes which sell everything from clothes to jewellery and toys.

HISTORY

The province has had an eventful past and many groups have fought for possession of the land. The first people to inhabit the province were the San, who left their mark in the form of rock paintings in many caves and shelters in and around the Drakensberg Mountains. They were followed by Nguni tribes who migrated from Central and Eastern Africa. In the late seventeenth century a Nguni chief, Mandalela, fathered a son whom he named Zulu (meaning “Heaven”). When this boy became the leader of his own clan, the clan took his name and what was later to become the mighty Zulu nation was born.

The first Europeans to set eyes on the province were the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama and his seafarers. On Christmas Day 1497, on their way to India, they reached a natural bay, which they called Rio de Natal (Christmas River). Today, the city of Durban lies on this bay. The Europeans showed no interest in southern Africa until 1652, when the Dutch landed at the southern tip of the continent (present-day Cape Town) to establish a halfway house and refreshment station for sailors of the Dutch East India Company on their way to the Far East.

It was not until 1823 that the government of the Cape Colony commissioned a survey of the south-eastern coastline of the country. After favourable reports had been received, 30 white people settled around Port Natal (as Rio de Natal was now known) in 1824. They were primarily traders who wanted to trade with the Nguni people for animal skins and ivory. By this time Shaka, the mighty warrior leader, had built a mighty Zulu nation, uniting many different Nguni tribes into one. He granted the white traders permission to settle in the area. Their settlement would later be called D’Urban after Sir Benjamin D’Urban, Governor of the Cape Colony at the time.

When Dingane succeeded Shaka in 1838, he granted the Voortrekkers, who had trekked from the Cape Colony to escape British rule, some land between the Tugela (Thukela) and Umzimkulu Rivers. The Voortrekkers eventually established their own independent Republic of Natalia. However, the British were not far behind and fighting between the Boers and British forces soon broke out.

Eventually, in 1844, the Boer Republic of Natalia was annexed by the British and became the Colony of Natal. From 1844 to 1851, British settlers arrived. Later, the cultural mix was strengthened by Indian labourers who came to work on the sugar plantations and decided to stay.

All these different groups have left their mark and today, their influence can be seen in the architecture, history and culture of the province.

CLIMATE

The subtropical climate means that the province enjoys long, hot summers with light steady rain and mild winters. The many warm sunny days add to the province’s attraction as a holiday destination. The warm Mozambique Current is responsible for the comfortable temperatures of the coastal waters. Along the coast, it can get extremely hot and humid over the Christmas season, while milder temperatures are experienced inland.

In the northern part of the province conditions are more subtropical, resulting in warm humid days and balmy nights. As one goes westwards to the Great Escarpment and as the altitude increases, temperatures drop and in the Drakensberg Mountains, there is a distinct chill in the air in winter.

Durban has an average temperature of approximately 27 degrees Celsius (81 degrees Fahrenheit) during January (summer), and a temperate 22 degrees Celsius (73 degrees Fahrenheit) during July (winter). In the north, the climate becomes even more subtropical, resulting in hot, humid days and warm, sultry nights.